An elephant with a "Make America Great Again Hat" on kicking apart the Statue of Liberty.

State of Disunion

The Present Is Our History Now

Many of us screamed into the wind about the importance of voting, the cold danger of apathy, the sheer cruelty that would be unleashed, the searing reality that too late is too soon. But we can still reassemble our past and break our present—we have to.

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On Monday, May 2, 2022, as the news of the leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade lit up my timeline, I knew that I had already lived this night. I had already seen this proclamation and these consequences, had already grieved and had already lost. All that I could do then was find the sea of misery and bathe in it, so that I would not be alone. Like I had been the first time, on the day when this night became a fact.

It is hard to perceive when the present becomes fact because we, as Americans, are taught that history is a series of events in linear order. A happened; B happened; C happened: like plotting points on a curve. History is a rigid thing in this country, unalive, inanimate, solid—a brick wall or a stone foundation. And so, people are always surprised and aghast when history breathes and the world shifts between what is and what was and what could be. We are trained to forget that we are born as ancestors.

So though I did not know the day, the hour, the manner, the words, I had already lived through the end of Roe, the dissolution of bodily autonomy, the final ascension of the high court and the subordination of politics to its will. Because I was where we had already been. 

And I was not alone.

There were many of us—augurs—in 2016 who warned of what would happen if Donald Trump took power. We screamed into the wind about the importance of voting, the cold danger of apathy, the sheer cruelty that would be unleashed, the searing reality that “too late” is too soon. We were as sirens—wailing into the dark, trapped by our self-identification. A siren is either an earsplitting alarm for an emergency or a duplicitous woman luring you to demise. The more we attempted the former, the more we were seen as the latter. We pleaded and begged and cajoled, and every new desperation was weaponized against us as evidence of our false nature. 

The only way to win would have meant not speaking, not asking, not wanting, and as such, build our victory from a paradox: Demand nothing to receive everything.

It is this bitter truth, as I prepare for a future I have already lived, that makes me question whether we ever had a real chance to change this trajectory, to breathe out the world that could have been. It is the nature of tragedy, after all, to be inevitable. At its core, tragedy is simply the only possible conclusion of the wrong traits meeting the right circumstances.

As a country, we are an optimistic people, aspirational and ambitious. With the exception of those who were already here and the people kidnapped in chains, we came here in pursuit of dreams—the limitless possibilities of a New World. We voraciously consume happy endings to the point where we are bored by the bittersweet and entirely uninterested in anguish. We want to be soothed, comforted, convinced—a nation ruled by happily ever after.

Since 2015, we have swayed ourselves through sheer belief that there would be a devastating reveal or a savior or a pivot or maybe even such hopeless incompetence that we could skip ahead to where it is all fixed. People have felt comfortable staying home and skipping their vote, putting their disinterest and disappointment on blast, laying down cover to incite an atrocity—assured in their conviction that the worst would never come to pass because history is where bad things happen.

We have been a polity incapable of imagining tragedy—and so tragedy is what we have become.

We are soon to be seeped in circumstances that once seemed inconceivable: a bevy of unsought pain, premature death, and untapped potential. For those of us capable of childbirth, the fullness of our potential will be enslaved to a Zip code. We will not be allowed to terminate a pregnancy at any stage, at any age, for any reason. In half of the country, abortion will be elevated to a luxury good, an earned opportunity like a beautiful object but with all the gravity of an essential service. The rule of autonomy is now made up of exceptions.

At first the fall of Roe will be an agony for the short term, but soon thereafter—sooner than anyone believes—we will multiply the miseries of an unwanted life by the millions, a brutal factorial of cascading torments. It will warp every aspect of society, breaking every oath of civic obligation and mutual trust, shattering individuals and communities and counties and states until we no longer know ourselves or each other. The end of abortion access for half of the human population will make the resentment and rage so deep and wide that it will be akin to a sixth ocean.

There is no living memory of the last time the Supreme Court usurped a fundamental right at this scale—the banal consensus of Plessy v Ferguson that codified the unfathomable cruelty of Jim Crow. But we will live to remember this, to have it shape and contort us, to unravel everything that we thought we were.

In the little more than five years since the forecasters were dismissed, Republicans have unmade half a century of progress—there can be no doubt as to what more time will provide them. History breathes, and so I have lived this night a hundred times in years to come: the emptiness and despair, the hopeless rage at a world where the only use for the spark in our souls is to keep ourselves warm. They will come relentlessly, for our bodies and our families and our love for each other, our words and our citizenship and our personhood.

We will cease to be a nation and instead become a failure of imagination.

Unless …

We can choose to heed the auguries and unmake our future; we can reassemble our past and break our present. As a country, we are now and have always been change—not points plotted on a line, but the structured chaos of living, striving, breaking ourselves against the world until it snaps.

There is no room left for dissolution or doubt, conciliation or hypocrisy. We cannot allow ourselves to be slowed or waylaid by the warnings of what could be from those who are not afraid of what we are now. No more insipid talk about what our opponents surely will not do, the depravities they will not reach, the eventual bottom to the abyss. No more despair and apathy and illusions of easy absolution that tell us there is no point in fighting because answers are a trap and joy is unattainable. No more grandiose positivity that grants easy transformation with a voice or a vote, as if ballots and opinions are incantations and the world is merely awaiting a spell.

We were promised a republic only if we could keep it, and as such, received an assurance of an eternal battle with despotism and tyranny, monarchy and statelessness. That which wants to consume, to control, to consolidate, to abandon must be constantly wrangled and corralled. So the fight we face is not a condemnation; it is an inheritance. We were not born to be ancestors to an apocalypse.

Because if tragedy awaits the end of every fatal flaw, then righteous victory is the only answer for unwavering virtue. It is only inevitable once you can no longer imagine a choice.

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