On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

There was a moment, last March, when I woke in the middle of the night and suddenly understood the feeling of emotional vertigo I’d been grappling with, my sense that the ground beneath me was no longer solid. I had known for a long time, in an intellectual way, that my country was no longer what I had thought, for all of my life, it was. But I had told myself that the foundation of our lives was steady. Yes, terrible things were happening, but nothing was permanent, and in the meantime life would go on as it essentially always had. That’s how it had been during both Bush administrations, right? I had told myself that what was happening was extreme, and our institutions were damaged and would need repair, but we were fundamentally sound. Right?

Then the pandemic hit, and it became starkly clear that our institutions were broken and we were all on our own in a way I had never seen. As hospitals scrambled for PPE, and the country shut down with no relief for those who suddenly had no livelihood, and our president held press briefings every day in which he brazenly lied to us, I saw that things I’d believed (hoped) could never happen here already had. I felt dread and anxiety settle over me like a cloak, and as 2020 progressed through police violence and protests and fights over masks and school openings while people died and fires blazed and we choked on toxic air, its weight grew heavier and heavier.

When Trump lost the presidential election, it lightened. I knew that victory wasn’t a silver bullet. I knew things weren’t going to go back to some Before and that the forces that had brought us Trump weren’t going to magically disappear, but–at the very least, I thought–we’d have a reprieve from the onslaught and an administration that would restore functionality to our government agencies.

The reprieve ended before the new presidency even began. It didn’t happen all at once on January 6, but has unfolded slowly (and then quickly) over the days since then, as layers of information have peeled back what happened to a core that is (for me, at any rate) as ground-shaking as the one that emerged in March. Like then, I knew how things were, but I didn’t know know. Now I do.

Sometime in the last week I returned to Sarah Kendzior’s November 2016 essay “We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump.” I remember reading it the first time that November, in my car, on my phone, after participating in a protest march. I remember these words–

“I have been studying authoritarian states for over a decade, and I would never exaggerate the severity of this threat. Others who study or have lived in authoritarian states have come to the same conclusion as me.”

and feeling both the weight of their truth and a simultaneous disbelief because…well, there are so many reasons I don’t even know where to start. It’s bad, but not that bad, I told myself, shivering in the dark. It can’t be. I remembered the Sinclair Lewis novel that had chilled me when I read it at the height of the Reagan era–It Can’t Happen Here–and repeated to myself the lie in the title of that book. Don’t over-react, I told myself. It might not be that bad, I thought. (The gaslighting we do to ourselves might be the very worst kind.)

I returned to her essay because, as I absorbed the truth of what recent events mean about so many things, I felt myself shift to new acceptance of things I once found unimaginable. OK, I thought. This kind of violence is no longer impossible here. I felt myself accepting this in the same way I’ve come to accept that children will die in school shootings and black men calling for help will die under the boots of police officers and our elderly and disabled will die alone, trapped in nursing homes where Covid has run rampant because our government is broken and we have forsaken them. Acceptance doesn’t mean that I condone these things but that I feel myself shifting into seeing them as inevitable. Over four years I have watched myself lose my ability to feel shock; instead, when the news fills with words and images of another injustice, I am often numb. If I feel anything, it is most often weariness. “Why are you surprised?” is often my response to someone sharing news of another breach of what was once a norm.

Kendzior wrote about how all of us might find ourselves doing things we once thought we’d never do, and four years ago I thought that meant the kind of things I’d read about in Nazi Germany–stifling speech, turning neighbors into the police, looting the homes of those who’d disappeared in the middle of the night. It didn’t occur to me until re-reading her words that the actions we thought we’d never take could be passive and internal.

In her essay, Kendzior urged us to write down who we were and what we believed and what our lives had been so far, so that we wouldn’t forget it. She cautioned:

“Authoritarianism is not merely a matter of state control, it is something that eats away at who you are. It makes you afraid, and fear can make you cruel. It compels you to conform and to comply and accept things that you would never accept, to do things you never thought you would do.

You do it because everyone else is doing it, because the institutions you trust are doing it and telling you to do it, because you are afraid of what will happen if you do not do it, and because the voice in your head crying out that something is wrong grows fainter and fainter until it dies.”

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

This is where I read Kendzior and find myself wondering. In important ways, I don’t want to remain the person I was then (much as I miss feeling the security I once felt). I want, now, to be clear-eyed and awake, and I don’t want to be cruel. I think–especially when we are swimming in cultural waters filled with lies and distortions–that it can be difficult to parse out what acceptance and resistance really mean. That I no longer feel shocked at things that were once shocking might be less about acceptance and more about stepping out of denial. Periodic numbing might, at least in the short term, be a necessary response so that we do not drown. We need to figure out how to accept reality without accepting that reality is OK. I read Kendzior now and wonder how we determine when authoritarianism actually starts. If it is about making us forget who we are and what we believe in, then for me it did not start with Donald Trump. It probably started during the first Iraq war. Reagan, like Trump, was a masterful communicator who lied. We called him the Teflon president because no matter what he was caught in, it seemed to roll off him without consequence. Like Trump, his agenda was about strengthening white supremacy by gutting social supports and shifting wealth to already wealthy and powerful white Americans while scapegoating and incarcerating those who were not white. That agenda was continued by Bush, and something about that war broke something in me. I turned inward and away from forces and a fight I felt powerless to affect. I became apathetic.

Kendzior cautioned us that our power comes from hanging on to who we truly are, and that “to protect and wield this power, you need to know yourself – right now, before their methods permeate, before you accept the obscene and unthinkable as normal.”

But the obscene and unthinkable are normal. It’s all I’ve ever known, really. It’s us. It’s who we’ve almost always been. “This is not normal,” has been a drumbeat of the white, liberal resistance since Trump took office, to which people have color have consistently answered, “Yes, it is. This has always been normal for us.”

As I’ve been letting my thoughts spool out in this ramble of a post (all I can manage this week), on a weekend in which we honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, I think maybe the best thing I can land on is this: I don’t want to hang onto 2016 me. To be any kind of light to anyone, I need to go back much further.

*******

Been while since I’ve offered dots, but here are some that have informed this week’s thinking:

Can the forces unleashed by Trump’s big election lie be undone?

The dangerous magical thinking of “this is not who we are”

An Air Force combat veteran breached the Senate

As US Capitol attack unfolded, some staffers remembered their school shooting drills

The radicalization of Kevin Greeson

19 thoughts on “On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

    • Rita says:

      That’s a great perspective to keep in mind–“it’s just business.” Thank you for contributing this to my/our thinking.

      • Marian says:

        I just happened across this short film entitled “Who We Really Are . . . When Everything Goes Wrong,” and I think it also adds to this discussion.

  1. Marian says:

    As with so much of what you’ve written over the past months (years), I’m struggling to know how best to respond. I don’t feel that I can or should comment on the particulars of what’s happening politically in the US right now, and the things I think I *can* say are pretty jumbled. As your friend, I want to point out that hindsight is 20/20. And, that speaking up or taking action is sometimes next to impossible; sometimes speaking up means you don’t live (literally or figuratively) to see another day. I’ve blogged just a bit about the fact that I edited my father-in-law’s memoir, but what I didn’t mention was that the hardest section to work with was the part in which my FIL talked about his own father and wondered whether he knew what was going on with the Holocaust. His father was an Austrian living and farming in Poland just a short distance from Auschwitz, so how could he not know, my FIL wondered, and yet his father remained silent. My FIL posited that because his father had gone through WWI and had been a POW for most of it, he simply didn’t have the capacity for anything other than self-preservation. I think many people stay silent for this reason, but I suspect the road to “I can’t speak up because I will lose my life” is paved with a lot of instances of “I can’t speak up because I don’t want people to dislike me” or “I can’t speak up because I can’t take the conflict.” I know that you have tried to speak up about a variety of things, Rita, on FB and perhaps in other places too, and that you have not made much headway, just as I have tried to speak up and not made much headway. Sometimes I have felt as though the situations I’ve found myself in over the last few years are microcosms of what’s been happening with Trump and the US. I think about the way I was drummed out of the elementary school because one power-hungry parent subverted democracy and then spread lies through the community about me and my motives. I had weeks of sleepless, anxiety-filled nights in which I couldn’t find a safe place to park my brain—partly because everything I had believed about the way people were *supposed* to act (i.e., to be principled) was suddenly stripped away. And then, when I was able and wanting to try again—this time with a local climate group—much the same thing happened, even after I did my best to ensure the group had all the right democratic checks and balances in place. Kendzior’s “[i]f you are brave, stand up for others. If you cannot be brave – and it is often hard to be brave – be kind” shouldn’t be a radical ask. And yet I have seen, over and over, that not only are people often not brave, they’re also often not kind, especially when they (for whatever reason—likability or wanting to keep the peace) don’t want to heed the warnings and choose instead to portray someone as over-reacting. It is really disheartening 🙁 .

    Stay safe, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      The story about your FIL’s father reminds me of a day in my high school history class on 20th Century Europe. It was the day we considered the ordinary Germans, particularly those who lived in towns near the camps and must have known (at the very least) that something terrible was happening in them. Some of my classmates were quite harsh in their judgement of those Germans and speculated that they would have done something had they been in their place. I remember thinking about my great-grandparents who had immigrated from Germany in the 1910s and what it might have meant for them had they not, and I spoke up and said that I doubted that I or any of them would likely do anything different than the Germans had, because to have done so would have meant risking death. I still think that’s true. I think most people do what they have to do to survive, which sometimes means believing (or disbelieving) things that feel like a threat to survival. I think that when it comes to climate change, many of us are in denial because we cannot tolerate the existential crisis that acknowledging the true state of things would create. I hold no judgement against your FIL’s father or those caught in circumstances they really cannot change. I reserve my condemnation for those who have power and use it to oppress others for their own selfish gain. I do try, always, to be kind.

      As for my own speaking up, I don’t think of it in terms of making headway. I figure I am always preaching to the choir. I think it’s important for us to sing to each other, to strengthen us in the face of constant gaslighting, to help ground ourselves in what we can verify is true. I’m grateful to have you in my community, and for the perspective you bring and share. FWIW, I don’t think one has to be an American to have a voice opinions about what is happening here. I know the impacts of our instability are far-reaching. And often, those who can see something most clearly are those who aren’t immersed in it.

      • Marian says:

        “I think most people do what they have to do to survive, which sometimes means believing (or disbelieving) things that feel like a threat to survival.” I completely agree with this, but I think some of us (perhaps especially those of us who are lifelong outsiders) underestimate the necessity of being part of a group. It’s been shown that ostracism has the same effects in the brain as physical pain, which means we humans are hard-wired to be part of a community—we know, deep down, that we can’t survive on our own. It’s been my experience (as a lifelong outsider) that most people don’t welcome the insights of someone who is not in their circle, and that it takes a very big person to get past their initial defensiveness. Perhaps this is why we have the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger”!

        I think one of the problems I face is that I don’t want to always be preaching to the choir. I 100% agree that it’s important for us to bolster each other and to ask for reality checks. But I think even when we have the best of intentions, we often end up missing or downplaying important information, and the effect of this is that we more or less gaslight each other. This is what I see in the environmental movement. The fact that I can see this is actually one of my other problems. Maybe one day, if I’m brave enough, I’ll be able to tell you why I was/am an outsider there too, and why I was deemed an unsuitable member of the choir.

        • Rita says:

          Now I am the person struggling to know how best to respond. I can feel the pain in your words, and I wish I could alleviate it, but I know I probably can’t. I know some things about being an outsider–enough to understand what you’re saying here. I’ve also had the experience of being part of “outsider” groups and feeling like an outsider within the group (if that makes sense). Perhaps it’s just my own deep-seated wariness of groupthink, which I can probably attribute to the consistent anti-Nazi messaging I received throughout my youth. Or, maybe it’s just that I often seem to see things differently from most folks. Even if there is no disagreement or conflict, it can get lonely. (I think the loneliest moments in my life have occurred in groups of people.) Looking back at my experiences, I see that even in groups where I felt more outside than in, I’ve always been able to find acceptance and belonging from a person or two. Sometimes that’s been enough to keep me OK within the group, and sometimes not. It’s certainly a reason I have changed jobs and moved away from some communities. I feel fortunate to have had the ability to make such changes. I know you are living in a small community and don’t have the option to leave it. I so hope you have a person or two IRL who accepts all of who you are. We do all need that.

          • Marian says:

            Thank you for this, Rita—your experiences of being an outsider (in all its varieties) closely match my own experiences, including the feeling of being loneliest while in a group of people, which I think must stem from seeing things differently. I do have two IRL friends here in this small community, and they both accept me as I am, as I do for them.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    Kendzior was spot on. I knew she was when I began reading her thoughts in 2016. Such a smart woman whose predictions rang true. Over these last years I’ve struggled with the feeling of déjà vu because I had the unfortunate experience of having a family member, male, who was a compulsive liar. Thus as tRump “brazenly lied to us” it all felt oddly familiar and horrifying. And that’s in addition to worrying about the big picture issues like the future of America. What a nightmare this has been.
    Ally Bean recently posted…The One About Making No More DoughMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yes, she was. And I knew it back in 2016. I think often we know things in layers. I’m trying to get better at just accepting things I know–even when many others don’t–before needing terrible proof. I think all of us who’ve had intimate experience with narcissistic personalities saw what was what early on. Still, as it was with my personal narcissist, I hoped it wouldn’t be that bad (because it was going to be a nightmare if it was). Some lessons can take a long time to learn.

  3. TD says:

    Interesting and relevant clip. Thanks for adding it to our thought process of this post, Marian

    As far as the conversation between Marian and Rita, I have not thought of myself as an outsider or an insider. I do comprehend the outsider or insider concept and feelings of both. I often accept that I am different from some other people and it is easier on my mental health to think of myself as unique.

  4. Kate says:

    Oh Rita, I’ve spent over 25 minutes writing a response and all I really want to say is yes, for so many people, our shock and our outrage is laughable. And yet, there are elements of this that are not normal. Not even in the Civil War was our capital building attacked.

    I read somewhere that one of the reasons we have ended up with Trump is that every single Republican in recent history was painted as a monster by the left, so by the time a real monster came along, Democrats were a bit like the boy who cried wolf. It may be an unpopular thing to say here, but I think that is true. We can disagree with the policies of both Bushes and Reagan. We can call out those policies as perpetuating institutional racism and environmental harm (Clinton – hell, probably every President – is guilty on one or both of those), but Trump is something completely different.

    So much of this post (and the comments that followed) had me nodding in agreement that I hate to write a comment that could be seen as a dissent, but I am very concerned in the push toward the fringe (in both parties) and the vilification of people because of their ideas and not the ideas themselves. It’s dangerous. It pushes people out of the middle and into echo chambers. And echo chambers lead to sieges on capital buildings.

    Finally, you mention knowing things in layers in one of your comments. I appreciated this so much. Your bookclub (in 2016?) led to me reading voices I wouldn’t have read otherwise, and those lead me down a rabbit hole of finding others who really have gotten me through the horrors we’ve been facing. Many of the voices are women of color, women who like you who say “this is not shocking” and “why are you surprised?” to the travesty but still feel hope (and anger and outrage and fear) and joy. I am a very different person than I was four years ago and it scares me how ignorant I was and how ignorant some of my family still chooses to be, but like those in Germany, I think some people don’t have the stomach to deal with the horror of what our country TRULY has done. (For example, I recently learned that the Nazis used our own segregation laws as a guide in establishing the holocaust – even blanching at our “one drop” blood quantum levels.) I have thoughts on that, but I think that would make this comment of mine far too long.

    Thank you for sharing with us, Rita. I have no doubt, I’m a better person because of your blog.
    Kate recently posted…Tuesday ThingsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I have spent many minutes and have tried several different approaches to a response, and I’ve decided that this medium just isn’t the right one for the conversation I’d like to have. I’ll just say this: I also think Trump is something completely different, but at the same time I think that, in some ways, he’s not. I think Trump is different in that he’s a sociopathic narcissist who truly does not care about others or about upholding democracy and stability. I wouldn’t say that about any of the presidents of my lifetime.

      Although I can never be grateful for what he’s done and put us all through, I am grateful that his push to a far end of a spectrum has helped me and so many other white Americans see other points along it more clearly, and to see ways in which we have upheld white supremacy throughout our history. I hope that clearer vision helps move us forward and beyond.

      • Kate says:

        “This medium isn’t the right one for the conversation I’d like to have.” Made me chuckle a little. Yes to that. One thing I’m sure of – is that I’m not holding onto much tightly. I’ve been wrong about too much. I do appreciate your thoughts and agree with you wholly on the not grateful/grateful.

        Happy Inauguration Day!

        • Rita says:

          I always appreciate your thoughts, too. I meant to say in my last response (and did, in some versions of it) that I am not opposed to dissent. I think it’s healthy and that we need it. So please never worry about that.

          Happy day to you, too. Boy, it’s been a long time coming.

      • Marian says:

        This discussion is reminding me of this Ideas episode on CBC Radio: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/why-george-monbiot-is-fighting-to-build-a-politics-of-belonging-to-better-our-world-1.5720535
        From it, comes this bit:
        ‘However, Monbiot points to studies that show for those in power who govern, selfishness and greediness tend to be dominant values.
        “Somehow we, as broadly altruistic people, have allowed profoundly selfish and grasping psychopathic, narcissistic people to govern us and to tell us how our lives should be run.
        “And I think we’ve sort of been just led into that incrementally, step-by-step until we can’t stand back far enough to see the mess we got ourselves into.”‘

        I recently heard a journalist say something along the lines of if Trump had been less clumsy and more polished (and if he hadn’t completely bungled the COVID response), he would still be in power. The worrying thing now is that the next person the GOP selects as a leader will be smarter and won’t make the same mistakes that Trump did.

        The thing that is most striking to many Canadians, including me, is how polarized and ugly US politics is. Most Americans seem to include their political party in their very identity, which is something that mostly doesn’t happen here in Canada. In the US you *are* a Democrat or a Republican (or, less commonly, an Independent); in Canada we (mostly) *vote* liberal or conservative or NDP or green. I think because our politics are mostly not part of our identity, there is less of an us-versus-them mentality, which gives us a bit more room to examine the issues with a cooler head. Canadian politicians do not go around calling the other side “evil,” for example, as Trump did in his speech on the day of the Capitol riot.

        Although I am on the left side of politics, I agree with Kate: I see a huge danger in how the left is operating. These are incredibly difficult conversations to have. My older son and his GF (also on the left) are very politically aware, and our discussions over the past couple of years have become extremely testy, mostly because I’m seeing that they are not fully taking into account human nature and the considerable risk of natural consequences—especially in the US where everyone is armed.

        • Rita says:

          I agree that if Trump had been less obviously racist and inept, and if it weren’t for the pandemic, he could very well still be our President–and that is chilling to me.

          I cannot speak for all Americans, but I can tell you my story. For most of my life, I would say that things here were not that different from what you describe for Canadians. I grew up in a bipartisan family; both my parents and one set of grandparents regularly joked that it was a waste of time for them to vote and they always canceled each other’s votes out. (But vote they did, and it was instilled in me that voting was not just a privilege, but an obligation.) In my home state (Washington), one didn’t need to declare a party affiliation when registering to vote. When I moved to Oregon and had to do that, I registered as an independent primarily because it made me angry that I had to choose. I kept that designation until 2016; I changed it only because I wanted to be able to vote in the Democratic primary (only party members can do that) and because by that time the Republican party had so changed that I knew it was unlikely I’d vote for any Republican candidates. (I did vote for a Republican senator when I first moved here because I thought he was a good senator.) I can tell you about my dad, a lifelong conservative, who has abandoned the Republican party because he no longer recognizes it. He’s still conservative, but he cannot stomach what he’s seen since Obama became president. I think he feels like a person without a party.

          Neither my father nor I have been radicalized by the left. I disagree with plenty I see there (because I’ve never been a wholesale joiner of anything, I suppose), but I honestly don’t know what you mean by “how the left is operating.” What I have seen over the past 12 years is one party who made obstruction their primary goal when Obama came into office and who–by changing operating rules for the Senate–have been able to implement their agenda without anything resembling bipartisan support. I’ve watched their leader sit on bills and refuse to bring them up for a vote. They refused to seat a moderate Supreme Court justice nominee, and then rammed through 3 judges that many, many Americans had legitimate concerns about. They haven’t been able to win the presidency by winning the popular vote since the first Bush was elected; gerrymandering, voter suppression, and propaganda have been effective tools to win minority rule. I know that politics has never been especially “clean” and photos of Bill Clinton partying with Donald Trump tell me that to believe Democrats are pure would make me naive to the point of stupidity. It makes me ill to see how politics in general operates, and how the wealthy in both parties enrich themselves at the expense of those who have far much less. Still, I see far more danger in how the right has operated for years. And now, after four years of brazenly lying and not standing up to someone who so obviously wanted to subvert democratic processes and oppress women and people of color, I have no trust in the Republican party. I don’t think most people who voted for Trump are evil, but I have likely used the word “evil” to describe Mitch McConnell, who I think has done as much or more damage as Donald Trump. I think white domestic terrorists are evil. There is no equivalent on the left to the people who stormed our capitol, so, yeah–I have aligned myself for one side and against the other. This is not me living in a bubble. I have almost as much disdain for MSNBC as I do Fox News. My views come from my values, of course, but also from grounding in verifiable fact about what has happened here since 2008–and then what I have learned about our history from the very beginning of my government’s founding–a history I was never taught in school. (Which has me thinking of Dr. King’s words about “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” than a “positive peace which is the presence of justice.” Sometimes I long with all of my being for a return to what felt like a peaceful and more unified time, but I understand now that it was likely more a negative peace than a just one.)

          As for our young people, I have had similar conversations with my children and come to some of my understandings through those conversations, testy as they sometimes get. Although I think their ideas about solutions aren’t grounded in what’s possible, I understand where they are coming from. They do not have the same prospects I had at their age. My working class parents and I were able to pay my way through my college education without debt. As a first-year teacher, I was able to buy a house for a reasonable amount of money–possible, in large part, because I wasn’t shackled with debt from paying for my education. As a young teacher I had access to good and affordable health care, and I didn’t have to really think about retirement because I was part of a pension program that would I knew would provide me a similar lifestyle at the conclusion of my career. It never occurred to me to worry about any part of the world becoming uninhabitable during my lifetime. Almost none of these things are true for most young people today. I didn’t see capitalism as evil because–frankly–I was blissfully unaware of its impacts on colonized countries and on our own environment. I and everyone I knew was doing OK within that system, so I didn’t question it. When I make arguments about “human nature,” one of my children questions how I can know what human nature is because we are all so deeply formed by the competitive systems we’ve been living in. It’s a valid question. I trace these changes back to Reagan, whose historic tax cuts began the shift of wealth to those already at the top and the gutting of social programs. It breaks my heart to have a child who has decided not to have any of her own because she thinks it is morally wrong to bring one into a world such as ours now is. “The climate issue alone, Mom,” are words I’ll never unhear.

          I do not know what the answers are. I think we are in a terrible, perilous place. I do not know how we combat propaganda. It feels like a genie has been let out of a bottle, and there is no stuffing it back in. I know that the only way to a better place in any difficult situation is not around, but through. I feel we are having a reckoning with the shameful, unjust parts of our history, and it might not be able to be any different than what it is. I see misguided and misinformed people all along the political spectrum–and I’ve been uninformed about so many things I never assume there are things I’m not yet seeing–but I think we’ve moved far beyond what we usually mean when we use the word “politics,” and this is why we’re seeing what we are in the US, and why our political identities have become so merged with who we see ourselves to be.

          • Marian says:

            I think I need to make sure you understand that I am firmly, 100%, on the left, and that I see and abhor the actions of the Republican party. I didn’t grow up in a home that talked politics, so I didn’t understand anything about the way systems work or about how policy gets formed until I was well into adulthood. But what I did learn in my family of origin taught me a lot about what people are capable of when they feel backed into a corner or when the shame and blame is relentless. Although I try to be careful with my words, I sometimes mess up, and my thinking about “how the left is operating” would have been better expressed as “how the left is speaking.” I don’t think it is the left that is radicalizing people toward their side, but rather the right that is capitalizing on fear, which is radicalizing people to their side. In conversations with my son, he will sometimes say I put too much emphasis on what he sees as appeasement. If that’s true, and it likely is, I can’t help but think it’s because of what I saw growing up. Getting to a “positive peace which is the presence of justice” wasn’t possible in my family home, and my experiences growing up have made me think very hard about how people can get past trauma and violence. I don’t know if it’s actually possible or if some differences are irreconcilable, but I know language matters.

            (I watched Joe Biden’s inauguration this morning and for the first time in a long time I’m feeling a bit of hope. The youth poet laureate was AMAZING.)

          • Rita says:

            Thank you for this, Marian. Like I said, I honestly don’t know what the right way forward is. I know that appeasement doesn’t work with authoritarians. I know that shame and blame following WWI had much to do with how we got to WWII. I know how much those in power like to pit those of us who don’t have it against each other (so that we can’t band together to claim some for ourselves). And I know far more than I wish I did about doing everything I could to keep negative peace because conflict felt (because it sometimes was) too dangerous. I’ve been reading a bit lately about why arguing with Trump supporters is counter-productive, as it only strengthens their beliefs, which are not based on fact or reasoning. I think about all of these things often, and about how more of us than I let myself believe have been radicalized.

            I wasn’t able to watch the inauguration because of work, which I need to get back to, but I will later. I especially want to see Amanda Gorman. I want some of that hope.

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