by Anne Moore
My mom will be the first to say that she’s not very smart about relationships, but she’s given me one piece of really good advice on that front, passed down from the minister she and my dad went to for marriage counseling when they were reconciling in my teens: Trust is earned. I want to believe the best of people, and I want to believe they have my best interests at heart. Often people rise to this belief, but when they don’t, the consequences can be really, really dire.
I haven’t been able to even look at the news in the last few days–I’m too hunkered down, and I just can’t bring myself to hear or read someone in power say “President-elect Trump.” I do hear, however, that there have been many calls for conciliation and cooperation with the new administration. I watched Clinton’s concession speech, and I admired her willingness to put her ego to the side. I’m trying to do something along these lines with Izzy–keep things as normal as possible for her, help her feel safe, help her believe that things will be okay, even though I’m sure in my heart that I’m lying to her. And this is what Obama’s and Clinton’s gestures felt like to me: the action of good parents, reassuring their children that they will make it through this famine, even though they probably won’t.
And there’s a selflessness that I appreciate and admire–putting the needs of others before your own is the definition of public service, right? But here’s the thing: Donald Trump is the first president in history who has never done a day of public service in his life. I see no information indicating he has ever seriously considered the experience of someone other than himself. The tone of his concession speech was magnanimous, and I know he’s dialing back on some of the crazier claims of his campaign, but I see nothing that makes me think he won’t move forward with them once he has the power. I’m looking, instead, to these rules for survival in an autocracy.
Because here’s the thing about trust: I had a series of experiences, all in a row, when I was in my early teens that should have made me see this coming. When my dad’s mistress sent a letter to our house, I picked up on what was happening, but I thought “that can’t possibly be true, you’re being ridiculous.” When I picked up on the leering vibe of the eighteen-year-old who would go on to grope me in my sleep the weekend before my thirteenth birthday, I thought “He seems nice, and he likes you!” When I started to realize that my thirty-two-year-old neighbor was about to make out with me, I thought “get over yourself–you’re thirteen and he’s a grown man. Nothing is going to happen.” I’m done trusting that abusers will listen to their better selves.
And it’s funny–it’s this delusion (“he couldn’t possibly…”) that probably led many people to vote for Trump. Maybe that’s the difference between white supremacy and open bigotry. Open bigotry is easy to spot (and, sadly, certainly easier to spot these days): it’s hateful, grabbing at power and causing pain. But white supremacy is the conviction that power will undo itself unaided by work from below. White supremacy is trusting that a system which has only ever fucked everyone will suddenly become kind. That they didn’t really mean it. That they couldn’t possibly.
Here’s what I trust: I trust my community, who has shown up in ways both small and large each day for us. I trust my experience, which informs me that my fear is grounded in reality. I trust my resilience: I grew up surrounded by men like Trump, who knew they could say terrible things about women, POC, queers, and whomever else without consequence, men who took and took from the world. But I made it out, into an adult life where I’m no longer powerless. And people have been doing that forever: coming up out of pain and powerlessness into a new life. I may be in danger, but I’m not powerless anymore.