You don’t really care for music, do ya?

11th November 2016

Trump’s election tears some beauty from the world. His is an ugly victory.

One of our party pieces, for my niece Clara and me, is to sing a Cohen song at the piano. Me banging out the three or four chords, major and minor, and Clara with her beautiful, soulful voice carrying the tune.

In those moments, on Sunday afternoons with a couple of beers on board, I reach a kind of bliss that is hard to describe. It is a feeling of comfort, of being with family, of simple pleasures, and the unique joy in seeing our children grow and become fully themselves, in all their individual beauty. 

Even though ‘Hallelujah’ is sometimes derided as a karaoke ballad, it is nonetheless a vector through which the simplest happiness in my life is expressed. The song has, at its core, a transcendent humanity. 

The election of America’s newly minted choice to set the tone of our global cultural and political discourse stands in sharp contrast. Trump’s arrival is steeped in complexity and layered meaning. Enough to give me, as my friend Nivek so accurately described, ‘a feeling of a hangover that will not shift’. It is a sense of nausea and foreboding felt by many. 

But I do not despair. 

For one thing, I do not believe that Trump is evil. Nor do I believe that he is stupid. Nor do I believe he is crazy. We are each of us a fractured composition of good and bad, and Donald is one other human being. An outlier, to be sure, but a human nonetheless.

What I do deeply believe is that this man has neither the values, the wisdom nor the personal insight to lead. He has won the presidency because of personal ambition, turbo-charged by vitriol. He has put that ambition and the clarity of his intuitive intelligence to work, and employed his amazing power of persuasion to Make Donald Great Again

The American electorate chose a man who promises to rip up their faltering DC political system, expecting that this will be to their benefit. If it is, it will be by accident. The changes wrought by Trump will be predicated on what benefits one man. 

The most authentic presidential candidate in American history has, definitionally, already told us who he is.

He has shown himself willing to throw Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, LGBT people, and women under the bus to further his ends of getting elected. He even let Melania hang out to dry, in a moment of cruelty at the Al Smith dinner which, for me, telegraphed his catastrophic lack of empathy. 

Trump’s words conjure evil, but I find it unhelpful to see him as the spawn of the devil. His cardinal issue is that he believes in nothing beyond vaulting ambition and rancour. All politicians are imperfect, but few are quite as empty as Donald Trump. And the vacuum means no one should feel safe.

Indeed, looking at his Manhattan life is an exercise in enumerating all that is repugnant to Republicans. This man is a practiced laissez-faire, liberal dilettante with a searing intelligence, unbridled by discipline and stoked by vanity. He did not run for president to change America. He ran for president to change himself. He was bored. He didn’t like the music in Washington. He didn’t like being roasted for his cheap predilections. He decided to run to change the soundtrack; set the record straight.  

Trump’s election tears some beauty from the world. His is an ugly victory. The major chords have, for the present, turned to minor.

And to regain a sense of who we are, it is time to pull close. Around the table, around the piano. Time to remind ourselves of the love in our own lives, and of how one single song – sung with youth and soul – can ripple throughout the globe. 

RIP Leonard Cohen.

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