#Entitlements: You Are Full of Shit if You Think People on Assistance Aren’t Working Their Asses Off

Rant alert. I’m not simply speaking to far-right zealots who place undue emphasis on individual effort and taunt welfare moms while they ignore how their party treats veterans.  I’m also speaking to those on my side of the fence, those who have no idea what real struggle looks like.  They are worse in some ways, because under their sympathy is a real resentment for poverty among their own.

I know this sounds caustic, but if you’ve never been on government assistance, let me take you through the average day of someone who is.

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Note: A quick summation of the application process for Medi-Cal, Unemployment, CalFresh (Food Stamps), Calworks, Disability or assistance with childcare.  It takes 2-3 days just to apply, and here’s why: the process is slow because the forms are not only copious, they are often badly phrased and confusing. And I am a writer.  It requires standing in line, filling out hours worth of forms, personal data collection, and one unchecked box sets you right back to the beginning. There is often no human available to talk to at the many many contact numbers if you have questions beyond the information provided.

So let’s see what a typical day looks like for someone who is unemployed or underemployed and needs these services. 

8am: You go through your normal routine feeding and getting the kid to school.

8:30 am: If you don’t have a computer, you go to the library or the EDD where you sign in and wait in line.  You get an hour, and in that hour, you must register yourself into the system and enter all your employment history so the system can send you notices.  Nevermind that no one actually gets hired this way anymore.  You still get to do it so that the EDD can tell you are trying to get work.

The EDD customer service line actually tells you that inquiring about your claim will delay your benefits.  The robot does not provide a general option to speak with an agent and all other options provide automated information.  Then it hangs up on you.  I shit you not.

9:45. You sit down to fill out your weekly EDD report online or by mail. These forms require you to track all the jobs you applied to, so you have to go back into your email, phone, look up addresses, etc. If you enter any of the information incorrectly, and I’m talking down to the period, it takes EDD a week to notify you, then several days after you correct the error to send you your check. Oh, and the IRS has the right to tax your weekly pittance, which is capped at $450/week.  So that’s your rent (barely); where does the rest of it come from?

10:20 am: You need to go grocery shopping.  First, you have to call the online system to see how much credit you have on your EBT card and then calculate out how long until you receive another payment so you know what to spend.  It’s usually in the neighborhood of $350/month if you have one child and no income. You cannot buy a bottle of wine, but you can buy a liter of Coke.   The EBT card is supposed to be more discreet, but of course, as soon as you select it, the cashier can see how you are paying and so can anyone in view of the display.

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If you are an expecting mom, you have to take WIC (Women Infants and Children) vouchers into the grocery store.  These vouchers all have specific brand names and quantities on them.  So when you check out, you have 3-4 separate transactions.  If you accidentally selected the 16 oz container instead of the 12 oz container, you either have to run back and try to find the right one, pissing off everyone in your line further, or you have to waste the voucher.  Either way, you are totally humiliated by this process on a weekly basis.  And grocery shopping takes considerably more time.

12:15 pm: You need to make a doctor’s appointment for your child. Don’t call now, everyone calls during lunchtime. Eat some Kraft Mac & Cheese and drink some whole milk. At least EBT lets you buy fruit.

1:30 pm: You still need to make that appointment but it’s not like being covered through a private carrier where that card with your medical record number is good enough.  Understand that at every turn, this system assumes you are lying about your situation, and so nearly every time you go to a doctor, you are somehow asked to verify again that you are on Medi-Cal, even if you’ve got the card.  You will be required to report on the nature of the appointment so that Medi-Cal can categorize the visit. And if you are on Medi-Cal, you are lucky compared to many other states.  I’ll skip the part where any serious health complications come up, that’s another blog.

The first available appointments for regular office visits are usually a couple weeks out.  Plan ahead!

2:00pm: You finally have time to sit down and look for a job at the library.  Again, you get an hour.  In this time, you can probably apply for four jobs online if you hustle and have all your info in place.  Those employers, by comparison, will receive thousands of resumes. Also bear in mind that if you don’t check this email later today, by tomorrow those employers may have already found someone.

3:00 pm:  You pick up the kid from school because you cannot afford to pay for aftercare or afterschool activities.  I’ll omit the conversation where you have to explain to your child why he or she can no longer play soccer or piano. The rest of your day is shot with chores and parenting even though your mind is elsewhere.

7:30 pm:  The kid is in bed and you turn your attention toward your bills.  With a fine tooth comb, you go over your finances again, seeing how much you are paying for everything, what you can do without, and give yourself a good guilt trip for any recent, non-essential purchases you might have made.

You opt to pay everyone a little because you heard somewhere that a company won’t send you to collections if you make a partial payment.  You might find extraneous charges on your credit card with its already mounting debt.  Corporations have a way of knowing when you are especially financially desperate and they like to take that time to apply random fees, jack your interest rates, increase your monthly charges and so forth.  This normally would just be irritating, but in your currently strapped situation, this feels like death by a thousand papercuts.  You spend many hours on the phone yelling at customer service agents and you can tell from the sound of their voices that they think you are crazy for making such a huge deal over $15.

8:40pm: You binge watch something and eat ice cream. You deserve this.

9:45 pm: You are already in bed because you know that it’s not likely you will get a good night’s sleep and you have to get up and do all this over again tomorrow.

Now imagine this scenario compounded by a couple of weeks or months.  Imagine having to prove on an almost daily basis that you need these services while trying to find work. Imagine that the idea of taking a lower paying job is even scarier because it will not cover your expenses but it will terminate all these services. Imagine the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head that you will lose your car, then your home and with it, everything you own.

Imagine what it would be like to go through all this and finally get an interview.  You are no longer confident in your skills, even though you have many.  You are no longer interfacing with coworkers in a professional setting daily and so your whole life feels personal and highly emotional. You cannot imagine that this company will hire you because you aren’t good enough.  If you were good enough, you never would have become unemployed in the first place.

Understand that has nothing to do effort, that to find yourself unemployed in this heart-racing economy means driving for Uber, going to work for Handy, or Task Rabbit and that you will get raked over the coals for any income you make with these types of gigs when it’s tax time.  Understand that more and more of us educated and skilled people will land here and that these meager safety net services are on their way to being nonexistent.  Entitlements? I earned that unemployment.  I earned my social security.  I paid taxes and I will pay more if this tax bill goes through. 

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It’s not even worth saying, but I need the catharsis today: Fuck you Paul Ryan, Fuck You, Mitch McConnell and Fuck all you old, white, so-rich-you’ll-never-spend-it-in-your-lifetime assholes.  When we no longer have anything to spend, you do realize the pot will run dry, right?  I guess by then it won’t matter.  You’ll own everything.

#Soapbox #TaxBill #Underclassuprising

 

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#MeToo: 7 Ways that Men Can Help Dismantle the Patriarchy Everyday

A new male friend and I were chatting last night and I was describing to him how the waterfall effect of the Harvey Weinstein revelations has affected my relationships. He made a flip comment about it being “the new thing these days.” I was flabbergasted and replied that it was not a trend from where I sit; it’s the beginning of a revolution. He apologized for the comment, but I don’t think he had any sense of the implications.

This is a dark and confusing time for all of us where bedrock social norms no longer apply and I have observed a lot of bewildered behavior from men as a result of this steady stream of reports that men behave badly on a regular basis.

To try and put the MeToo thing in context, I’ll use myself as an example. At the age of fifteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I had met two hours before. He was one of the popular boys, I had a huge crush and his sudden attention caught me completely off guard. He and his friends convinced me and my girlfriends to ditch and go to someone’s house nearby.

I had no idea that once he got me in a room alone he was going to try and go “all the way.” It’s an understatement to say that I didn’t know how to say no to this boy that I really liked and I was the last girl in my group to remain a virgin. I was so confused and ashamed that even when my girlfriends tried to barge the room, I told them to get out. After he was done, he told me not to tell anyone.

By the end of the school day, everyone knew and one girl saw me in the hall and started screaming his name, imitating me having sex with him. He called me that night and asked me why I told everybody, that he was talking to this other girl and now I had wrecked his chances with her.

Boys who had ignored me all year were suddenly swarming. I kept a brave face and pretended to my friends like I was in control of all this, but everyday, I came close to running away just so I didn’t have to face going to school.

This treatment was normal and it branded me.

Historically, my interactions with men are commonly characterized by: interruption, aggression, manipulation, and inappropriate comments and touching. I’ve experienced lying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, stalking, catfishing, and I was targeted by a romantic con artist.

So when these stories started to come out, it may have broadsided men, but no woman I know was surprised. The thing that surprised us was that there are actual consequences for this behavior. When we say #MeToo, we don’t mean once. We mean this is the toxic atmosphere we live in. We mean predators of all stripes count on a complicit system.

So I direct this list of action items specifically to men in this new territory. If you want to know how to be part of the solution, here are a few places you can start:

1. Be brave. I’m not talking about the kind of brave where you save a baby from a burning building. You guys are pretty good at that. But frankly, you suck at having emotionally vulnerable conversations with the women and men in your lives. It’s not your fault, we can squarely place the blame on the patriarchy, but you still have work to do. It’s time to have some tough conversations, to confront our collective complicity. Be ready to be wrong about some things. Be ready to change your mind and develop more awareness.

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Sacramentos’ Women’s March, January 20, 2017.

 

2. Do an inventory and clean house. My brother and I had a profound conversation a few days ago. There was someone in our midst who required unfriending and I took the opportunity to point out to him that he had crossed a line himself. He apologized to me and made amends in a way that I thought was really brave. Men should know that an apology for even a mild transgression has enormous healing potential for women who regularly deal with this onslaught and go their entire lives without ever hearing the words “I’m sorry.” Think back to the times that a woman told you that your friend did something gross. Did you blow her off? Do you still hang out with that guy? If so, maybe a conversation is in order.

And if you know someone who has a considerable track record of bad boundaries with women, you’ve got two choices: decide he can improve and work with him, or disengage. Does this seem like a tough choice? Well, it is.  And we do it all the time.

I know this is going to make some of my loved ones uncomfortable, but it enrages me to this day that they still have my ex-husband to dinner when he catfished me on the Internet, hacked my cloud, and posted revenge porn. When I told them all this as it was unfolding, my friends would shake their heads and say, “wow, that’s fucked up.” And then two weeks later, he would stay the weekend at their house with his latest girlfriend.

Again, my brother said he’d witnessed a lot of shitty behavior from my ex and he sees now that he could’ve said something.  By saying that, my brother showed me that he’s my advocate.

3. Listen without interrupting. I read a great piece in the Washington Post about how at the beginning of the Obama administration, there were two women in his cabinet and 2/3 of his staff were men. Numerous studies have been conducted in the business world that show men are more likely to interrupt women in a professional setting, and more likely to take credit for their ideas. Interrupting is a subtle but tactical method of debasement and so these female Obama staffers started to employ a countermeasure they referred to as “amplifying”. If one of them got cut off, the other would circle back and open up the opportunity for the first woman to complete her thought. They would also echo each other’s ideas by attributing: “Going back to Valerie’s idea…” It must have worked because at the end of Obama’s second term, his staff was comprised of 50% women.

 Men need to do this for women too.

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4. Take responsibility for the ways that the patriarchy has benefited you. To say “I’m not most men,” is akin to white folks saying to African American people, “I didn’t enslave you, so racism has nothing to with me.” No one wants you to personally apologize for racism or sexism (unless you have behaved in a racist or sexist way), but understand that you live in a world that was designed for men and by men. Understand that women are just gaining agency over their lives for the first time in the last few thousand years and if it seems like we have a hair trigger about language or tone, we do.  We’ve gotten punched in the face since the dawn of Western Civilization.

5. Stop minimizing. This one is also subtle, but it has powerful consequences and it’s one step away from gaslighting. Matthew Remski writes about this in a brutally honest blog post titled On Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex: “My minimizing reflex is mobilized in an instant. The speed is a clue. My partner gives me feedback. Whatever the content is I instantly reframe it so I can feel like it’s either personal attack on me, or — and this is harder to see – as a problem that I am now responsible for, on behalf of someone who I instantly tell myself is overreacting. Both reframes are designed to render the incoming data dismissible.”

In the context of sexual misconduct, it’s harmful for men to point out that what Louis CK did isn’t the same as what Harvey Weinstein did.  it’s true, Louis didn’t lure women into his hotel rooms and rape them, but these are part and parcel of the same sick system whereby women have to make life decisions based on some man’s out of control libido. Let’s not split hairs.  Let’s just give their jobs to women.

6. Call out shitty male behavior in groups. A male friend of mine described sitting at lunch with a bunch of male co-workers when a heavy woman walked by wearing athletic pants. The men took the opportunity to complain that she didn’t have the body to wear those pants and my friend said, “Hey, wait a minute. She gets to wear whatever she wants. You don’t have to be into it, but you don’t get to decide what she wears because of what she looks like. That’s her choice.” He wasn’t mean and he wasn’t righteous, but because of the way he said it, he instantly called these guys’ misogyny to the mat and they retracted.

 No one gets a pass for hating anymore.

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American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

7. If you have questions, don’t pose them on social media.  A new acquaintance of mine did something ingenious on Facebook, a platform she uses for political discourse and organization.  She asked the men on her feed to bow out the discussion for the purposes of the post and then posted questions from men so they could remain anonymous.  This was a really effective way (as far as I could tell) to allow men to listen to a range of female responses without starting a flame war.  If this option isn’t available to you, consider approaching one female friend in person and start the conversation with “I need help understanding this.”

We are in the middle of a reckoning. All these actions take practice. They take effort and they will necessarily make for some discomfort. But guess what? Women have been uncomfortable this whole time!

It gives me tremendous hope that our voices are starting to be heard. We will no longer be ignored, paid off, silenced or otherwise punished for someone else’s actions. There is a groundswell happening, an indirect response to having a predator in chief.

If any one group is capable of turning the ugly turmoil we are seeing, it’s women. Men only stand to benefit from empowering us. And it’s time. We’ve all waited long enough.

 

 

Do What You Can Do Today: My Yogic Mental Health Toolkit

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The average stay at the crisis center where I teach yoga is 30 days, and since it’s an opt-in facility, there are no gates, searches or hospital gowns. When I go into my group meeting every Tuesday at 1:00, there are usually some familiar faces and some new patients.

There is also a broad range of mental illnesses ranging from suicidal depression to schizophrenia, OCD to psychosis. Group is a required part of the program and when many of them come in and hear they are about to practice yoga, the wall goes up.

So I start each class by saying, “Do what you can do today. If that’s just sitting still and listening, that counts. If you can do the breathing piece, even better. You still benefit from being in the room.”

The relief is palpable and more often than not, being in the room leads them to participate. That same reticent patient will likely put in even more effort at the next class. Some of the residents actually get really excited about the prospect of yoga because the results are empiric. That’s why it’s called yogic science; they see it for themselves.

I try to apply some of that spirit to my own practice. It’s hard with juggling a kid and multiple jobs and creative projects and my own mental resistance. Mornings are unusually accompanied by an internal groan, rather than a chipper “yay!”

But just asking myself, “what can I do today?” opens me up to more than doing nothing at all.

One of my teachers told me that when she was having a mental block against practicing, her teacher said, just roll out your mat everyday. Eventually, you’ll step onto it. She said just that act compelled the next act: breathing. Which compelled the next act: moving.

Yoga is no different than any other progression: there are days when nothing gets done. Acknowledging this lets my students apply what some teachers like to call, “imperfect action.” They are freed from the mental burden of having to perform. In a headspace where even the smallest demand feels unconquerable, and an environment where so much of their day is regimented, I give them permission to do whatever they can do.

Another thing that seems to help is giving my students tricks. I teach them easy poses, stretches, even awareness techniques that might come in handy during a bout of rage or extreme anxiety in a public place. I tell them why these actions help, what is going on in the brain, and it gives the smallest effort credibility.

I get anxious in public places on occasion, and I have bouts of rage too. In the moment, it can be difficult to think strategically, but that’s why we call it practice. With enough repetition, we can automate these tricks. Hopefully, we achieve the clarity to label them and activate the antidote. Or at least try.

Yoga is not a silver bullet. Meditation takes a certain amount of stillness and diligence that many of us, for whatever reason, don’t have. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

But to see these patients go from negative and lethargic to awake and relaxed in the course of 35 minutes, I’ll just say the practice continues to prove its worth. Just keep trying, and one of the valves will relieve the pressure.

Go Go Penguin Made My Summer

Alright, growing up in Los Angeles made me a sucker for hiphop, underground hiphop specifically, that nursed from the veins of truly great jazz.  It’s phenomenal to me that the tech has fed the human capacity for sound, Rob Turner manages to mimic the crisp drum tracks only previously capable on Logic.

It’s not just the precision that these dudes execute, it’s also the inviting melodies, the easy phrasing that feels so effortless and free. It all works just as well with Autumn, I recommend:

 

 

 

Diamonds & Gold: Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Center

Yesterday started out great: I quit my job and almost like the universe was rewarding me, my friend Mike sent me a text asking if I wanted to see Neil Diamond at the Golden 1 Arena in downtown Sacramento.

A quick side note: After much reasonable protesting, Sacramento now has its very own, taxpayer funded, shiny new arena. I was ambivalent for many reasons, but I have to say that unlike other arenas, the acoustics are actually quite decent.  The only other show I’ve been to at the Golden 1 Center was Electric Christmas, a hipster rock, millennials-only affair put on every winter by local radio station 94.7.

So the first thing we noticed last night was that every section in the stadium was open and the place was packed to the nosebleeds with avid fans.

When the band took the stage and the lights dropped, a giant 3D Diamond appeared, spinning and refracting images of Neil from the past.  The diamond screen remained throughout the performance, lighting up and bouncing images that supported the songs.

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The bandstand split with a walk down the center and when Neil emerged and started to come down front and center, Mike couldn’t resist saying, “Oh that’s nice, they gave him the old people ramp”.

Neil is 76, but he sings with the same voice as he did in 1976: his pipes are undiminished by time, his rich, sultry tone and phrasing as swoon-worthy as ever.  

He launched into Solitary Man and this crowd that easily had 20-30 years on the previous show I’d seen, erupted with such glee, it was hard to believe.

Diamond had a bit of Elvis in him in the younger days, he borrowed some showmanship from the King for sure.  But his brand of flash seems positively tame compared with younger, more modern performers.  His charisma is so powerful that all he had to do was lift a hand beatifically and the audience would rise to their feet as though they were at a megachurch.

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A couple songs in, he strolled to the right side of the stage and the far right section cheered so vehemently, Neil said, “these folks are the most lively in the building, so I’m going to stay over here for this one.”  Then he sang the opening lines of Love on the Rocks. He continued to tease the other sections by pointing to the right and saying, “you going to beat these folks?”

His easy banter and playfulness cut up the often wistful themes of his ballads and he undulated between up tempo goodies like I’m a Believer and lonely  I am, I Said.  He is still songwriting and he managed to tuck some newer tunes into the set, one called Dry Your Eyes about the Manchester bombing.

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One of my favorite moments was Brooklyn Roads, accompanied by diamond-shaped, grainy Super8 footage of his family.  A line I deeply related to:

Mama’d come to school
And as I’d sit there softly crying
Teacher’d say, “He’s just not trying
He’s got a good head if he’d apply it”
But you know yourself
It’s always somewhere else

I built me a castle
With dragons and kings
And I’d ride off with them
As I stood by my window
And looked out on those
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Diamond also did something I hadn’t seen a rock star of his caliber do before: to introduce the band, he let each one of his musicians play a short, solo song of their own choosing.  His two back up singers are sisters, and his guitarist of 40 years, Richard Bennett, who helped write Forever in Blue Jeans, was on stage with his son, Nick, also on guitar.  These little showcases gave him a chance to encourage and publically thank the folks that support him.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the entire auditorium stood and danced for Sweet Caroline, except maybe those in wheelchairs. If there was some way to gauge the energy in the room, this crown far exceeded the hipster extravaganza I mentioned.  By a long shot.

The finale was, of course, Coming to America, a tune I used to see as a bit nationalistic, but again, he managed to strike the perfect tone; the diamond screen shone old black and white images of immigrants boarding boats, waving happily from the deck, hoping for a new life.  As the son of  Jewish immigrants from Poland, it was a loving gesture, and a reminder of what actually makes America great.

Neil Diamond performed for over two hours, with such obvious relish, such candor and very little of the bravado that made him so famous.  His voice was eclipsed only by the sheer poetic vulnerability of his lyrics and that spaghetti western style that has become his signature.

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I had my doubts about the Golden 1 arena, but last night, I was so grateful for this massive, shiny venue because it was filled to the brim with eager fans who spent far less time on their phones and far more time cheering and dancing: daughters and dads, grandparents and grandchildren.  And after 50 years of writing and performing, Neil Diamond deserves a golden arena.

 

  1. Written by Neil Diamond • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Sacramento Trees: Greatest Hits

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This blog has been on ice for a bit, but I’ve been ruminating on refashioning it.  I’d like to create a resource and a laugh for other single moms like me in the Sacramento area.

But first, let’s look at some trees.  Even people who live here don’t realize that Sacramento has one of the densest tree populations in the US per capita, a fact that has recently been confirmed by a study at MIT.

I will intermittently be posting some beauties for no other reason than, you know, beauty.

You’re welcome.

 

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Trigger Warning: Trump is Your President

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When the map went red, it bled.  That uniform block of frustration and alienation is as visible as an open wound.  

For me, this election is personal.  I haven’t spoken publicly about it until now, but last summer, I was ensnared by a romantic sociopath and when I discovered the depth of this person’s lies, I had a mental health crisis complete with panic, anxiety/depression, PTSD, insomnia, the whole shebang.

At the time, I was working at a mental health facility teaching yoga to acute patients.  These vulnerable people had often sustained ongoing childhood abuse.  I could not teach anymore because I was now a patient and I couldn’t separate myself from my students; I was lost in empathy, my own pain mixing with their’s.

When the map went that red last night, it was like watching a dear friend willingly return to the home of her abusive husband. Our nation voted for a sociopath because it has Stockholm Syndrome.  Our red states feel powerless and so they reach for and identify with power, even if that power is their oppressor.

We have to wonder about free will in this moment and how much we are actually exercising it if we put the tax-evading bully in the driver’s seat.

I’m grieving a future that is not fraught with draconian repeals and abusive cycles that grind up our best and brightest.

I’m in the second phase of grief: denial.

Followed closely by bargaining: your mind just keeps trying to peel back time and rewrite the event, bending it another way. It happens repeatedly throughout your day, your mind doing impossible gymnastics to make that one moment of shock disappear. I’m going to let myself feel it, so I can move onto guilty, anger and eventually hope.
I am already tired from the work that must be done.  I see with fresh awareness that my privilege has afforded me the ability to opt out of activism.  The Obama years were a piece of cake I ate daily without realizing it.  But none of us, not one American, will have that luxury anymore.
I have one perspective I learned through my experience with the sociopath that is both disheartening and hopeful as it applies to Trump: sociopaths usually self-destruct.  because they are not conscience-bound at all, they do not apply loyalty to their interactions.  His loose cannon antics will continue once he gets into the White House and while we can count on him disposing of Obamacare, overturning Roe v. Wade, and setting up shop for his billionaire friends, he will also be bored, cruel, and destructive with the wrong people.
Malcolm Gladwell predicts Trump will be hip-deep in a lawyer huddle, if not in jail within the first year. I sort of hope he is right; I’d be really surprised if Trump makes it through a first term.
In the meantime, we need to bind together tighter, we need to reach back out to the middle, and bravely carry the torch of love, inclusion, forgiveness.  We need to see this as it is, a wound that needs healing.
Let’s be ready, friends, neighbors, families, communities, cities and allies.  Let’s start to build a model of what we do want so when this thing comes crashing down, we can create again.
May we eradicate hate.  One world, one people, one love.