Restore My Faith in Humanity
Permit me a moment of unflattering honesty: I took this election personally, more than I should have. It shook me to my core. It eroded my faith in this country. It soured me on the goodness of its people.
Think about it: we elected a racist, misogynist braggart, an avaricious know-nothing con artist, a man who has, on tape, boasted of sexual assault, to the pinnacle of government, and some 63 million people were willing to overlook the racism, the misogyny, the avarice, and the ignorance, either because they hated Hillary or they wanted to ban abortion or just blow up the system.
I was angry and bitterly disappointed, even (maybe especially) at Trump voters in my own family. Not because they're more conservative than me—I'm used to that—but because they, for whatever reason, either failed to see this lout for who he is or, worse, saw him for who he was and didn't care.
In my dejection, I looked askance at those white working-class Trump voters who are now the subjects of a thousand New York Times think pieces, as if their precious feelings about lost privilege and economic anxiety mattered more than the concerns of the Latino in Los Angeles or the African American in Atlanta. I sneered and stereotyped them as an amalgamation of racist hicks, Fox-News-watching knuckle-draggers, theocratic Bible-thumpers, and soulless corporate raiders.
There's some truth in the stereotype, of course. There are deplorables out there, both of the alt-right and greedy capitalist varieties; let's not kid ourselves. But the truth is, like the Trump voters in my family, many of them are good and decent people. And I can't lose sight of that.
After all, to make real progress, progressives need to listen to these folks, to speak to their needs. But more than an electoral strategy, I can't simply write off 63 million people or try to wall myself off from them. At some point, I have to let go of the anger and resentment. I have to actively seek out the good in people who don't think like me, to engage with them and let them restore my faith in humanity.
I'm not ready to do that yet. Maybe by next New Year's. (If the nuclear winter doesn't come first.)
—Jeffrey C. Billman
I'm afraid of tornadoes, but I've never seen one. I'm afraid of heights, but that doesn't get in the way of my job as a writer. I can tackle the A&E beat without having to brave a stepladder.
I'm afraid of conflict, and that does limit me—severely. In 2017, I need to get over that.
It expresses itself in weird ways: I'm petrified at the thought of cold-calling anyone. I get nervous if I see that someone's left a comment on one of my stories, even before I see what's in it. I can't even scan other people's Facebook battles, much less participate. I have a really low threshold for this kind of thing. When there's hostility, when there's arguing, very important parts of my brain turn to static.
It's a rational fear, and I know where it comes from. Growing up in a dysfunctional household, experience taught me that even minor disagreements could quickly escalate to screaming matches that lasted entire evenings. And working as an animal control dispatcher in my early twenties gave me an overactive fear of talking on the phone at all; it was at that job that I encountered some of the most vicious people of my life, and my line was the bottleneck where they all collected.
I've run from all of that and made a peaceful life with my family. I've lost both the will and the ability to fight.
Going into 2017, this feels like a luxury I can't afford—not under a Trump presidency. Best case, it's going to be the civil rights, ecological, and economic disaster. Worst case? My imagination fails me. What I do know is that watching from the sidelines is morally untenable—that's practically complicity. As a writer, it's my responsibility to find and tell true stories of the human cost. Considering the stakes, it would be irresponsible and even immoral to weasel out of potentially combative interviews. I need to lose my fear, or at least control it.
I have kids, after all, and they need to see how one responds to bullies and demagogues. We don't lose our pacifism. We don't need fists or weapons. We don't go looking for conflict. But when conflict comes to us, we don't wuss out. We figure out how to apply our gifts and we get to work.
Change What I Can
Immediately after the election, I thought about my resolutions for 2017, in particular one that I've come to in previous years with varying levels of success: getting in shape. This time, though, it wasn't for vanity. I half-jokingly figured that if I'm fighting for resources in the Mad Max world we'll soon be living in, I might as well prepare myself.
This all comes back to a more serious question: How, exactly, does one go about practicing any sort of self-care when the external world that's beyond our control seems to be going downhill so quickly?
There's no easy answer, but I know this: since then, I've stopped planning for the months ahead and started thinking more about what's going on right in front of me. I've tried to start changing the things I actually can: by signing up for the monthly Southern Poverty Law Center donation I kept putting off, by getting more involved in local activism, by making more conscious choices about how I spend my money.
At a different point, I would have just gotten mad and stewed about it. I still get mad and stew about it, but now I feel like I'm using my time and energy to actually do something. This also contributes to a sense of purpose, which permeates my other resolutions, such as getting back into shape, going to bed before 1 a.m., and so on.
To be clear: this was a hell of a year. And if the last couple of months are any indication, we'll have at least a few more years like it. But instead of stewing about it, try focusing on what you can do to help get us out of this mess.
If there's enough of us who do that, it'll happen.
Keep Making America Great
I spent election night at the N.C. Democratic Party gathering in Raleigh. As the results rolled in, the room quieted, and people began to leave. I left too, an hour early—and I cried the whole way home. I didn't want to be there to witness the pain, and I certainly didn't want to be surrounded by strangers when the announcement came in that Donald Trump would be our next president.
I felt completely alone in my new home. I wondered if I had made the right choice in moving to North Carolina from New York City—as if North Carolina alone were to blame for the shocking outcome. I thought if I'd been in New York, people who looked like me and felt like me would have been able to comfort me in a way that North Carolinians never could. But I wasn't thinking straight during that desperate moment.
The truth is much brighter. While covering the election in North Carolina, I met so many Latinos who were fighting to have their voices heard, whether through voting for the first time, waiting in line for hours just to see Michelle Obama speak, or protesting the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention centers.
These are the activist Latinos who inspire me and have shaken me out of my near-catatonic state. While reporting on the Latino community, its growth in this state, and the constant obstacles Latinos face, this year I vow to do more. I have witnessed North Carolinians fighting racial and economic oppression, and I will join them.
You can say "Not my president" all you want. You can resist and march. I get that. I'm sympathetic with it. As for me, I will live in America no matter who's president, and I plan to thrive here. My community will use this as an occasion to do more. We will resist Donald Trump's ignorant and hateful rhetoric not only because it's our right to do so, but because this is our home. We belong here. We will make this work.
Come to think of it, even as a Mexican-American, I am in some ways thankful for Trump's victory. I am thankful that his vocal hate toward immigrants and people of color have made us stand up and say, "This is not acceptable." I am thankful to him because I am more vocal about my history, about who I am and where I come from, and I will not back down and pretend that we haven't been making America great and beautiful.
North Carolina might not be as liberal as California, the state in which I was born, and it's not as socially progressive as New York, the city I lived in for almost a decade. But something magical is happening. I've never felt more alive than I do now, living here.
Impeach Donald Trump
"To withdraw in disgust is not the same as apathy."
For many years I've cited that quote, a paraphrase from the movie Slacker, via an REM song, as my credo in regard to politics. (Everything about that sentence is embarrassingly 1990s, I know.) But it's true—for the sake of my mental health and my day-to-day serenity, I've remained largely apolitical through the first sixteen years of the twenty-first century.
I really checked out during the presidential campaign. Until November 8, I prided myself on the fact that I hadn't watched a single moment of the debates, hadn't seen a single stump speech on TV. I got my headlines from NPR and The New York Times; I listened and read selectively. I haven't watched network or cable news in ten years.
My approach may have been flawed, it may have been selfish, but it was a considered decision. That all changed November 9, when I woke up to our current national nightmare. I'm still spiraling, really. I've reluctantly concluded that I can't withdraw anymore. The math has changed. I need to change, too, both in terms of what I take in and what I put out.
Regarding input, I've started reading everything I can on the incoming Trump administration. It's making me crazy, of course—my news app right now is just a sadness-delivery machine. But I'm going to have to deal with that. As to output, I've started signing petitions, writing lawmakers, and donating money where I can. I hope to make the rally and protest circuit in 2017. I aim to misbehave.
That's because I believe that Donald Trump is an existential threat to our country and our planet. Forget Democrat versus Republican, left versus right. This isn't a partisan issue, and these false equivalencies are going to kill us. I'm not mad because my team lost. I'm petrified because a clinical narcissist now has the launch codes for nuclear weapons. Trump has demonstrated, publicly and repeatedly, that he has the temperament and attention span of a third-grader. He reacts to what's put in front of him. He lashes out. What happens when North Korea calls him chicken?
I figure it never hurts to aim high with New Year's resolutions, so what the hell: my resolution is to contribute to the process that results in Donald Trump's impeachment in 2017.
Don't Let the Bastards Win
There's really no other way to put it: Charlotte got played. Its city council believed in the General Assembly's honor and good intentions, a mistake no one who's paid even the slightest attention the last four years should make. The Republicans promised Charlotte that, if it repealed its nondiscrimination ordinance, the legislature would repeal HB 2. Charlotte did. The legislature didn't. Taxpayers shelled out $42,000 for a special session last week that accomplished precisely squat.
The story is more complicated than that, of course. Last Monday, Charlotte only partially repealed its ordinance and made that repeal contingent on the repeal of HB 2; the full repeal came two days later, on the morning before the legislature's fifth special session of the year, and with it went the contingency. The legislature, meanwhile, was kinda-sorta willing to repeal HB 2, so long as there was a six-month moratorium on nondiscrimination ordinances, which the legislature could keep extending into perpetuity. It was a fairly transparent con, designed to limit the economic fallout from HB 2. Democrats refused to play along, and Republicans couldn't get the votes.
So we're back where we started. Worse, actually, since now the Charlotte ordinance is no longer on the books. The business and sports events that HB 2 chased away aren't coming back, and the state's LGBTQ population remains without protections.
The one silver lining was the activism HB 2 engendered. Municipalities pledged solidarity with their LGBTQ brethren. Protesters bearing air horns gathered weekly outside the Executive Mansion to make a righteously obnoxious noise. There were anti-HB 2 concerts and events. We made the world notice—and in November, we sent Governor McCrory packing. The funny thing is, I suspect HB 2 was never really McCrory's baby; rather, it was forced on him, and he was too feckless to stand up to zealots in his own party. But, because he signed it and defended it, he became the target, the person at whom so many rhetorical arrows were slung. (Thanks to gerrymandering, the legislature was largely inoculated.)
So now there's a Democratic governor who opposes HB 2—though, being a good, inoffensive moderate, he tends to talk about it more on economic than moral grounds. There's no focal point for our collective (and productive) rage. Without that, I worry—and Republican leaders likely pray—that this rage will, over time, dissipate. After all, boiling anger is hard to sustain over months and years. So they think they can wait us out, that eventually, we'll move on to the next outrage.
We mustn't let that happen. And so this is my resolution, both as editor of this newspaper and as a citizen of North Carolina: we will not let this kind of bigotry become normal. Thanks to the laughably racist gerrymandering being declared unconstitutional, there will (barring a successful appeal) be new elections next year. If we mobilize, if we stay angry enough, we can make the bastards pay for what they've done to our state.
—Jeffrey C. Billman