No Choice: Why Escapism is No Longer an Option in Trump's America
If you could pick, what era would you live in?
As a former history teacher, I often thought about this question. In addition to being asked this by my inquisitive students, the question also tugged at my own morals, ethics, and values. Would I want to live in a time of peace and prosperity? Or would I want to live in a time of great conflict and war? Would I want to live in a time where I could potentially alter the outcome of history? Or would I want to live in a previously unstudied time and place where I could be documenting an era untouched and unseen by historians?
With so many options, I will confess that my answer has changed over time. In middle school, I read Johnny Tremain and thus my first era would be as that of a child coming of age during the Revolutionary War (I like to think that Johnny Tremain was the precursor to Hamilton). In high school, when the idea of becoming a teacher first came onto my radar, I began to share my father's passion for the Civil War and thought how interesting it would be to serve in the Union Army. In college, my Spanish minor taught me about a time when poet Gabriel García Lorca, artist Salvador Dalí, and director Luis Buñuel all lived together in the same Madrid residence in the late 1920s and 1930s and I thought how amazing it would be to be their fourth suitemate. And when I finally began teaching world history, I was particularly partial to Ibn Battuta, whose story as a 14th-century Muslim scholar traveling the Middle East greatly appealed to my own desire to not only study these distant lands but to also one day travel to them.
As someone living through the Age of Trump, I frequently come back to this question.
And the reason I come back to it is because for the first time in my life, I've become painfully aware that we cannot change the times in which we live. As a millennial born in George Orwell's fateful 1984, I can honestly say that the first 32 years of my life allowed me the opportunity to escape into fantasy and envision myself somewhere other than the present time. I was four-years-old when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The First Gulf War seemed like one big movie to my seven-year-old self. The Bill Clinton impeachment hearings allowed my fourteen-year-old self to cleverly wear a WHITE HOUSE INTERN shirt during my class trip to Washington, DC. At age sixteen, I saw the Twin Towers go down and had no idea why someone would want to attack America. At age twenty-two, a handful of my friends were sent to Iraq and Afghanistan but they all returned home safely after their tour. And for eight years, I was able to enjoy the peace and prosperity of a Barack Obama presidency.
So my escapism was never out of necessity but rather curiosity. I didn't need to imagine myself somewhere else due to the horrors of my current situation. I wasn't in an active war zone, or a refugee escaping famine. I wasn't in an abusive relationship or someone without access to basic medical services. I was never in jeopardy of losing my job or facing threats to my life because of the gender of the person that I loved. My school never had barred windows and my community was never lined with twilight drug dealers and gang members looking to make a deal. I never had an absent parent, or one working three separate jobs, or a family situation that forced me to grow up too fast. When it came time for me to think about what time I would like to live in, I was doing so from a position of privilege, from a stable situation that afforded me the opportunity to temporarily be somewhere else simply for fun.
Today, I no longer have that option.
I don't that option because it's finally hit me: we can't choose the times in which we live. Like 70% of Americans, I wake up every morning absolutely terrified of the news. I breathe a sigh of relief on the rare occasion that there is nothing newsworthy at 9 AM. I openly root for Donald Trump to play golf on the weekends so it'll give the country a four-hour reprieve from his mental instability. I immediately check my phone after evening meetings, knowing that more often than not I will have missed a breaking news story, typically involving conspiracy against the United States. This morning, I awoke to a winter nor'easter to see the fact that our Secretary of State was fired. This event alone warranted a shrug and nothing else. When you follow Donald Trump, hardly anything is surprising.
Yet the last thing I feel is complacent. Because these times we're living in, these often terrible times, are ours and ours alone. Americans not yet born will one day look back on the Trump era and shake their head, believing it to be a terrible time to be alive. For people of color, for women, for LGBT, for immigrants, for refugees, for environmentalists, for educators, for union workers, for students, for the working class, the past 14 months have not been easy. But what we have seen has been a resurgence of our long-dormant democracy. Local elections finally matter. Registering voters, particularly low-income people of color finally matters. The Judicial Branch and the courts' ability to block unjust laws finally matters. The voices of high school students, sick and tired of enduring a lifetime of active shooter and lockdown drills in schools, finally matters. Moral voices of America's progressive religious leaders finally matter. And my generation, normally disheartened by politics and the political process, has finally realized just how important it is to become engaged in our democracy.
In America in the year 2018, our country is facing the greatest internal crisis in our nation's history. The hours seem like days and the days seem like weeks. For every minor victory, we seem to have three huge, soul-crushing defeats. Individuals are being threatened. Workers are losing their jobs. Families are being torn apart. Low-income communities are struggling. Our environment is in peril. But despite all this, there is a renewed sense of hope in the American ideal. That there are not good people on all sides. That seventeen dead students won't simply be another footnote in history. That refugees and immigrants will not be scapegoated in our country. That Muslims will not be targeted in their communities. That a foreign adversary who openly attacked our nation can and will be held responsible for their actions and that any and all conspirators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
This is our hope that binds us together. Without this hope, we retreat into escapism, hoping for and wanting life to be different. But we cannot change the times in which we live. History doesn't care for our idyllic version of the world. Instead, we must deal with the situation at hand. We have survived one year. We must survive three more. It has not been easy and it will become even harder as the noose tightens around a house full of traitors. We must be strong. We must be vigilant. We are the defenders of democracy in each and every corner of our country. We are the leaders that people look to in our communities. We must be strong for them and for us. History will one day look to us and how we responded in these challenging times.
And like any person who has history thrust upon him or her, we must answer that call.
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