In cooking, as in almost everything, there are rules and norms. Sometimes those rules are for the optimal result, other times for anything close to the desired result. If you get egg yolk (or any other fat such as residual oil in your mixing bowl) in your egg whites they will never get stiff. Forgo preheating your oven and pastry won’t puff, cookies will spread into flat, ugly globs. These aren’t my rules, they are science. Most of the rules of cooking, particularly baking, are scientific and the reason it matters if you follow the recipe. Norms are washing your hands; a lot and cleaning as you go.
As we navigate life there are also rules and norms, many of which are based on such things as logic, accepted protocols, and common sense. Freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to yell “fire” in a crowded auditorium, and though it means you are free to express your opinion expressing it over and over doesn’t make it true or truer.
When you get to the top (or bottom) of the escalator you must keep moving. If you stop to orient yourself or adjust your bags and parcels mayhem can ensue. It’s expected that if you are one of those people who lifts the toilet seat for any reason, when you are done, you’ll put it back where you found it. We are taught it is against the rules to steal, cheat or lie.
Suddenly (or not) many of the rules and norms I’ve relied on for my entire life have evaporated. What was once unacceptable behavior is now OK and can even get you elected president. For all of my life—regardless of the party in power I’ve maintained my life without a great deal of thought about government. Now I feel worried and insecure. For the past several months I obsessively check the news and social media to see what new assault is being waged on life as I know it. Yes, this is about Donald Trump, but it isn’t political it’s personal.
I have lived through many administrations, both Democrat and Republican, and never before have I felt that my way of life and my country were in irresponsible hands. Every day I wake worried about what might have happened since I fell asleep. I don’t feel safe because the guy in the White House has proven himself to be dishonest and untrustworthy; repeatedly.
I have rules. I have standards and deal breakers. I demand honesty and forthrightness from friends, why shouldn’t I demand the same from the person whose salary I pay? Sure, you may argue, all politicians lie but never has there been such systemic, profound and purposeful dishonesty. It is insulting for an entire administration to lie about what I can clearly see and hear for myself. It is dangerous for the person with such tremendous power to not only lie but tell different and conflicting stories about the same thing. It is troubling that his supporters don’t deny it, but seem comfortable with his constant dissembling.
If a friend of mine was unkind or acted disrespectfully I would question the value of that friendship. What if they repeatedly acted callous, cruel and insulting to others? That would be enough for me to end the relationship. I cannot end my relationship with Mr. Trump; I am at the mercy of the branches of our government to hold him accountable, and so far they appear to be failing. I can resist I can march and protest, I can complain and share my experience and (vetted) news stories, but I cannot force action.
For better or worse, I am a rule follower. When I work for an employer I follow their rules and guidelines. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t question those rules, but I follow the protocols for those challenges. I obey the law (the occasional jay-walk excepted) and expect others to do the same. I rely on this. I have always relied on elected officials to do the same, but suddenly we have a president who acts as if our customs, rules, and norms do not apply to him, his family or his administration. The impact of this on me personally is shockingly stressful. To have a president I cannot trust to act honorably is deeply unsettling.
I could talk about political issues that I care about and are being challenged by the party in power, but that is not what is literally keeping me up at night. I worry we’ll enter a senseless war as a result of a perceived slight. Mr. Trump’s admiration for authoritarians worries me. His apparent need for praise and adulation are dangerous, and his inability to listen to critics means he is impervious to the voices of the citizens he pledged to serve.
I don’t know what I hope for, as there is no good ending to our current situation. If we’re lucky the world will keep turning and America will still be a democracy in a few years. I have no idea when, if ever, we will return to the rules and norms of my generation. My estimate is that it will take us twenty years to recover from this administration, and I fear the permanent impact our withdrawal from The Paris Agreement will have on the environment. I’m relieved to see so many state officials pledging to stand by that agreement.
Will we be able to move forward with grace and dignity? Will we grow more divided, fearful and violent with those who can’t or won’t see things our way? Not so long ago I’d go weeks without thinking about what it means to be an American, now I wonder every day. For now, I will keep working, raising my daughter and cooking. I will try to hold fast to my values and make decisions based on love rather than anger. I will follow the rules and norms that have informed my life. I will resist.