Stop Waiting for America to Come to its Senses

Our job now is to act

Photo by Jacob Stone on Unsplash

It’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Donald Trump doesn’t strike me as a Neil Young fan. He’s nonetheless following Young’s advice, as he uses the final two weeks of his presidency to torch our institutions. If one thing is certain after Wednesday, it’s this: Donald Trump will not fade away.

It’s up to us to decide what to do about that.

Democracy, we were taught in school, was a gift that was handed to us, our birthright as Americans. The textbooks present it as a done deal: an heirloom that passes from one generation to the next, unchanged. But the story we learned was wrong. Democracy is a living gift — one that needs nurtured. It’s like getting a dog for Christmas; if you don’t do your part to take care of it, the dog becomes aggressive. For too many years, we’ve collectively neglected the dog.

True, we never missed the annual vet appointment, and we somehow thought that was enough. And then one day we walked into the backyard and found generations worth of dog shit, just festering. It’d been so long, we didn’t even know how to clean it up. We just went back in the house, held our breath, and waited until the next time we were supposed to see the vet. The shit, we hoped, would take care of itself.

But neglected shit stinks. Not only that: it sticks to shoes. It contaminates waterways. It spreads.

This week rioters stormed the Capitol Building carrying guns and confederate flags. They did it because they’ve perverted the concept of the American dream into a dystopian nightmare. They did it for Donald Trump: the first leader who openly shared their vision.

They succeeded because despite what the president said, and what his followers promised — loudly — that they would do, too many Americans pretended they were all just pretending. It was easier, for most people, to accuse the people screaming “resist!” of overreacting than it was to call the president a facist or a racist, even once it was abundantly clear that he is both.

And because many people chose to focus on the tone of their neighbors instead of the tone of the president — because they chose not to be outraged — too many politicians made the cynical decision to hold their noses and side with shit.

Since demanding decency from politicians was work most of us had never had to do before, most of us decided not to do it. Four years of folks “disliking the tone” but agreeing with the message, or disagreeing with the message but not saying anything about it, led to tacit acceptance. And now we have a horrifying and literal example of what “silence is complicity” means.

Now is the time to grab a shovel and confront the shit in the yard. If watching so-called defenders of law-and-order crush a police officer in a door won’t get you to write an email to your representative demanding consequences, we are never getting out of this mess. Failing to act risks ceding the moment to the loudest voices. And those voices, right now? They’d rather burn it all than fade.

Columbus-based writer, educator, and mom.