Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
By Jan Worth-Nelson
There’s a room in our house I can’t go into right now.
It’s the den, a formerly beloved room we’ve always nestled into, a small paneled hideaway with almost all the books I own piled onto floor to ceiling shelves.
It’s the room where my husband and I finally got up, stiff with tension and growing dread, from the chairs where we’d sat stunned as the outcome became more and more clear, the room where we grabbed hold of each other and I cried and said, “I can’t believe this is happening to our country.”
It’s the room we were in, more and more horrified, until about 1:30 a.m. Nov. 8, when the world, our world, changed forever.
An editor, as my critics have pointed out, is supposed to be impartial. But this column — a place for personal reflections on the news, is not impartial about its core message: I am worried about the future of “truth.” So I begin by saying, the staff of East Village Magazine and I are devoting ourselves more diligently than ever to our mission: a fact-based pursuit of the truth. It’s our job.
On our inside pages, we strive to bring you impartial fact-based coverage about our city and our many neighborhoods.
When it’s marked as a column or commentary, as in this “Village Life” feature I’ve been writing for the last 10 years, there’s a somewhat different intent: to describe the effects of events, the consequences of facts, on our hearts and minds and daily lives — sometimes through the feelings of the writer. Sometimes, of course, the truth shows up most vividly in emotion. That is where this column begins.
It’s no secret what I think about, feel about, the president-elect. I’ve outed myself right on this page and received feedback — both angry and supportive — in response. I am sorry about those who were offended by my views, and I am sorry for them now, too, because I’m pretty sure they will not be happy with the president they get, or the cons they have fallen for. Many of the man’s supporters had a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, grievances which are legitimate, complicated and borne out of political obstructionism and neglect. But their mesmerizing messenger, a bullying figurehead, will not provide them that relief.
And I’m thunderously sorry about all the rest of us, plunged into despair and wondering how our future suddenly became so impenetrably dark.
This is a holiday season so we’re supposed to be spreading tidings of great joy. Instead, we are passionately instructing each other about how to prepare for the coming fights — for justice, for the rights of the oppressed, for science, for education, for the possibilities of peace, for dignity, for honor, for the survival of our 240-year-old experiment of the people, by the people, for the people. For the Earth, this gorgeous blue dot rotating, astonishingly verdant and increasingly imperiled, in the universe.
And not least, powerfully not least, for freedom of the press. The president-elect’s casual disdain for the facts, for the Fourth Estate, his cavalier dismissal of the Constitution, as if it really doesn’t apply to him, are among the scariest elements of his rise to power.
I’ve been so depressed I can hardly will a single sentence out of my fingertips onto this screen. Words stick in my cranium just behind my furrowed forehead like a bag of black stones, useless and ludicrously inadequate. My mind’s craving for graceful syntax seems antiquated and futile, questions of grace and clarity mocked by the country’s decision to side with lies and ugliness. When I start a sentence I keep forgetting how I wanted it to end. I used to think the pen was mightier than the sword, but nobody uses pens anymore and it’s not the sword that dogs us now – it’s manipulated pixels and corruption delivered with such blithe audacity over and over that finally nobody seems to care or know how to stop it.
What’s remarkable about all this is that I am not alone.
Almost all my wrenching life troughs have been personal – the result of my own screwups, delusions, self-inflicted damage and detours. My individual travails, almost tediously commonplace and clichéd.
This, on the contrary, is a national nervous breakdown, a pernicious plague of clinical depression, in which I am only one tiny fulminating molecule. It’s what one writer, Jeffrey Gillenkirk of Alternet, calls “The New PTSD: Post-Trump Stress Disorder,” available here. It’s a real phenomenon.
People are digging into the drawers of their bedside table to see if there’s any Xanax left on that old prescription. Nobody’s sleeping right. One friend said she woke up the morning after the election with a flareup of shingles. Somebody stayed in bed three days. Somebody ate a whole box of chocolates. Somebody found a bottle of Schnapps in a cupboard after the whiskey was gone. Somebody packed a pipe with indica and talked and talked with a table of other mourners till 4 a.m. Somebody called in sick. Somebody cried every day for a week. Nobody’s got any libido to speak of. It would be funny if it wasn’t so desperate and dreadful and with no end in sight. Calls to suicide hotlines in some parts of the country, Gillenkirk reports, have jumped 30%.
My husband and I started fighting. We are on the same side, understand. So how did the country’s dysfunction worm its way into our bedroom, our just-before-sleep sweet nothings turned sour with acrimony over old slights? Why was I suddenly outraged by his table manners or his war with the fat backyard squirrels?
How dare the dystopian politics of this shattering time interfere with the love of my life?
How dare the greedy billionaires disrespect the real struggles of our lives, of the meaning we are trying to make, the catastrophes always menacing the vulnerable, the hard-won peace of mornings together in cafes and workplaces and homes where people can be with whomever they love, the serenity of evenings in fading light in a world we are trying to save?
There’s a storm front on the horizon that threatens all I love and believe in, all my life and work has stood for. Chief among those beliefs is freedom of the press, a bedrock American commitment to the pursuit of truth upon which the man about to be president has spit and repeatedly scorned.
And so here I am, an outraged old woman motivated by anger and fear, ready to make my words get back their mojo, ready to tell Flint truths to whatever forces dare to betray our values and our future. Buckle up. I’m ready to fight.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.