Today, I was at work, trying not to think about what's coming for my country. Trying not to think about the damage an out-of-control GOP stranglehold on our nation has already done, about what a cabinet of unqualified billionaire backscratch-picks nominally led by a mentally unbalanced narcissist who very likely is compromised by foreign powers (if not voluntarily corrupted by them) will do over the next four years. Trying not to think about how our rights to speak out and protest, guaranteed by our Constitution, are already being compromised and curbed.
As you can guess, I didn't have much luck in that endeavor. One good thing about my job is that I can think while working. It's also a bad thing, in times like these. It's even worse when, with every item that passes through my hands, I find myself wondering what its fate will be if the authoritarian playbook continues to be followed. The free exchange of ideas is a hallmark of freedom, after all. Ideas balance, opinions weigh against each other, viewpoints and stories are recorded for all readers. Knowledge can flow, if one chooses to seek it out. But this free exchange is not what those in power want… particularly when so many have ties to extreme theologies that discredit science and critical thinking in their own flock and abhor such traits in others.
A picture book on racial equality? It'll go.
The story of a woman scientist? In the burn pile.
A book on finding spirituality without religion? Firestarter.
Anything in a foreign language? Not in Red America.
A book about Christianity… oh, wait, the author's name looks foreign. Burn to be safe.
And then I saw a familiar face: Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.
Many said he couldn't do what he did. Many still say he only got to his office on a fluke, or a fix, or whatever other theory they choose to believe. A perfect man, or a perfect presidency? No – there is no such thing. But I never felt this scared under his regime. I never honestly wondered if that man knew what he was saying or doing from one minute to the next. I never feared he was trying to play mind games with me, or the rest of the country, or the rest of the world. I never thought he'd literally sell the land out from under our feet for a quick buck, as changes already passed through Congress make much easier to do.
I never would've thought we'd be where we are today, facing the threats we are, in a world where truth no longer matters if a lie plays to our innermost demons. I would've called it impossible, even after Bush's regime showed me where the Republican party was headed... and after Brexit and other world events demonstrated how Western civilization seemed to be tilting toward backward-looking xenophobic populism. But sometimes impossible good things can happen too. In his last addresses to the nation, President Obama reminded us of what we'd done, and what we can still do - if we don't give up hope.
The book was toward the bottom of the tote, and as it filled – with more books I mentally assigned to Burn or Safe piles tumbling down from the ever-moving conveyor line – I kept lifting it up whenever I passed by. I didn't want hope buried. I didn't want what he'd done, what America had been and should be again, to be forgotten and lost. Until at last the tote was full, and I finally had to send it on its way, to whatever fate might eventually await its contents… with The Audacity of Hope resting squarely on top. When that tote reaches its destination, it will be the first thing to see the light.
As gestures go, I suppose it meant less than nothing in the grand scheme. It didn't change anything. It didn't stop the power-mad rush over the cliff. If and when the book-burners come, I doubt I'll be able to stop them.
But it was what I could do, where I was, to keep hope from being buried... if only for a little while.