Leukemia Journal 115, Jan 1, 2017 – Grown-Ups

One of the tenets of Progressivism, as well as the Republican Party, is that economic growth equates with human growth, but I’m not sure that will happen with the new administration. Public goods: health care, education, transportation aren’t profitable and must be subsidized for the public good; not priorities based on recent cabinet appointments. For a couple of generations and more the American economy has been increasingly unfair to the poor, working and middle class. I have compassion for the angry white men who believe Trump will change their lives for the better, and the majority of us who voted for Hillary Clinton. Here’s what gives me hope.

Sara Paretsky lives in Chicago and writes the V I Warshawski crime novels. I’m re-reading them as escape, and encouragement after the presidential election. In her 2007 memoir of civil rights activism and novel writing, Paretsky wrote,

“My fiction mustn’t stray too far from the issues of voice, power, and the lives of people (in Chicago) who lack both.” (1) And tells this true story:

“A few years ago a group of women came to one of my readings in Chicago. They introduced themselves to me afterwards as wives of out of work steelworkers. With the death of the mills on Chicago’s south side, some of these husbands had been out of work for ten years; these women worked two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof overhead. They told me they had not read a book since leaving high school until someone told them V I grew up in their neighborhood. They came to my lecture to tell me that the blue-collar girl detective helped them get through this very difficult hand that life had dealt them” (2)

I voted for Hillary Clinton, but anger and fear prevailed in the election. What is it about a strong woman that brings out the worst in voters? Considering the president-elect, I don’t want to hear any more about “flawed candidate” either. According to a recent article in the Post-Dispatch, our peerless new leader, and I certainly hope so, one of him is too many, had his transition team ask the State Department for:

“. . . .details on programs aimed at benefiting women around the world, including staff members who worked to reduce gender-based violence and promote women in the workplace.

“Many of the programs were begun or were championed by Hillary Clinton. The latest email suggests the incoming Trump administration will attempt to roll back some of the State Department’s most innovative programs and may seek to penalize people who worked on them.

“The email asked the State Department to deliver ‘issue papers from bureaus and offices outlining existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence, promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.’

“While secretary of state, Clinton made women’s issues a top priority.

“An office was created to deal exclusively with ‘global women’s issues,’ and money was allocated for programs that promote education of girls, train women in marketable skills and offer micro loans.” (3)

Hillary Clinton is my kind of leader, working to empower women here, and in the global economy where millions of men can get no jobs at all. Somebody has to do what those Chicago steelworkers’ wives still do. Seems shortsighted on the part of the man who promised to bring back jobs and the good life, questioning programs for women. I like Hillary Clinton for a lot of reasons; her programs to empower women head the list.

Gwen Ifill and the PBS News Hour was, and is the only TV I watch regularly. Yes, she was black, but first she was an excellent journalist who loved the political process and strong, no-nonsense reporting. I liked her because she made black journalism seem natural in my daily news life, because it was obvious she and Judy Woodruff were friends, and because most of the years I watched News Hour and Washington Week, until the bewildering 2016 election campaign, they seemed to enjoy their work. Ifill, with that incandescent smile and hearty laugh, made me feel we’d be friends, too. Surely the best way the News Hour can honor Ifill is to choose another excellent black woman journalist. What are they waiting for?

Christmas Eve I watched network TV for the first time in years, the CBS Oprah interview with First Lady Michelle Obama, well, bits and scraps amidst interminable commercials. I admire Mrs. Obama. She’s been a strong First Lady, devoted to her family and military families, growing that sensible garden on the White House Lawn, promoting education for women and girls here and all over the world. When asked her response to negative press, insulting criticisms, being called an “angry black woman,” Michelle Obama replied, “We’re grown-ups.”

The following comments of Mrs. Obama are paraphrases, but she said again, about their welcome and White House tour with president-elect Trump and his wife, “We’re grown-ups. Of course we welcomed them.” She reviewed the generous welcome Laura Bush and Pres Bush both had given them. She emphasized that she and President Obama will offer the same to the new first family, “The White House changes you,” she said. “They’ll need help. We’ll do all we can. The Bushes responded to our calls more than once.” (4)

Christmas week we took our teen granddaughters to see Eagle Huntress, the story of Aisholpan, the 13 year old Mongolian girl who hoped to be an eagle hunter. Her mother said about her goal, “I want her to be happy.” In a conservative, patriarchal culture, Aisholpan’s father, and grandfather, broke with tradition and trained her. She climbed down a rocky mountainside to steal an eagle chick from its nest, supported only by her father’s hand made rope. She rode with him on horses across frozen valleys of the Altai Mountain range to hunt fox with her eagle, required final test. Aisholpan is a good example of the success a strong, supporting father can help a daughter achieve. I personally know many American fathers like Aisholpan’s. Strong men support strong women.

On the day she died, the Post carried a front page picture of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, in her white dress, cinnamon bun hair, snapping brown eyes and determined frown of the kid sister dumped with responsibilities of war and Empire.

“Help me, Ben Obi Wan,” she pleaded, “You are my only hope.”

But he was gone. The garbage crusher scene is my favorite: metaphor for life, and morality play of good and evil. She drew on her courage, plucky friends, a little help from the droids, but the job was hers, and she did it.

Fisher battled depression, drugs, weight, her own bad relationships; she told the truth about how tough it was. Nothing seemed easy but she gave life, and us, her best.

Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, managed to find three disastrous husbands, but went back to work after each divorce and financial ruin to pay off huge debts her husbands left her, take care of her children, and entertain us. Because we need escape as well as courage and responsibility in this world. Hollywood gossip, greedy for conflict and weakness in the famous, said theirs was a troubled relationship. Probably. Most of us have them. But look what these women, all of these women, real and fictional, model for us.

In her memoir, Paretsky wrote, “I recently re-read (Raymond) Chandler’s novels. . . . Philip Marlow’s loneliness stood out. Except for an occasional chess game with someone in the police department, he is alone all the time.

My detective couldn’t survive with so much loneliness. On the personal, micro level, she needs friends, dogs, lovers – she needs continuity and connection. On the larger stage, where she’s working, she’s actively engaged in crimes that affect whole communities.

“In Fire Sale, the twelfth novel in the series, she gets involved in a criminal investigation as a result of volunteering to coach the girl’s basketball team at her old South Chicago high school. It takes her into the heart of the harsh economic realities those families face.

“In the end she’s made a few things right for a very few people, but she feels it’s just a drop in the bucket of need on the south side. Unlike Philip Marlowe, who would sit alone brooding with his bottle of rye, his chess board and his records, V I goes out to dinner with her oldest friend, Lotty.” (5)

So, to Trump and his angry white men, and the myth of rugged individualism, first, we need each other to get through hard times, all the “others.” Second, here are women who make America great. Maybe the factories and prosperity of the 1950s will return, but until those fantasies materialize, I’m glad to be in the world with these brave, hard-working women.

(1) Sara Paretsky, Writing in an Age of Silence, New York, Verso, 2007. p 47.
(2) Paretsky, p. 76.
(3) Tracy Wilkinson, “Trump team asks for details on programs for women,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec 23, 2016.
(4) “First Lady Michelle Obama Says Farewell to the White House, An Oprah Winfrey Special.” CBS, originally aired Dec 19, 2016.
(5) Paretsky, p.100-101.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.