No “One” Can Save America

I haven’t written about politics here in a long while, so God save me as I dip my toes back in the treacherous political waters we all find ourselves in these days. And mind you, my absence in expounding on political matters is no reflection of waning interest or a suggestion of apathy. To the contrary, I care more than ever and have been following the political climate closely these past few years. Heck, I even learned how to use Twitter to follow the stuff.

It’s just so very noisy out there. Everyone has an opinion, everyone is happy to shout that opinion from the rooftops, and I have yet to find that reading an opposing opinion changes my own. We’ve all sort of doubled down, I think. I don’t know if that is good or bad, it simply is. As a nation, we are deeply, troublingly divided. I’ve read the phrase “cold civil war” and it rings true.

This morning I was scrolling through Twitter, which is generally the first thing I do upon waking. No doubt that isn’t the healthiest, most productive way to start one’s day, but Twitter has replaced the kitchen radio for me, in terms of how I access news and stay informed.

This was one of the first things I saw on my feed:

Mark Ruffalo, a man whose politics I admire and who I find is lovely to look at, refers to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as “the one.” “The original progressive,” Ruffalo says of Sanders.

A few hours later, lo and behold, President Trump tweeted his own missive, which looked and felt eerily similar to me:

I am the only one,” Trump writes.

I find both of these tweets equally troubling, indicative of the cult of personality that we as voters and Americans have enabled our politicians with that is ultimately harmful to us as citizens and as a nation. When we expect a glorified, romanticized “one” to save us, whomever that “one” may be, we absolve ourselves of the responsibility of being an active, engaged citizenry.

Donald Trump cannot save us. Nor can Bernie Sanders. We need to stop expecting them to, as that responsibility is ours, collectively. I will leave it to the political scientists in the room to define our government as a democracy or a democratic republic, but if 2016 taught us anything, it is that there are very real consequences to elections.

When we stop voting, when we disengage, telling ourselves that politics is ugly and corrupt, when we rely on the premise that the ship will right itself, we are adding to the problem. When we get angry and withhold our votes if our candidate lost, we are adding to the problem. When we put blinders on to the plight of others because our 401Ks are doing just fine, we are adding to the problem. When we tell ourselves that politicians are all the same, so our input, interest, and participation are irrelevant and unnecessary, we are adding to the problem.

There is no “one” to save us, so don’t believe the hype. If a candidate suggests himself or is comfortable when others suggest that he is the “one” or the “only one” to save America, I hope you know that that is a political tactic, as old as the hills, employed by politicians who heed their egos over the needs of many. Bad men work to convince you they are the “one.”

Remember that as we head into primary season in a few months. There is no “one” that will save us from ourselves. Only we can do that, by voting, engaging, reading, thinking, and understanding that we have an obligation and a duty to stop expecting old men with big egos to save us.

Floating Through My 40s

Six days before my daughter died I turned 40 years old. That milestone was not so much celebrated as it simply happened, a little island of obligatory and forced cheer in the midst of an ocean of sorrow, knowing our girl was dying. Donna was having what would be her last best day. She worked with her auntie to bake me a cake. It was chocolate and she chose the heart shaped cake tins.

Cue the tears. Dammit.

I can’t think about that birthday without tears springing from my often extremely well lubricated eyes. That cake was heartbreaking and life affirming and overwhelming and delicious. My sweet girl baked me a cake and then she died. That cake will be in my memories for all my days. All of them.

On Sunday I turn 50. With this milestone, I have more space and less impending doom. With some of that space, I’ve reflected on this past decade, as middle aged ladies are wont to do. So many women I know love their 40s. They feel powerful, released from insecurities, finally claiming their place in the world. I can’t really say the same for myself.

A few months ago I met a girlfriend for a museum exhibit. We paid good money to walk through the museum, but legitimately looked at not a single thing. Instead, we found ourselves talking and connecting and recognizing that the losses we had experienced in recent years had contributed to a mutual sense of suspension, kind of being frozen in time, devoid of direction and motivation, a sort of muffled recovery. She called it “floating” and the moment I heard her say the word, it clobbered me with the weight of its truth.

I have, essentially, floated through my 40s. In the past decade, I have lost my daughter, my Dad, my career, and had three miscarriages (on top of one I had at 38). I could go on, but you get the point.

That’s a lot.

In some moments, I extend myself grace and wisdom, knowing that the losses I have known are extensive and traumatic. Of course I have spent time reeling. In other moments, I acknowledge the privilege of being able to float through a decade of adulthood. I mean, that is some pampered lady ish, having a life where all the things my family needs are provided without me needing to fret or contribute financially.

Maybe it’s exactly that layer of comfort that insulates me and has enabled me to float and float and float. 40 gave way to 41, which turns to 44, then 47 happens, and you blink and realize 50 is just 72 hours away. Just. Like. That.

I don’t even know what the point is of me putting all of this into words. Maybe someone out there needs to read it, to feel that same sense of connection and validation I felt in the conversation with my friend in that museum exhibit. Maybe its an attempt to make my peace with it, to reassert myself, me, here I am, see, typing on the keyboard.

I don’t really know.

I don’t want to float through my 50s. I want to be more accountable, more present, more intentional. Life is short, yada, yada, yada, YOLO, insert favorite cliche here. All of it is true. We do this once. I’m going to be expecting more of myself this decade, because the next time I blink I will be 60 and, well, that’s just damn crazy.

Opt Out Culture – Is It a Problem?

I’ve been thinking a lot about America’s growing ‘opt out culture’ these days. We don’t like something, we opt out. The concept seems simple enough, harmless enough. Last night, I opted out of broccoli at the dinner table. I’ve never been a fan of those little healthy trees. Some days I opt out of taking a shower or washing my hair. My people still love me. Right now, I am opting out of cleaning the house after a busy weekend. But look! I’m being productive, writing this post, exercising my mind! It’s all good.

But is it? Some things folks are opting out of have higher stakes than a stalk of broccoli. Vaccines, public education, religion, voting. More and more Americans are opting out of all of those things and the cost of that is starting to assert itself.

The Pew Research Center continues to detail that as Millennials age, our nation is becoming less religious overall. While still an overwhelmingly Christian nation in identity, the fastest growing religion in America is Islam. Those religions that have seen the greatest drop in followers are Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism.

In the 2016 presidential election, only 55% of those eligible to vote actually filled out a ballot. The last time more than 60% of Americans came out to vote was in 1968 (at the height of the Vietnam War) and the last time 70% of Americans cast a ballot in a presidential election year was freaking 1900. Shout out to the GOP’s William McKinley for winning that distinction.

Yesterday the New York Times posted an article called, “How Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Took Hold in the United States.” It was chilling to read. When you connect the dots as a historical review, as the article encourages, you can see how different factors (social media, poorly conducted research studies, celebrity proselytizers) contributed to the growth of the anti-vaccine movement that is now posing a threat to others.

Public school education has seen a sharp decline in numbers in recent decades. More people are opting out for a variety of reasons, leaving less funds for those that remain. The growth of homeschooling and charter schools, pulling resources (more than just financial) in different directions, leaves fewer resources for public schools. Something that has historically been the domain of the government — using public funds to educate our children in a communal classroom setting that the whole community benefits from and contributes to — is now shrinking and struggling as we watch it flounder.

And lest you think I am scolding you, dear reader, for something I am not guilty of myself, I, too, am guilty of engaging in the easy to justify opt out.

We opted out of sending our oldest boy to our neighborhood school. Instead, he is thriving at what Chicago likes to call a “selective enrollment school” for gifted and talented kids. It’s a public school, but he had to test into it. My younger guy is spending his kindergarten year at a private Montessori school that seems to be a better fit for him than our neighborhood school that made very clear they have an academic based kindergarten environment where every child is expected to perform to a level we felt would or could be detrimental to our kiddo. We opted out.

As a woman in my 20s, I opted out of religion. I went on to marry an atheist, so, yeah, we are not raising our children in any religion. This month, I made a conscious decision to opt out of promoting or advocating for Childhood Cancer Month, something that would have been unthinkable to me just a couple of years ago. In the spring, I opt my son out of the PARCC standardized testing that I believe serves corporate interests more than it benefits school kids or teachers.

I have defined reasons that I can articulate passionately and convincingly for everything I opt out of, which, I am certain, those who do not vaccinate their kids or bring them to Church or Temple or Mosque, or choose to homeschool can also do.

My question, really, is where does this bring us? What are the costs of so much opting out? This is what I think all of us need to be paying more attention to in our increasingly polarized culture.

I can’t help but wonder if this gasp of religious fervor some of our elected officials are exercising is a response to some of these trends. Or the mother that threw her menstrual blood on California lawmakers who were voting to tighten up and eliminate vaccine exemptions. Or the law that was passed under Illinois’ last Governor that enables tax payers to donate money to subsidize scholarships for private school education.

If so many of us are opting out of so much, perhaps we should start to think about what that will create and how it will impact the world around us, in ways large and small.