Slough Of Despond

Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal reports an epidemic of post-election tristesse,
which is a literatus’s way of saying suicidal despair. He smugly notes that this malady afflicts his friends. He is unaffected. Lucky him. My correspondents and acquaintances are tres tristesse. Me too.

One slightly older than myself says that it dawned on him that Trump may be the last president he will be alive to see elected. I told him I had almost exactly the same thought. It occurred to me when I was consoling my daughter.

I told her I’d lived through the McCarthy era, the Cold war, Nixon, Vietnam, Reagan, an impeachment, Bush-Cheney, endless wars in the Middle East and domestic terrorism so she’d probably get through Trump. But people my age can’t wait much longer for the arc of history to bend toward justice, because the arc of their history is bending toward the last round-up.

I know those on the winning side of this election have no sympathy for self-indulgent whining by the losers, but I don’t think our angst is personal. We actually are anxious for our country to be a better place and to get on with solving serious problems in a serious way.

Many of the problems we worry about are the same as the Trump voters — income inequality, a changing economy, our children’s long term prospects. We don’t think Trump’s farrago of retro solutions — less taxes on the rich, less regulation on the polluters, less rigorous education, less immigration, less trade, less treaties — will have the promised effect.

Adding to the election angst may also be the time of year. Perhaps voting should be moved to he upbeat spring. Instead we cast our ballots and the leaves fall, the trees become bare ruined choirs, the cold arrives along with seasonal affective disorder. It’s just adding insult to injury.

Toward the end of this year’s especially repulsive and issueless campaign, I counted on my hometown Cleveland Indians to take my mind off the prospects ahead and to give my spirits a lift. Instead they lost a World Series to the Cubs, something no team has managed to do since 1908 when Taft was running for president. Now Cleveland has the dubious distinction of having replaced the Cubs as the team with the longest stretch without a World Series victory — 68 eight years since their 1948 win when Truman was president. And, coincidentally, the last time pollsters got a race so completely wrong.

Football, another way to dodge reality, is also failing to do it’s job. For one thing, the NFL is imitating the election with perennial loser teams like Oakland and Dallas suddenly looking good and winners like Green Bay and the Panthers pathetic. it is also getting increasingly difficult to watch football light-heartedly since we have become newly sensitized to concussions turning majestic athletes into brain-damaged wrecks decades before the final indignity of senility would normally descend. For example, local hero Luke Kuechly fell victim for the second time in two seasons to a head trauma. Well-wishers can only hope he will call it a carer rather than suiting up again.

Ahead we have an administration to look forward to staffed with angry, old, white men whose ambition is to turn back the clock rather than adapt to the future. So far a segregationist Attorney General nominee has been announced, which ought to make the Civil Rights division at Justice fun to watch. And then there’s a National Security Advisor who tweets bizarre conspiracy theories and got fired from a high intelligence post for being an abusive, disorganized boss. What could go wrong? And we are allegedly in store for a predatory lender at Treasury, a xenophobic war hawk Secretary of State and a climate change denying EPA director. Only shareholders in oil and defense stocks are celebrating.

Several people have said they intend to avert their eyes from the inauguration in January, not to mention the accompanying balls. Good plan. Wretched Trumpian excess is sure to be on display. Unless, perhaps, the new president does a William Henry Harrison, but then we’d have President Pence who was lately booed on Broadway when he went to see Hamilton, no doubt for his homophobic record as Indiana governor. And how did this alleged populist get tickets to a sold out show. Clearly not by waiting his turn like the people he has promised to help, but in the Washington way. By knowing somebody who owes hom a favor.

Saddest of all, while the worst are full of passionate intensity, the best of us are dying like flies. In the last few months director Curtis Hanson, teen idol Bobby Vee, heart surgeon Denton Cooley, musicians Mose Allison, Buckwheat Zydeco, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, playwright Edward Albee, golfer Arnold Palmer newswoman Gwen Ifill . Makers, not takers, all.

Luckily art and artists survive to cheer us up and remind us of the human condition. So I’ve been watching “Goliath” with Billy Bob Thornton on Amazon, “Berlin Station” on Epix, and Michelle Dockery a long way from Downton Abbey and behaving badly in “Good Behavior.” I also have begun reading the Dublin police novels of Tana French that I’ve belatedly discovered.

I’ve enjoyed two Benedict Cumberbatch vehicles — the National Theater Live production of “Hamlet,” (not the best I’ve ever seen, but any “Hamlet” is better than no “Hamlet,”) and by far the best “Dr. Strange” ever. I can also recommend enthusiastically the Korean film “The Handmaiden,” a very stylish noir, and “Arrival.” It is what science fiction can be like when it puts down its laser sword and puts on its thinking cap, though I admit its fooling with time seemed to have the usual logic problems. I am also waiting impatiently for the arrival in Podunk of a number of year-end grown-up films including one proclaimed to be a masterpiece — Manchester by the Sea.

And though we are probably doomed to spend four years in the valley of the shadow of death, debt and discrimination, there are occasional green shoots of loyal opposition to console us in the winter of our discontent. For example, the ACLU, branded a commie outfit by our incoming AG, has announced its plans for life under a Trump administration: “See you in court.” It’s enough to warm the cockles of an old, angry, but not reactionary, white man’s heart.

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