My novel Amiga is about a character who must look to her past to solve problems in her present. But she finds herself confronted with the question, “What if it’s different this time?” We face problems that look familiar, so we think we can take the same actions and wind up with the same solutions. That isn’t always the case.
Let’s look at something small, like replacing the handle on a toilet. I’ve done this dozens of times before. I replaced the handle itself in a couple minutes, but the toilet still wouldn’t flush. I had to adjust the angle of the arm and length of the chain several times until the toilet flushed properly.
It’s small details you can easily overlook that can trip you up.
It’s especially true with larger, more crucial issues like health, personal, and family problems. I’ve tried addressing serious issues with the same approaches my parents used, or fixes that worked for me decades ago. Those old solutions didn’t work, and they often made things worse. The situation can look the same, but the people we are dealing with are different—including ourselves.
Then there are crucial political issues. This is the third impeachment process in my lifetime. In the previous two, the constitutional guardrails held in place. Nixon resigned at the urging of congressional Republicans and for the good of the country. Clinton was acquitted, but after a full trial with documents and testimony. He emerged contrite and humbled.
But what are we to make of Trump? Throughout his life, he has shown no restraint, no accountability, and no consequences. He lacks self-reflection and humility, and he has a vindictive appetite for dominance and retaliation. Now that the Republicans have given him carte blanche, how much further will he abuse his power? Will he go after his political opponents? Will voters be able to voice their opinions in November? Will we ever have free and fair elections again? And does the public even care as long as they get a good steady paycheck, a growing balance in their 401(k), and new 5G iPhones in the fall?
What if it is different this time?
History can offer lessons, insight, and some comfort. The pendulum does swing. Leaders don’t stay in power forever. Peaceful protest has been effective against even repressive regimes. Wrongs can be righted. The arc of history does bend towards justice, even though the arc is often long and can get twisted and sidetracked along the way. History may not tell us exactly what to do about the situation we are in today. It can guide us in what to do in its aftermath.
The most important lesson from our past is endurance. The only way out is through, and it takes our patience and persistence. As a character says in Amiga:
[N]o one knows what the future has in store. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. No one knows the outcome of our choices, no matter how well we think them through. All I know is that we have to carry on, no matter what happens next. We can’t hold on to the past or run away from the consequences of our actions. We can’t give up when things get too hard or too scary. All we can do is live.
We will get through this. It may be difficult, but we will get through this.