Part Eleven: A Personal Note to Scientific Rebels

A Personal Note to Scientific Rebels

Part Eleven of Thirteen

In the fall of 2008, if you had asked me what keeps me up most nights, I probably would not have said “the end of democracy.” Politically speaking, I was more optimistic about our country’s future than I’d ever been.

These were the beginning of the Obama years, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I dared hope that our country was truly turning the corner – the most qualified and thoughtful candidate had just been elected, and by a fairly wide margin. Was it possible that the worst was behind us? If a Black man could be elected president, a leader of the free world, would it not be possible for our country to finally start living up to the ideals on which we were founded?

For a brief moment in American history, it seemed so.

At the time, America was still reeling from the financial meltdown that reached critical mass in the last few months of the Bush presidency. In spite of the market crash and fears over a global economic crisis, hope was almost palpable – especially among young people.

But as soon as Obama’s first term got underway, conservatives made it clear they planned to double down on their white supremacist roots rather than evolve toward equality. From Trump’s exuberant promotion of the birther conspiracy to the rejuvenated Klansmen and neo-Nazis extorting their brethren to emerge from their collective basements, Obama’s election served as a wake-up call for white supremacists.

It was reminiscent of the white supremacist opposition to Reconstruction after the Civil War. The backlash against the nation’s first Black president and his policies quickly rose to a fever pitch. Conservatives fought against every Obama initiative and stonewalled every attempt to find bipartisan solutions. They have not only perfected the weaponization of religion, but they’ve also perfected the Big Lie. From stolen election lies to lies about Black Lives Matter protests and trans kids – and of course, lies about the economy.

Elections are often swayed by the state of the economy immediately before an election. Inflation and high interest rates are more front and center than, say, the extraordinary rise in employment during Biden’s term. With his comically staged, un-reality show, The Apprentice, Trump managed to fool people into believing he’s a self-made business tycoon and a card-carrying member of Mensa.

In that respect, it’s not too surprising that Trump’s fans buy into even his most fantastic claims, like he’s “done more for Black Americans than anybody, with the possible exception” of Lincoln. Trump’s policies created or contributed to many of the economic and geopolitical problems we face today, yet he still takes credit for conditions improving even though he’s been out of office for nearly four years. His policies will more than likely exacerbate those problems if he’s elected.

Fast forward to 2024, and in November of this year there is a very real chance we witness the death of democracy in America. And for those who already find themselves persecuted because of the color of their skin, desire for bodily autonomy, gender identity, sexual orientation, or general nonconformance to a conservative Christian ethos, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

When I speak of the threats that lay before us, it may seem hopeless at times, but I am not without hope. When I look at Trump’s legion of fans and his lead in swing states, I have a sense of urgency, but I am not desperate.

Rebellion is more than a rallying cry. It is a state of mind, a state of being that allows us to recognize the harsh reality of our situation yet remain focused on what we need to do in this moment. It allows us to sit with the knowledge of how bad things may get, but not spend any of our emotional and intellectual energy worrying about outcomes.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Lucy Grealy, “Joy is a kind of fearlessness, a letting go of expectations that the world should be anything other than what it is.”

I cannot offer assurances of a victory, but I can assure you that your efforts will not be vain. We will be on this journey together and there is joy in that. There is joy in the fight.

Peter Tchoryk

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