Jan 29, 2017

I had originally intended to write something lighthearted for this week, after two consecutive educational posts. But in light of recent events, I felt I was neither able to, nor was it totally appropriate, given what’s happening in this large dumpster fire known as the US of A. Worse, this deviates from my original intent of posting something that has one central message - I simply don’t have any today, so it will just be bullet points of my stream of consciousness in an attempt to jot down some thoughts I’ve had in the last 48 hours or so.

First and foremost, I think, I have to admit to myself I was wrong. During the election months, I thought to myself, there’s no way Donald Trump is going to do any of the stuff he said, the sane/slow parts of government simply won’t let him, just look at how Obama struggled to do some very simple and beneficial things. Even on the night of the election, I told myself and people around me that there’s nothing to worry about, even if he IS the president, he has limited ability in what he can accomplish given the structure of the government. Well, I must admit that after one full week of the new presidency, I was wrong. In a short week, he’s not only signed executive orders gagging science, but also on starting construction of the wall and banning Muslim refugees (and immigrants & residents!) From a rational perspective, I’m not sure how effective the executive orders will be in the end, and I’m not sure he does either. But I realized that, those things I thought were impossible were quickly realized within a week, and that means the line I had drawn for myself has been crossed. To be very honest, I think I was in the camp of, not quite “let’s give him a chance”, but more like “let’s see how it goes”, because he was legally elected and everybody becomes more presidential when they’re in the hot seat, right? Wrong.

What about the last two days that has made me become more emotionally charged than ever about the commander-in-cheeto? Because, afterall, it’s not like he hasn’t said or done outrageous things to Muslims, women, LGBTQ, people of color (basically everybody not white) in the past 12 months. I think there are a few things. For one, as I’ve said above, it’s a shellshocked feeling of something impossible happening, which makes you question the nature of reality, that if evidence has demonstrated that my assessment was wrong, then anything can happen from here, I have no clue! Another, of course, is probably sympathy for those afflicted, and in particular, Muslim (many of my friends) immigrants (most of my friends, and myself) and (to a much lesser extent) scientists. Seeing actual people being displaced and bullied, and knowing friends that will face the same daunting challenges had they gone back home to Canada, definitely makes this more real. I guess there was always some hope that as insane as the Republican party was, they’d at least do something when it counted. But I guess not, and so we’re on our own. Well, I say we, but I’m Canadian. So you’re on your own, Americans.

Just kidding. Canada is not immune to this bullshit either.

So what will happen? I honestly have no clue. I’ve always wondered how great civilizations, like the Romans, who had built such great things (tremendous things) using thousand-year-old technology, ever dissolved into the winds of history, and all we can observe are the ruins of once great empires. Well, I haven’t figured that out, but it sure feels like it’s happening right now. I think what drove home for me was the extent at which people refused to have conversations acknowledging facts. Not even “scientific facts”, because I think that requires an understanding of the process and that knowledge is always fallible, but ACTUAL facts, like what Donald Trump did or said and when, or how many people were at the inauguration, or the fact that, as far as we know, zero people from the banned countries have committed acts of terror on US soil. How is “alternative facts” a thing?!? To me, that’s the biggest challenge to overcome - how do we communicate within a shared reality with people who fundamentally distrust anything that contradicts their beliefs? And I’m not saying this is strictly a Trump-voter phenomenon, left-wingers are of course also susceptible to confirmation bias, it just so happens that the broader scientific (medical, tech, etc) community falls mostly in the progressive camp.

What can we do? After several conversations about protesting, and realizing the scope of both the Women’s March and the spontaneous airport protests, I’ve gained an appreciation for how important protests and rallies are in consolidating a voice of support for those that are being oppressed. Case in point, to welcome people detained at airports. But I’m not sure to what extent I can believe that protests can motivate political changes anymore. There used to be a time when government representatives gave a shit about common folks that protested en mass. But these days the line between red and blue states are so deeply drawn that there’s little to no reason for a governor in a red state to give two shits about what progressives have to say. Refugee intake and abortion are fundamentally independent issues but for whatever reason, they’ve become totally correlated. Again, I am by no means criticizing rallies, I think they serve an important purpose in letting the world know, whoever that is, that there are people that still care. Maybe that will be enough to flip some voters, but that won’t effect any political action till a few years later. Also, it’s not a certainty anymore that the constitution and laws of the land will be upheld anymore. But then again, why should they be? Lawmakers make laws, so they can break old laws to make new laws, and that’s what the House will do to enable more of this ridiculous behavior. In the end, it comes back to this sinking feeling that we are so powerless in a supposedly democratic process, and the structure has been set up such that reason does not prevail against tradition.

But the question is, still, what can we do? For myself, I think there have always just been two things, and I’m not at all claiming these are the right things to do or prescribing them for anyone else. First, it is to support and advocate for people who are negatively impacted by what’s happening, be it emotionally or financially. Maybe go to more protests, donate a little bit, and support people who ARE making an active effort, in their own ways, to do the same. Admittedly, I don’t think I’ve been the best at that, because often times I feel a paralysis trying to do the “best thing” by considering all sides. But I think the time has come to do what I think is the right thing, in the face of uncertainty. The second thing, as always, is to stay focused, fact-driven, and open minded. Like I said, progressives are not immune to echo chambers or fake news, it takes two to tango. Just because we believe in climate change, doesn’t mean we can’t also believe in some absurd notion of right and wrong. I think it’s very important to not demonize regular people that have a different set of biases than us, though this is much easier said than done. Yesterday, I scrolled through #muslimban on Twitter in hopes of seeing what the other side (Trump nation) is saying about this, and I gotta say, it was not pretty. No lie, in the rage of that moment I thought to myself, for the first time ever, “well if they don’t want to believe in facts, fuck them. They can be left in the backwards ass country they are tweeting from.” But that came from a place of anger, not thought or consideration. And while I have no idea how to accomplish this right now, I think the best I can do is to be an active participant in communicating science. Not just in the traditional sense, as in to craft messages in a lay-friendly way, but to re- discover what works for these groups of people that are actively hostile towards science and the ivory institution. Probably the hardest thing I will ever do, once I figure out how.

To end on a good note, I think Donald Trump will make America great again, just not in the way he thought he would. From what I’ve seen in the last week: yes there is a flaming pile of shit hurtling at us, but people will not go down without a fight, and he’s giving people an opportunity to unite and do what’s right. Let’s just try to stay on the right side of history again.