The Alumni Connection

Life after UC, Examined

13 November 2016
ucalumniconnection

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Houston, you have a problem

The day after the election, I was asked whether I wanted to ‘write something’. Oh hell, said I. Yes and no. So much had already been said and written by that point; every prominent thinker, writer and politician was and is weighing in. My tuppence, given below, makes no pretense to being an expert/comprehensive/sophisticated analysis, but it was written from the heart. Hence also the foul language.

by Myrte Vos (class of ’12)

 

Okay! Settle down, everyone. So, that happened. Limbs all still attached? Lungs still in working order? God, I love all those reminders to breathe – breathe fire, maybe. I don’t subscribe to the theory that if you are calm and serene, everything is automatically a little bit better – or rather, I know it’s true, but it’s also kinda duh and also completely un-fucking-helpful. This is gonna be an explicit post, by the way. Hang on to your geitenwollensokken.

 

Anyway. Four days ago, about half of all vote-eligible U.S. citizens did not vote, 25.6% of them voted for a woman named Hillary, and 25.5% voted for a villain from a Wild West cartoon. You know the one. He stomps into the saloon, garish three-piece suit, bulging cigar between his teeth, and in under three minutes has groped the barmaid, insulted everyone within earshot and is flagrantly cheating at cards, all while racking up a tab that he is not going to pay. Lucky Luke sits at the bar and raises one eyebrow. There’ll be a showdown later; Luke will shoot the suspenders off of this brute, dropping his pants to his ankles and revealing pink flowery bloomers. The humiliation will be total; the brute will scurry off, mortified. Life continues as normal.

 

But Trump won, so that’s not the story we’re getting. The advantage of writing for this audience is that I don’t need to go into what this means, and what’ll happen, and how could we have been so blind – you’ve already read all of that. So I can skip straight to what I want to say, which is this:

 

  1. We’re not angry, just disappointed

Americans, you’re on the brink of a multi-year catastrophe, the exact form of which is as yet impossible to predict. You have my heartfelt condolences. For many WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) Europeans such as myself, the United States now joins a long, long list of regimes that we find at best problematic, at worst appalling: Turkey, Hungary, Russia, China, South Africa, India, the entire Arabian peninsula, etc. But we do business with them anyway, because that’s life, the whole world can’t be a fucking safe space, blablabla, whatever. We feel betrayed, and afraid, and deeply concerned; we thought we were friends. But we’ll deal.

 

  1. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Trump isn’t the problem, not really. We see that now. I cringe to think back on how smugly I nodded at all those John Oliver videos, ridiculing ‘Drumpf’ and his little hands, shrinking him down to manageable size for an urban, progressive, upper-middle-class audience. Calling Trump names is a little like calling a hurricane ‘fat’ – it’ll continue to destroy everything in its path, and insofar as it cares (and insofar as it’s sentient, it’s a metaphor, give me a break), it will make sure to destroy your house, specifically, out of spite. You don’t out-bully a bully. Much has already been said and written about the mistakes made by the DNC, and by American progressives who fell victim to the social media echo chamber just as much as their red counterparts did. And I’ve already seen many friends come to the realization that they are part of the problem: part of a WEIRD elite that doesn’t communicate with or listen to those who think differently, who only make fun of them and belittle them. My ‘echo chamber’ blows up with horror and indignation every time a cultural institution loses its funding, but I’ve yet to see anyone seriously engage with concerns about, say, senior citizen care. There are lessons to be learned here, and we better learn them fast (fortunately, something that we are quite good at!). Rather than just blame the poor, or the ignorant, or the resentful white middle class, we need to do a lightning-fast bit of navel gazing and change our attitude. But…

 

  1. Fuck fascism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny

But. There are limits to what we should abide, and those limits are defined pretty fucking clearly: violence, hate speech, and discrimination. Good lord did that piece of shit get a lot of airtime – it’s like the saloon in our Wild West cartoon had a TV in the corner broadcasting the villain’s vile opinions half the day (the other half is rodeo and competitive horseshoe throwing). I know part of my feelings of shock and horror – about Trump, but also about Wilders – come from the realization that such a huge part of the population agrees with him. It’s rather like the way ‘they’ feel about the refugee crisis, isn’t it? An ever-swelling tidal wave of strangers who want to either take everything you hold dear, or break it. Many of them may be harmless, but there are definitely also some violent nut jobs in there, and how do we tell which is which? Simple – by acknowledging our universal humanity, and not assuming someone is evil or stupid or dangerous just because we don’t know them. At the end of the day, everyone wants the same things: safety, opportunity, love, netflix. Kumbaya.

But. When we happen to notice that someone is a fascist/racist/homophobic/xenophobic/sexist/antisemitic/anti-islamic crap dispenser, we:

 

  1. Say something

There’s this acronym in First Aid teaching: DRAB. Danger, response, airway, breathing. First thing you do in a First Aid situation: assess the level of danger. Is calling someone out on their crap going to put you in harm’s way? No? THEN SAY IT. LOUDLY, DECISIVELY, REPEATEDLY. Most people are extremely conflict-avoidant, and this is good, because we’re trying to run a peaceful goddamn society here. But bullying and hate speech deserves nothing more or less than an immediate and merciless smackdown, every single time. I know you don’t need further instruction. You know the difference between freedom of speech, heated debate, and straight-up discriminatory bullshit. And I know it’s hard, and it can seem so futile, and you don’t always want to grind a party to a halt by telling someone that joke they just made was hella sexist. But I’m asking you to do it anyway.

 

  1. Do something

And finally, while I’m asking you to do things: join a political party, or a union or something. There’ll be some who’ll heave a cynical, fatalistic sigh and go, ‘oh, politics is just the entertainment branch of industry.’ Yeah? Good for you. Fucking find some other way to contribute, then. Give to charity. Help out somewhere, whether it be a school or the Red Cross or a friggin’ petting zoo. (I’m sorry if you already do all those things, you are wonderful, please carry on). Look, I don’t know. I’m as new to this ‘grassroots activism’ thing as anyone. I’m really good at learning about problems, feeling upset, reading leftist thinkpieces until I’ve quelled my unease by rationalizing it all, and then doing nothing. This time, rationalizing doesn’t help. This time, I want to do something. And I think all my friends, all the people I went to school with, all the people who see UKIP and AfD and Front National and Wilders march up in those godforsaken polls and feel scared, want to do something. I wish I had better advice. I wish I had a to-do list like the ones Michael Moore’s been posting on his FB. But the best I can do right now is write this scrambled rant and verbally clutch your shoulders and plead: say something. Do something. Say something. Do something. Say something.

 

Help.

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