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The United States of Grief


Marilyn told me about a New York Times op-ed piece I’d missed, by Michelle Goldberg. In her piece, entitled “Democracy Grief is Real,” Goldberg says she finds herself suffering from “democracy grief,” which she defines as the “anxiety and anger” she experiences at watching democracy in America die or, more precisely, be murdered, by none other than Donald J. Trump and his  Republican co-conspirators. “When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term,” Goldberg writes, “the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.”

I know how she feels. Like many other Americans, I grew up to revere our country, its Constitution, decency, and the rule of law. You know that old saying, You don’t know what you have until it’s gone? It’s like that. I love my mother more now that she’s dead than I did before she died. The connection was always there, but I took it for granted—didn’t always feel it—she occasionally drove me crazy, and I sometimes actually resented her. And then she died, in my arms. Now, I keep her photograph—the one I took shortly before she died—in my living room, and when I look at it, which I do often, I realize how much I miss her.

My “democracy grief” works much the same way. I didn’t realize how much I loved America until now, when Trump and his Republicans threaten to take it away from me. I trusted our mutual respect for truth, assumed that the rule of law would always triumph here, and that the U.S. would always be a democracy with fair, idealistic values. All those things are disappearing under this Trump regime. Now that they’re gone, or going, I feel a sharp pang in my heart. Goldberg refers to the “destabilizing” impact of Trump’s “official lies,” the “suffering” and “despair” caused by Trump’s, and Republicans’, wholesale assault on truth, on facts, on veracity, on “epistemological solidarity.” That’s a remarkable phrase, but a simple one: it means that Americans used to be able to agree on the basic building blocks of truth: Obama’s inaugural crowd really was bigger than Trump’s. Obama really was born in the U.S. Trump really did try to bribe Zelensky. Climate change is real, not a hoax. Hillary Clinton really did win the 2016 popular vote, not Trump. And on and on.

No more. Now, Trump lies with impunity—and 43% of the country believes everything he says. Who would not grieve, if he or she believes in facts, in truth, in America? And yet, it’s not just Trump’s lies that are so grievous, it’s his utter immorality: the bullying, the vulgar insults that we never expected to hear from a president, the gratuitous smearing: of Greta Thunberg, of those Gold Star parents, of handicapped Americans, of decent, reputable politicians like AOC and Nancy Pelosi. Trump can’t just disagree with their views, he has to demonize them and make them sub-human, exposing them to physical harm by his unhinged followers. We’ve always known, and tried to avoid, people like Trump. We never thought one of them could become the President of the United States of America. And now, we can’t avoid him.

“A loss so vast…”. Thus Goldberg’s grief; thus mine, and Marilyn’s, and the grief of tens of millions of decent Americans—not all of whom are Democrats. We’re witnessing something that was so important to us now dying, or rather, being slaughtered in broad daylight, in front of our eyes, on television, live, every day: America.

Two things keep me going. One: this isn’t over yet. We have an election coming up: we can turn this damned thing around, and save our country, and our souls. The other: aggrieved people are motivated people. The Goldbergs, Heimoffs and Marilyns of America are not going to roll over and play dead, giving into despair and pessimism. If anything, we devote ourselves even more to rescuing that which we once treasured, and still do, and are happy to fight for. Call us The Resistance: we’re stronger than ever, and will not go away. Trump has bitten off more than he can chew. The America of my parents, and their parents before them, still exists—the America I can believe in.

By the way, were History to grace me with an advanced reply to Trump’s letter to her, via Nancy Pelosi, from yesterday, here’s what it would say: Dear Disgraced Trump: We’ve made up our mind. You were the Worst. President. Ever. Sincerely, History.

P.S. This is Nancy, Mister President. See you in Court.”

  1. We can’t give up

  2. We WON’T give up.

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