My best friend and I spend too much time sitting in the same three diners, drinking coffee until our stomachs ache and talking — more often than not these days — about the election. When she first told me that her dad, the author and all-around cool dude Mark Slouka, was working on a petition to unite America's great writers against Donald Trump, I gave a wry smile, a gesture with my mug, and a "that'll show 'em." Because, in my mind, I saw an obvious set of outcomes: The literary, the liberal, the high-brow and the artsy folk would revel in the knowledge that their favorite people aren't sleeping on American Horror Story: Donald Trump. The aggressively anti-intellectual, reactionary base of Trump-lovers will revel in the fact that the #LiberalElite are angry. Never shall the twain meet.
I don't think I was born under a more cynical star than most, but more and more this election has brought that part out of me. From the weekly soundbites and analysis (each more horrific and polarizing than the last) to the people who drive through the streets of my hometown — bumpers promising to "Make America Great Again" — as they scream out of their car windows at my friends, I've been having a hard time holding on to the belief that words (even "the best words," as Trump would say) will do much of anything to move mountains or change minds.
Now, watching the petition come to life and gain momentum, weeks after that first day in the diner, and reading those words still hasn't eased this anxiety. It's a beautifully written representation of every feeling I've had since this circus began, co-signed by people who create beautiful, important art that I love. It doesn't skimp on the fear or the anger, but somehow remains stubbornly optimistic that it's not too late and the end isn't quite nigh:
However, I do still believe that the Echo Chamber Effect exists. There are people who will share these words triumphantly and ones that'll share it scornfully. They'll shout to their followers and friends and across their own diner booths until they find something new to shout about. Lather, rinse, repeat. We're dealing with the aggressively partisan situation (that's been predicted for years), with the added twist of a candidate that has utterly destroyed all illusions of civility and hopes for compromise.
Every hour of every day his supporters and critics alike fire off think-pieces, takes, tweets and Facebook comments to their networks with shareable, clickable headlines (that somehow always read like "gotcha!) and it still never feels like anyone's having a real conversation, like anyone who isn't already fiercely #NeverTrump will cross that divide.
Some days I miss writing about Ted Cruz, John Kasich and the merry band of GOP-hopefuls from earlier this year — the marathon of epithets and blunders and the familiar political animal that's simple to dissect, analyze and riff on. As they started to drop out, slowly then all at once, it was a "hate to see you go, love to watch you leave" feeling: I know now that they were something safe — a fairy tale reminder that some dragons can be killed.
But now there's a dragon that, at this stage, feels invincible (impervious to names, facts, logic, criticism) and I'm absolutely still warring with myself. The cynic that's been reading, writing and reporting on the election for over a year is still there —wondering whether shouting at people who (at least mostly) agree with you is all that effective. But there's still that gross and embarrassingly earnest part of me that still wants to believe that sharp, reassuring, empathetic words have a power. It's that part that knows that the only thing worse than feeling like you're fruitlessly, pointlessly shouting into the void is staying helplessly silent.
Image: Allison Gore (1)