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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Because Pessimists Never Even Try

Today, because I'm very lucky to have a job with flexible hours and not in a factory where I have to physically punch in and out to even go to the bathroom, or an Amazon warehouse, or like when I worked at UPS when I was unloading a trailer as fast as I could with a tiny man with very large biceps screaming at me to go faster, I took a little break and went to a couple of stores to see if anyone was selling an NES Classic early. Nobody was, by the way, but I found someone who put me on a list so I'm good. We can all relax.

Anyway, that's not what I was getting at but it was a nice little distraction for just a second from the fact that I have cried at least 4 times each day for the past two days. I don't need to get into it because you either agree with me and have cried, or you don't and you think it's as hilarious that we are crying as liberals thought it was when people were crying at Mitt Romney's election parties. It's funny, I get it. It's funny to watch people who are so used to getting their own way lose for once. It is the lifeblood of being a Raiders fan, that feeling. We win so rarely, and here in the West we live under the shadow of Broncos fans' smugness, that when we won it's hard not to revel in those defeated, distant stares.

Everyone has been using sports metaphors for this, and it's easy to say that people have just organized into teams and root for their teams, but just like most easy explanations, I don't buy it. I don't buy it anymore than I do that Hillary Clinton lost because of emails.

While I was out in some stores, I saw little clusters of people between various aisles, including one very loud cluster at the DI, who were exulting. I heard this at work yesterday, too. People who are ecstatic that Hillary Clinton lost. People who hate her more than any single person on this planet.

Here's how I felt: I felt like I was in an occupied country. I considered talking to a manager at DI until I found a cluster of managers giggling about how wrong the liberal media was about the predicted outcome of the election. It felt like a part of a secret resistance force with the knowledge that if I spoke up, I'd be reported and put on a list. 

And then I realized that's how these folks have felt under an Obama presidency. They have felt in the last 8 years that they don't have a president who cares about them. They have spent 8 years genuinely worried that there would be no safe country for their children. These are the people who have been predicting a global economic tragedy that would lead to World War III, tent cities, and fascism. Sounds like my Facebook feed right now.

Is this true? I don't think so. That's why I voted for Hillary. But on a very significant level, it doesn't matter. We can talk all day long about the realities of all of this and show statistics about job growth and murder rates and Gross Domestic Product (I don't know why we spend so much time talking about our sewer system but whatever). We can talk about how wrong they are, and how they've been duped by Fox News and later Breitbart. We can use charts that show that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes given their proportion of the population than natural citizens. We can talk about how black people don't all live in the projects, that in fact most of them live in suburbs, and those suburbs are nice places to live. Or we can talk about this reality: our country elected Donald Trump to be its president because enough people who lived here felt like they were under siege. 

Hold onto your butts, people. I believe everything I'm about to say is wrong, but it's true to enough of our nation to elect someone who is deeply unqualified and unfit to be even a city council-member in not even the main city of a Grand Theft Auto game.

Now, in their little clusters, all over states that voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Donald Trump presidency, they celebrate because they felt like someone was stepping on them with a boot and increasing that pressure, little by little, for eight years. Everything they were taught as children that was wrong is now right. And it's being forced on them. They voted in their states to define marriage, but they were told that their vote doesn't matter by 9 people who live thousands of miles away. They are told, while debt piles around them and foreclosure notices arrive in the mail and their children can't find a job, that they are living life on "easy mode" because they are white. They watch reports on television of black teens knocking out white elderly people in cities because it's fun and calling it "the knockout game" (this is an actual urban myth that has constantly been broadcast on Fox News and talk radio for years). They are told every day that there are American cities, like Deerborn, Michigan, that are already under Sharia law and their city will be next. They believe that Hillary Clinton has ordered that her opponents be murdered.

(Deerborn, by the way, is a town in the United States that is 44% Muslim. It also sounds like a pretty decent place to live. One of their high schools, in a city where 53% of the population lives at or below poverty, has a 100% graduation rate and a 96% college readiness rank.)

By Rmhermen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

That's what Sharia ice cream trucks look like
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (which, according to one site, there is "A growing consensus on the political right is to consider being labeled a hate group by the SPLC a badge of honor.") right-wing militias went from 35 during George W. Bush's administration to a peak of 334 during Obama's. Says one militia member when asked about storming the White House in the event of a Hillary victory: "I will be there to render assistance to my fellow countrymen, and prevent them from being disarmed, and I will fight and I will kill and I may die in the process."

Obviously this guy is the extreme. But I definitely heard my share of assassination "jokes" during the Obama presidency. And I'm going to take the very strong moral stand and I may get some flack for saying this but I don't think that's OK.

I don't think it's OK now, either. Even if I think the new president elect is going to be bad. I don't know that he's going to be bad, but I bet he is. If he's great I will be so happy to admit it. I will be so relieved. Just like if his new Director of the EPA candidate is wrong and climate change really is some elaborate (I mean, SO elaborate) hoax. You guys, if that turns out to be the case that would be some really good news. It would be the best news. We have all the best news. We're going to get so much good news we'll be sick of good news.

Ugh. Anyway, here's the thing about betting. You go with past history because past history is a pretty good predictor of the future. Here's an example: in my lifetime we had 8 years of Reagan. Then we had 4 years of Bush. That's the weird part. Because after that we get 8 years of Clinton and then 8 years of (another) Bush and then 8 years of Obama. Now if I'm a betting man I see a pretty clear pattern here and that 4 years of Bush senior is not the norm. I was in college when George W. Bush won his second term, and I know that everyone says that this time is different (and I agree), but that felt a lot like the end of the world, too. More recession, more war, more extreme faux-pas with government officials (giving unwanted backrubs to the woman German Chancellor, oh and also blundering us into a land war). I saw "Not my president" stickers all over campus. Also, and stop me if this sounds familiar, "Bush lied, people died." I remember one with bush with x's over his eyes all over the place.

Each day the great blackjack dealer in the sky says to us, "Place your bets, gentlemen," and we do. Some of us bet on calamity. We burrow into our basements with ammunition and dry food and prophecies of doom and gloom. We hoard our resources and we dare our neighbors who we have previously been told that we are to love as ourselves to even try to come and get them as we polish our guns. In essence, we spend all of our free time soaking up resources and give nothing back. It's us against the world and what has the world ever done for us? Here is a blog post of mine that I'm particularly proud of. You should read the whole thing because I have bad self esteem and I need it. But if you don't, here's what I wanted to talk about:
Those guys I can take or leave. I like the optimists. The ones who bet on the future. I cried three times watching Inside Out. A Pixar movie takes somewhere between four and seven years to make and costs from $175 to $245 million to make. The company employs around 1,200 people. That's a pretty steep bet. Of course, it made almost a billion dollars back and taught kids that their emotions are not their enemies. That growing up has some sad in it but that the sad can actually be pretty important. It said that it's not wrong to be down in the dumps sometimes but overall there are lots of exciting things in the world.
Now as sad as I am, I would be a bigger hypocrite than Jason "I can't look my 15 year old daughter in the face" Chaffetz if all of the stuff I said in that blog post didn't apply today.

Here, maybe it will have more weight if Iron Man says it:
There's only two things I ever managed to believe in. Firstly, myself, and even then, only about some of the time. Secondly, the future. That there would be one and we'd make it. By default, optimists make the world, because pessimists never even try. I've believed that for as long as I've been me, no matter what. - Iron Man Volume 1: Believe
Now listen. This is not the optimism of a privileged white man in a country where everything already fits me but in the near future everything will be specifically tailored just for me (just like clothes are because I'm tall and, let's face it, svelte (well, except for sleeves)) saying "everything is going to be OK." Because I don't know if it will. Things have been not OK in the past. Lots of times. It was not OK in concentration camps, neither was it in slave ships. It wasn't OK for entire nations of native people who were eradicated first by disease, and then by US military. It's scary as F.

I will not tell you, as you are staring into that inky black maw of uncertainty, using your predictive powers to process a career of a man that is dotted with failure, lawsuits, unpaid bills, and sexual harassment and assault and then say, hey-let's-give-this-guy-a-shot-maybe-he'll-surprise-us. I don't think that's a good bet.

But I will say that I find it impossible to despair. I can't. Look at Iron Man up there. He's not real. I get it. But there's an interesting thing about the Marvel movies. There's always an after credits sequence. It takes forever to see, though, because so many people work on those movies. All of them very well paid. In Dr. Strange all the stars have their own drivers and they fly those drivers to all of the locations. Just the drivers! That's a living wage plus gas or whatever and all the flights just to hustle Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton all over the place. Imagine driving Chiwetel Ejiofore all over frickin Nepal. WHAT AN AWESOME JOB. 

What I'm saying is that movie cost 165 million dollars. These guys have a plan through 2019 and no sign of stopping. That's what betting on the future looks like. I don't know about you, but I want there still to be a civilization by the time Captain Marvel comes out. So bad.

Today I was walking around a site that is extremely ecologically degraded. Weeds, garbage, nasty, nasty stuff. As I walked around with a restoration biologist he pointed out all of the things they were going to do to improve it. They were planting trees, killing weeds, designing a stream meander and a fishing pond. When I asked how long it would take, he said for everything to get done, it would be ten years.

That restoration will be meaningful for migratory birds because it would serve as a stopping off point in a large city. Those birds get tired and need to eat and nest and make out with other cute birds. Is there a part of me that thinks, "what if these birds are extinct in ten years and none of this matters?" or, "This entire country will be a post-apocalyptic hellscape in which we will be warring with one another over water while for some reason wearing a lot of black makeup?" Hell yes there is. I think that every day. I am investing in black makeup. BUT, if we don't live like there will be birds and trees and football and Captain Marvel and new video games and new machines that play old video games, there won't be.

So we place our bets. We invest in the stock market. We plant trees. We have kids. And we teach those kids that there will be a future and it will be beautiful, because if we teach them that, they will make it so. I'll put money on it.