Dear President Trump,
~Heads up – I’ve got a lot to say today~
I’m afraid it’s going to take a lot more than a few folks scattering bits of joy to shift things in a better direction. I just finished reading this morning’s HP piece on the recent scary spike in teen suicide and it prompted me to think about something I read not long ago about how increasing numbers of US citizens in their 20’s and 30’s are opting not to have children. I may be out in left field on this, but I think these things are related.
Unfortunately neither article got down to root causes. The teen suicide article focused on community’s efforts to teach people the warning signs that someone is in trouble and offered some acknowledgment that stigma around mental health issues is a problem. The no-kids article focused on how people don’t want to take on the responsibility for children, emphasizing the economic challenges associated with childrearing. All of this rings true and makes some good sense, but it doesn’t go far enough.
Consider this – the pastor profiled in the HP article said that in the last two years he has held services for 32 teens and adults who killed themselves, which is more such services than he conducted in the prior 20 years. His (admittedly large) congregation is in a pretty wealthy, mostly Republican suburb. What changed two years ago? I know you know, I can practically see you waving your hand in your excitement to answer this question – right – you became POTUS.
As with other shitty things that have gotten much worse on your watch, it would be lazy and plain wrong to blame the horrible number of people who killed themselves in Pastor Hamilton’s congregation solely on you. I’d like to. It would simplify things a lot; it would maybe mean that if we can hold on and wait you out, those of us still standing can just press the restart button and things will be ok when you leave the Oval Office. Well, actually, even if you were completely to blame, we wouldn’t get a do over like that since you’ve laid waste to so much of what used to hold us together and it’s not all magically going to repair itself the day you leave office. Plus the birth rate has been falling and the suicide rate has been increasing for many, many years, not just since you came on the scene.
Ok, so it’s not just you. But I think there are clues to what’s going on that are put in relief by how much worse things have become in the last two years. I think your tenure as president is associated with a major increase in despair such that a lot of people don’t believe things can ever really get better and they look down the timeline and just see things getting worse. They also see the people in charge (however they got to be in charge) purposely making things worse, blowing smoke, and gas lighting everyone. Although I would never advocate suicide and I still think there’s enough hope that people can rationally choose to have children, my sense is that an awful lot of folks are feeling too much pressure to conform and succeed so they can join a harried workforce, if they can even get jobs. Plus, I think this social and emotional overwhelm is compounded when they look at what we’re doing to the planet and see that our primary, most visible leader (you) doesn’t seem to give a shit about the planet’s future and therefore their future (let alone their children’s future) so taking themselves out or opting not to have children makes some serious sense.
Just to be clear – while I do think it’s possible and likely that some who are choosing not to have children are consciously considering climate change in their decision-making, I doubt that anyone who killed themselves specifically factored this in; rather it is likely part of the overwhelm and hopelessness they feel.
So yes, we need to look out for each other and pull one another back from the ledge. We have to destigmatize despair and mental health issues. We have to find ways to instill real hope. But if we are going to do anything other than slap some feel-good bandaids on we are going to have to engage in serious reckoning and even more serious hard work. And ultimately, there are no guarantees we can actually turn things around, but we’ve got to try.
May we commit to the planet’s safety.
May we hold out for true happiness rather than short-term pleasant distraction.
May we attend in real ways to our collective dis-ease.
May we all be courageous peace-makers.