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Worrying every day about everything is our national pastime | Helen Ubiñas

How do we keep the faith when our faith-tanks are running low?

Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport in Avoca, Pa, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.
Supporters listen as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport in Avoca, Pa, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Say what you will about Mayor Kenney, but the man truly captured the spirit of our times this week.

When asked whether he was worried about the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions having a bigger impact on the city budget, Kenney said:

“I worry every day about everything.”

I mean, it’s no “So sad sometimes,” his preeminent pre-mayoral tweet. But it was damn close.

Because how do any of us do anything but worry these days? How are we not so sad all the time?

In just the last week, we had a “Million MAGA March” where there was a small fraction of a million in attendance, but still too many fellow Americans who enthusiastically pledged allegiance to an alternate reality.

A quarter of a million Americans are dead, and yet the president of the United States spends his time — when he’s not golfing — whining and tweeting about how horribly he’s been treated. I repeat, 250,000 of our loved ones are dead, and the president continues to play the victim card.

Closer to home, my niece can’t go home for Thanksgiving because she’s quarantined at her college after a classmate tested positive for COVID-19, and even though I haven’t seen my family in nearly a year, I count our blessings (or luck) because it could be so much worse.

I know because I talk to people every day who are struggling and grieving and barely hanging on emotionally and financially.

It is a never-ending horror show that can be summed up with: Everything is awful — still. That’s 646 words short of my allotted word count for this space (that I almost always go over) and yet accurate no matter what the glass-half-full types say.

I don’t mean to be harsh on the hopeful. There are moments I can be counted among them, including a few fleeting hours on Nov. 7 when Joe Biden was declared president-elect.

It wasn’t until I heard the first shouts of celebration on Germantown Avenue that I allowed myself to believe that the Trump administration’s assault on our country and democracy and mental health might finally come to an end.

I joined a growing crowd of people pouring into the streets cheering and ringing cowbells and honking car horns as they shared a collective exhale.

The church bells ringing in the distance nearly did me in.

And then out of nowhere, a car full of men — young white men — drove by screaming pro-Trump obscenities.

For a moment, everyone on my corner turned to them. But then just as quickly turned away.

There was a lesson in that for us, I thought. Although Trump’s outrageous stunts would be a lot easier to ignore if he wasn’t propped up by legions of his faithful — you know, the ones we’re still told we need to reach across the aisle or dinner table to understand.

Wajahat Ali wrote a column in the New York Times this week about how he tried to reach out to Trump supporters, and found that it’s not worth it.

I tried it, too — four years ago. And came to the same conclusion.

I stood in the crowd of one of Trump’s rallies in Hershey a month after he won, and I went cold as his supporters rabidly chanted, “Build the wall!”

I talked and listened and wrote about trying to reason with more Trump supporters than was healthy or productive.

Even after I declared the empathy tour was over, I sat with one of the letter-writers to whom my paper’s editorial page had provided a platform to say Black people ruin neighborhoods. The South Philly grandmother and Trump supporter insisted she wasn’t racist even as she blasted Black and brown kids for having the audacity to trick-or-treat on her street.

Later, she called me to ask if it was possible to be “half-racist,” since she didn’t say all Blacks ruin neighborhoods.

In Tamaqua, Pa., this summer, I considered stopping at a Trump truck rally before a guy looked at me and held up his hand in a white power sign.

In his essay, Ali offered some good advice about ways to better spend our time: registering new voters and supporting candidates whose values uplift everyone. And working against the lies and conspiracy theories and misinformation.

But it seems no matter how outlandish the claim on the election — George Soros! China! Venezuela! My Cousin Vinny! — the Trump cult laps it up as divine gospel.

What’s the point? I find myself asking more and more these days. What’s it going to take?

I was wondering that the other day while wading through Trump supporters’ propaganda and conspiracy theories and racial slurs filling my in-boxes.

I braced myself for what this 65-year-old woman was going to say. But then she thanked me for educating her on Black Lives Matter and other issues.

Despite myself, I felt my faith-tank fill a bit as she talked about how she believed and trusted in education and kindness.

We all have faith-tanks that are running low these days.

But that call reminded me that that’s OK — they don’t have to be full.

They just have to have enough faith in them to keep us going.