A few nights ago, I got to officially sign up for Kamala Harris’s presidential campaign. (https://action.kamalaharris.org/signup/volunteer-website/?source=homepage) I’ve had her bumper sticker on my car for weeks (First primary sticker I’ve seen in my neighborhood!) and I feel so lucky and happy to have her as a choice, but before I can get truly excited about 2020 (Or even the awesome election work I have slated for 2019!) I need to process some stuff. My thanks if you’re kind enough to read it!
I hate to even type the name, but I really, really wish that Bernie Sanders were not in the primary race. Right after he joined, I could see that a few friends (Who I guess have less-curated feeds than I do) were already annoyed/beleaguered by Bernie Bro/Becky posts and comments. I felt the bullying fear and loss wash over me even as I declined to engage with those threads. After a few days of NOT TODAY, PUTIN-ing (https://www.vpr.org/post/how-russian-social-media-effort-boosted-bernie#stream/0) I broke down and cried. Suddenly, it felt like the Blue Wave was over, like the most diverse primary in U.S. history had been irrevocably colonized by Russian troll farms and a racist, dead-hearted, misogynist hate monger. And the worst thing about it is that that hatemonger is our own.
Even as I mourned the lost of that brief and wonderful Bernie-free race, I knew that friends and family members were getting excited about him (or that other, dreamier, but equally white guy), not even reading the women’s platforms. I knew that the quest not to engage about Bernie, not to explode about him at family gatherings, would be intense and long-lasting, and that the assumption of “reasonableness” would be placed only on the males in the conversation. I knew that the burden to “behave” and “be civil” would be on me, and that foreknowledge made me want to be preemptively shrill, unhinged, and hysterical. (I’m reclaiming all of those terms, thanks.) All of the 2016-to-present election PTSD made me feel crazy, trapped, and hopeless, even as I should still be enjoying the progress of the last three years and the promise of 2020.
The cult of Bernie Sanders has done unspeakable amounts of damage to America. This week, my feelings of fear and pain found a new level in, of all things, the new Barbara Kingsolver book. I HATE the practice of accusing powerful women of betraying women (while dudes get off scot free), but abandonment and betrayal are the emotions I feel. Until she hurt my heart in Unsheltered, I hadn’t realized she was one of my heroes, one of the brain-mentors out there in the world looking out for us, with her ecology and her love of nature. It stings that she turned on the kind of woman I am, so forcefully and blindly. Maybe she never would have thought of me as a worthy person, who knows?
(Before I get to my main point, I want to cover the fat-phobia in the book: Kingsolver indulges in the trope of using fatness as a symbol for hateful, brainwashed, selfish, Trumpish capitalism. She accuses fat passengers of “oozing” into a character’s airline seat and suggests that thin, small people are the next phase of human evolution because they fit more neatly into airline seats. All of that stung, but what she did historically and politically was way, WAY worse.)
Unsheltered is novel about climate change, late capitalism, frightened Americans’ eternal battle against science, and the erasure from history of a real-life female scientist. I like all of those themes, that’s why I finished the book even though it vilified my fat body and erased my own place in history.
The book is set in 2015-2016, and the rise of Trump (Whom she refers to as “The Bullhorn,” the use of which nickname seems like its own form of protest-shaming and civility-policing.) punctuates the story. We see hopeful, peaceloving Bernie supporters, whom Kingsolver calls simply “The Revolution.” (Relatedly, in the novel we see present day Cuba as a utopia, which I guess it might be, I’ve never been. Kingsolver apparently missed One Day at a Time episode that explained to white people why Cuban Americans don’t necessarily love seeing Che Guevara on a t-shirt. Here’s an old article that explains: https://www.seattletimes.com/life/lifestyle/cubans-enraged-at-che-as-t-shirt-icon/)
What we DON’T see in the book is Hillary Clinton or her supporters. The closest Kingsolver comes to mentioning Hillary is when the protagonist sadly realizes that Trump “or someone like him” seemed bound to win the election.
I know it’s a novel and not a history book, but still. I knew that the erasing of women (particularly women of color, which many of Hillary’s supporters were/are) from history happened, but its horrifying to see it happen almost in real time! It is maddening and creepy to see Hillary and her supporters written out of this 2015-2016 story that I know so many people will read and love.
The erasing of women’s work makes me apoplectic, whether it’s past, present, or future. Not only does Kingsolver (like everyone who equates Hillary to Trump) erase a former Secretary of State’s lifetime of service AND HER ACTUAL POLITICAL PLATFORM from the author’s version of history, she is erasing the majority of Americans as well. She is dismissing the women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, disabled people, and ALL of the other Americans who worked, sacrificed, fretted, and took near-constant online abuse from all sides in order to try and move America’s future leftward, heartward, equailityward.
Where is the payoff from erasing the majority of Americans from history? Is it worth this much disinformation to continue to convince herself she’s right, to continue hoping that all of us who don’t present as socialist enough will be headed for the firing squads, to keep propping up the white-supremacy-serving idea that “identity politics” (i.e. the concerns of every group that isn’t white, straight, cis, able-bodied men) should be silenced in public debate?
I’m supposed to be giving out more benefit-of-the-doubt this year, so maybe she made the book so lady-erasing on purpose. Maybe her characters were monstrous fat-phobes to show how bad that kind of prejudice is. But three years of election traumaand 30 years of regular PTSD means I know how to spot gaslighting when I see it. I’m almost certain that one of the authors I love can’t be trusted anymore. I hate when things get all Invasion of the Body Snatchers in my brain, but I think Bernie and the troll farms (NOT a good name for a band) only teased out a misogyny, a Stockholm Syndrome, a gentle white supremacy that was there in all of us. Still, it’s a loss. It hurts to unfriend and unfollow, but maybe this loss will free my eyeballs for more humane books.