Let’s get real for a minute here: 2016 was a crappy year. It came in crappy, it went to shit, and it’s departing the same way. This has been a relentlessly bad year on so many levels that I know I am not the only one who wants to crawl into a hole and disappear. And this is not just about the election. I spent most of November staggering around in shock, but that was sort of the last straw. This was a bad, bad year.
2016 was bad for a lot of reasons, but as I look back on the year and I look forward to the times ahead, I feel obliged to state the obvious. This is not normal. We cannot allow it to become normal. This is not what normality looks like. This descending political shitshow? It’s not normal.
It’s funny how quickly the bar can move on ‘normal,’ how something intolerable not that long ago becomes something very different with a little nudge here and a push there. But we need to step back for a moment, to define what ‘normal’ looks like, to challenge ourselves into not forgetting that. The horrors and depredations of the Trump administration have only just begun, as absurd as that feels, and when the man is emboldened by taking office next month, it’s going to be even worse. This was a campaign of hate and lies and this is a man who wants to run a nation on hate and lies.
We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about how authoritarianism happens, and how we can’t believe that people didn’t notice, didn’t act. The thing is, though, that they did notice, and that many of them saw ‘normal’ slipping away and didn’t quite know what to do, but some of them tried their best to push back. If the status quo was terrible, they knew the new status quo would be even worse, and they tried to do something about it. They really did. It’s easy to criticise them with hindsight, and now that I am standing in the middle of a huge political shift, it’s become rather more challenging.
In the coming years, we owe ourselves the debt of continuing to remind ourselves of what normal was, and should be. We should be reminding each other when things are not normal, and how they are supposed to be. For example, we are supposed to have a competent person in the White House running the country. The people that person appoints are supposed to be qualified for their positions, and aware of their role with respect to the law. While nepotism and cronyism and favours have always been a part of the reality of Washington, that doesn’t mean they’re normal — and on this scale, they are definitely not normal.
Think of what normal has meant over the last eight years, of a Justice Department committed to enforcing civil rights and expanding our understanding of how to protect people from discrimination. Of a president who was thoughtful, and measured, and compassionate. Of agencies that made evidence-based decisions rooted in science, not personal prejudice. The last eight years weren’t some perfect, glorious, glossy world without a flaw (look, for example, to the huge numbers of deportations that took place under the Obama Administration). But they were a step in the right direction, an indicator that the country was making progress.
I feel like I talk about politics a lot these days, and it’s honestly a bit tiresome. I could most heartily do with a break to talk about other interesting things I love and care about it. But politics has become more than an abstract — not that it ever was, for me, at least — it is now a fight for our very survival. The people in office are going to determine whether I live through the next four to eight years, and the same goes for many people that I love and care about. And we are kicking back as hard as we can, fire in our hearts and determination in our eyes, but we cannot do it alone.
If we sound like broken records carping about how this isn’t normal, it’s because we are consumed with fear that this will become ordinary. That a complacent populace will collectively shrug about life and its responsibilities to those who need the most protections. Resistance takes a lot of forms — maybe for you it’s donating or starting organisations or volunteering and trying to do the right thing with your business. Or maybe it’s calling legislators and getting up in the face of appointed officials and refusing to back down. Maybe it’s helping people manage their daily lives, from assistance with housing costs to dropping meals off at the homes of people who cannot afford to cook them. But maybe it is also waking up in the morning and reminding yourself that this is not normal.
This is not normal, and we cannot let it become normal. We come from different places, you and I, gentle reader, but I think we both care very much about the world and we are too determined to save it, to refuse to allow it to burn to the ground out of carelessness or indifference or tolerance for reckless, visceral hatred. As the remaining hours of 2016 slip away and we are well shut of this terrible year, resolve this to yourself: Resolve that you will stand up against hatred in the months and years to come, that you will not allow it to become the status quo, that you will be in solidarity with those who are calling for your help.