For me, there has been one major difference between childhood and adulthood. As a child, I always believed that adults knew what they were doing, and that while I went about my little life, someone, somewhere, was taking care of the world. When I reached adulthood, I soon realized that no one really knows what’s going on. Everyone is only human, with flaws and shortcomings just like me, trying to get by in the world. And I kind of enjoyed that realization, because it meant that I wasn’t the only one stumbling.
But it seems I only thought I had learned that lesson. Because, yes, I knew intellectually that all people, including those in positions of power, are subject to inadequacies and incompetence, weakness, delusion, bias, ignorance, failure. And if you had asked me who in the world knows what the hell they’re doing, I would have answered confidently, “No one!” But judging by the utter shock I am reeling in after this election, it appears I hadn’t learned that lesson completely.
Because upon careful inward reflection, I’m seeing that the overwhelming feeling for me right now is total disillusionment. It’s this terrifying sense that the ground is crumbling, not just because of specific policies that will be put in place or certain cabinet members who will be appointed (though those are horrific), but because the order and justice that I naively believed ruled my country has completely failed. Or perhaps, it was never there to begin with.
I knew intellectually that even governments are only as solid as the fallible humans running them. But I guess I still had this (apparently childish) notion that this country was built in such a way that some semblance of justice and righteousness would always be upheld. Even if differing political ideologies took turns in the power seat, there were limits to how bad things could get. I believed, for example, that there were certain things a presidential candidate could do or say that would disqualify them from office, and that they would have to be at least somewhat prepared for the job and display even the most basic human decency. But we have just elected a president who is neither prepared nor decent (by any stretch of the imagination) and everyone’s pretending this is just business as usual. I know many people are outraged, but where is the stop on this? Even the “liberal” media is going along treating this as normal. (I’m looking at you, NPR.) Racism and sexism and bigotry are being normalized and legitimized everywhere we look, by the very people I always thought were the grown ups. The people who, I suppose, I always thought would make sure things would be okay.
I guess I thought there were measures in place to make sure that an ill-informed and fearful public could not be manipulated into voting a monster into office. And I guess I thought that there was some line we would draw, and when it was crossed, we would say, “Okay, we need to change some things, because we as a society will not let our country (and possibly the world) devolve into shit.” Apparently, there is no such line. Or if there is a line, it’s way out in apocalypse territory.
So I guess I’m waking up. Or growing up. I guess we all are. No one is in charge. (Or at least, no one with any interest in taking care of us is in charge.) No one is coming to save us. And I guess no one ever was.
Waking up is hard.