On Thanksgiving weekend, in 1980, I went to the Weavers Reunion concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a memorable evening. The original four members of the Weavers—Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, and Fred Hellerman–hadn’t appeared together in concert in about a quarter century. For people from left-wing (a euphemism for communist) households, like myself, having grown up listening to the Weavers since my nonage, it was an irresistible opportunity and an unforgettable evening. The concert took place a few weeks after Reagan was elected, and there weren’t a lot of Reagan voters in the crowd. Lee Hays, a few months before he died, his gravelly baritone now reduced to a whisper, told the crowd “this too will pass, like a kidney stone.” I think that gets it about right, with a glance towards the future, and a recognition of the coming of hard, immediate pain.
Yesterday was commiseration day, when friends called friends and we tried to console one another, a general Democratic shiva. I have lived through four transitions from Democratic to Republican administrations, in 1968, 1980, 2000, and now, this one feels worse than all the rest combined. (Funny how Trump makes W. and even Nixon feel like moral giants in comparison.) There are strategies available to avoid dealing with the reality. Some people said that they’re through with politics, that they have their private lives to live. During the Nazi era, there were some persons who practiced what was called “internal emigration” living in Germany and somehow trying to shut out all of the evil around them. I don’t think it was too successful, but many feel similarly today, that the United States no longer belongs to them—“their country, ‘tis of them, you bought it, you broke it, you fix it, and leave me the hell alone.” I have decided to try to avoid watching or looking at him for the next four years—I can’t stand the sound of his voice, I can’t looking at his face, with its perpetual smirk—and will try to avoid watching the news, which is a waste of time anyway. (I’ll still read my usual news sources.) Others are refusing to mention his name, like “he-who-will-not-be-mentioned” in the Harry Potter series, or as, once again, some people tried to do after Hitler came to power. (But going out of the way not to use a name, I think, like the use of Adonai in Tanach, just gives the real name more power.)
But these efforts will probably fail. In a few months, the phrase “President Trump” will sound less and less oxymoronic, and talk of the “Trump Administration” will roll off the tongue. President Trump will be normalized, and be depicted on placemats and illustrations, alongside Washington and Lincoln and all the rest. In time there will be a Trump presidential library, and though there are already about 5,000 too many things named after him, there will be President Trump Blvds and stuff like that
So what is to be done? First recognize that the “moral arc of the universe” sometimes moves backward. The only question about President Trump is whether he will usher in a disaster, a catastrophe, or an apocalypse. Democrats and all who oppose Trump will have to find our voice, though we will be largely powerless, as a group of alpha males, Trump and his plug uglies, Christie, Gingrich, and Giuliani, will run roughshod over our lives. Hope that our most dire predictions do not come to pass, but prepare for the worst. And then, take a deep breath, and try to rescue America from itself, and from its own worse instincts, mixing patience with tenacity. There will once again be victories and triumphs, small and large, and as Lee Hays said, “this too will pass.”