political nihilism

tired, tired venting.

On the day that Joe Biden won the U.S. election, I took my car for an oil change. I felt exhausted — the election coincided with an intense time at work and troubling news left and right from my various communities.

I heard the news around 11am. I sat outside a cafe to wait as cars periodically drove by and honked their horns, in response to cheering from pedestrians and people on the street. It was warm and sunny, in November, surprising. The feeling of joy was, admittedly, infectious. But still I don’t think I could muster up the excitement some others had, even though I knew many were primarily cheering Trump’s defeat

I completed mundane errands the rest of the day, like laundry, cleaning my car. Life continued, it did not feel different. I walked to Massachusetts Avenue and watched people. I felt some relief, but I also felt — feel — despondent.

I know that maybe you are tired of reading a lot of negative takes on the state of the world, democracy, America — and that’s okay. You don’t have to read this; now might be a good time to click away. This is more for me to write than for you to read (most of this blog tends to be that way).

Over the last few days, I expressed to close friends and on social media this feeling of despair that I felt. Watching, on November 3rd, 70 million people vote to re-elect the 45th president gave me deep feelings of meaninglessness and exhaustion. On November 5th I called my mother, who was perplexed and said I was the only person she knew who told her that even if Biden won, I would still be upset. I explained that this was far from a result that repudiates fascism. Instead it was a close election — too close for comfort.

I remember vividly that after the 2016 election, some (well meaning, I assume) people tried to say things like “hey, at least with Trump’s win now you know anything is possible”.

I hated hearing that, especially when the tone was upbeat, more than anything else. I learned that anything is possible if you’re a wealthy white man, all the better if you’re openly racist. If you’re anyone else, it is best to aspire to nothing. It is best not to pursue anything, and to never dare have hope for this world, nor to believe that you can have any impact besides some accrual of money and power. Because the system of capitalism, at least, might reward you if you are lucky enough and make the requisite sacrifices of blood, sweat, and betrayal in exchange for profit. Nothing is sacred. And I have been lucky enough to make some of those sacrifices. I have been lucky enough to avoid materially struggling.

And now, I hate hearing that everything is going to change because of this election. I’m glad others feel a little lighter. I feel much heavier. I have felt so dissociated from everything happening now, far more than in 2016. I feel like I’m losing my grip on something, losing my feeling of agency.

It feels like the power of the few vastly outweighs the meager contributions of the many, and/or the many are white supremacists, take your pick. I don’t think we even have a good estimate on how much power “the few” have. It comes out in bits and pieces, like with Weinstein, Epstein, the Panama papers. I can only imagine how much we don’t know — I know this starts to make me sound like a conspiracy theorist, but honestly, today I almost sympathize with such people.

This election only reinforced this worldview. Because regardless of what happened, this is now a nation where 70 million people voted for Trump, most of them twice. Which means someone like Trump is likely to win again, perhaps in 4 years or 8, but soon.

I feel like most of the things that I believe in do not really matter and/or are not really possible.

I signed up to be a census worker, in the middle of a pandemic, because I believed people’s voices mattered, even if that voice was simply their existence. Many people were unhappy to see me at their door, in fact, but I still believed the work mattered. I believed in democracy and putting effort into your community, even when not everyone loves you for it all the time.

I went to police brutality protests that were so volatile most of my other friends were afraid to attend — and for good reasons. I believed in holding my government accountable for its actions, and in standing up for black lives, as so many people in history had done for me, even though my parents were immigrants to this country.

I protested for immigrants rights, on behalf of my immigrant friends and family. I did this without them by my side, because it would have been dangerous in light of ICE deportations and other concerns. And still I found groups of people I didn’t even know to protest with; I explained my signs to people on the train; I learned new things.

I bent over backwards to hold on to my Colorado driver’s license so that I could vote in my home state. And I did. I mailed in my ballot and I followed up to make sure it was received. I emailed the Arapahoe county election commission and considered calling my representative until it was finally marked as accepted.

And yet I still feel like none of this mattered. I look back on some of these decisions with something like disdain and resentment.

It was watching those 70 million people in real time, feeling the reality that regardless, Trump and everything he represents is here to stay. No matter what way this narrative is framed, America is not a place where people generally disliked their president. They loved him and wanted to keep him. I knew this, of course, but there was something different about watching it happen right in front of me, with the stakes so high. There was some faint hope I had been holding on to that made me do all of those things, those things I now wonder about, that I now feel were so meaningless.

And it is too easy to extrapolate. We vote on minutia in this country when the nation was built on extreme ideas, on extreme violence, on over 400 years of slavery and oppression. We are running out of time on a dying planet. The best we could do when faced with the reality of this broken nation, of a global existential threat, was 70 million votes for Trump and a moderate win for a moderate opponent.

Maybe in a few weeks I will get over it all with renewed optimism from who knows where. Maybe I just need some sleep.

But I don’t know, maybe this time that feeling will just settle, and dry, like cement. I have felt often that I wish I were less emotionally invested in life. I want to care less, especially about society and the world at large, about this country, about anything greater than my immediate contacts and close causes. It feels like humanity will run its course soon, and I am tired of feeling like I bear any kind of responsibility for that.

As I put it bluntly in a few tweets, I simply don’t feel a desire to contribute anything more to this “shit-hole country”, a phrase the 45th president used to refer to predominantly black nations in the Caribbean and the African continent. I do not feel a desire to volunteer, donate, protest, or even vote. Our systems of civic participation were not designed for me, and I no longer wish to contort myself to fit within this system. Lately I have questioned myself daily why I invested so much time, effort, and emotional bandwidth to begin with.

I will exchange my labor for livelihood like everyone else does, sleep soundly, and not give a damn what happens next. I brace myself for the worst and take what comes.

If there is any bright side to this it is how seriously I now take my responsibility to my family, communities, and close friends. It is clear that no one is coming to save us, my communities that are full of immigrants, black and afro peoples, women. So, when I’m in a position to give, I will give everything I can. There is no salvation besides each other. In a strange way, I feel gentler. Gentler to my parents and older generations in my community, who did their best to simply survive when their countries or communities were so volatile. Gentler to friends that I used to bicker about politics with — there’s other important reasons we are friends, and what does it matter what they believe when it’s clear individuals don’t control much, anyway. And most gentle, most compassionate to the other young women of color in my life, especially the few who were the only people to really understand my feelings of political nihilism, of feeling like the future is collapsing in front of you and there isn’t much you can do about it. It’s like being told you don’t have long to live, which is possibly true in this age of climate catastrophe and pandemic — I feel a desire to cherish these friendships and relationships as long as I can. Right now they feel like the only real things that I have. But I am done being gentle with anyone else.

Perhaps this is the day I become a real American — by caring far, far less about other people.



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