I’m still trying to wrap my mind – and, more difficultly, my heart – around the presidential election. You can talk about the failure of the Democrats to appeal to working-class voters; their reliance on the Barack Obama coalition (blacks, Latinos, women, millennials), which did not hold for the Dems – at least not in great enough numbers, and that includes you, Colin Kaepernick; a certitude, a smugness even, that wasn’t justified; the role of F.B.I. director James Comey in underscoring the tightening race in the last two weeks before the election; but at the end of the day, it was all about the zeitgeist.
Donald Trump was not merely the “change” candidate, again (Remember when Obama was the change candidate?); he was the regular-guy billionaire you could sit down and have a cheeseburger with, the one who understood America’s deeply ingrained nativist, isolationist, homogenous longings. This has always been – for all our forays into wars around the world – a determinedly inward-looking country. The rednecks, pioneers and cowboys who beat the British and conquered the West are still with us in the form of their descendants – even if they now seem atavistic. Given America’s conservative leanings and the way the pendulum swings every four or eight years, it was, as my friend Barbara said, amazing that Clinton did as well as she did. As it was, she won the popular vote.
Now the Republicans – in disarray and left for dead over the summer – have control of Congress and, presumably the Supreme Court. This will be a tough time for progressives, immigrants, gays and women. (Did you see one vintage female face in the Trump transition team or the proposed cabinet? Thought not.) For these groups, I am truly sorry.
As for the well-off Trumpettes and the disadvantaged ones who spewed such hatred toward Trump’s Repub challengers, the Dems and, finally, Clinton herself, I have no sympathy. They’re surprised at the protests Trump’s ascendance has unleashed, particularly on the West Coast? I say, Call me Eris, goddess of discord. I agree with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that we will be taking nothing on faith. We will be watchful and wary, ready to pounce.
The much-vaunted infrastructure program that Obama tried to get through Congress – only to meet with Mitch McConnell-vowed obstruction – we’ll see. We’ll also see if those drug addicted former factory workers so in need of jobs will be able to withstand the rigors of working outdoors in all the elements under all kinds of deadline pressure, because one thing is certain: Their former jobs are not coming back, having been lost not to trade but to technology.
And an unwillingness to engage in trade may ultimately sink the stock market, which has reacted well – for the moment.
Trump may be able to implement a plan to improve our bridges, tunnels and highways – and I pray he can – but his hands are going to be tied abroad where forces beyond his control are in play. As for defunding the Syrian rebels, I think that’s a mistake. The more our presence shrinks on the world stage, the more China and Russia will rush in to fill the vacuum. How can he “make America great again” if America absents itself from being a global player?
Who knows? Maybe the more judicious Trump of his “Apprentice” days will show up. In any event, “He’s your president,” my uncle said. But this same uncle spoke bitterly about Obama and Clinton. Now the wheel has turned, but unlike Obama – and, I would add, the unnecessarily demonized Clinton as well – Trump does not have the moral high ground, particularly where women are concerned. My attitude is, I owe him nothing. Rather, he owes me as a voting, taxpaying citizen everything. He and Mike Pence and Paul Ryan and all the rest will have to exert some Alexandrian leadership now – leadership from the frigging front.
And yet, this is, for me, partly about learning to lose and grieve with grace. Obama and Clinton – class acts both – struck the right tone. In particular, I think of Clinton saying Trump deserves an open mind and the chance to lead. I think of Novak Djokovic sending Andy Murray a congratulatory message when he lost his number one ranking to him. I’m not that good a loser. And, as per the same uncle, when you’re too nice, people think you’re weak.
And I think, too, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – the subject of a new movie, “Jackie,” most noteworthy for Natalie Portman’s studied portrayal in the title role – whom I spoke about recently at the Pelham Picture House. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination – for which she was an inescapable witness, trying to put his brains back into his shattered skull – Onassis cycled through sorrow, grief, anger, defiance and acceptance. And then, she reinvented herself. That’s what the progressives are going to have to do.
So I’m torn between two songs that have been playing on the soundtrack in my head (along with Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger Song” and “Sisters of Mercy” – rest in peace).
On “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” a philosophical Jeff Goldblum sang the chorus from “It Goes Like It Goes” from “Norma Rae”:
So it goes like it goes,
Like the river flows
And time it rolls right on
And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better
And maybe what’s bad gets gone
But I’m also drawn to Mumford & Sons’ “Winter Winds”:
And my head told my heart
Let love grow
But my heart told my head
This time no
This time no