Thanks to the 2016 election, I finally felt something.
11.9.2016, 01:30 [“Mr. President (Have Pity On the Working Man)” by Randy Newman]
I was cemented to my friend’s beer-soaked college couch, eyes glued to the TV, unable to process what had just happened.
It was clear: Donald Trump, the complete antithesis of Barack Obama and the outright inverse of all that I had learned to appreciate about our American democracy, would be the 45th President of the United States.
I didn’t know what to think because I was thinking too many things at once; I felt as if I was looking up at a mile-high tsunami wave bearing down onto me, helpless, washed away in its surge, unable to breathe.
“CNN is now projecting that Donald Trump will win Pennsylvania.”
For 512 days, from the time he came down that stupid goddamn escalator until this moment, I had followed his campaign with bated breath, frightened by how vigorously he attacked the fundamental underpinnings of democracy and human decency and how so many people swallowed his vitriolic poison hook, line, sinker. I had become afraid for my country and of my countrymen, but in a very cerebral and intellectual way, afraid of the damage they could wreak and the long-term consequences that would result from such a populist coup d'etat.
In this moment, however, gaping from my seat among the cement bed of the couch, the fear for what comes next rocked me to the point of numbness.
The hope that I had come to political maturity with, that I had cradled and nurtured so closely over the past eight years, had just been ripped out of my chest, curbstomped, shot a few times, and then lit on fire before my eyes. I was raw, so hot that all I could feel was cold, withdrawn, betrayed.
We ain’t askin’ you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President, have pity on the working man
11.8.2016, 10:00 [“If I Can Dream-Live” by Elvis Presley]
I wore my Obama-Biden shirt from 2008 as I drove the 40 minutes back to my hometown in central Pennsylvania. I always feel acutely aware of my surroundings when I go back home to vote, for two reasons: I’m clearly a black sheep in a sea of others who are overwhelmingly white and acutely aware of my nonconforming presence; and, whenever I have to say my name to the old women at the polling place, I always feel obligated to say, “Brady Hummel, no relation.”
The old white ladies didn’t get the reference, not surprisingly.
My mom was wearing a blue herringbone pantsuit, an unusual sight as I hadn’t seen her “dressed up” since our last family funeral. She said it would have been a white pantsuit for #WearWhitetoVote, but she didn’t have a white pantsuit, and blue is her favorite color, so blue would have to do.
She was absolutely beaming with pride and anticipation. Every gesture, every facial expression, every movement seemed to say, “Today we elect the first woman president, and I’m gonna lose my shit when we do.” We waited in line to vote for forty minutes, snaking down the bland hallway of the firehouse, anxiously avoiding eye contact with the short squat man in a firefighter’s dress uniform who looked preoccupied with eyeing up every voter and judging whether or not they’d be a problem.
My mom was a hot mess, twittering around and wringing her hands to try to externalize the tension somehow. She had worked so hard for this moment, had just returned from canvassing for a couple days in northern Virginia to get out the Democratic vote, and was in disbelief that she was here, finally about to vote for the first woman president. Her dream, the dream of millions of women for so long, the American Dream, was about to become a reality.
I was more focused on observing the faces and personalities who were in line with us. The woman behind us was making snide comments under her breath about the stupidity of pantsuits, and someone walked in a few minutes after us fully dressed as the Trumper himself: black suit, white shirt, red tie, and terribly dyed hair. The only thing that was missing was the spray tan.
I could tell my Obama shirt hadn’t won me any friends in line, so I just switched back and forth between checking Twitter for any election updates and calming my mom down. As we began to approach the booths, my mom began to untangle; once she signed the book and received her number, she was overwhelmed with emotion and the floodgates let loose as she walked to the voting booth. The old white ladies at the table, after missing my Boondocks reference, asked if there was anything they could do, glancing at my mom’s sobbing eyes. I gave them an appreciative look and proceeded to my booth.
And then I did it. I voted in my first presidential election. I had worked so hard on Obama’s ’08 and ’12 campaigns but hadn’t been able to vote in either; I missed being able to vote in 2012 by seven months, the bastards. I thought the moment would be more surreal, but I just wanted to get it over with, at that point. I had become so disheartened, so calloused by the campaign that all I could look forward to now was it all finally being over.
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now
Let it come true right now
11.8.2016, 21:00 [“You Better You Bet” by The Who]
I only half-fill my cup with the free hot apple cider that was available at the College’s watch party; the other half came from the flask of rye I had in my jacket pocket (did anyone really expect to get through this sober?).
The CNN coverage is projected against a white pull-down screen and I have the maps from POLITICO and The New York Times up in a split-screen on my laptop, hitting the refresh button on both about every 30 seconds for new updates. I remember not being surprised at how much of an asshole Corey Lewandowski was being on CNN, yet I still felt like I needed to take a shower to wash away the disgust and hollow fury that has become so familiar that I hardly even acknowledge it anymore.
But the room was filled with excitement and assured hope, applause and jubilant shouts erupting every time Wolf Blitzer melodramatically announced a blue state projected for Hillary. The students didn’t hide their allegiances, probably because it seemed like we were all on the same team anyway, so what’s a little partisan excitement among friends, right?
Many just seemed to be along for the ride, for some free food and to hang out with their friends and clap when everyone else did. And then there were the hardcore political junkies scattered throughout the room who were all doing the same thing as I was; looking at the numbers and the map, our ragged numbers were markedly less exuberant than our counterparts. However, we kept our reservations to ourselves, throwing out platitudinous excuses like urban vs. rural turnout and “firewall” states, just regurgitating what we had heard from the talking heads a couple of days earlier.
That room might have loved Hillary’s chances; but, what about the rest of the country? I took another drink of my half rye-half apple cider to wash the question down, out of sight, out of mind.
When I say I love you you say you better
(You better you better you bet)
When I say I need you you say you better
(You better you better you bet)
You better bet your life
Or love will cut you just like a knife
11.9.2016, 00:30 [“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie]
I had relocated to my friends’ house, where there was pizza and beer and more like-minded map-watchers and data-crunchers waiting, nervously. We had it down to a science: we had two TVs, one rotating between the network coverage of the election, the other tuned to the Western Michigan-Kent State football game to defuse some tension; one person tracking Twitter and the wires for state projections, another watching The New York Times’s chances-for-winning dial, and two of us (one being yours truly) were in another room crunching numbers for key states still up in the air like Michigan, Arizona, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
Earlier in the night, when the chances looked slim enough to crack a joke, we told ourselves that if Trump ended up winning, we would go to one of the two bars and drink until it closed, then rinse-and-repeat at the other one. We laughed, confident that we would never reach that point but amused by the idyllic response to the impossible absurdity.
By this point, the case of beer sat untouched, everyone becoming subdued and sobering up to the close proximity of what was happening. A freight train was barreling towards us, and we couldn’t look away. Some people started trickling out, saying that they needed to be alone in their beds. No one said anything in response, just an understanding and empathetic grimace.
And it didn’t get better. Those of us who remained, who couldn’t possibly think about sleep, kept crunching the swing state numbers, seeing if the major urban precincts still outstanding could swing the states towards the Dems.
They couldn’t. There was no way. Trump would win, and the GOP would sweep Congress. It was almost guaranteed.
Rather than going to the bars and drinking our sorrows away, the three of us left wrapped ourselves under a blanket and sat on the couch, unable to speak or take ourselves away from the TV.
Feel my blood enraged
It’s just the fear of losing you
Don’t you know my name
Well, you been so long
And I’ve been putting out the fire with gasoline
11.9.2016, 03:30 [“Adentro” by Calle 13]
We somehow made it through most of Trump’s acceptance speech. I didn’t have the energy or the mental bandwidth available to retort any of his statements, even though they were almost laughable, given the past two years of previous material: “Now it’s time to bind the wounds of division; have to get together…I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.”
Four minutes in, I had to turn it off and get out of the house as quickly as I could. As Trump was wrapping up a line about fixing America’s infrastructure (arguably the one point upon which Democrats can agree with him), a man in the crowd loudly yelled, “KILL OBAMA!” and it went completely unacknowledged.
I felt like I was going to throw up. I quickly mumbled out a “goodnight” to my friends and hustled out the door to make the trek across campus to my apartment. They understood.
The street was empty, dimly lit by the street lamps. I was alone, without another person in sight, and yet I became acutely aware that I was afraid of those I couldn’t see. I was petrified that I’d see an enormous pickup flying a Confederate flag driven by a man brandishing a gun and barking expletives at anyone on the street (unfortunately, this has happened many times before in my three years here, so it wasn’t like I was expecting to see the Bogeyman or anything).
And, for the record, I’m a straight, white, middle class man from central Pennsylvania. I am the last person to be afraid for my safety in this new Trumpian America.
Further, I recognize now that this is how marginalized groups have felt their entire lives for generations before me. And I feel ashamed that I thought that this was something that was new, but, in the moment, I was gripped by the cold pallor of fear that was so new and foreign to me.
I was uncomfortable, to say the least, and I didn’t like it. I was a stranger in a strange land. There was no going back; this is how it’s going to be now.
Pero en ese caso es diferente — But in that case it’s different
Incitar al desorden — To incite the disorder
Porque cuando la tiranía es ley — Because when the tyranny is law
La revolución es orden — The revolution is order
11.9.2016, 09:00 [“Wait So Long” by Trampled By Turtles]
I was in such a fog and was so caught up in watching the revelation of this new reality that I woke up in a catatonic stupor, my mind racing so fast that it couldn’t fully process or feel anything. I was just a moviegoer, sitting in the front row of the theater, watching my mind’s activity projected upon the tall white screen, isolated and removed from the action, just a casual bystander.
White supremacy is clearly alive and well.
“Some people just want to watch the world burn.”
Oh my God…
Does this mean that hate trumps love?
I can’t get out of bed. What is wrong with me?
National political campaigns in America will never be the same after this.
Climate change. Race relations. Foreign interventions. Income inequality. Civil rights. Political integrity. The future of the American democracy. All up in the air now.
Giuliani. Christie. Bannon. Breitbart. Ailes. Conway. Pence. Good God.
Basically, the message of this election was: it doesn’t matter if you’re a racist, misogynist, sexist, [fill in the blank here with whichever Trump label you prefer], as long as you’re not a woman, you can be President of the United States. God bless America.
What will this do for women looking to break that final glass ceiling? When will we see a woman get as close as Hillary Clinton did to achieving that? 4 years? 40?
Fuck. I’m most likely going to be graduating and entering the job market in a recession. Look at how that worked out in ’08 and ’09. I’m fucked. We’re all fucked. Fuck this. Fuck.
What about my friends who are black, Muslim, women, Latinx? What’s gonna happen to them? Jesus.
All that I’ve worked for and fought for over the past eight years…is gone now? What’s the point of being politically engaged if something like this can happen that erases everything that I’ve done and fundamentally shifts the direction in which we’re going? Will this encourage others in my generation to give up on politics? What effects will that have in the long term?
Does any of it really matter? Given that Trump will either stop the momentum towards strong climate action or will reverse it entirely, the climate will probably blow past the point of no return and will spiral into a dangerous and irreversible tailspin. So, in the end, the future of the American democracy pales in the face of the globe telling us to fuck ourselves while killing us in troves.
I have whiplash. My neck hurts. My body hurts. My head hurts. What’s wrong with me?
I was determined to not let this cripple my day (thankfully, I don’t have class on Wednesdays), so I eventually turned off the projector in my head and tumbled out of bed, bleary-eyed and groggy. I had only gotten five and a half hours of sleep, but not a wink of it was peaceful or restful. I was just a walking body all day, unable to focus or think about anything other than that thing that had just beat me over the head a couple times and rubbed dirt in the face of everything I thought I knew about my country and its politics.
I felt deflated, mugged, betrayed, hopeless.
And you know that I’m doomed to repeat this
With all the bad habits that I’ve learned
But it’s better than your fire-borne fornication
And all the dirty money that you earn
You wait so long
11.9.2016, 12:30 [“Turn On The News” by Hüsker Dü]
And then I started reading the news.
Stock futures had plummeted overnight, then recovered, seemingly because of some lip service given in his acceptance speech.
On CNN, Van Jones called Trump’s win a “whitelash” upon the nation.
Thousands unfolded into the streets from New York to Los Angeles to protest the validation of all of Trump’s positions and words, the national amnesia of our democratic values.
Pundits in the “liberal media” pointed fingers everywhere except towards themselves: Comey, pollsters, voter intimidation (of which there might be some merit), low voter turnout in urban precincts, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the DNC, Clinton herself, her campaign, her ground-game strategy in the final days of the campaign, and, most of all, white working class voters.
And the election of America’s first “demagogue of the Anthropocene,” an egomaniacal hack who played to our worst spirits with vitriolic rhetoric and divisive demonization, was whitewashed by the media into an “outsider” campaign mobilized against the “elites” and “status quo.” Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times Opinion Pages said we should “[Grit] Our Teeth and [Give] President Trump a Chance,” comparing the response to President Obama’s election from the GOP to how the left is feeling right now.
False equivalence seems to be the MO of the pundits and the commentators now. How dare you compare Barack Obama and the hope and honor that he brought to the Presidency and the nation, with Donald Trump and the hate and harm that he’s already inflicted upon our democracy and our people. To whitewash him like he’s normal, like his whole campaign may have been considered a little dirty for some people’s tastes, like his rhetoric was just a populist message channeling the frustrations of the people, is shameful, unforgivable, dangerous.
And I felt another wave of whiplash. I felt like I was being gaslighted by the media, by my country. But I couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t stop watching.
If there’s one thing that I can’t explain
Is why the world has to have so much pain
With all the ways of communicating
We can’t get in touch with who we’re hating
11.9.2016, 16:00 [“After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young]
zombie [zom-bee], (n): the body of a dead person given semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose
I was sitting at my desk in our student union building, manning the switchboard as always, pleading that no one would call because I felt like my words had run away to Canada and I would break down if I had to talk to a stranger.
CNN was on the TV along the wall, and I couldn’t pull myself away from it to focus on the paper that I should’ve been writing. And neither could a group of students, faculty, and staff members, who were huddled in front of the TV, similarly gaping with bloodshot eyes, caught in the tractor beam and unable to maneuver beyond it. Jake Tapper was talking about how the pollsters got it this wrong and who the Democrats have to blame for such a devastating usurpation of momentum so late in the campaign.
I was just trying to keep up with the racing thoughts in my mind. They were no longer projected onto a white screen in front of my eyes; they had moved inward, flowing down my brain stem, migrating into my bloodstream, racing through my arms and legs, pumping my heart full of fear and adrenaline.
My body and brain were working so hard, were so alive, that I felt dead. I only had the capacity to hope that nobody called the switchboard.
After about 45 minutes (which felt like a year), one of my best friends walked by and noticed me, stopping to give me a look of pained and knowing exasperation as if to ask “dude, what just happened?” I had been thinking about him since I had walked home in fear on the dark and empty streets that night; he was born and raised in Queens, but his parents came from Pakistan and had taught him and his siblings the compassionate and giving spirit of Islam his entire life. He stood directly in the crosshairs of Trump’s hateful rhetoric against Muslim Americans, wearing it proudly on his sleeve and not hiding behind anything.
“I’m going to be okay, I know that. I’m just worried about my younger siblings back in Queens and how they’re doing.”
I asked how his students took the election results. He’s a student teacher at the local high school, predominately white in a county that overwhelmingly went Trump on Tuesday. I could only imagine what had happened earlier that day at school.
“Some of them wore Trump shirts and were celebrating and whatnot. I’m just trying to be the cool student teacher whose class these kids love to go to, not the Muslim man at the front of the room who we should all be afraid of.”
I was rocked by his strength and maturity in the face of such discrimination, disrespect, and dehumanization from his peers and his country; I was sure that, if I was in his position, I wouldn’t have been reacting the way he was. He’s a much stronger man than I am, clearly.
As we continued to talk, the student union began to swell with people, hungry students getting in line for the “Friendsgiving” dinner that was one of the most cherished traditions of Dickinson’s culture. Hoards of people sat outside the Caf against the walls next to their friends, giggling and gossiping to pass the time. I couldn’t understand how they could seem so removed from what had just happened, so fortified against the tsunami wave that had so forcefully thrown me asunder, unable to breathe.
I was afraid of them. And most of them weren’t even Trump supporters. I think it was their apathy that scared me.
A small band of friends congregated at the altar of the info desk, an enclave huddled against the spread of naive normalcy, helping each other to process and understand the spinning world around us. We stood there together, watching two realities running parallel but fundamentally at odds with one another. We could only stand there and watch, fighting against the fog of the day.
I was lying in a burned out basement with the full moon in my eyes
I was hoping for replacement when the sun burst through the sky
There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high.
I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie.
11.9.2016, 22:30 [“You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen]
I needed an answer, a liniment to rub into my skin to ease the pain of the past 24 hours. Throughout the darkest times in my life, music has always been that panacea for me: self-medication through distraction.
Teaching myself guitar helped pull me back from the brink in high school, and creating Spotify playlists to match and reinforce the wide spectrum of my moods and the schizophrenic speed at which they morph has helped me be more aware of myself and what I need in a particular moment. When I couldn’t get affirmation or comfort from the people around me, I retreated inward and found it in music.
My brother and I are extremely similar in a lot of different ways; he finds his solace in film just as I find it in music. He’ll always be sending me movies that he saw, imploring me to watch it ASAP, and I do the same to him with musical artists or albums that I discover. Every once in a while, though, we reverse roles, but the brotherly exchange continues.
A few years ago, I remember we were together (something which happens far too irregularly for me now) and he leaned over and said, “Brady, you have to check out Leonard Cohen.”
The “Hallelujah” guy?
He shot me a stern side-glare, his go-to move when I’m being a straight-A idiot. “No, dingus, he has so much more than just that. Just listen to his stuff.”
So I did. And since that moment, I feel like I’ve been on a journey through Leonard Cohen’s discography: meandering through the brooding acoustic whispers of “So Long, Marianne” and “Famous Blue Raincoat,” quickly breezing through the boozy Phil Spector influence of “Memories,” and passionately strolling through the deep-voice resignation and reverie of “Going Home” and “Treaty.”
I grew to love him as a grandfather, an oracle, a dear friend. His music expressed such a deep awareness, a human acceptance of humanity and spirituality, a resignation to the fact that we can’t know everything, can’t answer every question.
That was exactly what I needed in that moment of confusion, panic, exhaustion, disorientation.
I prostrated onto my bed, cradling my raggedy teddy bear in my arms, and played Cohen’s most recent album, You Want It Darker, from front to back. The soothing basso interwoven with the poetic strings, delicate piano, and intimate lyrics lulled me to sleep. While I couldn’t qualify it as peaceful or restful in any sense, I could close my eyes, washed over by the eminent harmony of my dear friend, L. Cohen. And what a gift that was, indeed.
Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
11.10.2016, 20:32 [“Bird on the Wire” by Leonard Cohen]
No. No, no, no, no, no.
Not today. Not this week. Not this year. Not ever.
I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t comprehend the cruelty, the insensitivity of the universe, for robbing me of my source of comfort and peace in such vitriolic times. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t just.
I was leaning back in the chair at my desk, lush and cushy with a deep mahogany leather, when I first saw the update on his Facebook page. In that moment, the leather felt like a bed of nails, a crown of thorns, piercing my skin, blockading any satisfaction or reprieve from entering my emotional airspace. I just numbly looked at my laptop screen, disoriented by the incomprehensible news.
I felt like I had been on the upward swing, beginning to come to terms with what had just happened on Tuesday, coming back to life from the Election Hangover that had plagued me for the previous 43 hours. And then, wham, vanished, back to square one, to the depths of emotion, so deep I was emotionless.
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
11.11.2016, 17:10 [“First We Take Manhattan” by Leonard Cohen]
I should have been working on the two papers that I had due for my classes. I should have been responding to emails that had been waiting in my inbox for my attention all week. You should be productive, Brady, I kept telling myself. Focus. The election was four days ago, and the sun keeps coming up. You’re fine.
But the numbness still lingered, like the floodwaters left in the wake of a hurricane. I clearly had underestimated how much Leonard Cohen’s death would affect me, how vulnerable I had been after such a terrible week, such a terrible year.
All I could do was read the plethora of articles written in the hurricane’s wake, rotating between the scores of trite political analysis and eulogies for the fallen lyrical genius. Sitting in the cozy second-floor lounge of the campus coffee shop, I intermittently and mindlessly scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, looking for a distraction that would break my trance, give me some glimmer of hope in the enveloping ocean of cynicism and disgust.
On my Facebook news feed, I came across a WatchCut* video where three American war veterans suffering with PTSD smoked weed and talked about their daily struggles against the remaining vestiges of trauma.
I had seen innumerable videos like this before, interesting stories and narratives were just that: interesting. I had never had an emotional reaction to one before, had never engaged the dormant right-brain whispers that had been shouted down by the racing rebuttals of my left-brain. Before I hit the play button, my left-brain was in overdrive, as it always was, already projecting my own biases and expectations onto the video.
We don’t do nearly enough for our veterans. It’s interesting that WatchCut gets so political in videos like this. Would arguing that recreational marijuana is effective in treating PTSD be an effective way to convince lawmakers and judges?
But, watching the video, my right-brain had been awakened from its deep two-year-long hibernation, crescendoing over the underlying left-brain noise like a horn line in a symphony by Mahler.
They’re just three regular guys. This is their life. This is their reality. They did what they had to do, had served our country for their own individual reasons, had done what was necessary to defend our freedom, my freedom. These men, these heroes, pay an exorbitant price every day so that I can go to college and speak my mind, write about my perspective on the world, so that I can even have my own individual perspective on the world. They’re afraid of their surroundings now, can’t find relief, can’t escape their pasts, can’t break free of the chains that have been thrust onto their wrists. Their whole lives will be defined and colored because of this. They will never be the same. And they did it for me.
It was completely unexpected. It felt like a new experience, this reversal of roles between logical-Brady and emotional-Brady, this David and Goliath matchup, this internal exertion. I was powerless, paralyzed, unsure of what to do or how to respond.
Swelling with the stinging wound of emotion, I heard a ringing in my ears. I began to feel dizzy. I hurriedly threw my notebook and laptop into my backpack and hustled down the stairs and out the door, eyes to my toes and avoiding any human interaction.
I don’t remember the walk home. I suddenly appeared in my apartment, leaning on the bathroom sink, staring back at my reflection in the mirror. Deep breaths, Hummel, get yourself together. What the hell is happening right now?
I just stood there for what seemed like a quarter of a lifetime, wrists cuffed and bound to the counter, unable to wriggle free.
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
11.11.2016, 17:30 [“Anthem” by Leonard Cohen]
Twenty minutes later, I was lying on my bed, staring at the wall and listening to Leonard Cohen through my earbuds, processing.
This was bigger than just the election. This was more than just Leonard Cohen. 2016 was such an awful year, had abrasively left such deep calluses, had been so overwhelming, that I stopped feeling things. And then, suddenly, all the pent up emotion poured through the dam walls, washing everything away in a wave of healing.
So I got off my bed and began to write.
I had felt something.
I had found that hope that had been forcibly divorced and mutilated four days prior, more mature, resilient, and powerful than ever.
I had awakened the sleeping giant in the right side of my brain, establishing a bipolar internal power structure.
I had come to terms, as the old cliche goes, with this new reality and the resulting landscape, with what I can change and what lies beyond the reach of my outstretched fingertips.
I had overcome the dreaded Election Hangover, had finally come out of the trough of the inverted bell curve of the week.
I had shared in the mourning of millions of others around the world of a humble giant, a gypsy boy, the “high priest of pathos,” grieving together through his words and song, his imperfect offering.
I had defiantly rededicated myself to the American plea, to doing what I can and have to do in the coming years of my life to help make this crazy world just a little better, to letting the light in.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in