The following short story is a work of fiction. It features entirely fictional characters and is based on true events in America.
It is subtle at times. After all, you can still walk into the grocery store and see row after row of food. You can still go to the movies and marvel over the awesomeness of Wonder Woman and Dunkirk and each new film that comes out. Your life hasn’t changed. What are all those crazy liberals worried about, you may be thinking. Life under a Trump presidency isn’t really any different on a day-to-day basis than it was.
Your neighbor, well, sure, that is an unfortunate situation. She’s always posting on Facebook about how she and her daughter aren’t going to be able to afford health care anymore, because they have those pre-existing conditions. It’s sad, but she tends to be hysterical and overreact to everything. She probably would be in better health if she made better choices, you think to yourself. After all, you take good care of yourself and you aren’t suffering from multiple sclerosis or bipolar disorder or infertility. It must be her fault, and if she needs to pay a little more for health care, well, then, that’s the way it is.
You avert your eyes from the constant media posts about all the children with cancer and other illnesses who need Medicaid to access care. After all, your kids are okay, and the secret truth is, that’s all that really matters to you. Those kids with cancer are a rarity, and you have to think of the financial interests of the majority of people.
You hear about a family at your local high school. They are trying to get the school to create a policy for a transgender bathroom. Their child is transgender. You cannot understand this. It frightens you. You discover that Trump has decided to ban transgender people from the military, and you are relieved. You scroll past all the ludicrous posts by people who want to allow their daughter to be herself, even though she was born with a penis. You are filled with disdain. You think the parents should crack down on that kid and straighten things out. Tell the kid to snap out of it and move on.
Your life continues unchanged. None of these new restrictions affect you. It’s not really your problem. This thinking comforts you. You largely ignore those who disagree with you. They are filled with hate, not you. They are the ones who don’t get it, the ones who are making mountains out of molehills. Why can’t people just be grateful for what they have instead of complaining for more? There’s a black person working at your office. There’s a woman in your brokerage firm. You clearly work in a diverse environment. You aren’t the problem.
Your younger son is a Boy Scout. He recently attended the Jamboree where President Trump spoke. Sure, there were a few things that made you uncomfortable, like when the President encouraged the kids to boo a past President and a Presidential candidate. You squirmed at bit as the boys cheered at the notion of racy parties filled with underage drinking and sex. After all, you believe in a wholesome America, and you are already tired of the partisan divide that is sweeping the country. There were a few disturbing moments when the Jamboree resembled videos you have seen of Hitler Youth rallies.
But everyone knows that the Boy Scouts of America are good kids. There is no need for the organization to speak up against the President of the United States and make waves. I mean, of course you believe in a free press, but most of the press is just trying to make the President look bad. Fake news and all. Lies. You shrug it off and carry on as you were.
Your housekeeper is late for work one day. It turns out her daughter was on the El train -- riding to work in the Loop, where she is an associate at a law firm -- and a couple men started harassing her. They taunted her with racial slurs and told her to go back to her country. One of the men knocked her computer bag out of her arms and shoved her. A terrible thing, you think. You commiserate with your housekeeper. An isolated incident. These things have always happened in our country. You don’t make any connection between the climate of our leadership and the increased brazenness of the attackers.
That night on the news, there is yet another story about the President. People are up in arms because he was ogling the body of the wife of the French President. You are annoyed that this is what the press chooses to cover. Who cares if he appreciates a beautiful woman? That’s just what guys do. It’s not like he’s hurting her, right?
Weeks pass, then months. Life marches on. See, everything is fine.
One night, your daughter comes into your room. She is sobbing. She is in tenth grade. She confesses that something happened six weeks ago. A guy she knows grabbed her breasts and shoved her against a row of lockers. She told him to stop but he squeezed harder, then stuck his hands inside her pants. Every day at school, he winks at her and grabs her butt when he walks by.
She has been so frightened that she hasn’t been able to focus at school. She is anxious all the time; she can’t sleep, she can’t eat. She doesn’t want to go to school anymore. The person who finally noticed something was going on and encouraged her to talk to you? It was that transgender girl. The one who knows about trying to hide inner pain. She held your daughter’s hand and offered her comfort when it was most needed. You discover that you care less about whether someone has a penis or a vagina and more about whether they have a heart.
After your daughter's continued emotional decline, you and your wife take her to see a psychologist. You realize that your daughter can’t simply “snap out of it and move on." She is diagnosed with depression, and she needs therapy and anti-depressants. It turns out your health care policy doesn’t have much mental health care coverage. You need to choose between paying hundreds of dollars each week for her therapy or buying the expensive organic foods you always eat.
In a support group, your daughter develops a particularly close friendship with another young girl who is a survivor of sexual assault. This friend becomes a lifeline for your daughter. One evening, you invite the girl to join your family for dinner at a restaurant you love. Her dad arranges to meet you there. Her dad shows up about ten minutes after you are seated, and he begins to walk into the dining room to find you. In astonishment, you watch as he is practically tackled by two tuxedoed waiters, who try to throw him out of the dining room. The only thing that differentiates this dad from everyone else in the room is that he is black.
You go home that night and you think about it all. You see it. You see the entitlement that too many people have. You see the mistreatment of people of color, women, poor people, and sick people. The balance of power is creeping in and affecting you. You cannot keep hiding your head. You are ashamed that you only have begun to care now that the climate in your country is affecting your own loved ones.
Once you see it, you cannot unsee it. It’s unbelievable, really, the amount of privilege bestowed upon some and the amount of discrimination thrust upon others. You are sitting in a meeting at your office and notice that there is only one person of color among a sea of white faces. Your office is actually not diverse. Not at all. You wonder at how alone your black colleague must feel. You wonder how many people in your office are gay and have to hide it. You wonder how many women are harassed and keep silent.
Still, you hold back. You have always voted the same way. You are frightened of changing. But the time comes when you are more frightened of not changing. You realize that what you voted for was a different America than the one that is evolving. Rather than double down and insist things are fine, you take a deep breath and decide to take back your power and your voice. You have to do it for your son and your daughter, for your housekeeper, your friends, your colleagues.
You realize that history will look back on this time, and it will not be kind to the President and his supporters. They are on the wrong side of history. Civilizations rise and civilizations fall. All this time, you had thought everything was okay, because you could still walk into the grocery store and see rows and rows of food. But now you realize you are in a fight for your very survival, for your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
You will be on the right side of history. You will reach out a hand to others, and you will let love and respect and knowledge replace hate and disdain and ignorance. You will rise up. And you will take others with you.
Again, the above short story is a work of fiction. It features entirely fictional characters and is based on true events in America.
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