I was just reflecting on the fact that so much of my dinner conversation and my correspondence with friends is about how hard it is to live with the daily encounter with dysfunctionality. How much it takes out of you to read day after day about refugee children turned away and medical services for the poor to be shut down, afterschool programs, meals-on-wheels, NPR and on and on – all to build more tanks and a wall to keep Mexicans out that Trump promised they would be forced to pay for. How much you want to turn off the sources of news and pretend it’s not happening. Running from it is, I think, totally understandable.
But to run is an overreaction. First off, I think hiding from what bothers you is counterproductive. Not facing reality is like never taking off your shoes. Feet are wonderful things, but they stink if not washed and exposed to fresh air.
I have boasted over the years that most of my friends are neurotics. That’s overstated. There may be a real neurotic or two in there, but for the most part they are wonderfully bright people who are simply too often inclined to depression. I think there is truth to the saying, “If you’re not depressed, you’re not paying attention.” People who are depressed are people who think and are open and vulnerable, and simply become overwhelmed with too much bad news, some of their own imagining, of course, but much that is real, as well.
I got good advice from a shrink early on in my twenties that stuck with me. The solution is to focus on perspective, he said, because while the causes of depression are many, and therefore cannot be easily addressed, what keeps you in depression is the conviction that the here-and-now is a permanent here-and-now, and that’s not the case.
I have a tremendous respect for civilizations that have been around for a while. I’ve written recently about how I think the Jews know how to process suffering. Another group that has learned from centuries of life lived with pain and suffering are the Buddhists. They know how to process nonsense.
The only certainty, say the Buddhists, is that things will change. And that means the fundamental premise of depression is wrong. What you have to do is hold on till the present becomes the future. Good sleep, good work, good food, good conversation, good music, anything that is good will hold you over, usually, till the circumstances change.
I’m committed to not surrendering to despair over the Trump phenomenon. I heard a German say the other day how much he admired the American system of government with its checks and balances. They are working. We tend to favor the short term at the expense of the long term. We also all too often focus on the hole, not the donut. The hole is this current short term Trump mess. The donut is the whole package of American ways of doing things, the naïve assumptions that happiness is achievable (which often become self-fulfilling prophecies), the drive, the curiosity and inventiveness, and that system of checks and balances.
Democracy moves slowly. It will take time to take down Trump, but he will be taken down.
The outrages of the health care reform are sinking in. Even Republicans themselves are astonished at just how bad Ryan's plan is, how it is a short-term mechanism for making the rich richer which in the long term will eat away at not only our national health but our national confidence in ourselves. The lies - about Obama, about the British participation in tapping into Trump's phones, etc. etc. are beginning to get world attention and more and more people are questioning how one can be expected to work with someone who can't be counted on ever to speak the truth.
In the NY Times this morning was an article by Ross Douthat that suggested we consider Singapore's healthcare system as a model to follow. Douthat concluded in the end that a) we could never pull it off because it involves too much government control, and b) we will end up sooner or later with single-payer health care.
I don't think that's merely wishful thinking. Single-payer, I mean. The idea that Ryan and Company will repeal and replace Obamacare with "something better" is now being exposed as a conspicuous lie. The cost is simply too high, and the law of entropy, if nothing else, will force us into a simpler solution. Single-payer has lots of vested-interest opposition, but there's no doubt it's simpler. I’m reminded of that quote attributed, probably erroneously, to Churchill, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.”
I have been unable to live up to my own promise to get and stay more involved in politics, because like most of my friends I'm burned out from the endless stream of bad news. I only tune in partially, and only for limited periods of time. I think we all have to find out own endurance limits and go with those.
Here’s my plan. I want to time myself. Keep track of the time I engage with the political scene and then match that time with one of my guaranteed pleasure makers - reading, music, walking, whatever. For whatever amount of time I spend taking in the news or talking about it, I want to set aside that much time with spirit-lifting activity.
One of my father's constantly recycled quotes, along with "even a clock that is stopped is right twice a day," was "it's a great life if you don't get tired." And a friend once told me (I'll have to ask a Greek sometime if it's true) that where we say, "Take it easy" the Greeks say it more clearly: "Don't get tired."
Easier said than done, of course.
I think there’s no way to never not get tired. You just have to plan what to do when you do. Sleep is always good, and I have an advanced degree in napping. But so is uplifting activity, which can work better than sleep much of the time.
So I'm looking forward to the day when America has universal healthcare coverage and when we finally realize we have no choice but to address climate change, and the fact that we have a cruelly unbalanced distribution of wealth which it is within our power to change.
We just have to go through this dark period of shooting ourselves in the foot first. We'll run out of bullets eventually. Or get tired of losing toes.
We just have to remember to keep the toes on ice so they can be sewn back on when the time comes.