Social dance

This week Chris and I learned the shim sham. Without getting technical, I’d describe it as a social line dance combining tap-style stomping, gliding, kicking, wiggle-walking, and swagger. The shim sham is what our instructors Mark and Katie K. call the seventh evening stretch of every social dance—at least on swing nights at the Century Ballroom. It’s the one time we shed our roles as leader or follower and synchronize instead with the whole room full of other individual dancers.

You can feel the difference. Your mind shifts from honing in on your partner to honing in on both yourself and the entire group, from “couple” to “individual + collective.” So, though I adore partner dancing, I was excited to finally also participate in the shim sham, for the same reason that I love participating in a choir or a theatre chorus or a flash mob. It’s magical when individuals come together and the resulting organism is greater than the sum of its parts—like a flock of birds.

I’m not talking about mob mentality. I feel claustrophobic in a crowd. Just a few weeks ago, Chris and I went to see Run the Jewels at the Showbox in SoDo. We stood towards the back, but even so, by the time RTJ hit the stage, the crowd was pressing in on us from all sides. Chris liked it. He said that losing himself amidst the jostling pressure of so many bodies made him feel safe and snug, and that he drew from everyone’s compressed energy. Not me. I felt like the encroaching crowd was treating me like an object, an obstacle even. I couldn’t breathe—not so much from being squeezed as from my rising panic.

My anxiety was grounded in the fact that, in the mob, I was just another body. For the other people in the crowd it was okay to block my view and push me around without concern for how their actions were affecting my experience. And they weren’t wrong—the show and the venue were meant to be appreciated that way. I was the one who couldn’t feel the high of the hive mind, of losing yourself in the spirit of many, of socializing by being collectively antisocial.

The shim sham—and all social dancing—is very different. These are activities which can only function if everyone acknowledges everyone else’s agency.

In the first place, the dance floor belongs to everyone. A big part of the role of the leader is scanning the dance floor so you don’t end up throwing your follower into another couple’s space. And sure, on a busy night, it’s not uncommon for dancers to accidentally bump into each other, but you always try to avoid run-ins, and you always acknowledge them when they occur.

Secondly, just as the dance floor belongs to everyone, so do the dancers themselves belong to everyone. By that I mean that anyone can dance with anyone else. Sure, you can decide that you’d rather stick to dancing with just your date—something rookies often do out of shyness or skill-level insecurity—but the spirit of the party is that you switch partners song to song, and in so doing, socialize.

It’s this second aspect of social dancing that some people find particularly challenging, and I understand why. By entering the ballroom, you’re inviting physical contact with strangers. And not the impersonal pressure of jostling bodies kind of physical contact, but eye-contact, personal attention, and touch communication. In order to dance, leaders and followers must radiate towards each other a purposeful, collaborative glow that’s at the very least playful, and often even a little bit flirtatious.

I get why that can be intimidating and anxiety-producing in people, but not for me! I love how personal it is, how I can learn a lot about a dance partner without exchanging more words than, “Care to dance?” When I dance with Wiley, for instance, I know our unique combination is going to be a little funky and playfully improvisational. When I dance with Derek, he’s going to be super fluid and I’m going to slip around him like the floor’s made of butter. When I dance with Chris, our moves are going to be crisp and precise, and we’ll always be gazing into each other’s eyes like the rest of the world isn’t there.

Social dance—whether partnered or in line—is interpersonal awareness at its most playful, which suits me just fine.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 02/20/2017.

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Alone time

February 14th is creeping up, which reminds me that some of us don’t have partners with which to celebrate, and are perhaps feeling particularly alone. Not bad alone, necessarily, but notably alone, more so than on any other day. I’ve been there far more often than not, and have occasionally overcompensated in response. One year, while still living at the UW, I handmade dozens of chocolate-covered strawberries and gave them out to all my single dorm friends. They responded with perplexed expressions, and I explained, “I love Love!”

This week leading up to Valentine’s Day is also the week leading up to Chris’s and my first anniversary. Exciting! Chris also happens to be away this week, across the country at the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, taking part in a panel on H.P. Lovecraft. I find myself in a quiet house, fixing myself small meals, sleeping in a bed that suddenly feels much bigger. At first, this made me feel a bit fuzzy around the edges, like my aura had expanded and was reaching out for the person whose shoulder I always touch as I walk by, whose eyes I always meet when I pause and look up between paragraphs. Then I felt small, like my aura had retracted inward again, and I felt myself inside my own skin.

It wasn’t really sad or painful, but it was interesting that I had to stumble across a little emotional and cognitive hurdle in order to remember how to appreciate my alone time again. Because loneliness and aloneness are not the same thing. Just as you can be entrenched in relationships that make you feel alienated and invisible, you can also feel perfectly in touch with yourself and the world when in a state of solitude.

Isaac Newton never married, but he gave us calculus, among so many other momentous scientific advances. Same with Nikola Tesla. Ludwig van Beethoven composed music that overflows our hearts, and Glenn Gould played them with deeper feeling than anyone, and yet both Beethoven and Gould were celibate. Emily Dickinson was so reclusive that most of her relationships existed only through written correspondence. Jorge Luis Borges was so sex-phobic that he forfeited marrying the love of his life, and yet his short stories gave flesh and blood to such mind-bending ideas as infinity and free will.

Not everyone who ends up alone is alone by choice. Sometimes circumstances get in the way. Queen Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen,” risked the political fate of all Europe with her choice (and non-choice) of suitor. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for acting upon his true romantic feelings.

In life, it’s never a given that you’re going to encounter your person—or people—who will love and respect and understand you, or that circumstances will allow for you to develop your partnership. There are so many obstacles to love–war, disease, religion, societal intolerance, personal maturity—that it’s a wonder any of us find each other, fall in love, and manage to maintain a loving, life-sustaining relationship in the first place.

Really, we should be celebrating Valentine’s Day because romantic love is never a given, and so damn difficult to achieve. In the meantime, there’s beautiful, loving work to be done by all of us, together and alone.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 02/13/2017.

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Opportunity to Be

I remember how Don Saulo, the chaplain at Capanne prison, visited every cell each morning and greeted every prisoner by name. He brought in movies for us to watch, and each one—Kung Fu Panda, Avatar—made him cry. He told the prison staff that he needed me to spend a few hours a week in his office helping him prepare for mass, when really he let me pass the time singing and playing Beatles songs on the guitar. When I crocheted him a bracelet, he took it, thanked me, and said, “White. The color of resurrection…” When we first met, I was freshly imprisoned and afraid and surrounded by strangers, and I told him I was innocent and I knew he, like everyone else, didn’t believe me. He replied, “I can’t say if you are innocent, but I believe you are sincere when you tell me you are innocent.”

Which is to say that, from the moment we met, Don Saulo was always a man of kindness and integrity. That very first day, he showed me his brutal, compassionate honesty, and it was because of this honesty that I knew it was true when he eventually told me he believed me, years later.

In prison, Don Saulo was my friend. Each week, we spent hours talking in his office about philosophy, life, the prison, the Church. We debated gay marriage, adoption, the role of women in religious doctrine, vegetarianism, life after death. We disagreed, amicably, about many things, he being Catholic, and me, atheist. But we also agreed on a surprising number of existential truths. Above all, despite our differences of belief, Don Saulo was able to give me a most important gift: help in translating my suffering into meaning.

We were talking about prayer. I didn’t understand the point of it. If you believe in God, and that God has a plan for you, and that God will always provide for that plan along the way, then why pray? Why do what I saw many other prisoners do—cry out to God for relief, for freedom, for money, for cigarettes? Why bother, when God never answers? Why bother, when your undesired lot was part of God’s plan in the first place?

As an atheist, the question about prayer (which didn’t affect me) was linked to the question about purpose (which greatly affected me). Imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit, I realized that freedom was never a given. Nor, apparently, did there have to be a reason for suffering. Senseless suffering had suddenly descended upon my life from nowhere, for no reason. What I deserved, what I wanted, what was true even, had nothing to do with it. What was prayer or hope next to that? Wasn’t I powerless?

Don Saulo listened and gave me his warm, sad smile. Then he said, “When you pray to God, He always answers your prayers. Just, you may not recognize his answer. If you pray for strength, God doesn’t give you strength. He gives you the opportunity to be strong.”

Don Saulo’s words rippled through me, ringing true. Life itself is the opportunity to be everything you want to be. Life doesn’t promise you anything but that—but the opportunity is already everything.

Let me explain. Wrongful conviction and imprisonment had taken away from me everything I held dear, everything I thought belonged to me—my home, my freedom, a future where I could have a career, a family. But it hadn’t taken away my life—me. If I could divorce the specific terms and expectations of what I wanted from the essence of what I wanted, then I could be myself in any circumstance. Even in the midst of suffering, especially in the midst of suffering, I could still be smart, kind, generous, curious, creative, funny, sane…

Seen in that way, prayer is an evocation of choice. The choice to not let suffering get the better of you. To hang on to what matters to you. To intend upon certain values and principles that ultimately define who you are. Next to that intention, painful circumstance is just white noise.

So often, it felt like Don Saulo and I were speaking different languages, but understanding each other all the same. And that understanding helped save me.

 Published by the West Seattle Herald 02/06/2017.

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Unrepresented atheist

This first week under the new administration disheartened me in many ways.

Already, President Trump has taken executive action to suppress the reality of climate change, to interfere with women’s access to reproductive healthcare, to refuse immigrants and refugees from entering the country on the basis of their religion, and to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, among other things.

But even on the day of the inauguration, before any of these unwelcome measures were signed into existence, I was reminded of the disheartening reality that someone like me will likely never hold the office of presidency—not from my generation, at least. What disqualifies me, or someone like me, is not the fact that I’m a woman. To our country’s credit, I think the U.S. is ready and willing for our first Madame President. No. What disqualifies me, or someone like me, is the fact that I’m atheist. I don’t believe in God.

Despite the fact that, technically, the presidency is a secular position, no less than six religious leaders took part in President Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Then, when President Trump delivered his inauguration address, he referenced the Christian bible and claimed that “we will be protected by God.” Then, immediately after the inauguration ceremony, the first thing President Trump did as president was attend an “Inaugural Prayer Service.” Finally, once all these religious ministrations were observed, only then did President Trump return to the oval office and start signing executive orders—all of them conservative, some of them heavily influenced by faith-driven politics.

Despite evidence that secularism is on the rise, atheists like myself still represent only 3.1% of the U.S. population. That’s more than any individual non-Christian religion, for sure, but those non-Christian religions at the very least agree with the majority Christian religions that God is real and that “faith” is synonymous with “truth.” There are very, very few people like myself, who believe that God is not real, that our only grasp on factual truth is through empirical observation and science, and that we can’t rationally fill all our vast gaps in knowledge with faith. Ours is a country where, to this day, no active member of congress is openly atheist, a country that still says, “one nation, under God.”

What is an atheist like me supposed to do? There’s no avenue of discussion for me with a fellow citizen who believes that abortion is murder, or that anything other than heterosexuality is a perversion, or that to be without faith is to be a lost lamb without morals or principles, because God told them so. How do I, as an atheist, navigate being part of a democracy so heavily reliant upon, invested in, and influenced by religion? What do I do if I can’t relate to, or even think in the same way as 97% of my fellow citizens?

That’s an open question.

I look at my leaders, at my fellow citizens, at their religions, and I see culture, I see history, I even see hope. But I don’t see truth. And I don’t see myself.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 01/31/2017.

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President Obama’s Farewell Speech

On Tuesday evening, as I watched President Obama make the final rounds with Michelle and Malia, waving at the crowd, I was flooded with dread. I was reminded of those rare occasions when I was very young, when Mom dropped Deanna and I off at a family member’s house so she could run a quick personal errand, and we cried and cried, pleading, “Please don’t goooooooo!” For the past eight years, I’ve found comfort in Obama’s patience, confidence, and compassion, in the fact that he, of all people, proved again and again to be honest, intelligent, steady, forceful, and kind in the face of both tragedy and achievement. I dreaded the void Obama was leaving behind, and how it shortly was going to be filled with someone already proven to be base, short-sighted, vindictive, and vain.

Indeed, when I reread the transcript of Obama’s speech the following morning, I realized how cautionary his message was. He enumerated a number of specific threats to our democracy that we need to confront with urgency and sincerity, lest we severely weaken ourselves from within.

He spoke about the threat of partisanship:
“Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.”

The threat of economic inequality:
“Stark inequality is…corrosive to our democratic idea. While the top 1% has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families in inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind. The laid off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills, convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interest of the powerful. That’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

The threat of sectarianism:
“For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.”

The threat of the compromising of our American values:
“The fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.”

The threat of taking our democracy for granted:
“Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms, whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing, but the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

And the resulting threat of our present political situation:

“America, we weaken those ties [that make us when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service. So course with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen, not just as misguided, but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others. When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt. And when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”

Thankfully, Obama didn’t just express caution, nor did he leave an empty void. He enumerated as many, if not more, practical solutions to these threats: from reforming the tax code to coming face-to-face with our trolls. He called it “the call to citizenship.” And he reminded us that, historically, we Americans have always risen to the occasion, that just in the past eight years we’ve made great strides.

And Obama did what all good father figures do: he patted us on the back and handed over the reins. “My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you,” he said. “I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.” As soon as he said this, I realized just how much I—and so many others like me—needed to hear it. We needed to know that we weren’t entirely orphaned, that there were still good people with good ideas in our midst.

So despite my dread, I ultimately came away feeling like I always do after I hear Obama speak: warm, teary-eyed, clear-headed, reassured. Because, as Chris murmured, goosebumps prickling both of our arms, “Obama is just so much more mature than EVERYBODY.”

Published by the West Seattle Herald 01/16/2016.

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The market for millennials

I grew up within walking distance of almost my entire extended family. Oma and Opa, aunts and uncles, Mom and Dad—all were within reach, settled between SW 106th St and the Alaska Junction. This arrangement left a lasting impression on me: my notion of family is not limited to the nuclear unit; interaction is abundant and interdependence is instinctual. I suppose this is equivalent to small town mentality: it may not be much, but here are my people, here is my place.

As such, I’d always imagined I’d stay in West Seattle. I’d travel for sure, live in other cities, other countries even, but I was sure I’d eventually settle close to home, and raise my own kids within walking distance of my mom, sisters, and cousins. Why would I deny my children the great gift I received from my parents and adult relatives: shared time and resources, a formidable network of support to fall back on, unconditional love from so many directions in close proximity? Of course, it never occurred to me that when the time came, I might not be able to afford to do this.

When my mom bought her home in Arbor Heights in 1989, the nearly 10,000 square foot property (and the little 800 square foot two-bedroom house which stood upon it) cost $88,000. She was able to afford the down payment and mortgage as a 27-year-old single mother of two on a teacher’s salary. Calculating for inflation, $88,000 in 1989 had the value of $172,731 today. But as my realtor friend Will Sears points out, “You’d be hard-pressed to find a house in West Seattle for $400K these days. You’re more likely to spend between $500-750K, and even then, you should expect to make compromises—accessibility, square footage, laminate countertops, etc.” Zillow puts the current median home value in Seattle proper at $612,000, or $415 per ft2. How am I—and millennials like me—supposed to stay close to home?

This isn’t the same issue as millennials’ dwindling hopes of achieving the American Dream, a.k.a. earning more money than our parents. It’s a problem of supply and demand. According to Redfin, there are a couple of factors that are determining the rise in price of property in Seattle proper: (1) our economy is increasingly strong, but Seattle remains (for now) the most affordable major city on the west coast, so (2) it’s attractive to students, investors, the tech industry, and international buyers alike. (3) Sellers are hesitant to cash in because they’re worried about finding and affording a new place to live, and in the meantime, (4) renters are finding themselves compelled to look into buying a home simply because mortgage payments are becoming less expensive than rising rent prices.

“The inventory is just not there,” Will explained to me. “Nor is the geographic layout for new homes.”

Phil Greely, a realtor for Realogics Sothby’s International Realty, suggests millennials should reset our expectations. It used to be that you graduated from college, settled into your career, got married, bought a car, bought a house, got a dog. At least, that’s what many of our parents did. But according to Greely, millennials make the mistake of thinking that our first home has to be our forever home. He says, “Unless you have tons of money, that’s not the case. You will be sacrificing, settling for something smaller—a starter home.”

If that sounds a lot like renting, but with more hassle and legal fees attached, you’re right, sort of. Except, “by owning, you’ll at least be reaping the benefit of the appreciating marketplace,” says Greely. “By renting, you’re just buying patience.”

Both Will Sears and Phil Greely assured me it’s not all doom and gloom. A young family with good credit and financial stability, who shops around for financial options and makes strong relationships with their realtor and mortgage loan professionals, and who starts planning three to six months in advance of viewing homes, will still be able to afford to buy a decent house. It just might not be their first choice. Or check all their boxes. And it will be difficult.

I don’t know. It sure sounds a lot like it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 01/09/2017.

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Ethnic

On the morning of December 21st I scanned my Twitter feed as usual and came across this video. Like many other Twitter users, I was alarmed by what I saw: two young Muslim-American men were being escorted against their will off their Delta flight. One of the men, Adam Saleh, explained that the reason he and his friend were being kicked off was because neighboring passengers had overheard them speaking Arabic and had protested to the flight staff that this made them uncomfortable. Saleh’s camera panned over these passengers, who waved Saleh and his friend off the plane with glee. The camera then panned over other passengers who looked embarrassed and bewildered, and still others who proclaimed their dismay over how Saleh and his friend were being mistreated. “Because I was speaking a different language, you feel uncomfortable?” cried Saleh. “This is 2016! I’m about to cry right now!”

Like many other Twitter users, I immediately retweeted Saleh’s video as a gesture of solidarity. Xenoglossophobia—the fear of foreign languages—pangs me personally. It’s the reason I didn’t grow up speaking German, despite the fact that I’m only second-generation immigrant; my mom was born in Germany to an American father and German mother, and immigrated to the U.S. in the late sixties, when she was still a child. Back then, Oma was embraced for being proficient in English before ever setting foot in the States, but discouraged from speaking German to her children. “They need to be perfect at English because that’s what they’re going to live with,” Oma recalls my uncle Mickey’s first grade teacher explaining. “At that time, a bilingual kid was not very much understood.”

So my mom didn’t grow up bilingual, and as result, neither did I. This did not entirely prevent Oma from passing on her culture, however. I grew up eating goulash, rotkraut, zwetschgenknödel and landjaeger. During the winter holidays, we light real candles on the Christmas tree, sing Kling Glöckchen, and drink feuerzangenbowle. As a result, despite the fact that I’ve never lived in Germany and don’t speak German, I’m still considered by many of my fellow Americans to be culturally “ethnic,” for better and for worse. On the one hand, I grew up with curiosity and respect for other cultures and languages, blessed with an inherent comfort with the fact that different people do things in different ways, and in turn, people who come into my life have been curious and respectful of my inherited tastes and traditions. On the other hand, it seems to come easy to some people to call me a Nazi when it suits them.

It struck me hard when I discovered that the Adam Saleh incident might be a hoax, and that Saleh is a professional provocateur who regularly engages in race baiting and fear mongering. For example, in this video, again on a plane, Saleh and his friend loudly count down from ten in Arabic, knowing that counting down in any language on a plane—as if to time an explosion—is the equivalent of yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. In light of these facts, the Saleh incident is at best an instance of the boy who cried wolf, at worst a con that degraded people’s genuine empathy for those who are actually mistreated because of their perceived “otherness.” The jury’s still out, but it’s unlikely the truth will matter compared to the scandal.

It’s frustrating, because a con that exasperates people’s worst instincts and degrades people’s best instincts is the opposite of what we need right now. Dictionary.com selected “xenophobia” and “post-truth” as the two terms that define 2016, and these are the very last terms I want to define what comes next.

Last New Years, Chris introduced me to the practice of choosing a word to define my approach to the year ahead. Anticipating my first year of freedom from persecution, of proactivity and production, I chose “courage.” Little did I realize that courage was also what I would need to face the social and political climate that matured over the course of 2016. Looking forward to 2017, I’ve chosen “vision.” Because clarity is hard won, perspective is a gift we share with each other, and the future is an opportunity.

Published by The West Seattle Herald 01/02/2017.

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Newsletter

Oh, but it is funny!
—this end-of-the-year newsletter,
Dad jokes, winks and wordplay
littered about, “Here’s the year
in a nut shell” looney-tuney.
And don’t forget it’s true!

Tim cracked his ribs twice,
golfing, hanging Xmas lights.
Kyle bought a jousting horse,
to everyone’s surprise.
Tim thought, Were we ever thirty?
Eileen went to Sheboygan
for her mother’s 94th.

How do we fill a year of boxes?
Golf balls putter into holes,
beer caps crack, lips pucker.
July shows Kyle’s sword impact
on Jordin’s axe, Leila’s armor.
Cackling, Chris and Gavin
write their zany worlds.

Some footnotes provide
hints of incredulity—
that parental color. For miles,
Kyle and Jordin drove
Seattle to Massachusetts
(to pick up Leila). Chris and Kyle
got inked with “brother” tattoos.

Why are there times of life?
Why do some things turn out?
Why, oh why, do others not?
(The Newsletter, with breezy script,
with welcome winks, accepts,
and proudly accumulates the days.)

They celebrated my birthday.
They chronicled my travels,
the Robinsons. They
rearranged their holidays
around words like:
“feuerzangenbowle”
because that’s what my family likes.
Somebody slap me.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 12/26/2016.

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Turning down the heat

West Seattle HeraldAccording to Wikipedia, the Cold War was “cold” because the U.S. and Russia never engaged in open conflict. Instead, they exerted their super political and military influence over lesser powers to outplay each other on a global scale, all the while upholding the threat of mutually assured destruction. It was a race of ideologies—West vs. East, capitalism vs. communism, democracy vs. dictatorship—with real stakes that were ever-present for everyone who was alive and aware between 1945 and 1991.

Not me, then. I was born in 1987, and the Cold War has always been a part of the past for me. I didn’t grow up with civil defense sirens, or get drilled in school about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. “The Russian threat” was a James Bond trope. In real life, I never felt like Russia was any more threatening than any other foreign country. The game was over. Democracy had won.

Except, with the confirmation of Russian meddling in our election process, for the first time ever, I feel a cold breath against the back of my neck. It’s not so much because Russia hacked us. Everyone hacks. We hack. It’s bad that Russia was able to hack us, but the real reason I’m chilled to the bone is because Russia’s hacking worked. Russia strategically exposed the DNC to negative publicity, stayed strategically silent about the RNC and candidate Trump, and in so doing, managed to manipulate large swaths of Americans, influence our election, and undermine our democracy.

Having directly benefitted from Russian interference, President-elect Trump asks: why shouldn’t the U.S. and Russia be friends?

Because Russia governs itself by dictatorship. Because Putin imprisons his political opponents. Because Russian hacking purposefully interfered with our democratic process at the highest level. Because “friendship”—the lifting of sanctions and the acceptance of Russia’s political and military influence on the world—is what Russia needs to gain ground as our ideological rival.

If the Electoral College confirms Mr. Trump’s election today, the question Americans need to start asking themselves is: what does a friendship between the U.S. and Russia look like? What does that friendship mean for the rest of the world? For N.A.T.O.? For I.S.I.S.? For Muslims? For L.G.B.T.Q.? For climate change? For democracy?

No one alive in the world has ever known such a friendship. As a nation, we need to be fit to look that friendship squarely in the face. Relationships only function if either (1) they have a solid foundation in truth and trust, and show courage in communication and self-awareness; or (2) they are thoroughly and honestly policed for accountability. President-elect Trump has so far failed in that regard; he carefully misrepresents Putin’s qualities, redefining dictatorship as “strong leadership.” But as Chris pointed out to me, “It’s like calling a piece of shit ‘rich in flavor.’ Technically that’s true.” Which means, as much as we Americans will need to police our new and precarious friendship with Russia, we will need to do a much more thorough, honest, and courageous job at policing our own leadership.

As the great Albus Dumbledore once said, “We must choose between what is easy and what is right.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Scholastic, 2000). That means we need to stop acting silly and actually do our homework, America.

Published by the West Seattle Herald 12/19/2016.

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