I normally write about classical music, but the election of Donald Trump has made writing about anything other than the increasingly fragile state of American democracy seem like a misguided luxury. Still, before reading the words that follow, and in keeping with the original purpose of this too-dormant blog, cue up Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen. The composer wrote this heartrending work to convey his disconsolate state after seeing pictures of beloved opera houses in Vienna and Dresden destroyed during World War II, and it captures my own feelings about what happened to America when it elected Donald Trump.
Now read ahead.
There has been a lot of handwringing since the election, with blame falling on the media, pollsters, pundits and spin-doctors who convinced us that Trump just couldn't win and needn't be taken too seriously. But there is really only one group of people to blame for the fact that an erratic, ill-informed, narcissistic bully, cheat, and compulsive liar was handed the world's most powerful political office: the people who voted for him. They may not have given Trump a majority of the popular vote, but they gave him the Electoral College win, and, along with it, the platform his insatiable ego ruthlessly craved.
For the truth is, Trump voter, you failed a fundamental moral test by bringing to power a man who shamelessly and unapologetically denigrated others. When you cast your vote for Trump, you may not have consciously been acting out of racist, xenophobic, or any other kind of hatred, but you were nonetheless willfully telling untold millions of your countrymen and women that their fears and fundamental human rights didn't matter to you. The President is supposed to remind us to respect women, the disabled, and the most vulnerable among us, but instead you anointed a President-elect who aggressively demeaned countless Americans and empowered the alt-right hate groups whose extremist views are now becoming the dangerous new normal. Whatever your justifications for making this pact with the orange devil, you, the Trump voter, put your fellow citizens in harm's way and placed a stain on the American character that will not soon--or ever-- fade.
A vote for Trump was a vote against the kind of common decency that average Americans are supposed to aspire to, if not embody.
Hilary Clinton's primary sin was greed. She and Bill had more than enough resources to last them for many lifetimes to come, but they insisted on using their power and position for financial gain in ways that even the staunchest supporters might describe as unsavory. Her carelessness with emails was no sin, and was--even according to FBI Director James Comey--no crime. But the adulterous Trump's sins were manifold, leaving a trail of real-life victims in their wake, from those unpaid contractors who trusted him, to those women he groped with his celebrity-gilded claws. He was no con man, hiding his true intentions from a naïve electorate. No, the Trump voter elected ugly hatred that was on proud display and impossible to mistake for anything but what it was.
But the deed is done, America. You failed the first test, which called for you to and reject a vindictive and petty man so patently unfit for office (to paraphrase Lucy from A Charlie Brown Christmas, didn't you know the difference between a good candidate and a poor candidate?). So now, as Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office on January 20, you must recognize what is required of you in your next test. Namely, you must rise up and resist the tyrant the moment he violates the rights of your Muslim neighbor (you can thank Van Jones for reminding us that Muslim Americans are among the most productive and law-abiding citizens in the US), or your gay relative, or your Mexican-American co-worker, or your handicapped friend, or anyone who dares to be the "other" that Trump and his hateful tribe have singled out for exclusion. Having voted him into office, he acts in your name, and it is your moral responsibility to take ownership of his deeds as though they were your own.
But will you have the courage to say enough is enough before it is too late for all of us?
This is the new test that you must not fail, for the consequences of remaining silent, or worse, being complicit, would be unspeakably dire. They were expressed with searing brilliance by Martin Niemöller, a prominent German pastor whose fight against Hiter and the Nazis brought him seven years in two concentration camps, in the quotation for which he is justly famous:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.