Things are not OK.
The president-elect of the world’s most influential democracy has delegitimized our electoral process, falsely claiming that millions voted illegally. Meanwhile, a foreign power has hacked our democracy. The FBI, CIA and director of national intelligence all agree that Russia intentionally intervened in American elections to ensure an authoritarian businessman with questionable international financial ties seizes the highest office in the land. Our president-elect has refused the daily security briefings that might shed more light on this near act of war.
Meanwhile in middle America, the call to calm, to “wait and see,” has already invaded the mainstream mindset. But things are not OK.
Following pledges to “drain the swamp” of big money in politics to millions of working-class voters, the president-elect nominated an alligator-king, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, for secretary of state. Tillerson boasts a net worth of $150 million, some of which represents the profits from a 2011 deal with Russia’s state-owned oil company to drill in the Arctic and the Black Sea.
(By the way, the average working-class voter who looked to the president-elect for a path to middle-class salvation would have to work over 10 million hours — or 1,142 consecutive years of 24-hour shifts — to catch up to King Rex.)
A champion of white nationalists, Steve Bannon, has been appointed chief White House strategist, while an exploiter of low-wage fast-food workers, Andrew Puzder, is tapped to head our Labor Department.
Things are not OK.
Now is when those of us with the privilege to depart reality may choose to do so. The normalization of the unfathomable is creeping.
Marginalized communities are terrified. Some Missouri imams have instructed faithful Muslim women to remove their headscarves for fear of violence. Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports a staggering uptick in hate crimes and bias-motivated harassment.
And just last Tuesday, my friend’s 7-year-old boy arrived off the school bus with twin tear tracks down his apple cheeks. A classmate had matter-of-factly remarked that he would soon be deported. Along with all the other Mexicans.
Lest we forget, we’ve normalized the brutal, the horrendous and the unconscionable before. Just a few generations past, Jim Crow wrought the terror of 4,000 lynched black bodies. In some of our lifetimes, we put Japanese families behind barbed wire and seized their homes. In this modern day of mass incarceration, we lock up more people per capita than any other nation on Earth, a frightening ratio for nonviolent drug offenses.
In the ugly moments of our hardest history, acceptance of the unacceptable has been the easy path forward. And this, dear brothers and sisters, is how we lose our way.
(For those who fear the risk of hyperbole in the present moment, I challenge you to fear the risk of totalitarianism more.)
The urge to normalize may be overwhelming. For those of us who are white. For those of us who are straight, male or able-bodied. Inch by inch, we can learn to swallow a new reality of state-sanctioned hate and the dismantling of civil rights.
But this is not inevitable. The struggle against humanity’s horrors boasts a line of heroes longer than our memory. They have run safe houses. Advocated for just policy. Organized protests in the streets. Looked at history’s ugly bits in the eye and refused to accept them. They have resisted.
As we can. And as we must.
While you have rights, exercise them. On behalf of those who don’t, fight for them. Things are not OK. But for as long as we can name this and organize against it, there is hope.
Molly Fleming of Kansas City has been a community organizer for nearly six years. She leads the PICO National Network's campaign to end predatory payday lending in America. She also coordinates Missouri's grassroots community organizations in their work to put ordinary people at the center of democracy. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.