The Year of the Unthinkable: Reaping the Whirlwind and All That

Think of this as one of those Facebook posts that get out of hand and you start writing one thing after another, and your Facebook friends have to click “more” and then scroll down, and scroll some more, until turning back there is none. So indulge me.

Really, I blame the Chicago Cubs. Their World Series victory fractured the delicate equilibrium of the universe and let loose the genie from the bowinteriscomingttle, ushering in the apocalypse. Yeah, that makes as much sense to me as anything. Let’s go with that. Fuck the Cubs. This is on them.

What does 11/9 feel like (that’s the American 11/9, November 9, month first, for my European readers)? 11/9, the new 9/11 (“9/11 we’ll never forget, 11/9 we’ll always regret,” as some Twitterers have it). 1938: Kristallnacht in Germany. 1989: The Berlin Wall falls. 2016: Trump upsets Clinton. Four days of massive disruption, one of them good, three really, really bad.

What does this 11/9 feel like? The day after 9/11. Lennon’s murder. Maybe Princess Diana’s death. Or Jackie Kennedy marrying Ari Onassis. Or Kirsty MacColl killed by a millionaire’s speedboat. The dream is not only dead, it’s been stomped, shredded, and passed through the digestive system of a mule.

We have gone down the rabbit hole. There is no escape.

In the end, nothing could save us. Investigative journalism didn’t help. Sketches on SNL didn’t help. The Access Hollywood tape didn’t help. Bruce Springsteen, Gaga and Beyoncé didn’t help. Joe Biden didn’t help. Even Barack and Michelle, bless ’em and we’ll miss ’em, didn’t help.

For some of you, 2016 has been a year filled with death, loss, and major disruption, either long-distance (Bowie, Prince et al.) or too close for comfort. Some of you have spoken of waking up from a nightmare and then realizing it was real, of curling up in a fetal position, of finding solace in getting very drunk or stoned (silly me, the only remotely comforting thing I had on hand that night besides my kids was ice cream), and that last night was the worst night of your life.

Since my wife Donna died just last January, which still seems like only a few weeks ago, this isn’t even close to being the worst night, or day, of my life (or second, or third, or fourth, and way on down the line). One of the advantages of getting older is that you have reference points, things to compare bad experiences to when they happen, to be guideposts. Still, the election of 2016 is…something new. At one point late last night, I realized that about half of the country suddenly had some insight, if limited, in what it was like to be a widower. Hillary, rest in peace. Yes, she was a flawed candidate and not the most exciting politician in the world, but capable of reasonable governing and moving the country forward. First woman president dreams, rest in peace (at least for the time being). Snide memes about smashing the patriarchy, rest in peace. Lesson: Don’t count your chickens. Be humble. Lose the entitlement aura. Work for what you want. Don’t just care about yourself. Work for the common good, if such a thing still exists.

I might also add that saying you’re “in mourning” or “grieving” because your candidate lost an election is an insult to the genuinely grieving. This is something I unfortunately have firsthand knowledge of. You go into mourning when your spouse dies, or your parent or sister or best friend. Not when Hillary Clinton blows an election she should have by all rights have won (and by the way, it’s all right to be angry with her about that; I know I am. To appropriate a Massachusetts reference from a few years back, she’s become Hillary Rodham Coakley, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the best pre-2004 Red Sox fashion).

We need a new word for the feeling this election has engendered. Not mourning or grieving. Perhaps ‘electoral shrouding’ would be OK.

Donna would have been appalled at this seemingly endless election campaign, and certainly at its unbelievable actual end. She had strong opinions; she didn’t march in lockstep with anyone but was in general a progressive Democrat with a heart and an activist bent. She marched, wrote, posted online, stuck bumper stickers on her car and placards on our lawn, block-walked with local candidates and even hosted an event for one. She could argue with the best of them and hold her position against the most skilled enemy volleys. Yet she maintained friendships with women holding diametrically opposed political views and was able to separate the person from their politics, a vanishing skill. She saw commonalities, sympathized with struggles. I hope I can live up to her example.

Many of you have spent the last year warning ever more shrilly of the danger Trump poses to the republic, our shared values, or what’s left of them. Now, on November 9, we can’t just say “Forget it, it doesn’t matter.” Because it does.

Unlike some of you, I’m not looking for a silver lining or making jokes (at least not any more than I can help). I don’t see any silver lining, don’t think this is funny at all. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, even antisemitism have won the day. Don’t let fascism take over. Protest when you must, when you feel you can make a difference. Write. Sing. Paint. Code. Tend your garden. Donna wouldn’t think of expatting, if that’s even a verb.

And a special note for those friends of mine who live and die with politics and elections: I admire your fortitude, but if you tie your personal happiness to which candidate wins, which policies become law, and which pols do and don’t let you down, you will, without a doubt, condemn yourself to a life of misery which will only deepen with the years. If you don’t have one, find yourself a meaningful life outside of politics, or sports, or TV show.

Frankly, I’m way too exhausted at this point to even think of tackling a “to-do list” or “get back to work,” as some of you suggest, to further try to usher in the socialist workers’ utopia that never actually arrives. I’m getting older every day and though I’m fighting the urge to say “I’m done,” I’ll just say I’m done for now.

What did I tell my kids the next morning? I told them that I’m sorry Trump won, and that I didn’t vote for him. Then I sent them off to school.

Live from the rabbit hole, I’m T. Coraghessan Eichenwald. Back to you, Chet and Nat.


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