I have never written a political column and do not intend to do so now. We will see if I succeed in that.
Provincetown is one of the bluest dots in a fairly deep blue state. Across Massachusetts, only Cambridge had a lower percentage vote for Trump in the last election. The rest of the Outer Cape came up fairly blue as well. It is often said that we live in a “bubble” relative to the disastrous state of affairs in the rest of the country.
What exactly does that mean? Certainly, different things to different people, but let’s try to capture some of the essence of our “bubble”: a prevailing level of joyousness; an appreciation of our natural world, our neighborhoods, and each other; not just tolerance but acceptance of differences (sometimes with a bit of headshaking); a sense of community; civility; good will; friendliness.
And many of the issues being hotly debated elsewhere in the country are fairly resolved here. They amount to, basically, the primacy of well-being for all: universal health care and pre-K, assistance with child care, ample support for our schools, guaranteed paid family leave, dignified elder care, mental health initiatives, assured voting rights (one person, one vote), humane immigration policies, responsible community-based policing, equitable justice, sensible gun control, reduced military spending, fair tax policies, and a healthy world that we can all live in, with environmental protections, green energy, and climate crisis interventions.
But progress on all these issues seems to be losing ground nationally, and the Democratic prospects for Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024 are said to be less than good. (I said this would not be a political column. Democrats do not have all the answers, but their positions on the above issues more closely align with the prevailing views on the Outer Cape, and with mine.) How can this be? Can we, inside our “bubble,” even begin to understand the mood of the country outside? Granted we need to acknowledge a diversity of opinions on any topic, but how can we be so far from the mainstream?
Beyond policy differences, people on the political right are more apt to view government with suspicion, believe in conspiracy theories (“Stop the Steal”), see violence as a legitimate means to political ends (the January 6 insurrection), and disavow science with a willful and arrogant ignorance (climate change, vaccination). As Brian Williams said, “the darkness at the edge of town” has spread across communities. How can we be so out of sync?
The larger question is what to do about it. For many, the answer is despair, hopelessness, resignation, and withdrawal. How many times have you heard someone say that, if it gets any worse, he or she will leave the country? Perhaps you have said it. (But where does one go? The slide to the right is worldwide.)
Another frequently mentioned tactic is to stay right here and retreat as much as possible to the woods, the dunes, or the outer beach. This appeals to me, since the natural world has always been my respite. But there is something about it that smacks of solipsism and selfishness, turning one’s back on the ills of the world rather than confronting them. And, if you are a thinking person, it does not work. Thoreau said that his serenity on his solitary walks was spoiled “by remembrance of my country.” He was at that time outraged, justifiably, by the horrendous 1854 Slave Recovery Act.
So, what is left? Activism, I suppose. Throw yourself into every battle, every cause, every issue that you believe in. March, protest, contribute: put your body (and your wallet) on the line for your convictions. But this, too, is not a perfect fit for me. Taken to extremes, this tactic will squeeze the very life out of you. For example, people needlessly idling their cars drives me nuts, but I cannot spend my days prowling the Stop & Shop parking lot haranguing offenders.
Mary Oliver famously asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ With your one wild and precious life?”
In this year of creeping political darkness, I wish I had an answer.