We thought we would never have to talk about ‘You know …..’again

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Is it arrogance of the educated and privileged? Or deep-rooted feelings of decency, of moral and ethical beliefs so badly violated by Mr T. that we cannot understand how any American can support him?

After the election of Joe Biden in 2020, we probably all believed, the topic of Trump would be history. We had wasted enough of our time, and emotional and intellectual energy and were happy to move on.

Ooops, no such luck. So here we are again, trying to understand.

There is enough on the internet to read and talk about when it comes to this topic. I have shared and discussed New York Times articles on the trials for instance. We took a closer look at who was selected for the jury and how. We talked about the jury system of the US in comparison to other systems where a judge decides the verdict, like the German criminal law system. We spoke about the electoral system and how it is to blame for allowing a party to win without having the popular vote majority.

See TED Talk: Andrew Yang: Why US politics is broken — and how to fix it | TED Talk

And we tried to find out, why any decent person, secondary and tertiary education or not, can opt for a person as president who goes against everything I was raised to believe as an American child – the first and most important commandment (after ‘you shall not bodily harm or kill anyone’) being: don’t lie!

(Btw: Why this rule of honesty actually is NOT one of the Ten Commandments always baffled me.)

I heard explanations like: better for the economy (whoever this economy is); will keep the money in the country (whaat?); speaks to the people and they listen (again: are you sure?). Never mind…

But then I came across a text passage in Elizabeth Strout’s novel Lucy by the Sea:

On January sixth, as I came in from my afternoon walk to the cove, the television was on and William said, “Lucy, come here now and watch this.” I sat down still wearing my coat and I saw people attacking the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and I watched this news as though it was the first days of the pandemic in New York, I mean that I kept looking at the floor and had the strange sense again that my mind—or body—was trying to move away. All I can remember of this now is watching a man smashing a window again and again, people pushing up against one another as they got into the building while the policemen tried to hold them back. Many different colors swam before me as I saw people climbing up walls, all moving together.

I said to William, “I can’t watch this,” and I went upstairs to the bedroom and closed the door. (…)

Over the next few weeks, William became intensely interested in the news. He said, “Lucy, there were Nazis there.” And he told me—because I had not seen it—about the man wearing the Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt. He told me that there had been a swastika flag and that there were other shirts people wore with 6MWE on them, which were meant to indicate that six million Jews weren’t enough to die. I said, “But, William, someone had to know this was going to happen! I mean in the government, someone had to know and they looked away.” “They’ll find out” is all he said. And somehow that annoyed me. That he had nothing more to say about that.

A few nights later I woke in the middle of the night and was visited by a memory, one I had put out of my head because it was so unpleasant; I had shoved it down to where bad memories become scraps of Kleenex in the bottom of a pocket. But the memory was this: As part of the book tour I had taken the autumn before all this had occurred—the pandemic, I mean—I had been asked to attend a class at the college I had gone to outside of Chicago. I was to be in Chicago as part of the tour, and so I said yes. But the night before this class I suddenly had a very bad feeling about it. I do not know why. I barely slept that night because my dread continued to grow.

As soon as I walked into the classroom, I felt that my concerns had been true. As the students came in they did not look at me, and I was embarrassed. I was supposed to talk to them about my memoir, which was about growing up poor. But the students would not look at me. And because they would not look at me, I became what I thought they were thinking I was: an old woman who had written about coming from poverty. So I felt cold—emotionally, I mean. Because I thought they saw me that way. I asked each of them where they were from, and each one mumbled the name of a town that I happened to know was a wealthy town. One young woman was from Maine, and she was the only one who even glanced at me. But I thought: This is not the school I went to over forty years ago. And I think it was not. Back then there had not been the sense of wealth I saw sitting in that classroom, in these closed-off young people. They sat around a conference table, there were fifteen of them, and they sat with their shoulders slumped and they would not look at me. As the teacher started to talk—she was a youngish woman with a perky voice—they still did not look at me. She said, “Let’s ask Lucy all the questions you have prepared.”

But she got nothing out of them. To this day I do not understand what went wrong, but the teacher was unable to get them to talk to me, and for an entire hour we sat in that classroom almost in silence, and I thought: It is like my entire life’s work has turned into a small pile of ashes on this table. My humiliation was so deep, it seemed to go straight through all of me into my feet.

One student, a young man from Shaker Heights, said, glancing at me sullenly, “I thought your father was gross.” And I thought: Oh God. I said, “Well, he was the product of his time and place in history.” And no one said anything. The teacher said, “Let’s tell Lucy the books we have been reading and the ones we have enjoyed so much.” And so she went around the table, and two of the young women named a book that had been on the bestseller list for two years, and others mentioned books I had not heard of. The teacher said, “Lucy, what have you been reading?” And I said that I had been reading biographies of the Russian writers, and I saw then a few of the students smirk. Finally the teacher said, “Well, okay, then, let’s thank Lucy for coming in today.” And she started to clap, but no one clapped. As I left the building with the teacher, she said, “I wish we could have coffee, but I have a meeting to go to.” I could almost not walk to my car, I felt so shaky. They had humiliated me beyond my depths, and I remembered how when one of the young women—she had red hair and small eyes—had mentioned her favorite book being that one on the bestseller list, I had looked at her and I had thought: You will become nothing of worth before climate change kills you. I had thought that!!!

As I sat in the car in the parking lot, shame poured through me, a shame I had first known in childhood. These students had been exactly like my classmates in grade school who had not looked at me at all. But this time I did not know why. These students—their disdain for me had been so real that remembering it now made my heart start to go much faster. I thought about my niece Lila and the fact that she had made it through only one year of college before she came home, and I felt I understood that now.

And lying next to William, who was asleep—his slow, steady breathing told me this—and feeling the same degree of humiliation I had felt in that classroom, I thought: I understand those people who went to the Capitol and smashed the windows.

I got up quietly and went downstairs. And I kept thinking about this. I thought: For one hour that day outside of Chicago, I had felt my childhood humiliation so deeply again. And what if I had continued to feel that my entire life, what if all the jobs I had taken in my life were not enough to really make a living, what if I felt looked down upon all the time by the wealthier people in this country, who made fun of my religion and my guns. I did not have religion and I did not have guns, but I suddenly felt that I saw what these people were feeling; they were like my sister, Vicky, and I understood them. They had been made to feel poorly about themselves, they were looked at with disdain, and they could no longer stand it.

I sat for a long time on the couch in the dark; there was a half moon that shone over the ocean. And then I thought, No, those were Nazis and racists at the Capitol. And so my understanding—my imagining of the breaking of the windows—stopped there.

Strout, Elizabeth. Lucy by the Sea: From the Booker-shortlisted author of Oh William! (English Edition) (S.238-239). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle-Version.

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