Opting Out

February 22, 2017

Last week, my husband and I were fortunate to get away from the dreary, cold, grayness that is the East Coast in February, enjoying a five-day respite on a sunny Caribbean island, replete with tropical greenery, white sand beaches, and exquisite local cuisine. It was paradise to escape the busy-ness of work and home and family obligations to simply relax, read, and dip our toes into the cerulean blue ocean.

You would think that we would take advantage of this down-time to unplug from politics, social media, and the constant onslaught of television coverage of President Trump’s actions and the backlash generated in response thereto. We didn’t. Indeed, at one point, a dear friend responded to one of Michael’s posts concerning the latest from the White House with this apt comment: “Aren’t you guys supposed to be on vacation?”

Later that morning, as I was floating on my back under a cloudless blue sky, pondering whether to have the tacos or the jerk chicken wrap for lunch (decisions, decisions), I contemplated those words, and I began to ruminate (well, to the extent I was capable given that I was also attempting to keep my considerable girth afloat): Why did I feel the need to be constantly connected to the minute-by-minute coverage of the Trump White House? Would I be so assiduously attuned to every press conference, tweet, and alternative fact if I lived on some sunny, remote island where executive orders and cabinet nominee hearings might seem far less impactful on my day-to-day life? If I could wake up every morning to a breakfast of fresh fruit on the terrace, spend my days lying on a chaise lounge reading, and dine every night under the stars, would I have any interest whatsoever in what’s happening in DC? And, more to the point, if I did choose to opt out of the daily briefings, Jake Tapper’s tweets, and Rachel Maddow’s nightly wonkfest, would that be okay?

But I don’t live in a tropical paradise, and Washington, D.C. is but a three-hour drive from my home. I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do, it’s hard to avoid any mention of Senate debates, SpicerConwayBannonSpeak, or protest marches. The talking heads are everywhere, including on my Facebook Feed, and indeed, I myself have frequently added my voice to the mix. To truly “opt out” would take a lot of effort: I’d probably have to quit Facebook and Twitter, which I could probably bear, but I’d also have to quit the New Yorker, which I couldn’t. And, let’s be honest: The Trump Administration has become much like a really bad car wreck – you just can’t tear your eyes away, and you keep wondering what’s coming next. Just as I think I have lost the ability to be shocked or surprised, I turn on the television, and there it is: Today’s serving of crazy, just waiting to be gobbled up like so many Cheetos.

It’s exhausting keeping up with all that is going on. There is so much “breaking news” every day, so many media outlets covering it, so many pundits offering their views and opinions. In an effort to remain as objective as I can (pretty much an impossibility at this point), I attempt to balance the sources of the news I consume, but getting accurate, non-biased information isn’t always easy. So much of what I see on Facebook has an obvious (and predictable) bias (in both directions), and implicit in just about every news item out there – whether on social media, in the newspapers, or on television – is a level of high emotion, be it outrage, frustration, or dismay. In the four weeks since Donald Trump took office, it feels as though we’ve all been under attack.

Not surprising, then, that many on social media have called for a ban on political commentary. They’d like it to return to a more innocent time, when people posted cute cat memes, how-to videos, and pictures of the family vacation. No more. Most of what shows up on my Facebook feed has something to do with the Trump Administration, which is partly attributable to the fact that most of my Facebook friends share my angst over our new president’s antics, and partly because that’s pretty much all anyone can talk about these days. The older I get, the more I strive for peace and tranquility, harmony and calm. There’s precious little of that for those who chose to keep abreast of the Trump’s White House. It’s more like the WWF meets a demolition derby.

And so I ask myself, should I “opt out”? For the sake of my sanity, should I resign from Facebook and Twitter until the current climate settles down a bit (assuming it ever does)? In order to become the mindful and evolved woman I strive to be, should I ban all news coverage on the family television and eschew all print media that discusses the Federal Government? The part of me that is exhausted, discouraged, and tired of my own voice raised in outrage says yes, Wendy, yes – turn off and tune out. Stop the madness. Just say no.

While I am sure there are many who wish I would do exactly that, another part of me (the one that went to Mount Holyoke and is a ball-buster) says, no. No, you can’t opt out, because that would be irresponsible. No, you can’t opt out, because someone has to hold our leaders accountable. No, you can’t opt out, because you love this country, and what’s going on is wrong. It’s wrong on so many levels, in so many ways, for so many reasons. That part of me says no matter how exhausting and discouraging and frustrating, no matter how much some of my family members likely despise me for my opinions, I can’t give up and give in, I can’t quit, I can’t go along to get along. I can’t, and I won’t.

It’s hard to imagine living like this for another three years and eleven months. It’s difficult to envision what our country is going to look like in 2020, or even 2018. Those who predict apocalypse, or a country that looks a lot like Germany in the 1930’s, or a nation in which we all speak Russian, may be right, though I try to convince myself that our United States have suffered far worse and nonetheless endured. Perhaps Donald Trump is a twenty-first century James Buchanan, with the promise of a twenty-first century Abraham Lincoln right on his heels. Maybe the Trump Administration will be the last we know of democracy in America, of a country of laws and freedom and justice for all, of a land of immigrants who welcomed all peoples to our shores, of a nation that has been a beacon of hope and opportunity for so many. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on these days with sadness and regret, painfully aware of all we took for granted and everything that we have ceased to be.

I hope not. I think we can make it better – all of us, we can fix this, but it’s going to take a lot of work. So no matter how bad it gets, no matter how many rights the Administration tries to strip away, no matter how many executive orders and SCOTUS appointments and just plain batshit crazy nonsense that may be coming our way, I will be ready, and I won’t stop. No matter how many marches or phone calls to Congressional representatives or Facebook posts or whatever else it takes to right this ship, I’m not opting out. Not today, not tomorrow, and not because people think I’m shrill. I am in this for the long run, and I’m Not. Opting. Out.

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