When I awoke on the morning of November 9th, 2016, I thought of one of my favorite writers, Milan Kundera. He wrote beautifully about surviving authoritarianism in Czechoslovakia when it was a satellite state of the Soviet Union, and about the Prague Spring. Many of Kundera’s characters escaped the daily perils of the thought police by staying rooted in their relationships to their own bodies. This sounds simple, but it isn’t.
We are in year two of America’s relationship with a tyrant – a relationship the vast majority of us never chose to be in. The verbally abusive, pathological liar who lives in the White House seems to be everywhere, not merely in our Twitter feeds but inexorably embedded in our collective consciousness. I sometimes dream about him and wake up in a cold sweat, in a state of dread. I know that I am not alone.
Just this morning, Trump tweeted, “I never fired James Comey because of Russia!” when there is an actual tape of him being interviewed by Lester Holt about why he fired Comey, and saying these exact words: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’.”
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times thinks Trump believes his own lies, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.
Last week journalists and their readers dove deep into how to cover a liar like Trump – do you call him a liar or an obfuscator? Do you report his words, even when they are lies, as quotes? To me there’s an easy answer, all-caps, in red, THIS IS A LIE, underneath every intentionally false statement he makes. This debate will continue. In the meantime, for us, the question remains – how do we cope?
How do we survive the constant lack of truth when so many are being gaslighted?
The word gaslighting was once again made famous late in 2016, thanks to a brilliant column by Lauren Duca in Teen Vogue. In a follow-up column in 2017 she described the word thusly: “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which the victim is made to doubt their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country.’
When you live with a gaslighter, as any abuse survivor will tell you, you first have to remember who you are. When he tells you that something you know to be true is not true, you have to find the strength to fight your way back to the reality he wants you to question.
Living under Trump, this takes daily work, and often that is the work of realigning the body and mind.
Here are ways that help me to cope with his daily assaults on reason, morality, and reality itself.
- Become a steward of quality journalism. Even though I often find fault with the NY Times op-ed page, their reporting is still excellent (despite the piece from late 2016 in which they neglected to inform the public about the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign). – I pay for my subscriptions to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Mother Jones, The Nation and the like and I consider it my civic duty to do so.
- Talk about media literacy with everyone, all the time. Anyone who will listen, adults and children, and even the progressives with whom I agree. When I engage trolls on my Twitter feed it is only to discuss this how to learn to navigate our media landscape and vet sources. This may be the last vestige of our democratic republic.
- Refuse to forget your body. The toll of gadget addiction preceded this fascist moment we’re living through, but with terrifying news streaming through our phones 24/7, the toxicity has been inordinately amplified and it is easily absorbed into our cells. I put down my phone. I connect to the people I love: touch is healing. I look strangers in the eye when I go about my errands. I put on music and dance. I turn off the news when it begins to sicken me. I’m not disengaging –it merely means that I’ve figured out how much my body can take.
- More refusing to forget your body. As a writer I’ve always had to remind myself to get up from my chair to stretch. This has taken on new urgency in the Trump era. I write about politics and tweet often, so I’m down in the trenches of this toxic stew and can feel it in my limbs. When I get up to stretch now, I often do the “shake it off” gesture, in order to symbolically shake off the energy that I’ve absorbed while fighting the good fight.
- Exercise. When I get down into a Child’s Pose or take a dance class now, I know that I’m not just doing it for fitness, I’m doing it for absolutely essential self-care, so that I can return to the resistance to protect my brothers and sisters, and our fragile democratic experiment, from an early death.
- Breathing. I have noticed that my chest and lungs are almost always constricted in anxiety, ever worse since late 2016. I do this when I wake up and remember that Trump is president. I do this on the hour, and before I go to bed, especially if I’ve spent the evening consuming news.
I think about Martin Luther King’s “Fierce urgency of now” quote just about every single day. He used this phrase twice, both in his “I Have a Dream” speech about civil rights and later in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. His words have grown ever more resonant in our dark moment.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
It’s not just that we have no time to waste, it’s that we’re being called to protect our brothers and sisters from racism, misogyny, homophobia and trans-phobia, human rights abuses, environmental degradation and poverty – it is an emergency. But I have learned that I have to match the fierceness of my own now with essential, daily self-care. Our cortisol is high as a nation, and we won’t make it through this if we don’t care for ourselves as fiercely we care for each other.
Stefanie Iris Weiss is a New York City-based writer who focuses on sexuality, politics, holistic health and wellness. She is the author of Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Random House) and 8 other books. Follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality