According to Darwin, the earthworm is an essential player in creating the fertile conditions for the perpetuation of plant life. I remember the earthworms of my Brooklyn childhood. Slimy and gray, fattened on a diet of dirt and decay, they crawled to the surface through cracks in the sidewalk. In a display of girlish torment I jumped over those cracks, trying not to squish the worms under my rain boots as I walked to school on drizzly spring mornings.
The worm I’m picturing now is much larger. It turns the soil underground: under the concrete and steel towers of today’s New York City. This mega worm has unearthed itself. It is focused, greedy, and angry. Because it has no spine it has easily crawled to the surface, in the midst of our current national shit storm. This worm is named Donald.
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.
The purpose of the writer is to shine a light on the darkest recesses of the human psyche, to grapple with truth in all of its complexity. My MFA program provides a home for that purpose. It supports diversity, encourages discourse, and nurtures community, challenging me to push past my own comfort zone. For that gift I am grateful.
We are doubly blessed as Americans. This nation is dynamic in its diversity. Despite our challenges, our ongoing tradition of welcome and assimilation provides an abundance of opportunity to expand community. It’s a unique chance for ongoing growth, not in population but in the cultivation of empathy and generosity toward one another. This is the gift we give ourselves.
A catalyst is needed for growth, however. It doesn’t just happen. Like the worm that turns over dirt and dead leaves, the worm named Donald is turning over our nation’s buried fears and prejudices. He is fertilizing the country’s dark side.
Acceptance of diversity has always been our struggle. And the American brand of multiculturalism is so much more than the problem of race. It’s a complex stew of class, lifestyle, education, language, regionalism, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender dynamic, marital trends, employment, crime and mass incarceration, immigration, military service, age, zip code, and all possible combinations of the above.
Race is just the thread that worms its way through the whole, weaving in and out of our nation’s convoluted subcultures. This constantly evolving landscape leaves many of us bewildered, vulnerable to various stressors, and for some, vulnerable to manipulation. Enter Donald. Like an opportunistic invertebrate gorging on fresh vegetation, he exploits our anxiety, fattening himself on our collective pain.
I sometimes feel we Americans could use family counseling with the way we retreat to our ethnic and class corners during times of crisis and cultural upheaval. But collective therapy in our complicated society is expensive. It requires good insurance and the clicking on of that inner flashlight to courageously probe those dark psychic caverns. It’s hard work, demanding commitment and a willingness to look at ourselves while accepting full responsibility for what we find. Difficult at any age, this becomes a greater challenge as we mature.
And the maturation of our nation has been both painful and hard won. We’ve lived through much trauma: from slavery and civil war to the slaughter and dislocation of our indigenous people, from Jim Crow, two world wars, The Great Depression, Japanese internment, Vietnam and assassinations to civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the right to choose, and the ongoing reverberations of all of it. Battle scars, slow healing wounds, and open sores litter the landscape of our collective consciousness. The trauma would have caused the demise of a less robust nation. Yet here we are.
Still, there is work to be done. That hungry worm has waited for just the right shit storm to crawl up and into. We cannot avoid him by jumping over cracks in the sidewalk. His presence on the scene has encouraged and laid bare the underbelly of our national character, the sexist and racist intolerance that our better nature struggles to keep in check. It’s the fear that bubbles from deep within whenever our country is challenged with the inevitability of change.
The tragedy of 9/11, the most recent financial crisis, and the election of our first Black President have further shaken our collective sense of identity. We’ve fallen victim to both an outsized fear of the future and the magical belief that President Obama would save the day. He was never a super hero, you know. He didn’t jump fully formed out of a Marvel comic book.
Then there exists the deep xenophobia that fuels our debates on immigration, our continued scapegoating of men of color in the name of law and order, and our fear that the election of a woman to the Presidency will threaten our longstanding patriarchal tradition.
As our nation moves forward in the midst of these challenges, we are faced with two visions of ourselves.The first is of a nation that continues to refine its sense of justice and equality, and the second is of a country that cowers in fear from evolving too rapidly into something they don’t recognize.
This moment-in-time has exposed how difficult it is to live up to our own values—to be the nation that others strive to reach, the nation where no matter who you are or where you’re from, there is the promise of a better day ahead and a chance to live free.
So here we are, facing the possibility of electing a fascist-leaning strongman who shows little regard and even less respect for the ideas laid down by our Founding Fathers. The worm has churned its way to the surface.
Though I fear for what this moment-in-time could mean for our nation, I strive to feel grateful. I want to believe that this is an opportunity to take another leap of faith forward, toward the America we all hold in our hearts.
With this in mind I want to thank you, Donald, for causing me to face myself: my lingering prejudice, fear, resentment, and tendency to blame others. Thank you, Donald, for forcing me to look at my selfishness and my lack of empathy.
Thank you for reminding me that complacency breeds ignorance, that taking responsibility for my actions is the act of a grown-up and that, through your example, I can say with certainty that I have, thankfully left my adolescence behind.
Thank you for showing me how I’ve come to revere the superficial, and how easily manipulated I am by artifice, propaganda, and stagecraft. For reminding me what misogyny, xenophobia, self-aggrandizement, arrogance, bogus wealth, and empty celebrity look like up close.
Thank you, Donald, for showing us our ugly. For burrowing through the scab of our darkest tendencies, forcing the oozing pus of hatred and intolerance up to the surface. It affords an opportunity to disinfect and apply fresh bandages, to begin the healing anew, to learn from the experience knowing that, as a nation, crisis is always in our future. We understand this is a long recovery. For only through facing ourselves can we learn to grow better and stronger, continue to strive toward the ideal that brings so many hopeful immigrants to our shores.
You, Donald, are the manifestation of our collective id, exposed for all to see in the stark light of day. We forgive you for the circus you’ve imposed on the American public. We accept our participation in the duplicity and know that you couldn’t have done it without our tacit agreement. So we’re good.
But we’re awake now. And though the hangover is a bitch, we see clearly what must be done. Decide whether you, Donald, represent the version of ourselves that we want to embody. Decide whether you, Donald, represent the part of ourselves we want to show to our children, our neighbors, and our world.
Now is not the time to jump over cracks. Now is not the time to deny what is staring us in the face. Now is the time to stand and face our selves.
There is danger for the worm when it exposes itself to the light of day. As it churns the soil in a single-minded focus to reach the surface, the worm leaves itself vulnerable to hungry birds and rain boots. According to Darwin the earthworm is essential in creating healthy conditions for growth.
We are in the midst of a growth spurt. Now is the time to decide in which direction we want to grow.
For this opportunity, Donald, we thank you.