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.
In my household, Donald Trump’s reign of error has ushered in a stream of daily conniptions. He did what? He said that? These days, Cynthia and I exchange gasps of horror as we read the morning paper over coffee. We’ve instituted Trump-free zones, such as the bedroom, where we have a mutual pact not to read anything in bed that might relate to the doings of the current administration. That excludes a lot. Jane Mayer’s Dark Money was quickly banished, along with issues of the New Yorker post-2015; you never know where you might find a reference to the current resident of the White House and spoil a good night’s sleep.
Everything seems uncertain and up for grabs these days, including how to spend one’s precious time. It helps to get active, of course. During the first few months of the Trump regime, beginning with the Women’s March on Washington, I participated in more protests than during the previous ten years — not to mention daily phone calls to register my views with elected officials. Eventually, I began to burn out. I still make the calls when a particularly egregious bill rears its head — such as the latest Republican Tax Scam. But I’ve found that local activism is important, too.
In Jersey City, we have a perfect target: Jared Kushner is a major real estate developer here. As we speak, he and his partners are pushing forth a $1 billion dollar luxury high-rise in a low income neighborhood, in a city where affordable housing is increasingly hard to come by. The city was poised to give him a big fat tax break to sweeten the pot, as they often do to spur growth here. Calling ourselves “Evict Trump-Kushner,” some of us gathered together at a local coffee shop one day to figure out how to stop it. We organized a campaign to pressure the city to deny him the tax break. And we won — at least in the short run.
Young Jared is pretty busy these days, brokering peace in the Middle East and revamping the Veterans’ administration when he’s not having secret talks with shady Russian operatives. In his absence, Kushner’s business associates may yet reapply for the tax rebate to increase the profit margin of the proposed development in Jersey City. When they do, we’ll be there protesting.
What remains, of course, is the all-important question of what to watch on television to calm down after a long day at the barricades. Murder mysteries are too gloomily pessimistic. The Handmaid’s Tale seems too much like an episode of the nightly news. Recently, Cynthia and I were happy to discover Call the Midwife, a BBC period drama about a group of nurse midwives working in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The series depicts the day-to-day lives of the midwives and those in the fictional neighborhood of Poplar, and the rise of Britain’s National Health Service — just the ticket. It’s a cheesy, heartwarming show about people who treat one another nicely, and where the government is dedicated to caring for its most vulnerable citizens. Imagine that.
Arlene Stein is a Professor of Sociology who studies gender, sexuality, and American culture. The author of four books, she received the Simon and Gagnon Award for career contributions to the study of sexualities and the Ruth Benedict Book Award.