Reality is a relative term. Clearly everyone has their own, and we can only hope that the Venn diagrams of life’s realities overlap enough, or at least to some extent, to allow us to live peacefully with one another. I try very hard to find the connections, the overlap, the common ground. It’s election day in America. And since the beginning of this election, I’ve been having a hard time finding those commonalities. I’ve been shocked again and again by the stark differences. And I’ve been losing heart inch by inch as my own Venn circle seems to shrink protectively around me.
I’m no stranger to mean-spirited fun(sic). My mother’s middle name and religion are schadenfreude. Oh how she loves to laugh (cackle) at the misfortunes of others! And though I loved my father dearly and he was, in my opinion and as evidenced by his own actions, one of the kindest, gentlest, most generous people I ever knew, he thought the three stooges were hysterical, laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face funny. I get it. And I admit that I laughed last week when I saw the woman gently (almost lovingly) place her newly-purchased Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on the roof of her car, to free up a hand so she could get in and then promptly forget and drive off, spilling her coffee unceremoniously down her windshield. I laughed. But I didn’t wish it on her. Does that make me any better?
I’ve said for many years now that reality television was the beginning of the ruination of our society. I have friends who tease me about this conspiracy theory of mine, needling me in good-natured ways about my too tender heart. But I’m serious.
I don’t know how anyone can watch those reality shows. My skin crawls at the thought of them. My anxiety goes through the roof and secondary shame burns my cheeks and makes my pulse race. They are horrible. From the very first ones. They vote people off, put out their flames, pit people against one another, blatantly make fun of people, and are just plain mean. Just to name a few things they’ve got going for them. Over the years, as they have tapped into and honed people’s inner bullies, reality television has found ways for people to be covert bullies – so that no one need know that one is mean and no one need feel badly about themselves for being mean. We can “text” mean things privately, from the comfort of our living rooms and vote people out. We may laugh in private but the people being made fun of and outcast are being just as publicly shamed, humiliated, demeaned.
I guess before reality tv there were shows like Jerry Springer. Dirty-laundry airing, chair throwing, laugh-a-minute low-brow fun(sic). Or maybe it went all the way back to “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. The funniest ones were always at someone’s expense. Why is it so compelling to watch (and enjoy) the mishaps of others? What need or desire does it satisfy? What strange inner itch does it scratch?
I’m trying to figure out how we got here, with someone like Donald Trump as an actual, for-real presidential candidate. With his candidacy, the despicable, revolting, execrable, pestiferous underbelly of humanity in this country has been highlighted (and there is a lot more of it than I am prepared to know about). Like turning over a rock in the garden and exposing all the slimy vermin to the light of day. The racist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist bullying that is being revealed and delighted in has cast a palpable pall over so many of us.
But beside Trump and Pence (who I think is even more vile than Trump), loathsome as they are, what has caused me the greatest amount of disappointment and anguish has been the people in my life who have been revealed as Trump supporters. I expected my family (what little I have) to support him. They’re republicans who think Reagan was the “best president ever” and whose republican values include, “as long as I’m doing well who cares about anyone else?!” and “suck it up buttercup, go out and work for it!”, just to name a few. More painful have been the old friends and acquaintances who have proclaimed their Trump intentions loudly and proudly despite his rhetoric and what it actually means. I grew up in a small town which is now quite affluent. Though back then it wasn’t so much. It was just a small farm town when I was growing up there. I always thought of it as a wonderful, tight-knit, up-and-coming town, with strong community and good schools. I’ve overlooked the plethora of Facebook friends from my childhood who cannot for the life of them grasp the differences between “their, there and they’re”, or “your and you’re” – always giving them the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they were posting in a hurry, or while driving at high speeds on the interstate. I’ve ignored the photos of their cheerleader daughters wielding batons or their camo-clad sons brandishing BB guns. But these people, they’ve all known me all my life, since I was a little kid. They see who I am, who I have been and who my family is on Facebook. Every one of them is quick to “like” photos of me or my kids, to post cheers on my wall regarding my hockey escapades or to send me good wishes for every tiny triumph I share. How do they not see how their support of a candidate that stands for everything that is anti me might be problematic?
The most painful one has been Mackie. Mackie was probably in her late 20s or early 30s when I came out at 14. She was like a “gay mother” to me and other young people who were scared and confused and grappling with the realization of being LGBTQ or other. She was a rock, steady and strong. She guided us, protected us, kept us out of trouble and listened to us tirelessly without complaint or criticism. I don’t know how any of us would have survived without her. And yet, day after day after day she posts horrific propaganda against Hillary and support for “making America great again” through Trump. I have no idea how to make sense of that!
Lots of people have suggested I simply “unfriend” these people or block them from my Facebook feed. But it doesn’t feel so easy to me. Unfriending Mackie or my childhood friends feels like erasing my past. It’s worse than throwing the baby out with the bath water. It feels bad and shameful. Once this day, this election, is over, I won’t be able to just go back to liking the photo of Mackie’s dinner plate, or Kenny’s twirling girls. I won’t be able to unsee their support of Trump and his hateful rhetoric that would negate me and my family. Like when a lawyer says something and the judge yells, “Strike that from the record!”, but the jury has already heard it.