On giving up hope

Photo: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Rewind: 2016

Five years ago, the day after Donald Trump was elected, I was agonized yet not surprised. His victory, while far from inevitable, seemed like the flipside of Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. Both sides of the coin expressed parts of the USA I had learned to see as integral part of it: fear, hope; hate, love; racism, multi-culturalism; anti-intellectualism, intellectual brilliance; brutal corporatism, vibrant entrepreneurism; anti-etatism, idealistic institutionalism; isolationism, expansionsm; and so on (also see my German op-ed in Der Tagesspiegel written right after Trump’s election).

New Orleans, 2008; Photo: Private

I. Separating

Despite the human connection these people and I made during our conversations, these encounters deepened my sense of separateness. I felt that they were different than me. That their anger was rawer than mine. That their fear was different than what I felt.

II. Relating

Cover of my book Unlearn, out with Perspectiva Press in April 2021

III. Reassessing

In my experience, when we relate in a new way, we refocus: from the line that separated one category from the other — me from them, for instance — to ourselves.

New Orleans, 2008; Photo: Private

IV. Dissolving

Which brings us to the question: what happens to our perspective on those alleged others — the Trumps, Le Pens, Orbans, and those who follow them — once we give up the idea that we are separate from them? What happens once we see their condition not as something that they produce — but as a systemic expression of how we relate to each other? A result of a collective, largely unintentional co-creative process.

Photo: Private

V. Reconnecting

I believe the first step in doing so is to let go of hope. The hope that, one day, they will change. The hope that, one day, they and the world will be how we want it to be. The hope that we, somehow, can stay the same when we want to see so much else changed.

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