Wow, guys. So much has happened. Where do I start?
I’ve been trying to write about the Affordable Care Act for the last 10 days, but I keep getting interrupted by the Crazy Train running amok through Washington, D.C. Immigration. Abortion. Healthcare. Misplaced white nationalists. Absurdly inaccurate inaugural crowd estimates.
I once was a fan of the circus. As a child, I marveled at the trained lions, and men soaring across the rings as they were shot from cannons, and beautiful women hanging by their ponytails as they performed a mid-air ballet.
But now, the circus seems déclassé. No one wants to see animals, who might be treated unfairly, jumping through hoops and dancing around rings. Don’t even get me started on the clowns.
And yet here we are, every day and night spent glued to Twitter and Facebook and the cable news channels as we seek to make sense of the biggest American circus of all – the federal government with Donald J. Trump in charge.
I don’t know where to start. I am making my daily calls (thanks, Daily Action!) and contemplating other ways I can become involved and remain a force for good.
But it’s difficult.
On election night, when it became apparent that Hillary Clinton had lost, I posted a status on Facebook, asking everyone to remain calm. We didn’t really know what was going to happen; Donald Trump had been anything but predictable during the election season, so I did not feel that assumptions would be helpful.
Man, did I get a virtual earful that night from my friends who were rightfully scared. They detailed all the ways that a Trump presidency could ruin life as they knew it, and many had valid points. He could strip away hard-won rights for members of the LGBTQI community, he could appoint a radical justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, he could pick a fight with another country and launch World War III.
All true, to be sure.
I guess I was trying to convince myself to stay calm. As a psychotherapist, I spend much time explaining to my clients about the havoc chronic anxiety wreaks on our minds and bodies. It contributes to stress within our families and workplaces. Chronic anxiety leads to inflammation, the underlying cause of autoimmune disorders and possibly cancer.
I work with my clients on mindfulness, living in the moment, letting the past go and facing the future with a clear mind.
So I was trying to practice what I preach.
That’s difficult these days, though, with the three-ring circus coming out of Washington, D.C. Yet it remains even more important now that Donald Trump has been inaugurated that cooler heads prevail among those who resist his misogynistic, racist, nationalist agenda.
His daily executive orders and manufactured feuds with the press and Twitter bullying are meant to do one thing – keep us in an uproar. And when we’re upset and anxious and fearful, the amygdala takes over. That’s the part of the brain that governs the limbic system and regulates emotions. When the amygdala is in charge of the brain’s functioning, the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls critical thinking – cannot work.
It’s like a governor on a machine – something that regulates something else. The amygdala can overrule the prefrontal cortex when we’re in danger, telling the body to give us the shot of adrenaline to jump out of the way of a speeding car, for example, or to spring into action when we or someone we love is threatened.
The amygdala is an awesome thing, but when it works too much, it overheats and starts telling us we’re in danger when we really aren’t. Only by remaining calm can we think and analyze whether the danger is real or perceived.
Do you see what I’m saying? The current administration seeks to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear, so that we can’t stop and analyze what’s going on, such as sneaking a highly politicized and completely inexperienced white nationalist onto the National Security Council or demanding the resignations of many experienced career diplomats at the Department of State.
We must remain calm.
That does not mean we can’t react – we just need to do so in a thoughtful way that reflects that we have thought critically about the situation. Knee-jerk reactions will be dismissed and ineffective.
So here’s what I know:
1. Calling your senators and members of Congress is the most effective way to make your dissent heard.
You can write letters and e-mails, too, but daily phone calls get noticed and aren’t as easily discarded as postcards or e-mails. Your phone calls should be sincere and polite. You don’t want to give your elected officials any reason to say you’re histrionic. Ask questions. Ask for positions. Ask that the staffer you reach take down your name and ZIP code. And say, “thank you.” Being nice disarms someone who is expecting a fight.
2. This is a marathon, not a 5K.
It’s only Day 12 of a four-year term. Donald Trump has issued at least 20 executive orders since Jan. 20. You will wear yourself out if you attack every day with the gusto you did on Jan. 21. Do what you can. Give yourself time to rest. Read something other than the Huffington Post and Twitter. Turn off MSNBC every once in a while. And then come back to the issues recharged enough to keep going. You don’t want to flame out by March.
Here’s something a friend posted on Facebook, and she gave permission to share. I think it is heartening:
For everyone who DID something, small or big, your efforts have been successful.
Because of you:
1. Federal hiring freeze is reversed for VA (Veteran Affairs).
2. Court order, partial stay of the immigration ban for those with valid visas.
3. Green card holders can get back in country.
4. Uber pledges $3M and immigration lawyers for its drivers after #DeleteUber trends on Twitter.
5. Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) enrollment ads are still going to air.
6. The ACLU raised $24 million over the weekend (normally 3-4Mil/year).
7. HHS, EPA, USDA gag order lifted.
8. EPA climate data no longer scrubbed from website.
9. More people of different career/religious/economic/race backgrounds are considering running for political office than ever before.
10. MOST importantly, since we live in a participatory democracy, the people are engaged.
While more is needed, sometimes you have to celebrate your wins.
Stay vigilant, but also take self-care seriously. Activist burnout is a thing. Marathon, don’t sprint.
3. Love trumps hate.
Yes, the phrase is too precious. But it’s true. You cannot fight hatred with more hatred. It will consume you. You can only fight it with love.
What does that mean? How do you fight hatred with love? For me, it means that if I attempt to extract vengeance, I risk harming myself more than I do the person I’m aiming my vengeance toward. To fight hatred with love, you must remain calm. You must stare the hatred in the face with a calmness of spirit and a prayer in your heart that the hater will receive grace. You must outlast the hatred.
It’s not impossible as long as we keep this in mind while we’re striving to resist the hatred: Whatever we do should be out of love.
Love for our neighbors – those who are less fortunate, who come from other lands, who need our help.
Love for our children, who are watching how we handle this uncertain time. They’re watching and learning, and if we want them to forge a better future, we must show them how to love in the face of hate.
Love for our country, a deeply flawed place full of the children and grandchildren of brave men and women who fled persecution and hatred and economic hardship to build better lives for their families. They made mistakes along the way, of course, but everything they did, they did for the future. They made this place for us, and we should love it and cherish it and continue to speak out and fight with dignity for what we know is the way forward, not backward.
You can do it. Just keep calm.