For my first two decades of life I was an unequivocal optimist. I was unquestionably a Republican because my parents were Republicans, and I was sincere in my philosophy of positivity. “Turn that frown upside down” and "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" were the guiding principles taught to me by my mother, who woke me up with “Good Morning Suzie Sunshine” every day when I was small. My high school yearbook is filled with mentions of how my smile brightened my classmates' days. I did the morning intercom announcements my Senior year and always had a positive quote or the countdown to graduation ready to help start the day. I imagine I was pretty annoying.
Midway through college, I had a professor say something about how optimists aren't critical thinkers. “You can’t be optimistic in the face of reality,” the curmudgeon said. We were protesting Apartheid on campus at the time. He was right that there wasn’t anything positive about that system of repression in South Africa. I started teaching myself to think more critically. I became a Democrat.
After time, I noticed that thinking critically began to mean being critical. Of others and of myself. It took years to train my mind to question rather than criticize and I struggled to bring my naturally optimistic self back to the foreground. For the last few years I’ve been pretty successful. I keep a gratitude journal by my bed and I practice loving kindness meditation.
But what to do when you optimistically believed that there was NO WAY that people would buy into the racist, narcissistic rants of the big-building-builder turned reality-television-angry-man turned Republican-Presidential nominee and then the impossible happens and you TRY to see the bright side? What do you do when there is an overabundance of information coming at you and it demands critical review and in many cases ACTION?
OK Suzie Sunshine, people are coming together in ways they haven’t since the 60s. This is good stuff! Power to the People!
When the clock struck midnight this past New Year’s Eve and everyone was blowing horns and kissing at the party, I looked around the room with a sense of foreboding about the year we’d just entered. A sense I’d never had before on January 1st. On the bright side, we still had twenty days before all hell might break lose. And maybe everything will be fine. Politics as usual. Who actually keeps their blowhard campaign promises? Remember “READ MY LIPS: NO NEW TAXES!”?
My candidate had lost before and everything was mostly the same, so I had another drink to launch 2017. One month has passed and I’m betting AA membership is going to be on the rise this time next year.
This past week I’ve been scattered and unfocused. My friends all say they feel the same way and I’m afraid that productivity in offices across America is going down as concerned citizens are called upon to write, tweet and call their legislators. I now have Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris on speed dial.
As I sit at my desk trying to focus on my work, a Facebook ping lets me know that Republicans have a Twitter campaign to boycott Starbucks after the company pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. In solidarity, I decide I need a cup of coffee. Too bad I’m in a blue state. There’s a line. But while I’m there, I get to chatting with a Republican friend, who clearly hasn’t been paying attention to Twitter.
I have Republican friends. Most live back home in North Carolina. Admittedly, I haven’t had enough conversations to understand their points of view. It is especially difficult with people like my dad who cite sound bites from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News to counter the concerns I’ve read in The New York Times.
This friend says what he appreciates about the new President is that he intends to cut needless spending and uses as an example the $600 million in savings from the Lockheed Martin F-35. Indeed, it’s always bothered me that government spending is far short of shrewd. The Pentagon reportedly spent $640 for a toilet seat and we bought ours at Home Depot for $34.98. Of course my sources say I should no longer shop there since they supported DJTs campaign, so I have to use a little more fossil fuel to drive to Lowe’s for my hardware needs. Being mindful is a Catch 22.
My Republican friend did express concerns over some of the President’s tactics, but he thinks we should all just calm down and see how some of this plays out. Maybe it won’t be as bad as my predominantly liberal friends think it will be?
After I bid my former friend farewell, I research the new President’s actual involvement in the $600 million savings. It turns out that the cost reductions were likely to occur without Presidential encouragement as Lockheed had discovered more efficient construction techniques.
On the bright side, I now have a soft spot for George W Bush. He seems like a gentle grandfatherly type, who really meant no harm and was actually quite eloquent by comparison. Poetic even. Very very very much so.
Every time I sit down to write I get sucked back into Facebook. It’s a shit storm and it is stressing me out but I can’t turn away. Aw! Someone posted a photo of a bunny wearing a backpack. Now that is refreshing! Checks and balances people! Read one funny thing for every stressful or alternative fact.
I get some work done but the magnetic force of my emails draws me back in. My college, my daughter’s University and our local school district have sent messages within the hour, each taking a stand for diversity and the rights of individuals to freedom and safety.
We have a gun problem in our country with Americans killing Americans, but we are banning individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile attention is being drawn away from cabinet picks and the push for the wall that will be partially paid for by taxing avocados.
My Facebook friends are up in arms. We are a people who love guacamole. I offer angry emoticons because what else can I do? Polyanna that I am, I made a colorful sign declaring me PRO-KINDNESS – and I marched in downtown LA. I helped write and mail 500 follow-up postcards. I’ve made countless phone calls. Right now it feels like all I have left is emoticons.
I call a Rabbi friend who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ask him how this compares to what he experienced in the 60’s? He said he is certain that sanity will prevail in the end, but we may first endure a revolution.
What?! Indeed, ours is a country that established itself in revolutions. We broke away from England because we didn’t want to pay taxes for which we had no say. And now we have a President who doesn’t pay taxes and won’t even share with us where his money comes from and where it goes.
On the bright side, I’ve been considering a new career and it turns out I could be the US Secretary of Education. Of course I cannot contribute millions to the RNC. If I could, I’d rather give my millions to, say, the public schools, Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts. But I have all the other qualifications. In her hearing DeVos said she can do the job based on “working very hard on behalf of parents and children.” This is so cool! I’ve been doing that too, only I’ve actually done it in Title One PUBLIC SCHOOLS! I’ve been in PTA leadership, served on education committees and boards, and worked in classrooms and I’m not a plagiarizer! This could be the opportunity I’ve been looking for!
I decide to take a hike to get away from the onslaught of information. Of course as I am in Griffith Park, I can’t help thinking about how hard it is to be optimistic when our planet is finite. The Keystone and Dakota pipelines are back on the table and now there is talk of selling 3.3 million acres of public land across ten states, land that is the pasture for elk and big-horned sheep and provides corridors for wolves and grizzly bears. Of course now it makes sense why DeVos thinks we need guns in schools to protect us from re-routed bears.
So now, while our megalomaniac Commander and Chief debates the value of torture with General Mathis and creates jobs by hiring actors to cheer for him at speeches while he hunts down the mythical millions of illegal voters, I have found the bright side. The crowd size of good people in America is as big as it’s ever been. Period.