Ugly Mug

Nice mug.

The owner of my favorite coffee shop buys his mugs at yard sales. I never know which one he’ll give me. It might be the one with a caffeine molecule (C8H10N4O2), or the one with Mother is another word for love in purple cursive across a heart. Once I got My Sister, My Friend, with some tiny flowers bordering a poem to someone who’s more than my sister, who’s my forever friend. It concludes, “How much more I appreciate you now / than when we were kids!” I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself moved by this cheesy mug. My sisters live far away, and I’ve been a little emotional since November 2016.

Also a nice mug.

A few months ago, the barista set a new mug on the counter. It was big and white and it said in thick, graceless letters, totally sans serif, Thank GOD For FOX NEWS. I took a step back—was this a hate crime? I live in Portland, Oregon, so it might have been.

But I’m the kind of customer who doesn’t make waves. I’ll wait half an hour before asking where my breakfast sandwich is, because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I hate talking to them. So I just I took my pro-voter-suppression coffee mug to a table and opened my laptop to do some writing.

But I couldn’t concentrate. There, right next to my screen, was this climate-change-denying mug, mocking not just me and our fragile planet but also the rules of title capitalization. And, of course, the message itself was infuriating. Who thanks God for Fox? Who made this? Did someone pay money for it? (I understood why the coffee shop owner bought it. He’s a fellow Gen X-er, an old punk. All of life is a miserable joke to him.) Did someone unironically buy this mug?

I’m picturing a straight, white, cisgender “Christian” in his sixties, angry at everybody for how the world has changed, how his dominion has been stolen from him. But not at Fox News. As long as Fox is on, he’s still in charge. He can love the death penalty even more than he hates abortion. He can believe that torture works, Santa is white, Jesus was basically Swedish, women are asking for it by daring to be in public, and collusion and extortion are totally not crimes. The Bible is his Swiss Army knife, which he can use to decry homosexuality, dismiss science, and defend serial sexual predators.

Tough mug.

The longer I sat with it, the more that mug started to piss me off. What could be less godly than a network famed for racist dog whistling, sexual harassing, climate-change-denying chicken hawks?

And that’s not even the Fox News logo. This mug is unsanctioned, pirated by a Christ-loving, copyright-hating amateur comedian. What was the lightbulb moment for him, and how many did he order? Did he give them as gag gifts to his liberal relatives? Did he sell them out of the trunk of his car? Does he have any mugs about guns? Or abortion? How much coffee am I drinking without thinking about abortion while I do it?

I stared that mug for fifteen minutes before I realized I wasn’t getting any work done. Had I become such a snowflake that I could be trolled by a cup?

Apparently. But after three years of daily outrage, I know I need to let go of my anger before it becomes cancer. Maybe by being mindful of it, I can stop myself from feeding it. I can stop myself from thinking of those people as those people, from hating them, and from taking any joy in watching Trump disappoint them like he has every other person in his life.

Sitting in my coffee shop contemplating this sneering mug, I breathed deeply. I drank out of it, because coffee always calms people down. I wondered if the mug was a lesson, or a challenge that could become a lesson: Thank GOD For FOX NEWS. Could I do that? Is my mind nimble enough to imagine how Fox might be a force for good?

Not really. But I don’t want Fox News fans to suffer. They’re already so full of toxic anger that they have to relieve the pressure by trolling libs with social media posts and coffee cups. And I only want Trump and his enablers to suffer as an educational tool for them and other would-be dictators and con artists. But I won’t feed the beast. I won’t imagine elaborate forms of karmic retribution. And I won’t blame my fellow Americans for being duped by sophisticated propagandists who played on their prejudices and the trauma of decades of war, corruption, job loss, predatory lending, ruinous healthcare costs, insidious advertising, and an opioid epidemic. 

OK, maybe love is too much to ask for, right off the bat. But it’s possible to tolerate them, to meet their fear and anger with patience. Shantideva, eighth-century Indian Buddhist monk, said we should be grateful to our enemies because they give us the chance to practice tolerance, which is the basis of compassion. If I’m tolerating your small-minded bullshit, maybe I’ll start to see how you came to be so full of it. Maybe I’ll understand you a little better, see how your hatred and fear are the result of everything you’ve been told in your life being a lie, of your finding no happiness in your possessions or privilege.

Maybe, with a little more feeling for you and your suffering, I act nicer to you. I don’t tell you to fuck off. And you, as a result, don’t tell me to fuck off. Maybe you think, “Hey, that hippie Jew isn’t so bad. He’s definitely not party to any international banking conspiracy. And if he’s running Hollywood, he’s sure got a funny way of going about it, spending eight years writing a novel nobody’ll publish, much less read.”

Easy now, fictional right-wing religious zealot—we’re still building trust. But maybe that’s exactly what you need: more ease in your life. That comes from feeling secure in food, shelter, and healthcare, so why don’t we work together on getting those for everyone?

A few weeks ago the coffee-shop owner handed me the Fox mug again. “Are you cool with it?” he asked. “Some people won’t drink out of it. I think it’s funny.”

“Pshaw, I’m cool with it,” I said. “It’s just a mug, no big deal.”