Well, we have been cursed with interesting times, so interesting that there have been moments of true desperation. The low point of that last five years, what is now known as “the insurrection” on many but not all media outlets, seemed both inevitable and terminal. The worst elements of reactionary, nativist, supremicist, militant sedition had occupied the Capitol; a cretenic gang of yahoos promised an end to civilization as we knew it. The former president’s relentless self-serving disregard for the nation and his craven bullying of any who threatened his meglomanical fantasies had virtually destroyed the capacity of what remained of government to do the nation’s business. Bad enough, but it was the sustained toxicity of lies manufactured by Trumpist enablers and the Trumpist media that had broken my spirit. I understand opportunism, understand systemic racism, understand cult of personality, but baseless fiction served up to promote sedition?
When, finally, the transition of power was carried out, and the newly elected 46th president and his vice president took the oath of office, I realized that I had been holding my breath for four years. Yes, I felt better. Things were better, but the threat of violence remained; few attitudes had changed. Even as the possibility of healing a divided nation became conceivable, I remained on vigilently on guard.
I live in Southern Oregon in Jackson County between Ashland, a cheerfully progressive small city in which social justice, education and the arts are championed, and Medford, a blue collar city not entirely charmed by the attitudes and enthusisms expressed in Ashland. The other folks in our district have an active allergy to few elements of progressivism emerging in Medford. That Congressional District includes roughly two thirds of the state of Oregon; it is the second largest district in the U.S. that doesn’t include an entire state. The population of the district is about 800,000; the population of Ashland is about 22,000.
A drive through the district from Ashland, on the border with California, to Pendleton, near Washington and Idaho, would not present many Biden/Harris signs, which is to say, none.
Whether I call it paranoia, heightened awareness, or reasonable caution, the truth is that I started to assume that most of the folks I see on a daily basis might agree with the former President who called me and my friends evil people who hate America. I have been on guard since October.
The insurrection was hardly two weeks in the past when I arrived at the local fairgrounds to line up with more than two thousand people waiting to be vaccinated yesterday. National Guardspeople in cammo casual and local volunteers cheerfully waved the thousands of cars through the labyrintine corridors, moving us in good order and in reasonably little time to the final station. At each check point, a kind masked volunteer approached the passenger side of the car and offered information and reassurance. In those moments in which we sat for a bit, I asked each person why they had shown up on a cold January afternoon. Three local hospitals and clinics had teamed up; nurses were taking extra shifts. A young woman in the National Guard said she was excited to see so many of eager to be vaccinated. “This is the best! ” She blurted. “I’m so glad to be here.” Images of the guard sleeping on the floor in the Capitol were still in my mind as I heard her giggle. “I hate shots, bt everyone seems so excited.”
Who Are we?
Who are we when the noise dies down? Who are we if we all hear the same story? Who are we when we actually see each other?
No, the madness hasn’t ended. I’m still aware of divison all around us, but I’m slightly more hopeful that people of good will may find a way to bring us back from the brink.
I met many of them yesterday.