What did I have to lose? So I took the quiz, just for fun. Not one of those Facebook quizzes to see if you can spell (I’m a crackerjack speller, but then, I’ve known that since forever, especially since Grade 11 when my English Composition teacher said he would give a quarter to any student who could spell acquiesce, but then defaulted after I spelled it correctly, an action that still seems to retain some angst), or to find out what your hemispheric dominance is, or what your last name might be in another life, how much history or literature you might know, or what historical character you most ressemble.
This quiz wore legitimacy. Sponsored by the New York Times, no less, the two-part Gail Collins quiz purported to assess what a person knew about the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. On Part I, I scored 15 / 16. I missed the question on the Ben Carson "listening tour":
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson embarked on a “listening tour” around the country. A high point came in Miami, where Carson …
1. Took a week off to go to the beach.
2. Got stuck in a housing project elevator.
3. Kept pointing out that he never claimed to know anything about the federal government.
I chose three. Wrong. He got stuck in a housing project elevator. Oh, the ignominities of political life.
The tally came with a comment: You may be thinking too much about this. (By the way, I scored 16 / 17 on part 2 of the same quiz. The comment there was, You know more than he does. Well, that doesn’t take much, does it? The bar is so low, it’s an insult.)
Seriously? Of course I’m thinking too much about this. To help the cause of journalism, pivotal in these dark times, I’ve subscribed to the Globe and Mail (Toronto), the New York Times, and the Washington Post. I read Truthdig and Mother Jones. I even gobble reports on the French election. Le Pen, I know something about; Macron is a newbie, so I learn what I can about him, and update my knowledge of his rival. Is the Macron victory a glimmer of hope?
Now, days after the Comey dismissal, I still can’t understand how anyone can be played to the degree Trump continues to play his supporters. I can’t understand how almost all of the Republican Congress can lie, shove all but the wealthiest Americans under the bus, and then self-congratulate. How can this happen?
I have always believed that the lessons of autocracy, that insidious dissembler in its rise and in its consequences, had been learned after World War II, that the spilled blood of heroes had been shed to preserve a way of life and to teach enduring lessons. How can a governing party be so cavalier in its dismissal of their sacrifice?
Maybe they are busy ignoring. As Margaret Atwood says in The Handmaid’s Tale, "Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at it." (66) As she recalls fond memories associated with hotel rooms of her past life, Offred, the heroine of that prescient work, realizes that she "wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen . . . Careless. I was careless, in those rooms." (60 – 61). You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, in other words. She didn’t realize what a treasure her former life was until everything changed. As the society around her was being transformed, she didn’t pay attention. She "lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print, . . . in the gaps between the stories." (67) The events didn’t concern her in particular, so why be concerned? She learned, though, that one command can deliver the coup the grâce to a privileged way of life whose underpinnings have become brittle.
So, let’s not be careless with our privileged life, with truth, facts, and democracy itself. Let’s not live in the gaps between the stories. We have to know too much, no matter how stressful that might be. We are strong. We can manage the stress. We have the inner grit to live with awareness and to act. Atwood’s advice, back in 1985, is appropriate today: “Nolite te bastardescarborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down.”