What have you done in the last year to respond to the upheavals in American politics? This is an installment in a series of short essays that reflect on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
I am living a double life. When I am in front of a class, or going through my daily routines, I can at times forget our perilous situation and how overwhelmed I feel. When those distractions fail, I fall into despair. To cope, I think about what it must be like to live in a war-torn country, what it was like for my father to be living in Belgium during the German Occupation. I remind myself that my country is in trouble and needs us, and that there are still thoughtful people who are as horrified as I am by the erosion of democracy and the rise of tyranny in America, a development that makes this country feel like an alien land, as if it’s not my home, as if I am no longer welcome.
I contemplate escape. Knowing I have alternatives to life in the US helps to keep me calm. I used to think in terms of living in our beloved home “forever”; now I am not sure that I see a future for us here. The night of the election, once the Canadian immigration website was restored after crashing due to high traffic, I learned that my spouse is legally a Canadian citizen because his father was born there. I have obtained the needed documents to obtain his citizenship papers. A passport will be next. When we visit family in Canada, I picture myself living there and try to imagine what that reality could be. I also have talked with my family about what we would do if war erupted, where we would meet, and who our emergency contact is in Canada. My next project will be to improve on our emergency supplies and develop a complete “Go Bag” for us to grab in an emergency evacuation.
I spend a lot of time reading news on the web each day and discuss new developments with my family. Despite often feeling overwhelmed, I look for small things I can do: a science march and teach-in, phone calls to senators and congressional representatives, attending my representative’s open house, joining the Union of Concerned Scientists and the ACLU, signing credible petitions from organizations like MoveOn, responding to requests for public comment on pending environmental legislation, donating to political campaigns and environmental causes. In my courses, I stress the importance of science and encourage my students to vote. I bought a hybrid electric car a year earlier than originally planned in case the tax credit goes away. I strive to stay positive in all my interactions.
I ride my bike almost every day. The physical effort and the scenic beauty give me some respite. Sometimes it’s 25 or 30 miles before something inside of me lets go and I find some peace. I have ridden almost 5,000 miles this year. And yes, I hug the people I love, as much or more than ever, and I let them support and carry me when it all gets to be too much.
Anne Balant is an Associate Professor of Communication Disorders at SUNY New Paltz and lives in Putnam County, NY.