In October 2015, my husband and I were sitting in front of one of the first fires of the season after the kids were in bed--the fir logs snapping and popping behind smoky glass.
"So, this guy Donald Trump sounds like trouble," my Czech husband said as he leaned over to show me an article with some of Trump's first stats on popular support and media influence.
My heart lurched when I saw the evidence, my hands and feet going cold.
I've never been considered a political analyst, but I saw it all clearly in that moment--the combination of rhetoric, some devoted media and the fomenting stew of rural and suburban American frustration and resentment. It all slid into place like puzzle pieces in my mind.
I shook my head. Trying to deny it.
"He'll win," my husband--who spent all of eight months in a conservative American backwater fifteen years previously--stated with certainty. "He's going to win, isn't he?"
"I hope not," I said. "But he's the most likely to win."
Now a month after the inauguration the only thing that is really astounding to me is that most white liberals in America are declaring how stunned they are and going around asking, "How did this happen?"
My husband and I are really not that sophisticated in our fireside political analysis, but I do listen to the waves of noise and emotion that large masses of people emit. I never considered any other Republican primary candidate a serious contender. And knowing how the American campaign finance system, two-party state, electoral college, corporate governance, military, media and everything else works, it looked nearly inevitable that Donald Trump would win the general election as well.
Sure, in the final days before the election, I hoped the party elites had acquired cold feet and decided to back Clinton more vigorously. But it was fleeting and the cold dread that settled deeper into my stomach as the results came in elicited no tears or shrieks, despite the fact that I saw Donald Trump as a dangerous presence as early as 1994, when I was a freshman in college.
I remember being struck by his aura of threat, hate and sleaze even as a young, politically inexperienced adult.
"You were never as idealistic as the rest of us," my mom says of my dire warnings about Donald Trump a year ago.
Hey! Wait just one blessed minute!
Is this more of that theory claiming idealists can't be realistic in their assessment of a threat?
I have always been told that I am the one who is too idealistic. My lifetime of activism has centered around demanding the protection of the earth and the rights to health care and equal opportunity for everyone. Basic idealism stuff.
And given what is happening now, I certainly hope people don't decide to throw out idealism in favor of some sort of apathetic "realism" that implies acceptance of the worst sides of humanity as supreme.
The fact is that a realistic view of the world and idealism in action are not mutually exclusive at all.
Just consider this. Is it more idealistic to become bitter when reality comes down hard or to face the worst realities and refuse to give up a belief in ethics?
It is important to recognize and foster idealism--that passionate belief that we can and should do better in our society.
What I fear most is what will happen when all of those who now protest get outrage fatigue and go back to business as usual in the "new normal" that includes rampant public racism, denial of climate change, corporate whims as law and white, Christian, cookie-cutter America "first."
Because believe me, that's where we're headed if we lose the "idealism" of the current movement. People can get used to anything and the most terrible state of affairs can come to seem "normal."
I would argue that true idealism is clear-eyed and real. Look at the situation for what it is. Call out injustice in all forms, the great and the small. Demand justice. And go on demanding it, so that your grandchildren can still go on demanding it. That's the idealist goal. Nothing so unrealistic.
Realistic idealists don't secretly harbor the hope of a perfect, "ideal" world emerging. You don't have to buy into faith in the "steady progress" of humanity toward peace, equality and freedom. You don't even have to believe that your one life will do any lasting good..
No, idealism is only persistence. You keep protesting injustice and demanding justice, peace and equality, no matter the odds, no matter how long and no matter the response, because if you don't, the situation would be that much worse and the silence would be that much deeper. The act of protest--the lack of silence over injustice--is often the actual goal.
Now we all know it is going to be a long hard road for as long as Donald Trump is president of the United States. It has only been a month and we already feel shell-shocked. If it is naivete that got us into this mess, let's turn it into a realistic idealism that persists.
Do not accept the "new normal." Do not go back to your kitchen sinks and cubicle jobs. At least don't go quietly.
Be a realist because you see what is happening and be an idealist because you don't let it break you.