Am I glad he’s gone? Of course I am.
Do I feel a rising sense of hope because of yesterday’s Inauguration and a clear emergence of a federal administration bent on transparency and truth, a strengthening of institutions undervalued by the previous administration? Yes, I do.
Do I look forward to the inevitable return to ‘business as usual’ in our nation’s capital, covered by a media whose ratings depend upon fear, conflict and discord? No, I don’t. I don’t pretend to know how our media-culture needs to recalculate its own algorithms for “success” in a market-driven capitalistic economy in such a way to prevent (or at least not provoke) divisiveness/polarization. And I’m not naive enough to imagine that yesterday’s pomp&circumstance truly redresses the work that is in front of us as citizens of the USA. Part of the hope above is that those who have signed onto public service at this challenging time aren’t naive--or inexperienced--either.
So what can I do? How am I to be a part of stepping into our past and listening for its repair? (nod to readback line from Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”).
I found myself musing on a well-worn conundrum in my life as I was driving home from CrossFit this morning: the invitation to change in the face of holding-onto-what-is. How does someone become a liberal or progressive, born into a conservative family? Is the journey different if they are born into a progressively oriented family? How does someone become a conservative or traditionalist if they are born into a more liberal or progressively oriented family? Different if born into a conservative family? What, if anything, instigates inner transformation in you--perhaps a change of views, or of party--in our political milieux--today, or ‘back then’?
My grounding assumption here is that all of us need to consider our own inner transformations in any reconsideration of citizenship. It’s not just “the losing party” that needs to “catch up to the times.” That’s a polarizing habit of mind/assumption, winners/losers, etc. It’s only a matter of time before ‘the party in power’ becomes ‘the party no longer in power’ anyway. A unifying question would be: What is my own path of inner transformation, for the good of the Whole? It signals individual promise, honoring of a collective larger than the “I”, and interdependence. Today, no one can avoid this question--except those resisting growth and change, which I know is most of us as of yet. But it needs to be asked as a question without shame or blame. It needs to alter how we listen/see/feel, so the fear-triggers don’t live in the same places that the media knows to goad.
What will be my own path of inner transformation in this next year, for the good of the Whole?
The two elements underneath all these questions, seems to me, are resistance/refusal and unresolved grief that acts out in distinct but different ways in each of us. If you were overcome with joy and relief yesterday (like I was), cherish it. Enjoy it for as long as seems right and honorable. Then, when an edginess or an antsyness begins to arise, ask yourself the question above. To then live into the question in realtime, ask yourself What am I resisting/refusing right now? Or who am I resisting/refusing, and why? Perhaps related, perhaps not, then, “Where is the sadness in me? Or what touches my anger, even my rage?” This second one is harder to get inside, particularly if it feels so good to finally not feel sadness or anger.
If you decided not to participate in anything about Inauguration Day at all, then I bow to that choice and the unknown (to me) reasons behind it. Stand in that necessary-space that our free country offers all of us, for as long as it seems right and honorable. Then, when space opens, or an antsyness begins to arise, ask yourself the same question: What will be my own path of inner transformation in this next year, for the good of the Whole? What am I resisting or refusing, and why? Or who? Where is the sadness or anger in me?
For us to reconsider citizenship in a healthy way, and for us to begin to change the toxic soil we’ve created that is American politics today, we need to shift the frame toward “the Whole,” and we need a new mantra that honors and does not judge. So, be honest with yourself, for where you live/land/love. Who do you include in your Whole? Those you can see around you? Your economic situation--business owner, teacher, entrepreneur, health provider, service-professional, factory-worker? Those with your own skin color, who look like you? Who do you include in your Whole? I saw a t-shirt the other day that made me smile, “The GPS coordinates of your mother’s vagina at the time of your birth do not determine your value as a person.” No matter your sense of “the Whole,” I invite you to stretch it. Expand it. Have your politics be determined by your passion for the human person, anywhere, everywhere.
The new mantra or practice that seems a significant shift of frame too, at least for us local folks) is invitation, not obligation. (This is not to disregard the meta-conversations about accountability and protection/fragility of our democracy right now, in face of white nationalism and bastardized Christianity. This is simply to focus on the local and human in front of us, peeling the political veneers off for a while…).
For example… Our country’s pressure to celebrate the Biden/Harris administration if you’re a true patriot or to boycott all of yesterday and deny the Biden/Harris administration if you’re a true patriot is a pressure coming from the old, not the new. If we say we are a country of the Free because of the Brave, then each citizen and his/her experience needs honoring and spaces to be legitimate, valid, expressed--as long as it doesn’t drum up militarized or conspiratorial violence, of course.
Translated for me, this means all those Republicans who voted for Trump because their lives have never seemed valued by Democratic administrations and Republican heritage is what they’ve always stood in are justified in boycotting, disregarding, and settling into these next four years, however they may. (As long as it’s without violence in the public sphere). (Part of the sadness and anger in me, of course, is that now writers are beholden to add this descriptive caveat now...my belly hurts when I think of it, and if I don’t let it out gently, I get triggerable and ragey about it…) In a similar vein, all of us who are celebrating and cherishing this movement into our valued norms and institutions? There is invitation to the More, not obligation. Genuine, human collective “soil” can only be nourished with this practice of invitation, not obligation. Which also means non-judgment of others in their own expressions. Direct your energies within, to the ‘you’ you can change.
Eventually, though...with a greater sense of urgency for some of us, lesser for others of us...we need to engage the question of inner transformation, independent of politics, though irreparably intertwined across a complicated political scene of corporate money, national polarization, and media (news/social) algorithms set for fear, unmet desire, and conflict.
How do we live into our culture’s obsession with fear in a (larger) framework of the Whole, practicing invitation not obligation? Anyone trying to stay current on political events and the state of our world today faces these conscious and unconscious forces of fear-mongering, whether liberal or conservative. How do you become conscious of the fear in your body? What can you try and experiment with, to learn? How may we practice fearlessness in peace, free to stumble and fail with one another? What is the role of the ‘other’ in how you practice? Do you project your fear onto ‘them’? Do you use them ‘to vent’? How might we learn to transfigure it within ourselves before it gets pushed out into the public?
Perhaps you refuse expanding any sense of the Whole, and you think the mantra is stupid. You think your best bet is avoidance and refusal, focusing on things you can control, actions that confirm your own biases again and again? Avoidance and refusal for a period of time is understandable, even necessary for short periods of time. But as a path of inner transformation for the good of the Whole? Impotent. The Whole can carry a small portion of us who choose this option, but we cannot carry a large percentage that way. Look at the loss and death all around us. Each of us is interconnected to each other… Right now, we have broad swaths of “us” who simply want to resist and refuse the challenges of our day. That is unacceptable for long periods of time, at least if we say we love our country. We are an unfinished country, not a broken one. (again, nod to Amanda Gorman).
And in a broader political culture unable to honor death, loss, failure and the inevitabilities of these things for all of us, we are faced with learning how to grieve, what grief requires (in different cultures, different contexts), what unresolved grief looks like. This of course will look differently, depending upon perception and party affiliation.
Right now, unresolved grief in some of us looks like a cultural triumphalism, a smugness and leering quality to our celebrations or laments. Notice how that could be Democratic or Republican? Liberals sneering right now are part of the country’s wound, not its victors. Republicans refusing any part of the American process right now are part of the country’s wound too.
And this is where my first questions come back into play. Try to imagine the wound our behaviors come from to feel your way toward those whom you see as not-you. Many who have become liberal or progressive began as conservatives or traditionalists. This adds an additional layer of internalized power-abuse, and external triggers. Many have been deeply, spiritually wounded by patriarchal religious traditions. We’ve had our very right to BE HUMAN or to make choices in our own bodies (women) questioned and legislated. We’ve had top-down political forces of mostly white men, often oligarchs in corporate business, brought crashing onto these sensitive wounds, all in attempts to “change us into what mostly-white-men would rather us be.” Many of us have a tender heart for the earth, seeing her raped and pillaged by global business, for material gains that will pass like chaff in the wind in a matter of years. The woundedness of these our American brothers/sisters comes out with weeping, joy, sighs of relief to no longer have to face the serial-womanizer and authoritarian-leader who was in the news every fucking day.
Unresolved grief in others of us may be harder to track...or easier now, in one sense. Conservatives’ woundings are different, though no less grounded in loss and lament. The rate of change in our world today has grown exponentially. Our biological-neurological bodies were not built for processing this much change. Fear and overwhelm are common today. Traditionalists and conservatives see the loss of everything they consider sacred and dependable, their spirituality, institutions, power (yes), family, and human dignity rooted often in self-sufficiency. White male rage is the most obvious, of course. This grief/anger/rage looks like an insurrection and rampage, attempts to hold onto what used to be, in physical aggression that has always seemed to work in world history, at least “for the winners,” who get to write the history books. The propaganda and abuse of patriotic language to motivate and get a mob to conspire toward violence will attempt to mimic truth of ‘years gone by,’ even though all of it is an uncritical grasping at a past that never truly was. (Isn’t it interesting that Trump’s 1776 Report had no historians on it? Hmmmm…anti-intellectual policy-mongering, uncritical and indefensible). More subtly, and more dangerously, this grief may look like complete withdrawal from all public sphere activities, a version of “I’m taking my marbles and going home.” Which I totally get, having done my version of that at different times in my entire adult life. Or perhaps this energy-unresolved grief looks like an uncontrollable fear that seduces human beings into the worst the corporate-or-‘entertainment’ media can spawn--conspiracy theories, religious fanaticism, and militia-run gang-building.
All of it is pain, unresolved, untended, no longer able to be ignored by as large a population (that has ignored it for decades, some of us would say with regret and humility). So how do we invite this large population of denial-refusal, regardless of party, to become smaller? How can more of us explore a willingness to learn the skills for inner transformation, for the good of the Whole?
Our story gives us our woundedness, which, when tended carefully and with compassion in a container able to hold the journey, becomes a person’s strongest gift for the world.
Our country’s past is overrun by wounds and opportunities for this journey. When it’s time, when you’re ready, will you step into our past, listening for its repair? We are the only ones who can do this work. You and me. Citizens.