Problems without ready solutions

Dear President Trump,

I told you last winter that one of my superiors at work accused me of taking potshots at people. It was conveyed during a meeting in which I was exploring whether to apply for a position I think I’d be well suited for but would require me to shift my focus quite a bit so wanted to check in on what that might mean for my research program. (The position still doesn’t exist and it’s unclear that it ever will so whether I do or don’t apply is completely theoretical right now and beside the point I intend to make in today’s letter.) There were some additional things said that made it clear that I wasn’t likely to be taken seriously as an applicant, which seriously chafed, but it was the potshot comment that really got under my skin.

My understanding of the meaning of “potshot” was and is consistent with the online dictionary’s definition, which is:

“a shot aimed unexpectedly or at random at someone or something with no chance of self-defense or a criticism, especially a random or unfounded one”

Taking potshots is absolutely something I do not do. As you know, I will occasionally indulge in some unnecessarily mean stuff (I’ve been feeling a little badly about calling out Mitch McConnell’s saggy-ness), but that’s the extent to which I allow myself to throw zingers. At work I readily acknowledge that I am one of the people who can be counted on to speak up if something doesn’t seem logical or there’s an elephant stomping around in the middle of the room that needs to be called out. I’ve learned over the years, though, that I need to use this super power carefully and not clobber people with it since humans don’t respond well when their stuff gets pointed out, especially publicly. Plus, being female it’s extra tricky to navigate those truth-to-power (or just truth-to-the-room) dynamics.

Because the comment bothered me so much, I checked in with a good handful of people about it and while it’s possible they didn’t want to say they agree with the person so as not to hurt my feelings, the immediate confusion and disbelief apparent on their faces when I asked their opinions was so clear that I don’t think they were protecting me in disagreeing with the superior’s assessment. Thus, feeling surer of myself and feeling clear that I didn’t have much to lose (he’d already telegraphed that he wasn’t interested in me for the maybe-to-be-position), I asked to meet with him. When we met I brought up the potshot comment and said that I didn’t understand why he said it and that it was hurtful. I also said that it felt gendered and that I doubted he would accuse a man of taking potshots for speaking up about study designs that were off or departmental policy changes that didn’t seem to be considering this or that.

He listened and although he didn’t recall having used that term with me, he acknowledged that it’s one he uses and that he could easily imagine having said it to me because he gets frustrated when I bring up problems without offering possible solutions.

There it is – this idea that it’s not ok to bring up problems without offering solutions is what I wanted to get at with you today. In the meeting I did have the wherewithal to say to the boss-person that I think his definition of potshot is off and that it doesn’t make sense to require a menu of solutions when raising concerns, and I think I was fairly diplomatic when I made these points. The reason, though, that I am bothering to draw all this out for you is that it really has felt awful not to have reasonable solutions to offer in the face of the Trump-led GOP being completely liberated from operating within the bounds of truth and decency. I think I’m in good company, but holy shit is it painful not being able to marshal a solid plan for combating you all without resorting to strategies that are equally debauched.

Yes, I know that organizing and getting out the vote is crucial, but you all have so undermined confidence in (and access to) the election system that it almost (not entirely, but almost) feels pointless to put energy there. My fear, and again, I am not alone, is that you and Vladimir are pulling so many strings and pushing so many levers behind the Facebook/Twitter/ETC scenes and laughing at our earnest, naïve efforts that it almost doesn’t feel worth going there. But what are the f*cking alternatives? I don’t see us taking to the streets in the mass numbers needed to wake people the hell up. At least not yet. Who knows, though? Maybe if Mitch McM sticks with you and Vladimir like he’s promising we’ll finally make some serious noise.

May we be safe as we navigate this next bit.
May we be willing to appreciate how dire our situation is.
May we get that dictatorships are not healthy on any level that matters.
May we not make peace with the slow boil.

Tracy Simpson

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