It’s Remembrance Day or, in the US, Veterans’ Day – a day to remember and thank those who served in the armed forces, and particularly to remember and give thanks for the cessations of conflict – like the original November 11 Armistice Day, 1918 – that permit us to look back. (Click here for some of my writings about the Second World War and its vets.)
This week in the US it’s not so hard to grasp the sentiment of wars past, because damn if it hasn’t been like Pearl Harbor around here.
Along with millions of my fellow American citizens, I’m shocked and saddened by Hillary Clinton’s loss of the Presidency to Donald Trump. The essential political issue is that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. If our votes for President counted as in any other election, she would be preparing to move back into the White House. In addition, I believe that Mr. Trump is not fit to be President. But arguing about politics is not my forte, and neither of those items is my point.
My point is that last Tuesday night/Wednesday felt like one of those fixed spikes in time. There is before the election of Donald Trump, and there is after the election of Donald Trump, and those are existentially different spaces. This intangible tint on reality for the past few days is hard to describe except by reference to historic equivalents: September 11, 2001. The assassination of John F. Kennedy. The 1969 moon landing (they aren’t all bad). And, most famously within living memory, the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
When Japan finally threw down the gauntlet to the United States (and the British Empire) on that day, American discourse instantly recognized that Things Had Changed. “A date which will live in infamy,” President Roosevelt labeled it while the naval wreckage was still burning. Though a mighty scramble and sudden massive enlistment followed, the US was hardly surprised to be entering the war. Pearl Harbor was a turning point, a before-and-after date, but it was a reasonably clear-cut one.
Exactly what our new space now consists of, nobody’s quite sure yet. We were worried about the outcome of the election; this week it felt like the other shoe dropped – but in fact there’s not only a suspended third shoe but a whole chorus line of shoes waiting to drop or not. That situation puts me in mind also of the ‘Phoney War’ period of World War II. Britain and France had declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, but they mostly sat around getting the jitters until May of the following year. Right now, every pundit is rushing to offer their opinion of what President Trump will do, but they’re the same people who were wrong about the polls, and their function now is pretty much the equivalent of this poster. (Just to be clear: I am not comparing Trump to Hitler. I’m comparing the mood of this historical moment to that one.)
However, it is clear that the fallout of this election condones overt prejudice against immigrants, people of color, women, the disabled, queer folks – and even against veterans. People voted for Trump for economic reasons, because they’re sick of the establishment, and so on – not solely out of sheer racism. Life is harsh for many Americans, and they need change. It is terrible, however, to trade what’s left of our soul for it, not to mention what’s left of our planet. Trump’s campaign yammered relentlessly about the second-class status of all the groups I mention above. Those prejudices have been there all along around the country, but they weren’t being endorsed at the national level. And some heinous people have instantly taken Trump’s success as license to bully, assault, or defame such groups.
Then there’s the worst-case-scenario aspect. In the unlikely event that President Trump carries out everything he intimated during his campaign, we might have more extrajudicial imprisonment, more torture, the interning of American citizens, cruel mass deportations. We might have a total end to all efforts to curb climate change, where already the most optimistic predictions are dire. And the US might very well pick a fight with a nuclear-armed foe and shred every vestige of functional society.
How, then, should people of goodwill stand at this juncture, where shock is the feeling, much is at stake, but nothing is clear except the consolidation of hateful rhetoric? How does one hope for the best but prepare for the worst? Two philosophical suggestions.
Philosophical Suggestion #1: Let the Fearless Fantasists Take Over
The generations that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s faced the prospect of mutual assured destruction at every moment. In that cold war, humanity miraculously triumphed through some very tense periods. Speaking of that era, author Paul Morley says this about, yes, David Bowie:
He communicated like little else at the time an abundant sense of confidence. A confidence that there would always be a future, and because there always would be, why shouldn’t the dreamers, stargazers and prophets take hold of it? And if there wasn’t going to be a future – and he faced up to that eventuality with a defiant sometimes nihilistic relish – then let the fearless fantasists and artists take over for the grand finale.
All you weird crazy artistic types, let us go out, if out we go, with a great fucking bang and not with a whimper.
Philosophical Suggestion #2: The One Great Universal Secular Prayer (courtesy of Pete Townshend)
Reign o’er me
Reign o’er me
Reign O’er Me! Reign o’er me! Reign o’er me!
Reign O’er Me! Reign o’er me! Reign o’er me!
Reign O’er Me! Reign over me! Over me!
Reign O’er Me!
Love Reign O’er Me, Goddammit. Not because we should have empathy for those unlike ourselves (although we should). Not because we need to try to heal our broken nation (although we do).
Because of this: If it is an ending you face, would you not rather face it screaming love instead of hate?
No administration can reign o’er me. No president or authority can reign o’er me. Whatever is done by someone else, I can affirm Love Reign O’er Me. Not a quiescent, accepting love – a loud, defiant love – a radical love that cares not for appearances nor consequences, that demands no equivalent return, that still shouts love when all others shout cynicism.
In your face, hatred and despair. Love Reign O’er Me.