A Tale of Two Americas: A Thanksgiving Meditation
[Note: This version has been slightly revised. -ed.]
Oh, kids. Miss O’ wanted Hillary Clinton to be our president, and not just because she’s a woman, but because she GETS it, IT being Democracy and all its messiness. We’ve all been sad, we supporters of the losing side that strives to make a more perfect union, which opposes the side that celebrates greed and narcissism and God and hard judgment and “I got mine” in the name of “change.” Understanding, please, that neither party has a claim to perfection by a long shot, where does this divide come from? And who do we want to be as Americans?
To start thinking about the events of November 8, 2016, I thought I’d reach back to our earliest successful colonists in America, the Puritans.
“Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno. 1632”
O Bubble blast, how long can’st last?
That always art a breaking,
No sooner blown, but dead and gone,
Ev’n as a word that’s speaking.
O whil’st I live, this grace me give,
I doing good may be,
Then death’s arrest I shall count best,
because it’s thy decree.
~Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672, Newtown (later Cambridge), Massachusetts
Miss O’ is in a fit of goddamned sickness. And as Anne Bradstreet was our first woman poet, and our first feminist, really, I thought hers a good voice to open this little essay. She grew to be deeply ambivalent about religion in the Puritan mode. The term “puritan” was an English slur against this ascetic religious group, and so loathsome and annoying were they that King Charles I gave them a ship for the Great Migration and hoped they’d drown in it. Instead, they made it to Plymouth, in Massachusetts, and the rest is history. Sort of. I say “sort of,” because most Americans don’t know jack shit about it. And we are paying the price of that ignorance, I think.
My Country ‘Tis of Thee v. My County ‘Tis of Me
So we had an election. Every election is too much for television, and every election seems to carry the stakes of life and death. But the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, for the first time in our 240 years of Democracy, actually was a referendum on democracy itself. The stakes for preservation have never been higher, and possibly never less understood by half a country—the half that voted for Donald J. Trump, a man right out of that Sinclair Lewis novel that you have never read (by a Nobel Prize-winning American author you’ve never heard of).
There are a lot of ways to try to frame this election’s outcome, so Miss O’ here is going to approach it in the ways I can think of to see if anything can make any sense of it. Trump voters famously don’t read, so this won’t reach them. I can only hope to clear it up for me, and maybe a little for you.
My Country ‘Tis of Me (possible new lyrics for an old patriotic song)
My country ’tis of me,
This is my liberty,
Of me I sing!
Land of the white man’s pride,
Walt Whitman’s dream has died,
For all the liberal tears you’ve cried:
God Save the King!
Take One: Omniscience v. Free Will
Who were the Puritans, and why does this matter? It was the beginning of “separate but equal,” is one way of looking at it. I’m not even remotely a theologian, nor a deep historian, but I offer some ways to looking for information, should it interest you. From an article on the Washington State University site:
“The term ‘Puritan’ first began as a taunt or insult applied by traditional Anglicans to those who criticized or wished to ‘purify’ the Church of England. Although the word is often applied loosely, ‘Puritan’ refers to two distinct groups: ‘separating’ Puritans, such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it; and non-separating Puritans, such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed in reform but not separation. Most Massachusetts colonists were nonseparating Puritans who wished to reform the established church, largely Congregationalists who believed in forming churches through voluntary compacts. The idea of compacts or covenants was central to the Puritans’ conception of social, political, and religious organizations.”
I pledge allegiance. Puritans also believed in Predestination. “Predestination, in theology, is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, usually with reference to the eventual fate of the individual soul. Explanations of predestination often seek to address the ‘paradox of free will’, whereby God’s omniscience seems incompatible with human free will.” So here’s the BIG question: Is God, if she exists, all-knowing, all-seeing? Or do we have free will? John Milton’s famous Paradise Lost hinges, more or less, on the following question: Why did God put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and then forbid us to taste of it?
And, for that matter, why did God create disharmony between the sexes, between our brothers, among us all? Our nation might do well to revisit the old Bible story of Cain and Abel: Let’s take a little stroll back to 1632, again with poet and ambivalent Puritan, Anne Bradstreet.
There Abel keeps his sheep, no ill he thinks,
His brother comes, then acts his fratricide.
The Virgin Earth of blood her first draught drinks,
But since that time she often hath been cloy’d;
The wretch with ghastly face and dreadful mind,
Thinks each he sees will serve him in his kind,
Though none on Earth but kindred near then could he find.
~ from “Contemplations,” Anne Bradstreet, 1612-1672
So religion is very much about war, whether war within oneself or with another, or with God, and projecting our self-loathing onto others. Life is, and is only ever about war, not peace, the Scriptures tell us (until Jesus, but no one reads the words of Jesus anymore, just as no one reads The New Yorker–so sayeth Trump). Republicans go on and on and on about religion and crime and war and the devil in this country, and yet it’s like they don’t know all this stuff is a part of our history (see previous parenthetical), an in an almost barbaric way. Do you or they remember The Great Awakening? What about Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) and his immortal sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God? Here are we humans, according to Rev. Edwards:
- The devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his “goods” (Luke 11:21). The devils watch them; they are ever by them, at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back; if God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
Jonathan Edwards was a complex and deeply serious man, and he’s a confusion to me. From the Wiki: “Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life’s work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset.” And to continue: “The emphasis of the lecture was on God’s absolute sovereignty in the work of salvation: that while it behooved God to create man pure and without sin, it was of his ‘good pleasure’ and ‘mere and arbitrary grace’ for him to grant any person the faith necessary to incline him or her toward holiness, and that God might deny this grace without any disparagement to any of his character.” So much for the God of Love of the New Testament. The God of Wrath returns. Where did such a view come from? Did it come from within himself and he projected it onto others?
So what does this relic of reverend have to do with Trump v. Clinton? For one quick image: the Republican National Convention used a background color of fiery red, the color of wrath, which matched the tone and content of the convention speeches. The Democratic National Convention used the backdrop of clear blue, the color of tranquility, matching the tone of optimism and clarity of vision of the speeches. Another comparison: The Puritans believed in the Elect, or the idea that God does not take everyone into heaven, and that “goodness” has nothing to do with it. There is no way, the Puritans said, to know who is among the Elect. But, as my junior year English teacher Mr. Edwards (no relation) explained, “Surely God would not bless you with a Cadillac, surely not, unless you were among the elect.” And, lo, capitalism was born, and dressing up for church, for if God is “blessing” you with material things and great opportunities for sex (or grabbing pussy), apparently you must be going to heaven. (“The meek shall inherit the earth,” said Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. “But,” as someone said in a movie, “the meek don’t want it.”)
So Trump deserves the presidency, you see, because God has blessed him. Hillary has had to work and work for her success, and so of course she has been predestined to fail. If you are truly worthy, then, what you seek comes easy and without a hitch. Just ask Jesus. And all the while, Trump called Hillary “crooked,” “lying,” and the rest, projecting onto her what he himself is guilty of. He fired up his base. Sinners were in the tiny hands of a deeply angry Trump.
So to sum up: Religion is interwoven with politics in American Christians, and is so deeply ingrained in part of the American psyche that the indoctrinated don’t even realize it. It goes like this: God gives grace in an arbitrary way, so that there is no point in being good. Being good is for suckers. Whether Rev. Edwards intended it or not, the idea of Predestination and being among the elect and being in God’s favor “at God’s pleasure” really opened the doors to sinning with impunity, it seems to me. People who were truly good, therefore, were being suckers. The Donald Trump who refused to pay small business owners is going to heaven, seeing as God has favored him so nicely, and the truly good, hardworking business owners who lost their shirts because of Trump? They are dangling over the pits of hell at God’s pleasure. At least, this is the view taken by the Americans who elected Trump the elect. Everybody loves a winner. Greed is good.
The trouble is, the nation was founded by deists, by men who accepted God but not any church or dogma attending religion. They established rights that would prevent forcing religion on people, prevent persecution and separation under the law. Republicans are ever trying to repeal those rights, and they make no secret of it.
Take Two: Pessimism v. Optimism, or Us v. Them
Republicans typically paint the nation as in a state of continual and unabated crisis: Nixon, Reagan, Bush—all said America was on the brink of disaster, and that they each were the one, with God’s help, to repair the tattered remains of our republic. Public cries for civil rights, ending the Vietnam War, bringing home Iran hostages, ending military waste, sustaining labor unions, or protecting the environment—and all the attending citizen protests and placards for justice—were, to Republicans, destroying the fabric of the nation. The problems these protestors were seeking so solve were irrelevant: The problem was the protesting. Are you following? America, Republicans always declare, is on the brink of ruin (even as life gets progressively better for a lot of citizens); and in victory, damned if these Republican presidents and the others among the elected didn’t try to push it over the nearest cliff. (Watergate? Iran-Contra? Trickle-down Economics? The 2008 Mortgage Crisis, anyone?)
Democrats, by contrast, except in times of actual crisis (the Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement) never have any idea what nation, exactly, Republicans are talking about. Democrats see hope not “around the corner,” should they become elected, but living in our midst, playing out in every moment. Democrats fight for voting rights, and they encourage active participation—whether it’s hippies in sit-ins, or student activists marching, or unions marching, or women marching, or #blacklivesmatter as a movement—and see peaceful, vociferous protest not as destructive to democracy, but rather as the very essence of our national identity. Give us Liberty, or give us Death!
To reiterate: Republicans want “law and order” and abject silence—unquestioning obedience—and never see the quiet for the apathy or the fear it actually is; rather, they see incarceration (Lock her up!) and quashing of rights and voices as the hallmarks of “success.” Give us Liberty, and give you Death! (Did I get that right?)
For Democrats, protest brings us closer together as we define our ideals and goals, how we want to govern, and how we want to live. Democrats ask for money loudly. They call people. They make big noise. They welcome real debate. Note: Television news seems not to broadcast liberals in action or celebrating the wins.
Republicans, by contrast, do their voting and deciding silently; the money filters in covertly; and the gerrymandering is done in a backroom. Their idea of “change” and “Make America Great Again” is antithetical to Democracy with a capital D. Note: Television news broadcasts Republican dismay with Democrats 24/7.
Thus the great divide. So which way is “authentic” to the spirit of the Constitution, to the original founders’ intent? Does it even matter anymore?
Take Three: Separate v. One
A few quotes from the past few decades:
From The Atlantic: “In 1968, Richard Nixon spoke of a nation torn apart by crime at home, and by wars abroad. But, he promised, better days were ahead. ‘Without God’s help and your help, we will surely fail; but with God’s help and your help, we shall surely succeed.’”
It’s up to you and God, says the Republican nominee. So which is it?
“America has never been about what one person says he’ll do for us. It’s always been about what can be achieved by us, together, through the hard, slow, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately enduring work of self-government….The America I know is full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous.”
~ President Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, 2016
“I alone can fix it.”
~ Donald Trump, Republican Nominee, Republican National Convention, 2016
From The Atlantic: “[Trump] broke with two centuries of American political tradition, in which candidates for office—and above all, for the nation’s highest office—acknowledge their fallibility and limitations, asking for the help of their fellow Americans, and of God, to accomplish what they cannot do on their own.
“But when Trump said, ‘I am your voice,’ the delegates on the convention floor roared their approval. When he said, ‘I alone can fix it,’ they shouted their approbation. The crowd peppered his speech with chants of ‘USA!’ and “Lock her up!” and ‘Build the wall!’ and ‘Trump!’ It booed on cue, and cheered when prompted.”
And not to go all apocalyptic on your ass, but here’s an Irish poet to say it:
The Second Coming
by William Butler Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Reread that a few times, why don’t you? There’s a question about the way religion is used to oppress in there, and a warning. Then take that image of the “slow thighs” and read it against the two poems that are coming up. Look how all these disparate poets are talking to each other across centuries, rooting, in their way, for the good of US.
Take Four: Generosity v. Greed, or Abundance v. Deficiency
The Statue of Liberty: Iconic to the entire human world. Engraved on its base, the most famous poem of freedom, which was written by a Jew, Emma Lazarus, July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887, an American born in New York City. The title, little known, of her sonnet is “The New Colossus,” the title taken from a statue that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The New Colossus
by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I contrast the message of this poem with the Puritan disdain for, say, Native Americans, even as the Puritans depended on them for survival. I also contrast this message with that of Manifest Destiny, “the 19th-century doctrine or belief that the expansion of the US throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable.” I contrast this with 350 years of slavery justified by white supremacy. And with the treatment of women who sought the vote, tortured and beaten and tormented for wanting a voice in government. (Women couldn’t own a home in her own name, or even have a credit card, until 1974, or work while pregnant, the list goes on. I read of too many female Trump supporters who wished he’d grab their pussies. Give me your genitals, yearning to grope free? How have we toppled this low?)
Two Americas, Take Five: Color v. Content
When Barack Obama was elected, I read that John Boehner was heard to say of our first black president, “I can’t even look at him.” Friends of mine in Virginia actually said, “Well, we’ve been debased. I can’t believe I have to live under a nigger as my president.” And, these friends noted, a “negress” as first lady was beyond absurd.
Their comments deeply troubled me and angered me, and I said so, but more than that they baffled me. Harvard Law Review editor, constitutional law professor, state legislator, U.S. Senator—and still Barack Obama is “debasing” us and cannot be “looked at” because of the color of his skin? When I try to explain that my disgust with Trump is based on the content of his character and his lack of elected experience, and not the color of his skin, the deplorable white friends explain to me that it’s exactly the same. And they aren’t racist, they point out, but rather simply right. Blacks in America are viewed by them as, if not subhuman (though often that), at least clearly inferior to whites, and I was reminded of this over and over as a teacher in rural Virginia. The impossibility of working with the Republicans in Congress was blamed never on a racist (“You lie!” “I can’t even look at him”), intractable Congress, but on Obama himself, for his arrogance. So I cannot seem to get through to these white friends and relatives, who could not look on Obama without retching, that their worldview is simply ugly and wrong.
Then last weekend, following the election and its astounding and embarrassing outcome (and this is globally recognized to be true, if not universally understood in the U.S.), I was walking through Port Authority here in New York City after a bus trip out to Jersey to visit equally aggrieved friends, and I saw at a newsstand a People magazine cover featuring a full body photo of our president-elect with the title, in appropriately big white letters, “President Trump.” I thought to myself, “I can’t even look at him.”
So am I no better than a racist?
White supremacists, again including relatives of mine, and their friends, have told me that it is I, not they, who have the closed mind because I will not consider white supremacy to be a fact of life. They have told me this in ALL CAPS: “YOU HAVE A CLOSE [sic] MIND!!!!” My friend Mark heard such a supremacist on NPR say this same thing just yesterday. I, who have been enriched and amazed and loved by humans of all races, religions (and ages, for that matter) am “closed minded” for not seeing whites as supreme. Because I am not giving WHITES—and we mean white CHRISTIANS, to be clear—a chance to run everything, “for once,” in their belief system, then it is I have who have the closed mind.
Where do I start?
Back when I was a high school English teacher and a co-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance, a group designed to promote understanding and tolerance, a nice English teacher lady colleague said to me, firmly, “I don’t believe in tolerance. I don’t like gays, I don’t like illegal immigrants. I don’t like liberals.” She seethed. “Why should I tolerate what I don’t like?” Lately, I am asking myself the same question. But we are asking that question from two entirely different points of view.
Who is right on the issue of gay rights? Mike Pence and my colleague up there and millions like them, or Miss O’ and the millions of gays and their friends in the world? Is global warming real? Who is right as to whether or not blacks and Muslims, as well as whites and Christians, have the Constitutional right to fair and equal treatment under the law? Who is right about women’s right to their own bodies and decisions about their health? Who is right, people who think we need to work together to solve problems, or people who want one (straight, white, Christian) man to solve all the problems for them?
These are the questions that divide us in the United States right now. Trump supporters tell me their side is just as worthy of consideration as my “liberal” “closed” side.
How do you tell them, “No, it’s not,” without sounding like a tyrant and a hypocrite?
First came the Puritan, white, my-way-or-the-highway, love-it-or-leave-it, God-fearing, separatist, elite, elect America of Plymouth Colony origins: It’s complicated, and often unattractive, boring to study during junior year of high school, despite their suffering—and this is a shame, because America just voted it into office in 2016 without realizing it, probably. And these historical folks aren’t funny. Just not. Ever. Funny.
Second came the Revolutionary War-winning, immigrant, dynamic, deist-not-Christian, Enlightenment-influenced, red-white-and-blue, Declaration of Independence, Constitution-based, vote-giving, anti-oligarch, Hamilton-rap-fest amazing America, inspiring to the world, taught in school—and yet it was voted out of office in 2016. Plus, it’s the America of genuine humor and scathing satire.
There is a Third America: The America of slaves, of dispossessed and tortured indigenous people, of oppressed women, of exploited laborers, of religious and racial bigotry, of socio-economic disparity. Only Democrats include this Third America in their party platform and policies, and the Republicans very consciously do not.
Finally, I am going to say it, I am going to pronounce judgment: White supremacy is fucking wrong. Like bigotry, murder, rape, bullying, and abuse, I can comfortably categorize white supremacy as equivalent to a biblical sin (a bible in whose God I do no personally believe, but in whose stories I find important views of the world). White supremacists don’t see they are wrong, any more than Donald Trump doesn’t see why he can’t grab the genitalia of any woman he wants, or ogle teenage beauty contestants in their dressing room, or destroy a small business. Just because he doesn’t think it’s wrong doesn’t mean it isn’t. Any four-year-old will rationally explain why she or he is perfectly capable of being left alone around hot stoves, big lakes, and strangers. Grown-ups know better.
Unfortunately, Trump supporters own all the guns. So you can see where this is headed.
“Divided We Stand”: In Memoriam, Democracy #notmypresident
When Barack Obama was elected, a brand new group arose out of the clear red, the Tea Party, funded by the Koch Brothers. They were mostly older white people who were terrified of a black man in office, and the Kochs were terrified of a Democratic president and congress that might raise taxes on rich people like the Kochs, or make it impossible for them to get tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. It’s an old, old game, stoking irrational fear for an endgame that has nothing to do with the people who go on the lines in the name of, er, freedom.
Americans of the Red Elephant who coined “Not My President” (co-opted now by the Blue Donkeys as “#notmypresident”) called Obama a nigger, questioned his citizenship, called his wife a gorilla, and said worse about his daughters. (These same people wore tee-shirts calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt.” They wore these shirts in front of their children.)
In the America where I was raised, as I said before, blacks, to many, simply are not humans, but are wild animals from the jungle, cut loose from captivity. If you don’t believe me, watch video footage of the way white officers approach and kill unarmed black men and women, and it’s as if you are watching Daktari. These officers of “the law” approach black citizens while in crouched stances, backs arched, as if they are on safari. It’s horrifying. It’s absurd.
My parents did not subscribe to this at all, and used All in the Family to teach me about racism, explaining why Archie Bunker was wrong. I was six when this started. So when I went to teach in rural Virginia I was unprepared for having my life threatened by two white boys in my class for teaching “I Have a Dream,” and for calling Martin Luther King “a great American.” They pointed fingers in my face, “You know was a great American? George Washington. Huntin’ accidents happen, Miz O’Ha.” The Vice Principal took their side. I taught the speech with even more determination, this being Miss O’, and I’d like to think that maybe, as the first white person in that school ever to do so, I made the tiniest bit of difference in a good way.
Of my disappointment over the results of this election, a black colleague and friend said to me, “I have had it with all of you white people and your white privilege.” She frowned at me. “You are disappointed. You are. Now you know what it feels like to be a black person, how I feel every single moment of my life in this country.” I felt chastened. I think it would behoove every white Hillary supporter to take in those words and have a Great Awakening of our own.
Art as Life: Hope?* (*This section edited from an earlier version. –ed.)
If you know the musical Hamilton—and how could you not?—then you know we just elected Aaron Burr over Thomas Jefferson. More than that, we may have “elected” King George III:
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all
And when push comes to shove
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
This is a real fear—a promise, even, if you are Muslim or undocumented or black—stoked by the President-elect himself. We know this. We’ve heard this from his very lips in various shapes and forms—both the words and the lips. “Detention camps for Muslims are on the table” in the Trump administration, read a recent headline.
You’ll be back like before
I will fight the fight and win the war
For your love, for your praise
And I’ll love you till my dying days
When you’re gone, I’ll go mad
So don’t throw away this thing we had
Cuz when push comes to shove
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love
~ Donald Trump, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
And you’d have to live in a fully armed bunker not to know that on Friday night Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton, his entrance into the theater after intermission was attended by boos and applause, both—divided we stand. And yet united by art. During the show, various lines got wilder applause than usual, or even standing ovations, including this one, sung by King George.
What comes next?
You’ve been freed
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
~ The American Left, er King George III, “You’ll Be Back,” Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
You know how great is the artistry of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics because one can also imagine Obama and Clinton and Biden and Kaine singing this song of King George’s, and to Mr. Narcissism himself:
You’re on your own
Do you have a clue what happens now?
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone, across the sea
When your people say they hate you
Don’t come crawling back to me
~ “What Comes Next?” from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda
After the show, at curtain call, Mr. Pence was hustling out when the cast, led by A-dot-Burr himself, read a respectful letter, on behalf of the cast, imploring the VP-elect (M-dot-Pence) and his boss (D- dot-Trump) to lead the nation by including ALL people, despite their promises to the contrary. What a RADICAL NOTION! As quoted by Peter Marks yesterday in the Washington Post:
“Thank you so much for joining us tonight,” Dixon said, on behalf of the production. “You know, we had a guest in the audience this evening. And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here, sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, and we hope that you will hear us out. And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post, because this message needs to be spread far and wide, okay? Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do. We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf ofall of us. All of us. Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story, told by a diverse group of men, women, of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
Trump tweeted a giant whine against the cast of Hamilton: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” — President-elect Donald Trump (Come January, Trump may well try to close the show. For good. Will he find a way? The fact that I could even IMAGINE such a move is what makes me so nervous about Trump as a leader.) What Trump doesn’t understand about theater and its place was critiqued beautifully by the Washington Post‘s Peter Marks yesterday: Why Trump gets theater completely and utterly wrong (Miss O’ recommends the full read, and hopes you do it.)
Trump also doesn’t get this thing called American Democracy, nor does he want to. His transition to power has been the slowest and by all accounts most incompetent in recorded history. I read that Obama’s people are freaking out because Trump won’t read anything, won’t move on any issue, and there’s plenty to know about. (Anybody else remember Bush willfully ignoring the memo: “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”? Anyone?) Trump’s never had truck with democracy and so knows next to nothing about it, as evidenced by his speeches. We’ve all heard them. He’s been, and I say this factually, the pampered son of a rich white man in America, and has broken and destroyed lives, raped young women, and spent money that was not his, all with impunity. To keep this good luck going and to pass it on to his kids, he’s trying to return to oligarchy, and possibly monarchy, apparently. Today’s headline in The Guardian:
Trump transition provokes cries of nepotism – but can anything be done? Despite concerns over Donald Trump’s decision to bring his family into his White House inner circle, experts says critics have few ways to stop him.
Is it just me, or does Trump more and more remind you of the machinations in Richard III? I swear his family looks like the cast of an updated version of one of Shakespeare’s history/tragedy plays. King Lear, perhaps.
Are you a Puritan or a Hamilton? Are you an American in the spirit of Manifest Destiny, or an American in the spirit of Ellis Island? Can you reconcile yourself to both? And of course it’s way more complicated than that, but we have to start somewhere.
So when you People of Trump out there start thinking that the Left is really out of its Thanksgiving gourd, or that our warnings of fascism are little more than “sour grapes,” you might listen to the Hamilton cast album and read the Chernow biography that inspired it; reread “The New Colossus,” read about the Puritans and the Revolutionists. And read the FUCKING CONSTITUTION. I swear that with love.
“According to most contemporary descriptions, the Colossus stood approximately 70 cubits, or 33 metres (108 feet) high—the approximate height of the modern Statue of Liberty from feet to crown—making it the tallest statue of the ancient world. It was destroyed during the earthquake of 226 BC, and never rebuilt.”
No American (mostly) wants (surely) the nation’s history of democracy to come to an end. Shelley’s famous poem up there, as my friend poet Jean LeBlanc says, shows a poet’s ability to “remember the future.” So, in that spirit, ol’ Ozymandias should be reminiscent of the latest man to claim absolute power, this man who has no honest claim to be the leader of the United States, and thus the world, except that he is among the Elect, and select of the Electoral College, if not elected by majority vote (Hillary Clinton is leading by 1.65 million votes and counting); and unless we are eternally vigilant, as Jefferson warned us, it could be Donald Trump’s words on the base of a torch-less, headless New Colossus. In the form of a whiny tweet.
(P.S. The worst thing you can do is nothing. Make calls to your reps. See you, perhaps, at the Million Woman March on January 21, in Washington, D.C. I have friends flying in from London to attend, another friend in New Delhi counting on me to represent her, too, because this is of global importance, and our rights must not be rolled back or run over. Will it make a difference? Oceans rise, empires fall. And in this election, the world turned upside down. Time to right it, from the left. Sending love.)