Website Update–2017 New Year’s Resolutions–1-24-17
MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
My New Year’s resolutions are always late and always the same–write more, eat more fruits and vegetables, clean the basement, do my New Year’s resolutions on time. Not this year, though. We’re heading into uncharted territory with our new president (if we’re not there already), and a different set of resolutions is definitely called for. After all, as one of my characters once said, emergency situations demand emergency measures. So here’s what I’m going to do.
1. Speak up.
3. Write–or better yet, call up– my Senator, Congressman, the Speaker of the House, the head of the Senate, and the heads of committees, and tell them exactly what I think and what I expect them to do. I also intend to remind them they work for me. (Note: According to veterans working in Washington, phone calls are the most effective, followed by handwritten letters, e-mails and online petitions not so much, although (unless Trump abolishes it) petitions with more than a hundred thousand signatures have to be formally answered by the administration.
4. Subscribe to the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos. Trump’s announced his intention to shut journalism down, make them “pay the price” for reporting negative things about him, and sue papers for libel, and Steve Bannon just told the press to shut up, so I’m going to need reporters to ferret out the truth and tell it to me, and they can’t do it without backing. (I didn’t list the New York Times because I already buy it and read it every day at Starbucks.)
5. Donate regularly to the ACLU, CREW, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign so that they’ll have the money to fend off attacks and fight for my (and other people’s) civil rights.
6. Read. Right now everybody’s reading Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and George Orwell’s 1984 (it’s Number 1 on Amazon right now.) These are all excellent ideas, but I think I’ll re-read Scott Peck’s The People of the Lie, which is about the nature of evil and the nature of people who practice it by the psychiatrist who worked with many of the people who participated in the My Lai massacre, instead. Peck desperately wanted to understand how ordinary people could come to commit atrocities, and the answers were not at all what you’d expect. I’ve thought about this book every day since I first read it, but I want to read it again, this time with a focus on what’s happening right now, especially since Trump has said he wants to bring back torture “whether it works or not.”
I’m also going to read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and try to remember that 1) tipping points always take longer than you think they should and 2) while events are building up to a tipping point, it doesn’t look like anything at all is happening.
7. Do some research on Oliver Cromwell and his takeover of England in 1653. He picked fights, started wars, smashed everything connected to previous rulers (the list of destroyed stained glass windows, statues, treasures, books, and people is absolutely sickening), and nearly destroyed England in the process. But not quite. And when the monarchy was returned to power, the people dug up his body, hung it in chains, cut off his head, and put it on a spike. So how did he go from being a successful leader of a movement, beloved by the people, to someone they hated so much they wanted to kill him even though he was already dead? I think the answers to that might be helpful. And I think it might also be helpful to realize that this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
8. Re-watch Spotlight and All the President’s Men, which are both about how ordinary people brought down people much more powerful than they were, in the case of Spotlight the Catholic hierarchy in Boston (and eventually in much of the world) who were covering up and protecting pedophiles and in All the President’s Men, the President of the United States.
I especially plan to re-watch the last scene of All the President’s Men. It shows Nixon winning the election in spite of his dirty tricks and Woodward and Bernstein’s damning investigation. You can see Nixon speaking triumphantly to cheering crowds on the televisions in the nearly empty newsroom as Woodward and Bernstein sit at their desks, patiently continuing to type their news stories even though they’ve lost the battle. But then, just as you’re beginning to despair, the screen focuses in on the headlines they’re typing: “Hunt Pleads Guilty….Magruder Pleads Guilty…Colson Pleads Guilty… Mitchell, Haldeman, Ehrlichman Guilty on All Counts…Tapes Show Nixon Approved Coverup….Nixon Resigns.”
9. Re-watch Sondheim’s Into the Woods–both the movie and the play. Into the Woods is all about people who suddenly find themselves facing disasters only partly (or not at all) of their making, and realizing the only way to face them is together. I also plan to listen to the soundtrack–especially “Your Fault” and “The Last Midnight,” with its way-too-close-for-comfort line, “No, of course what matters is the blame. Somebody to blame.” And I plan to put the song that really matters on repeat in my car: “No One is Alone.”
10. Keep writing. In the movie Enigma, about Beltchley Park during World War II, one of the characters says, “You can only fight your own war,” and that’s so true. Sometimes it seems like it’s a betrayal to spend any time not fighting against Trump, but literature has a role to play, too. I remember a speech one time that outlined everything happening in politics in 1884 (all of which have been completely forgotten) and then saying, “Why have I spent all this time on 1884? Because something else happened that year. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was published.” It changed the world. Fiction matters. So I plan to keep fighting my own personal war against chaos and violence and keep writing.
11. Put what Ben Bradlee said to Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men up on my refrigerator and above my desk:
“Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of
the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the
future of the country. Not that any of that matters.”
“Wit is the only wall between us and the dark.”
Mark Van Doren
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is
one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the
scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to
us in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind
the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness…
Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the
clock, for tomorrow is another day.”
E.B. White, responding to a letter-writer in 1973