I do Monday Morning sketch talks every week (tune in!), and today the theme was kindness, empathy, and hope as foundations for legislative action. And, wow, it was hard. Because, if you’re at all like me, you might be feeling a bit less hopeful than usual. Particularly about politics.
That makes sense, because everything political seems like a flaming dumpster headed directly into a sun about to go supernova, with a whole bunch of fact-challenged politicians saying, this will get the economy going! And then bunches of other people pouring kerosene on their own dumpsters, lighting them up, and convoying straight toward the supernova, some of them brandishing assault rifles and shouting about liberty and freedom and the right to allow their own earnest disbelief in science to drive public health policy.
That’s all connected, of course, because public speech has consequences. So when elected officials spout off in the cadence of insurrection, they offer motivation and inspiration for Astro-turfed armed occupations of state houses. When they question public health measures, they encourage bored and restless folks to stop caring about social distancing and abet a sudden and inexplicable pivot of the national conversation from the ongoing pandemic to the reopening of the economy, despite continuing spikes in viral infections.
Call this the politics of anti-hope. The politics of cynicism. A dynamic that relies on the persistence of outrage and the perpetual acceptance of conditions of existence that disempower workers. The political risk of the enormously successful and enormously hopeful global shutdown was the demonstration of the power of common cause, the recognition of the importance and value of individual workers, and the realization that jobs are not worth dying for, particularly in economies that actually have the capital to effectively pay wages for people to not work and stay safe. The political risk of the moment was that people would see that the “normal” we are supposed to want to return to, well, sucked. The cynics fear our awakening, and our shared power.
Did you see this article in early April, which offered a prescient commentary on the gaslighting that would admonish us to return to “normal”? How about the follow-up on May 1, which calls for us to embrace the power we have in shaping what that future normal can be? Not what it was, but what we could imagine. In essence, the first article diagnoses the cynicism of the economic imperative. The second calls for us to hope, which is an active verb that we actively breathe into existence.
So, my candidacy, and my morning, when hope felt vague and hard to pinpoint. I struggled, because the world of politics is hard right now. The world of just being is hard right now. I want to accept that feeling for myself, not to see it as a snuffing of hope but, instead, as a way to recognize that hope itself cannot happen without struggle. Hope is not about naive good-natured happiness. Instead, hope means recognizing and acknowledging the despair of a politics that actively seeks to squash hope in order to maintain the status quo, particularly the status quo of political and economic power. Which (see my prior post) is not us.
Hope is imagining the possibility of a legislative future based on kindness and empathy, instead of one mired in the repetition of old insults. You know them: tree hugger, dumbocrat, welfare cheat, socialist, pointy-headed-intellectual, and an unfortunate litany of much more vicious epithets. Hope is recognizing that the quest for equitable healthcare, and education, and environmental protection faces obstacles because the cynics know hope threatens the uneven balance of power that currently dominates.
Look, one of the hard things hope demands is the recognition of its absence. Hope requires us to look around at the guttedness of NWPA and see our struggle as the end game of the cynics. They like it that way, truly, because austerity and desperation make it easier to animate voters through fear and ugliness. Cynics want us to resign ourselves to our lot, ignore their role in the maintenance of our struggle, and vote perpetually for their precise cynicism. That’s how they keep their power.
To find hope, we need to see that. We need to see how resisting cynical narratives opens space for us. We need to see how staying home throughout April was not the destruction of an economy but, instead, the ultimate act of hope. We banded together, for each other, which is exactly why the cynics want to break our community spirit.
Every time hope emerges, the cynics strike. They wedge, and they break, and they pull us aside and whisper how this hope thing will wreck the economy, will wreck you personally, is un-American, violates your liberty, will erase the 2nd Amendment. If we have hope, they hiss, this system will come crashing down. Get in the dumpster, they say, light the kerosene, ride for the supernova.
This morning, I struggled because the cynics are pressing hard, and because it seems like we always let them win in the end. They spit, and they bite, and they insult, and they intimidate, and they gaslight, and they wear us out. They reason with us through forked tongues, saying our ideas are nice, but impractical, and unaffordable, and sure they’d love it if everyone could stay safe, but those dying people are not worth saving if it means reworking a rigged economy to give everyone a fair shake.
This morning, I struggled to talk about hope because, honestly, I can see the edge of hopelessness creeping forward. But, as Emily Dickinson writes:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
Hope blooms when we seek it. Something like that. Hope allows us to see despair, and press on, because we will live the future we write, as will our children, and theirs, and so forth.
I didn’t quite have the words this morning, which is a very different thing than not having the tune. We can hum that one together, though, perpetually, cascading to a choir on June 2nd and then, for keeps, on November 3rd. Because it is our words that sing hope into being.