I had planned a humor piece for today but I am not really in the mood for it right now.
Instead I’m going to share my own thoughts and experiences surrounding the election. Before I do, I should warn my readers: I am one of those people who believes we can build a better, more equitable, more compassionate world, we can treat one another with decency and love, we can practice justice tempered with mercy. There. You’ve been warned.
I don’t know that I will ever understand what happened. How this happened. There were so many voices, from all parts of the political spectrum, issuing utterly unprecedented, dire warnings about the Republican candidate. Conservative newspapers across the country not only refused to endorse him, but implored their readers to look hard into this man’s soul before choosing. The Harvard Republican Club called him, “a threat to the survival of the republic.” And on and on. And yet, as we now know, it was all for naught.
On the night of the election I was away from my family, in New York on business, and so I spent most of the night on social media. My little corner of Facebook seemed like it was peopled by zombies – all of them looking for consolation – from one another, from strangers – but nobody with any consolation to offer. People spoke openly of weeping. One Facebook friend said she’d vomited.
I thought of the famous aria from the opera Turandot: Nessun Dorma. “None shall sleep.” That was what it felt like. A night so horrible there can be no sleep. No solace. (Although my brother the Opera fan later explained to me that in reality the rest of the aria has a rather different meaning).
I was in lower Manhattan, the financial district, for work the next morning. Trump received exactly ten percent of the vote in Manhattan, and everyone on the train looked miserable, sleepless and deathly. Several people, including myself, were dabbing their eyes, fighting back tears. I had a fleeting, sickly vision of some bleak train scene from Fascist Europe.
That afternoon I received a phone call from a friend who was nearly hysterical. His wife, who is an American citizen of Indian descent, had been harassed on the bus by a Trump supporter telling her she was going to be deported. “What the hell am I going to do?” he practically pleaded. He too had been reduced to tears. My friend is himself of German descent. The parallels to the brownshirts of Nazi Germany are as terrifying for him as they are for me.
After work I briefly stopped at the World Trade Center memorial, which was just two blocks from where I was staying. I remembered back to 9/11, how on that day it had felt that our world had changed irrevocably. That we had just lost a certain kind of innocence. In many ways, this feeling turned out to be prescient. Yes, we have laughed and smiled since then, we have been ironic and irreverent and lighthearted. But the anger we’d felt after the attacks – completely reasonable at the time – never subsided. Somehow, it only grew and magnified and mutated. And now, with this election, looking out at the memorial, I had that same feeling: an irrevocable loss of innocence. It would never be the same. Only this time it was entirely self-inflicted. What have we done with our beautiful country? Why?
I used the new World Trade Center subway station – the Oculus – to get to my office. While the new tower and the memorial are – at least for me – a bit uninspired, the Oculus is a great piece of modern architecture. Grand in the way it should be, but still also sleek and beautiful. I felt genuinely privileged that I got to pass through it going to and from work, felt proudly American, proud of what we are able to accomplish.
On Thursday, I attended a large business meeting high in an office tower. As is typical in these meetings, a Hispanic woman served snacks for us. She was small and meek, scurried quietly, did her best to remain invisible. But there was no mistaking the distressed look in her eyes. I felt quite certain she was an illegal immigrant. I bitterly thought to myself: How great this is going to be when she is deported! How much better much life is going to be for all of us, when we no longer have to be affronted by her different skin color, by the look of affliction in her eyes! This is going to be great! We are all going to be so much happier once she is gone! Only, if immigration was such a plague, then why is New York, the immigrant gateway to America for the last century, a city that is still teeming with immigrants, also the nation’s financial capital, one of the world’s great cultural centers, one of the most vibrant cities you will ever visit? Why is it prosperous? Why does it have one of the lowest crime rates of any major city in the U.S.? (Contrary to Trump’s ravings, the crime rate across the country is a near a fifty-year low, but even against this backdrop, New York’s is particularly low).
Trump started his political rise with the paranoid invention, based on absolutely nothing, that Obama was born in Kenya. He ended it with the even more demented, more insane claim that, “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.” In between were enough indications of a severe personality disorder to fill a psychiatric textbook. That he is a sociopath with paranoid tendencies – the exact psychological profile of all of the worst dictators of history – seems so palpably clear, it scarcely needs defending. And this is who now controls the levers of government.
Thursday evening I was again taking the subway back from work. In a single subway car in Manhattan, you will likely find yourself among people from five continents and fifty ethnicities. This car was no exception. The person next to me was writing in an alphabet I didn’t even recognize. At one of our stops, someone had accidentally dropped a cellphone, and someone else had found it and started calling out, “Did anyone leave their cellphone?” Soon more people were calling more loudly up the car, stepping out onto the platform and calling out and trying to help. What’s more, nobody worried about who was of what race. People were just volunteering, spontaneously, to try to get the phone to its owner. There was nothing remarkable in this. But again, I fought back tears. This is my America. This is my country.
And maybe this is part of what we all can do now. Just be decent to one another. “Be the change you want to see,” Gandhi said. Well, I am surely no Gandhi. Not by many miles. But I feel like this is the right message. Love one another. Not just friends and family. But all people.
And for those of you who are still feeling despondent, let’s remember the greatness of which humanity is capable. Beauty. Art. Nessun Dorma. Sung here by the brilliant, blind tenor, Andrea Bocelli: