Essays & Confessions

The Things I Am Remembering So I Do Not Lose Hope

By | Thursday, November 10, 2016


The TFD team took the day off. Everyone was in a state of sleep deprivation, or sobbing, or otherwise compulsively refreshing their Twitter feeds so they could masochistically read another rehashing of the inevitable. It didn’t feel like a time when anyone wanted budget or closet-purge tips flooding their news feeds, and it seems like the right thing to do as a business to have days when everyone is allowed to mourn, to read, to call family, to sit on the couch and numbly watch a movie while holding a puppy (as Lauren and I did this afternoon). Tomorrow we will be back at work, and in many ways I am excited, but I — like most of you, I imagine — have spent the day alternating between fighting back tears and feeling utterly desensitized. Trump winning feels like a brutal combination of shocking and inevitable, and was enough to knock the wind out of all of us, at least for the day.

I know, of course, that my ability to take off today was, in every way, an enormous privilege. And each moment of that sort of privilege — a flexible schedule, an understanding team, a stable household — reminds me just how much America has betrayed itself further with this election. In moving, whiplash-fast, back to the right, we have stated clearly to ourselves and the world at large that we still do not believe that we deserve so many basic rights, or we think it would be too outrageous to try for them. Our muddied attempts at creating federal social safety nets are constantly being undermined and pedaled back to preserve an attempt for compromise, and are a wet band-aid against the bloodletting from the right. There is no human right so basic as to not be considered a luxury here, and if we learned nothing else this election, it is that these rights (basic health care, maternity leave, a livable minimum wage, rational and compassionate immigration laws, a regulated financial industry, substantial taxation of the rich, etc.) must be the focus of our left’s identity, or it will all be tossed to the wolves in an attempt to find (false) common ground.

I feel that I’ve in many ways betrayed myself over the past year, politically. I lived richly in a socialist country for several years on very little money, never having a lot but never worrying about basic, fundamental human safety and comforts. I came back excited to be a Democratic Socialist to whatever extent that was possible in America, and supported the candidate of my values when he came around. But, partly out of a strange sense of shame and guilt that I was not as enthusiastic about our Democratic nominee as I should have been, I shut up. I voted D because it was a moral obligation, but I felt that the only responsible thing to do about Clinton’s progressive shortcomings was to shut the hell up about them.

I became cowardly and browbeaten, as so much of the left has, and continues to do in the face of a right that has no fears of being called monstrous, or being despised by the prevailing popular culture. And for that I feel disgusted with myself: I know my principles, yet allowed a sentiment that the American left no longer deserved to ask for anything to muzzle them. And that shameful, cowering feeling in the left — this rippling sense that the basic human rights, which so many other countries consider foundational, are too much to ask for here — sapped me of hope more acutely than the vile surge of hatred we saw on the right.

We can beat these people, we can appeal with greater enthusiasm, we can even convert them, in many cases. We can have a message of our own that isn’t “Look how scary the other guy is.” But it is our duty to make that an unfailing, unflinching priority.

My tangible, actionable items today to stave off the maddening feeling of uselessness were to pay the fee to join the Democratic Socialists of America, and then to register to volunteer. If you would like to join and can’t afford the fee, email me and I will help you pay it. For me, the only thing that has felt like a balm to the burning, awful sense of hopelessness is the idea that I will now have a new, strong coalition of people in my city with whom to build, to work, and to strengthen one another in our principles. I feel a pride in these politics, and a deep hopefulness that we will be able to create a left that truly fights for the middle and working classes, a left whose intersectionality does not mean “how many women are on the board at Goldman Sachs.” A left who will prepare our country for the very real wave of automation in the coming years, which will leave so many workers obsolete and jobless.

Writing and reading and talking about money every day has taught me one thing above all else: until we reckon with the deep economic unfairness of this country, this will keep happening again, and again, and again. America is a deeply racist and sexist place, and those particular bottles of kerosene were dumped all over the dumpster fire of this election. Anyone, even the leftiest lefty, who tries to tell you that Trump is about economic anxiety alone and not deeply moved by how many white people — women included! — fear people of color, and how many men are viscerally reviled at a female leader, is either disingenuous or delusional. Racism and sexism helped create and sustain Trump, but the kindling underneath his fire will always be our comically-unfair economic and political systems. Anyone who puts “economic anxiety” in scare quotes, as though it plays no role in our current misery, should be drummed out of punditry. (Frankly, I think we’ve all learned by now that all punditry needs to be driven off a cliff, but that’s for another article.)

The point is, we are forced in this country to treat basic security and comfort — retirement, modest savings, a home to live in and not going bankrupt if we unexpectedly fall ill — as some kind of sport we need to become very adept at. The personal finance community is structured like an elaborate rulebook for a board game no one signed up to play, but which defines your entire life. It should not take maneuvering and serious sacrifice to live with dignity while working full-time, or attend college without indebting yourself in the low six figures. Our retirements after a lifetime of labor should not be a question mark, should not be a luxury good. Our educations should not be crippling financial decisions. Our health should not be something we feel we need to skimp on in lean months.

I love talking about money, primarily because it feels like a small attempt to, at the very least, make more of us aware of the vastly unfair game we are all playing. If we can increase empathy and awareness of other people’s reality here, we are doing our job. If we can pay our team fairly, and work in a sustainable, fulfilling way, I am happy about what we are growing. But we are not enough, and a conversation about money cannot be the end of it. We have to engage directly and profoundly with our communities, with the people who have less than us, with those for whom every paycheck can make or break their lives.

Today, I remember that there are many more outlets to express our political will, and that our generation, growing up in the shadow of the crash of 2008, the Great Recession, student debt, and endless foreign wars, has a very real chance of demanding a more humane life that puts a floor on our suffering and a concrete-slab ceiling on the grotesque wealth and power a small few can accumulate. And in the meantime, I remember that I can work each day, and be true to my principles — personally and politically — and create something good within my humble means. And so can you. And that is very much worth believing in.

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