I hate the Keep Calm memes. It isn’t just that I don’t like the choices, flippant or worse, of words used to finish that sentence–although I won’t soon forget eating dinner with my family at our local pub about a week after Sandy Hook and finding ourselves at a table next to a couple sporting matching tees that read “Keep Calm and Carry Guns.” It frustrates me that people can’t be bothered to google a little bit of history. If you aren’t aware of its origins, the now iconic Keep Calm and Carry On poster is what the British Ministry of Information was secretly holding in reserve to be used for morale-boosting after its people were conquered by the Nazis. You know, after Hitler had bummed everyone out by executing his plans to do things like publicly hang the royal family, and kill off British children with disabilities, and punish non-whiteness and non-Christianity and homosexuality with life sentences to be served at concentration camps. Thinking about the intent of that poster still has the ability to hurt my heart a little, knowing how frightening that time was, when it wasn’t clear that right would prevail, or that anyone would ever be safe again. I wish it commanded more respect.
I find myself thinking about the sentiment behind the original Keep Calm posters the morning after the shock of this presidential election. Let me stop you there, I’m aware that Donald Trump has not, to date, perpetuated a genocide, and I am not comparing him to Hitler. Among other reasons I don’t care for argument by analogy. But do I listen to my elders, who were there for the Second World War, when they tell me they’ve seen this before? You bet I do.
There is an elderly man who lives in my neighborhood, and with whom I sometimes chat at the bus stop. I don’t know his story, only that he appears to be in his 90s and speaks with a German accent. I imagine he has seen a lot. So it chilled me when, several months ago after violent conflict at a Trump rally in another state, my neighbor told me in tones of deep resignation, “That is the end of democracy.”
Being American doesn’t mean the same thing to me today that it meant yesterday. I am disappointed, and I am afraid. I am afraid for democracy, and for peace, and for myself, and for my countrymen, and for my country. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump and his supporters have no plans to hang the first family…but I’m not that sure. I don’t think the president elect cares one fig what happens to children with disabilities, queer Americans, immigrants, Muslims, or Jews. If he doesn’t actually want to kill the people he despises, well, he doesn’t care enough to defend our lives either.
And I’m angry at myself. I’m angry that I didn’t realize that I was living in the middle of a battleground state. I should have been the last to underestimate the racism of Wisconsin’s white people. They are my patients, and they tell me all about it. From the mom wearing confederate flag nail art in her child’s hospital room, to the man who confides in me why he won’t rent to Mexicans, to the granny that tells me she isn’t racist she just doesn’t care for black people because she can’t stand laziness. Mostly I am angry that I vanished up my own behind worrying about getting into a residency and I let that and the other stresses in my life distract me from the work that needed to be done. I owe amends.
Today, as we grieve, there is nothing else to do but carry on. I think Jay Smooth puts it best when he says, “We come from a tradition of resistance. Just as surely as America’s history is the story of…hate, it is also the story of our resistance.”
Though it’s not sufficient, as a future pediatrician I’m responsible for carrying on with the training that will allow me some small power to protect children. Children with disabilities, children who survive abuse and neglect and violence, children living in poverty, children in danger of being separated from their families by deportation, children traumatized by discrimination of all kinds.
I’ll leave you with a different British propaganda poster, one that was printed and circulated during the worst violence visited on the British people: