Kage Baker was attentive to politics. She studied everything on the ballots, she maintained her registration, she knew her representatives, she voted in every election. Nonetheless, she did not consider than politics should be discussed in every environment.
Family dinners, in public with strangers, online – she said it was rather like sex; if you wouldn’t have sex in that place and situation, you shouldn’t discuss politics in it, either. Of course, this being the Land of the Free and the Home of the Conversationally Incontinent, people do talk up politics in all these inappropriate places. Family dinners are an especial danger zone; the fact that her family was usually too large for at-table meals helped preserve the peace and a few lives. It’s harder to fight to the death when people are filling their plates from the buffet and sitting all over the house.
Chat rooms were also dangerous. Kage never got into Facebook, so she escaped the radioactive side-effects of unwanted, unsolicited and sometimes nonsensical evil comments on one’s private feed. For chat rooms and in public and at dinner, on the bus or in a church or a grocery store line: if subjected to the verbal diarrhea of someone else on their favorite politics, Kage simply fled. She refused to participate.
I hate it, too.
From her I learned to claim the constitutional guarantee of a secret ballot in order to avoid discussing politics. People who will go to great lengths to insist on their right to open-carry a hand cannon are still somewhat amazed when I tell them I am invoking my constitutional right to keep my opinions a secret. And they seldom argue with me! It must be shock and awe; or some sort of brotherhood of crazy constitutionalism. Wow, they seem to think, I never even thought of that one!
Whatever the reason, it has been very useful the last year and a half. I’ve gotten into very few arguments. And I still do not intend to discuss the election with people, because I still think it’s rather vulgar. And I think the national supply of vulgarity will be in no danger for the next 4 years … suffice it to say, my hopes were not fulfilled by the election results.
But I am not going to be entirely silent. I am hoping that my nightmares will not also be fulfilled by the Reign of Trump, but no way am I going to be quiet on the subject. Too many of my friends won’t survive in the world he proposes to enact. The world in general is recoiling in horror from us. I keep remembering Lincoln’s great fear that we will let the goal of government of, by and for the people fail.
I remember my father’s knee as he walked the house at night, sleepless from nightmares of battle. His knees were plastic, blown up by a landmine in Korea; every step he took, clinging to his sanity as he took muddy hills over and over, was the echo of his commitment to this country. I remember that Kage’s father had two navels: the one he was born with, and the one given him by a sniper as he parachuted over Burma in WWII; both were his umbilicus to the life blood of the United States.
I remember all the women who literally suffered and died to win the right to vote. I remember all the slaves who literally fought and died for the right to be free. I remember all the children who were sent across the Atlantic with notes pinned to their coat lapels in Hebrew, in hopes someone would save them – the remnants of their families – from the horrors of Germany. I remember the shame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, shackles of flame forever on our wrists to remind us to never, ever, use that nuclear fire on a living city again.
I do fear. I fear that what was good, will die. I fear that was was rightfully dead – will rise again. But someone has to stand and keep lighting the candles in the windows of the dark world.
So from time to time, Dear Readers, I may break one of Kage’s most stringent rules and talk politics around the family table here. I’ll keep it rare, and brief, and as polite as possible; please do you the same. But if anyone finds it necessary to fling the green olives or mashed potatoes – well, I will understand. Not the black olives, though. Those are too good to waste.
It’s a tough old world. Times are hard; and despite the joy of the winners at the moment, I am pretty sure things will get harder for a while. Compassion, hope, strength, the willingness to identify injustice and speak of it – these things matter very much. They must be maintained. It’s possible to be too polite, when someone is bleeding to death who might be saved by your tearing off your petticoat …. the world has to cope with seeing a few fat old knees from time to time, so we can stanch some wounds.
Never forget: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”*
Kage believed very strongly in that, too.
*Edmund Burke, Parliamentarian