Where We Are Now

I started this year with mixed feelings: on one hand, I saw 2020 as a new beginning; on the other, I wasn’t looking forward to the campaigning leading up to the presidential election. But I was determined to be as positive as possible; even I was sick of how negative I’d been since Trump was voted into office. I knew this would be a challenge because I’m not an optimist by nature (see my post, “Post-Election Hangover”). But the number itself—2020 (l have a thing about even and symmetrical numbers)–seemed like a sign that good things were on the way.

Then the news started trickling in from China about a new, highly contagious virus. Still, I wasn’t that concerned; I just assumed that it wouldn’t have much of an impact in the States. But here we are, on March 28th, with over 620,000 cases and almost 29,000 deaths worldwide, including over 105,000 cases and 1722 deaths in the U.S. alone. And these figures are obsolete as soon as I write them; that’s how swiftly this virus is moving.

This is more than a once-in-a-lifetime event. It may end up redefining the 21st Century. It certainly will draw a line in the sand of history. We will start referring to events as having occurred before the coronavirus pandemic or after it. (God willing, there will be an “after.”) Births, marriages, and deaths will be remembered for taking place in the year when everything changed.

That’s not to say that people haven’t always experienced things that divided their lives into a “before” and “after.” But it’s rare that something cataclysmic happens to the entire world at once. To look on the somewhat bright side, this could be worse: a nuclear world war or an asteroid hurtling toward the Earth, for example. But that’s not much comfort while we’re facing the scary unknowns of this pandemic.

We don’t know how bad this is going to get, how long it’s going to last, how many will die or be scarred for life, how many economies it will topple. Will it be as bad, or worse, than the 1918 Spanish flu? Will it decimate our populations? Or will we develop a vaccine in time to avoid near-total disaster?

I’m writing this while I’m off work because the library I work for has closed. I haven’t been out of the house for two weeks. My state’s primary election was canceled and is now going to be conducted by mail only. All my appointments—hair, dental, physical therapy—have been canceled. My grandchildren are probably out of school for the rest of the year. The one who is a junior in college is doing all his classes virtually. The last three times we got groceries, there was no yogurt, orange juice or toilet paper. I could go on and on.

But so far, no one I know personally has tested positive for the virus, let alone been hospitalized, or died. As long as we all stay home, I have the illusion that we’re somehow protected. But we have to go out sometime, and according to our President, it should be sooner, rather than later. (He thinks the economy can be “up and raring to go” by Easter, two weeks from now.)

I’m going to write about different topics in the weeks and months to come, but it will be hard to keep from coming back to the coronavirus, no matter what I write about. Because this is our new normal. And everything we do, think, and feel will be shaped by it.

Welcome to Femagination 2020

I started this blog in 2008 when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were vying for the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for president. As a Second Wave feminist, I was excited by the possibility that a woman might actually become that candidate. When that didn’t happen, I wanted to examine the role that sexism played, not only in Clinton’s defeat, but in society as a whole. I wrote more than 550 posts over the next few years, on topics ranging from abortion to motherhood to the practice of head-covering among Muslim women (which proved to be my most commented-on post). 

In recent years, I’ve posted infrequently, partly because I felt that I’d run out of things to say, and partly because I didn’t think my blog was all that influential. I still doubt that it is, but I’m feeling a need to express myself again about what’s going on in this crazy world. 

I’m not the type of writer who uses my blog to sling mud at people. I may not always be successful, but I try to be as objective as I can about issues. That isn’t to say that I’m unbiased, but my goal has always been to open up dialogue between people who hold differing views. That may be a fool’s errand, but I can’t not try. 

I’m analytical by nature. I like to examine things from all sides, dissect them, and come up with new ways of looking at them. At the same time, I’m a stickler for honesty. I won’t pretend to be neutral when I’m not. I will express my opinions, but I won’t beat people over the head with them. If that makes my blog too tame, so be it. If you’re looking for sensationalism, you won’t find it here.

I invite you to sample my posts if my approach sounds like something you could buy into. I want you to feel welcome. Hopefully, even if you don’t agree with me, you’ll come away with a bit more understanding about both (or all) sides of an issue.

Motherhood and the Pay Gap

Studies show that, even in family~friendly countries like Sweden, the main reason for the gender pay gap is motherhood.  In other words, if a woman wants to keep up with men in the work world, she shouldn’t have children.

It’s illegal for an interviewer to ask women if they have children, but that doesn’t stop employers from assuming that they do. Even if a woman is childless, if she’s of child-bearing age, the mere possibility that she could have a child makes employees skittish about hiring or promoting her. The underlying (and insulting) assumption is that being a mother makes a woman a bad employee. She’s going to take off more time to care for sick children than a man will. She can’t work long hours because she has to pick the children up from day care. Her mind isn’t exclusively on her job (as if she can’t think about children and work at the same time). She’s not going to be as motivated to succeed because she puts her children first.

Employers don’t have the same assumptions about men who have children. Why not? Because we have all been socialized to expect that women are going to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to child care.

Before you start accusing me of being a “typical” feminist (meaning that I’m out to undermine the family), let me say that I know that many women intentionally stay out of the work force or put their careers on hold when they have children. Many women believe that a woman’s primary role in life is to bear and care for children. But does that mean that all women, mothers and non-mothers alike, should be penalized when they try to join or advance in the work world?

Conservatives scoff at working women’s complaints about the pay gap  because they contend that statistics show that mothers are less productive than non-mothers. But they stop short of asking themselves why that is or what could be done about it. They feel no obligation to accommodate workers who have children. “After all, having children was their choice; it has nothing to do with me.”  They refuse to look at the broader picture: our future depends on these children. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to make sure they are cared for, raised in safety and security, and educated adequately?

The current administration has made noises about addressing some of these problems, but so far has done nothing. And knowing its  supposed disdain for government  intervention, I doubt that it ever will. Republicans are more concerned about tax and immigration reform and abolishing Obamacare than about the plight of working parents. In fact, I can’t think of one legislator who has made reforms like maternity and paternity leave, flex-time, job-sharing and affordable quality child care a priority. That’s why I’m a feminist: someone needs to be looking out for women in the work force.  And looking out for working mothers ensures that our nation’s children will be taken care of as well.



One Year Anniversary

Is it an omen that the government shut down on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration? Is this a portent of the future for this administration? Is this President going to be known as the head of one of the most dysfunctional governments in U.S. history?

Notice I did not write “unsuccessful.” Trump and his cronies have had some measure of success, as well as some notable failures. But I’m not referring to the keeping of campaign promises. I’m more concerned about whether or not Trump’s government is functioning the way it was meant to by our founding fathers.

Their over-riding intent was that the United States be a democracy. The defining characteristic of a democracy is that it is representative of all its members. The only reason the majority “rules” is because there has to be some way of settling disagreements. But I don’t think they ever meant to set up a government whereby the majority could be manipulated to run roughshod over the minority.

But that’s exactly the kind of government we have today. Special interests pour billions of dollars into congressional and presidential races, think tanks and lobbyists with the sole intent of taking away power from everyone who isn’t like them, making it seem like the majority sides with them on everything.

Most people aren’t even aware that they are being manipulated. They buy the line that their concerns matter more than the concerns of those who have less power and influence. They’re flattered when politicians point to them as the “real” Americans. They believe that they have the divine right to rule everybody else  because they “won.” They no longer understand the concept of or care about the “common good.” They are content to be made in the image of their creators: prosperous, predominantly white, and Christian.

It makes me crazy when “originalists” like Neil Gorsuch act like the Constitution is sacred, as if its authors were some kind of futurists who anticipated everything that would happen to and in this country. They obviously didn’t see the day coming when slaves would be freed, let alone considered equal to a white man, to point to just one example.  Besides, originalists are perfectly willing to remake the law to suit themselves (i.e., keep their power) even if it doesn’t jibe with the Constitution. (See gerrymandering or voter restrictions.)

Trump never meant it when he said that he would represent all Americans. And he’s willing to use conservative politicians and judges to twist the founding fathers’ words so that it looks like it is the minority that is unworthy of representation.

That’s the way Trump’s first year in office looks to me.




What I Think of Trump

The impression I get of Trump is that he is winging it, experimenting with what he thinks will get him the best (in other words, the most) response. (He said once that he wasn’t sure how his idea about building a wall would be received, but once it was met with cheers, he decided to keep on saying it.)

When he does go too far, he backs down, says he was kidding, or even denies that he said or did whatever it was that caused offense. As far as I can remember, the only time he apologized or admitted that he was wrong was when the “grab them by the pussy” tape surfaced. And that was only because the evidence was right there; he couldn’t deny that he’d said it. (He has since said that he doubts the authenticity of the tape.)

I wrote the first two paragraphs of this post on January 3, 2017.  Now it’s January 1, 2018, almost a year later. When I started this post, Trump hadn’t even been inaugurated yet. In almost three weeks, he will have been our President for a year. So what do I think of him now?

Well, for one thing, I think he is a terrible representative for the United States. Instead of making America great again, he has ripped our reputation as a world leader to shreds. The words at the base of the Statue of Liberty no longer apply. In the space of a year, the U.S. has gone from being a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity to an island built on suspicion and self-aggrandizement (much like Trump himself). The countries that still have positive opinions about the U.S. are those that are ruled by strongmen (which is what Trump aspires to be).

So far, it is Trump himself who draws the most fire, but the day is coming, if we continue on the course Trump is setting, when the democracies of the world will no longer look to the U.S. as an example worth emulating.  (With the exception of Israel, which is really happy right now since Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.)

I can’t help but wonder what Trumps means when he refers to a “great” America. Great for whom exactly? Certainly not for immigrants or Muslims. Or the millions of Americans who are teetering on the edge of losing their health insurance. Or those who still have moral values (and haven’t been seduced by politicians intent on staying in power). Or the poor, the young, the elderly, and the working class. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, yeah, corporations and the wealthy. That’s all Trump cares about.

Trump caters to his “base” by playing on their fears: terrorism, unemployment, a takeover by liberals and minorities. By telling them what he imagines they want to hear, he is able to pull off a magician’s trick and make their health care, their chances for upward mobility, and their ability to live in a free and equal society disappear. When he calls the media “fake news” and rails against the justice system when he doesn’t get his way, he is eroding the protections of the very Constitution he swore to defend.

I didn’t want to be right about Trump a year ago and I wish I was wrong about him today. I’m not like some people who say that he’s mentally ill or another Hitler. I don’t even think he should be impeached (partly because I feel just as negative about a President Pence). I just think that he’s a shallow, insensitive, egotistical blowhard who believes that he can shape the world into what he wants it to be, regardless of the consequences to others.

Trump is already one-fourth of the way through his time in office. If he hasn’t changed his behavior by now, he’s never going to. When January, 2019 (or 2020) rolls around, I don’t expect to see any improvement on his part. I only hope that he won’t have done too much damage to our democracy.

Maybe when the next presidential election comes around, the Democrats’ motto should be #MAAA (Make America America Again). I just hope they won’t be too late to pull it off.

Post-Election Hangover

Being a pessimist is supposed to be a bad thing, but it usually works well for me. It protects me from a lot of psychological turmoil. For instance, by holding dress rehearsals of the worst that could happen, I was able to wake up the morning after the election without an emotional hangover. I hadn’t spent the night high on hopes of a Clinton win; if anything, I was stone cold sober. I just didn’t trust the predictions that she was going to win. The polls looked too close to call it one way or another.

I was so sure that there was a very real possibility that Trump might win that I went to bed at 9 on election night. I had no interest in spending the whole evening stress eating and biting what little was left of my fingernails. Unfortunately I woke up around 1:30 and decided to check the results. Even though I’d been expecting it, it was still a shock when I saw how many electoral votes Trump had. I kept checking the news and people’s responses on Facebook as if somehow it would turn out to be a mistake. There was this disconnect between my intellect and my emotions. My mind was registering the reality but my spirit was wailing, “No! It can’t be!” Even though it hurt, like picking a scab on a wound, I made myself stay up for Trump’s victory speech. I didn’t get back to bed until 3:30 and I had to get up three hours later for work. I’m surprised that I got back to sleep at all.

Having Trump win was almost a relief, not just because it proved that my instincts were right, but also because it ended the suspense. Anticipating something that you fear is usually worse than coming face to face with it.

But I won’t lie, it is also deeply upsetting. What is hardest to swallow is the feeling that millions of Americans agree with Trump about women, sexual assault (“Boys will be boys.”), reproductive rights, immigrants, refugees and Muslims, torture, a free press, civil discourse, and, most of all, the importance of being honest. (I still can’t fathom how his supporters could harp on Clinton’s supposed dishonesty while Trump was repeatedly caught in half-truths, reversals, and out-and-out lies.)

I spent the first few days after the election in denial—except for when I would suddenly jerk “awake” and remember that he really was going to be our next president. (Actually, I still have that reaction whenever I hear or read the words “President Trump.”) I kept imagining his supporters gloating, and indeed, a lot of them have been, especially on social media. What pissed me off the most were the comments about how Clinton supporters/liberals/Democrats should stop their whining and get over it. As if they would have reacted any differently if Trump had lost.

Right now I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. I’m still expecting the worst, but I refuse to go down the road of crying, “The sky is falling!” just because the clouds are hanging low on the horizon.