A terrible thing has happened to us. It may have just begun. After reflection, I have decided last night was the worst night of my life so far. I am not facing a personal nightmare: I have a secure job and a family, a house, financial security, and (at least for the nonce) most of my wits. But I will probably not live long enough to see things turn around, nor is it certain that they will. My daughters and my students are at real risk, as are millions of people I don’t know but who I know are out there. Billions, actually; all the passengers on our warming spaceship. All in all, I have definitely learned how the Trump voters who sense “their world having been taken away from them” feel. Not that they are going to get that world back now; the most ill-used and vulnerable of them are going to pay a terrible price for their day of rage as they learn the iron law of Trump’s deals: his promises mean nothing to anyone including himself, and that goes extra for his promises to them.
Others have had much worse nights, including others’ last night, and they have something to tell us, about both despair and hope. We must not wallow in despair, but we must look it in the eye and recognize it. Here is a gallery of borrowed insights, more enduring and tested than a blog post. First, the picture I cannot get out of my head, Goya’s Saturn devouring his children. Now you too will have it forever. Look at Saturn’s eyes: he is not angry, or vengeful, or cruel; he is terrified. The election of 2016 was all about fear.
Next, Yeats’ anticipation of World War I (“The Second Coming”). It’s a poem; read it out loud.
When life’s fierce orbit encompassed me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
And charmed me into a better world!Oft has a sigh, issuing from your harp,
A sweet, blessed chord of yours,
Thrown open the heaven of better times;
O gracious Art, for that I thank you!