President Donald Trump and My Dog’s Poop: A Story of Acceptance and Hope

There’s actually a (somewhat) reasonable explanation for why I have this picture.

As I’m sure was probably the case for many Americans, I had trouble sleeping last night. I couldn’t shake the anxiety and dread that grew part and parcel along with Donald Trump’s Electoral Vote tally.

My wife slept uneasily beside me, unaware of the impending doom but, as it often goes with her — somehow still aware. She tossed and turned and groaned and ground her teeth.

My wife is a Latina and a feminist who exited the polls crying yesterday, out of pride at having voted for a woman for President of The United States. I am a white man, and a fifth or sixth-generation Italian-American. I share her values of equal rights and representation for women and for all the races that make up our democracy.

We both suffer from anxiety and depression, and have dedicated much of the last several years of our life to advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America, and greater diversity and more accurate representation in the media.

I am not a Democrat or a Republican — in fact, I have no party affiliation. I am, however, a reasonable, compassionate human being who writes this from a place of deep disappointment with his country and fellow citizens.

When it became clear to me, last night, that Donald Trump was going to be elected as my next President, I stopped obsessively, desperately, checking my phone. I gave into fatigue, and slept.

My alarm went off this morning, as the same time it always does, and the first thing I did was confirm what I already instinctively knew — the worst-case scenario had indeed unfolded. A man whose principle political strategy was comprised of hate-mongering, and the exploitation of racial and sexist fears and biases, will soon take office as the 45th President of the United States.

What I did next might sound surprising — or perhaps not — it surprised me, a bit.

I shut off the alarm, I got up, and I went about my day. As I always do.

I didn’t wallow, and neither did I pretend that nothing had changed. Much has changed. I understand this. I also understand and would like to underscore the fact that, as a straight white male, this quick acceptance might come much easier to me than, say, a woman of color.

But I share all this because I think it’s of supreme importance that we accept this outcome and move forward as best we can.

Perhaps this is naive of me, and again, I think I’m only able to say it due to my privileged position — but I do not believe Donald Trump is going to prove to be the fascist that so many of us are afraid he’s going to turn out to be.

More likely, the next few years will reveal to all of us — his specific electorate included — the extent to which the man will lie and exploit fear in service of his own gain. This is how he has won, but it won’t serve him or us well as we go about the business of governing here and working with other countries around the globe in terms of international affairs.

I believe he will do much harm. I believe he’ll prove largely incompetent as a leader. And I do worry that I’m wrong in my estimation of the level of which he’s capable of pushing the hateful agenda espoused during his campaign — that he actually might have come to believe some of the venomous rhetoric he has co-opted from the far right of the Republican party, and turn it against minority populations in my country.

What Donald Trump will never do, however, is stop me from fighting. Neither will the results of this election distract me, for any longer than today, from my mission of doing what I can to make the world a better, more equitable place for the people whose anger and disillusionment I share — no matter their political affiliation, level of education, or how they might have voted yesterday.

I have expressed before on this site my belief that America is an abusive relationship with its economy. That much was made clear to us when this most recession swept through our population, hurting the average American more than anyone else, with little repercussions to those responsible.

Today, given that we’ve handed our Presidency to Donald Trump, and the remainder of our government to a Republican Party that has done little else but obstruct government for the past decade — I have to admit that this observation was incomplete.

It’s not just our economy. It’s our political system. Our culture. We’re so lost and desperate and confused and angry that we’ve just handed the most powerful position of influence in our country over to a man who cares very little about much more than himself and his own needs.

This is not a reasonable or an effective response to our very real — and shared — needs for identity, safety, clarity and fairness. Capitalism thrives on private interest, but capitalists, as a rule, dehumanize laborers and employees  into power and statistics for their own continued gain, with little regard for the health of the individual worker or the communities to which he or she belongs.

We have witnessed Donald Trump doing this to women. We have watched as he worked to establish his predecessor, President Obama, as an other, by calling his citizenship into question until such time as it no longer benefited himself to do so. It is a supreme, tragic injustice that a man with no real understanding or concern for the everyday American has catapulted himself into the White House by the power of millions of people with real fears and grievances, whose energy and voting power has been transmuted by cunning and misinformation in service of their own continued suffering.

These past few weeks, I have been waking up earlier, and taking longer walks with my dog. It brings me peace. Today, I made sure to stick to this routine.

Except, despite my acceptance and general hopefulness, I’ve been distracted all morning.

This is only natural. I’m worried about the lives that will be destroyed and lost before enough of us finally see the truth of all this for what it is. Forgive the silly example — again, white man of privilege here — but because of this distractedness I made an uncommon mistake this morning, and forgot to take a bag with me for picking up after my dog.

This does happen, sometimes. I always feel guilty when it does. I love my community and I try to do my part to keep it clean.

A few years ago, in this situation, before my own strides in acceptance and before I saw to the improvement of own my mental health, I would have either left my dog’s poop on the ground or attempted to pick it up with a leaf or a piece of trash. Either way I would have castigated myself for my mistake, all the way home.

Nowadays, instead, when this happens I keep an eye out for other dog-walkers. I ask if they have an extra bag. Much of the time, they do, and they’re happy to offer it. In this way, we’re collaborating to keep our neighborhood clean.

This morning, I was just realizing my mistake when I saw a young woman walking a black labrador just ahead of me. She was about the cross the street, moving away in the opposite direction. I asked if she happened to have an extra bag.

The woman stopped. She looked me squarely in the eye, and instead of answering the question she asked me — quite sincerely, in accented English — how I was doing. I got the sense that she was European, and not a citizen.

I told her that I was…distracted.

She expressed sympathy and gave me the bag. It was a simple gesture of solidarity and compassion, and I’m grateful for it.

But I’ve also been wondering at my answer — distracted.

Not terrible. Not hopeless. Not angry.

I feel distracted.

Because I have accepted the reality that Donald Trump is going to be my President. Whether we want to admit this or not, it’s the truth. And, while I am afraid of the damage he’s inevitably going to do — I have hope that not all is lost.

I’m going about my life.

In the process, I continue to feel my feelings. It’s not that I’m not angry, or struggling with sadness and disappointment. But I’m processing these emotions — at my own pace, to be fair to anyone still reeling from the results of the presidential race. To be honest, though, I’m starting to get the sense that this travesty is going to at least provide me with some extra fuel for the coming fights, of which there will likely be many.

As a realist, I never had much invested in this election in the first place. With the exception of a brief moment wherein Bernie Sanders seemed to have a shot, I never had much hope for an optimal result. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that I wasn’t able to identify the clear better candidate when voting.

And yet, that doesn’t matter now, does it?

What matters now is that I  — and we — exercise caution. This mess we’re in has expressed itself numerically, in terms of the results we now have to live with. But, as time goes on and things inevitably get worse for the majority of Americans over the next few years, we must instead turn our attention not to remastering the numbers but the recovery of our collective spirit.

For myself, I plan to continue to work as a mental health advocate, as a resource for practical tactics and results-driven personal growth, and as a champion of diversity and or compassion.

There will be more pain. There will be more hate. We cannot allow it to distract us. There’s work to be done — hard work that we won’t often want to do, or that will seem hopeless. But it’s imperative that we show fortitude and courage.

It’s the only thing that can work.

profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

As America Bleeds Again, A Defining Moment (On Boston and Sandy Hook)

Up until a few hours ago, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write anything about the bombings in Boston. As some of you may know, I’ve been keeping my eye away from the trappings of the 24-hour news cycle, popping in at mostly-predetermined times for a few moments here and there in order to stay informed. I’ve allowed myself a little more time to keep up a dialogue with people on social media channels…and that’s how I heard about what happened at the marathon on Monday.

I still don’t know what to say about it. What can be said? Despite the best, noblest efforts of all who have tried (and please understand I do not begrudge anyone their right to express their feelings) – what can be said? More senseless violence. Mere months after Sandy Hook.

I am writing, anyway, for two reasons. First, I am the same as everyone else. We feel these tragedies personally, if we are at all human, and when we feel them the overwhelming rush of anguish is more than we can often handle in the moment. So we cry, and we cry out. We get angry. We try to laugh, when and where it’s appropriate.

The second reason requires more in the way of explanation.

The peculiarity of tragedies like the bombings in Boston is that, in direct contradiction to the intentions of their perpetrators, the damage done to “a few” has a swelling, rallying effect in terms of the power of the many to respond with solidarity, whatever that may mean in the end. Almost always – and this only makes the unnecessary loss that much sadder – awful days like this past Monday end up bringing people together. We mourn, we seek answers, we seek vengeance or justice, we seek an end to the pain that will eventually pass from the day-to-day but will always linger, in perpetuity, over time. A wound has been opened in Boston, just as a wound has scarred over in Newtown, as it has here in New York City, as it has in many other parts of our country throughout our history.

The unsurprising solidarity other Americans have shown in supporting Boston will go far to help heal its wound. But with sincerest apologies to the victims of this most recent tragedy, I have to admit that I do not think it will be enough.

As I wrote months ago, America is sick. These horrific acts are not coming from out of the ether, and neither, in a day and age where we have come to understand the machinations of the universe on a subatomic level – can we simply lay blame for the carnage on the corrupt element within a single, tortured soul. Say what you will about the history and existence of the soul. We know enough, on a reasonable and scientific level, to know that evil – in most cases – does not wound this world only because of an innate, mysterious, all-encompassing darkness in the hearts of individuals. Regardless, we do not live as individuals, and so we have no right to pretend that matters of such dire social import can be explained away on an individual level.

Let me be clear: no one is responsible for the deaths and injuries at the marathon except for the person or persons who planted the bombs. However, again, questions need to be asked.

Once the who has been figured out, and the why, and once the answers to both questions are found wanting in terms of offering anything more than the necessary dose of closure, we need to ask how. How could this have happened? How could we have stopped it?

Maybe there aren’t answers. Probably, though, there are some worth trying out, some ideas about the true state our society that are worth exploring and discussing, ideas that won’t heal the wounds of the past and present but can perhaps help us improve the future.

Do I know what questions to ask, this time around? I’m not sure. Definitely, I’m not sure yet. Like I said, I didn’t know if I was going to write anything about the bombings. My only reaction, up until a few hours ago, much like my reaction to Sandy Hook, was to feel pain and sadness. I did not get angry.

No. I didn’t get angry until I checked the front page of The New York Times today and saw that the gun control legislation, that had been proposed in the wake of Sandy Hook, was dead. Our elected officials, acting under the direction of entrenched, moneyed special interests, killed it.

Innocent children died, and in the wake of their death we had at least an opportunity to prevent more death. And now, mere days after more unnecessary violence and bloodshed – and I don’t care what kind of violence it is – that opportunity is gone.

We’ll have answers, immediately, at least, the next time more innocents are gunned down by a disturbed individual with a machine gun. We’ll know why and how. And we’ll know who.

Americans, this is your current United State Congress, shrinking from the moment. Predominantly, it is your Congress-held-hostage…by backwards, right-wing, aged white male Republicans who continue to make no secret of the fact that the only things that matter to them are power and money and the safety that comes with having both.

This is your Congress. Cowing to fear, and letting it all remain the same, even as The People demands progress. This is not about politics. It is about reason. And humanity. And the Republicans and Democrats who voted against gun control today failed to honor both these tenets of modern civilization at the same time they were failing every man, woman, and child who died at Sandy Hook

What I Liked This Week: 2/9/13

Something I did not like this week was the migraine that slowly knocked me on my ass last night. But, like many painful things, that particular annoyance eventually passed. The morning brings new vigor.

Sah what did I like this week?

  • The sight of my 10-inch tall terrier, bounding happily through 6 inches of snow. Not only was this ca-yute — my dog is normally frightened of dirt. And sticks. And microwaves. I call it progress.
  • The Paperboy, the latest flick from Lee Daniels, who also directed Precious. Without going too far into the reasons why The Paperboy didn’t perform as well as Precious, suffice it to say that the film — I liked it. I don’t know how many people are likely to agree with me (I could see how it could be hard to like) but I have a few reasons why the flick works for me. First, it’s audacious. Lee Daniels has some big, big balls. There’s no other way to describe the choice to cash in all the cred he earned with Precious to make a film that he might not have been able to make otherwise. Enormous respect (for his enormous balls). Second, the story manages to exist in at least four genres at once. I don’t think it’s very easy to accomplish this (most wouldn’t try!) while still managing to create an entertaining, eminently watchable (IMO) film. Like Perks (from last week’s WILTW) The Paperboy may admittedly end up more palatable to those of us who admit to being at least a little broken. But again, like Perks, it probably first requires that more of us admit brokenness than are willing to, on a day to day basis, before it can do its true “job.” You can’t fix what you won’t acknowledge isn’t working. I liked The Paperboy.
  • This article about the jump in millennial unemployment. I don’t like this. However, I like that someone is paying attention to this. Little made me angrier during the past presidential campaign than claims on the part of the Romney ticket and the Republican party that the President’s policies were alternately killing jobs or failing to create enough jobs. The reasons this made me angry include:
    1. The fact that the President often succeeded during his first term in doing at least something to create jobs and foster growth — in the face of intense Republican opposition that was clearly prioritizing his ouster and the agenda of special interests, instead of the good of the people (who need good jobs, and the opportunity and ability to learn new skills, and higher wages).
    2. The fact that such ridiculousness was and is distracting us from the fact that the economy still sucks (for most Americans, at least), that the limited job growth we’ve seen is largely coming in the form of part-time work, or low-skilled jobs, and comes with low wages — even as corporations continue to perch themselves atop piles of record profits.
    3. The fact that, as the above article alludes to, we’re killing our future. Sorry, scratch that. Our future is being held hostage by a slim minority of rich old people who, in the face of uncertainty they engineered, greedily and obstinately continue to choose to squeeze blood from the stone instead of…maybe…I don’t know…working to expand the economy such as to provide opportunity for the future? But, no. I’m the crazy one (I’m not the crazy one).
  • This article, about a program that introduces teens to the grisly (deadly) consequences of gun violence, as they appear at a North Philadelphia hospital. I actually hate this. I hate that it makes sense to me. Do you know why it makes sense? Because we’ve become that divorced from reality that ideas like this seem necessary. We’ve become divorced from the reality of what goes on everyday in our society, as well as the reality that the solutions to our problems don’t rest in political squabbling, or new or old policies, or through more debate. Definitely, such solutions don’t rest in more restrictions on our privacy and freedom. They rest where they’ve always rested: in education. In knowledge. In reasoned thought and experimentation. You have to start somewhere, in attempting to “solve” any given social issue. Why not start close to the beginning? This is how ugly and sad it is.
  • This column, analyzing the persistence (and growth) of racial resentment in the United States. I don’t actually like this. It makes me feel ashamed, more on behalf of our country than on a personal level. I’m not ashamed on a personal level because I used to be a little bit racist (and a little bit sexist, and a little bit homophobic), and now I’m not. Because all those things are wrong, and antithetical in the completest terms to ideas of equality and freedom.

And if you can’t agree on that, you’re fooling yourself. Stop it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Hit me up anytime. Have a good week.