As I write this, there is a new Occupant in the White House—my White House, the one I inherited when I was born a citizen, the place that my family and my ancestors have looked to and protected since the day Thomas Jefferson moved in in 1801.
This Occupant is moving in because of a fluke series of events. Even the man himself was clearly as stunned as the rest of the country on November 8th when the results came in. Utterly unqualified, deliberately offensive, a showman playing to crowds of extremist followers. A man the majority of voters turned their backs on.
And yet he won.
I last posted a blog ten days after the election. I haven’t been much more active on Facebook. I, with the majority of my countrymen, have been struggling to wrap my head around this state of affairs and find some firm ground to stand on.
That doesn’t mean I put my life on hold. I finished a very tricky rewrite, I’ve started a term as president of the NorCal chapter of Mystery Writers of America, I did Thanksgiving and Christmas and spent time with family.
But 2016 was a tough year. Lockdown took a lot of work. Family problems sucked up a ton of energy. My oldest friend in the world committed suicide by choosing her Christian Science faith over treatment for leukemia—and told not one person outside of her church until it was too late. Then to top it off, watching this appalling figure get chosen by my fellow Americans as the person they want to guard their lives, their children, their planet…
Since November, whenever I’ve posted anything vaguely political on my author Facebook page, I’ve tended to get pushback—always polite, mind you, just critical, along the lines of: You have no business talking politics here. Which I can understand, since it’s my professional page, not my personal one.
However, I’m not sure how to keep those two parts of me separate any more. And my recent trip to New York, for the MWA board meeting and meet-ups with publishers, made it all the more obvious that a large slice of the population can’t figure that out either.
So here’s my decision: I turn 65 this year. I don’t know how much time I have left here, and honestly, if I’m not grown-up enough to figure out how to act in public, I’m never going to be. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to separate the parts of my life. I will be polite about it because that’s who I am, and good manners are the only thing that keeps us from each other’s throats, but my identity goes in this order:
1) Human being
3) American (genus: Californian)
And although I’ve always assumed that it’s category #4 that most interests the majority of people reading this blog—and will continue to make that assumption—you’re going to get the other three categories here as well.
Let me say it clearly, on this day of all others: There have been presidents who have infuriated me, and presidents whose acts I have loathed, but I would not have imagined that I could ever regard an Occupant of my White House as an abomination. This one is: a joke whose punch line comes with a fist attached.
And to you supporters of this new White House Occupant who also enjoy my books (or have in the past, at any rate): I hope you stick around and stay part of our conversation. As I’ve said from the start, I pray your optimism is justified, and would be overjoyed to be proved wrong—but I don’t think that’s going to happen. When I see a whole lot of highly intelligent and respected experts becoming alarmed, I can’t help feeling that panic may be justified.
So while I hope you’re right, I won’t keep my head in the sand. I’m not at all sure where these next four years are going to take us—either us the nation or us the community of readers—but one thing I do know: I need to pick my ground and stand on it.
I don’t intend to post my outrage—that way lies madness—but I will talk about the ground I stand on. The people I support, the organizations I’m giving money to, the people who need our care.
Because, in that list of Laurie King categories? Each and every one is permeated by a larger sense of responsibility. Call it Christianity if you like, or ethics, or just an awareness of commonality, but if I am a human, I am one of billions. If I am a woman, then half the people on the planet are my sisters, mothers, daughters. If I am an American, am I not required to see that my country’s power is used responsibly? And if I am a writer, it’s my job to make my words public.
I will be polite—well, I’ll try—but I will not be quiet.