By now, I suspect, everybody knows that Leonard Cohen, an iconic Canadian poet and songwriter, died at the beginning of this week. And of course, everybody knows that Donald Trump, an American entrepreneur and novice politician, won the US presidential race a day later.
I am struck by the awful asymmetry of these two events.
For many lovers of music, the passing of the artist, while distressing, allows us once again to celebrate and honour the memories his songs created for us.
For progressive, liberal-minded people, the election of an erratic demagogue foreshadows a period of pullback, retrenchment, and isolationism in America. The nation’s motto, E pluribus unum—out of many, one—takes on an ominous tone.
I know of no one who is happy at the death of Cohen.
By contrast, millions upon millions of Americans are thrilled by the ascension of Trump. And, despite my many misgivings, I could well be among them if all the actions he has pledged to take were similar to these, for example: impose term limits on all members of Congress; impose new restrictions on lobbying and lobbyists in Washington; allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward; and fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure. In my view, these are reasonable, wise moves.
Alas, he may also proceed with actions such as these: renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal altogether; lift the restrictions on the production of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal; cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs; repeal, rather than fix, the Affordable Health Care Act; appoint conservative judges to vacancies in the Supreme Court (who will, quite possibly, reverse Roe v. Wade affecting women’s rights with respect to abortion); and cancel funding to such organizations as Planned Parenthood and Sanctuary Cities. I deem these actions to be backward-looking and regressive.
For me—one of those liberal progressives favouring public policies of inclusion and social conscientiousness—it is interesting to consider some of the sobriquets bestowed on Cohen over the years, and to see how many of them might fit Trump:
∙ prophet of despair,
∙ gloom merchant,
∙ grinning reaper,
∙ world heavyweight champion of existential despair, and
∙ dark messiah.
In Cohen’s case, these phrases were intended as respectful descriptions of the songs he wrote and performed. They are almost oxymorons, in that they combine positive and negative attributes in each phrase.
By contrast, for Trump they may bear no double-meaning; depending upon the actions he does choose to take during his first months in office, I fear they may have to be taken literally.
Consider these lines from Everybody Knows, one of Cohen’s most revered works; time will tell if they prove prophetic:
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes…
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied…
And if the worst does come to pass, keep in mind these lines, also from Cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Cohen knew that, and we know that, too.
Great points Dad and Peter! Reminds me of late night cottage conversations! Thanks for being the creative, inspiring artists you are. I think Leonard would approve! 🙂
Thanks, Megan! Those cottage conversations were the best!
I was just writing to a mutual friend Bryan, and in my note came to a similar conclusion even though it initially had a different bent.
Here’s the note :
Donald Trump performed an amazing feat. Entering the fray about a year and a half previous and being elected president is an incredible accomplishment. He managed to do this by centering in one one fact, which is, that to get elected one has to say the things that would get one elected. The clever part is working out what those things are. Donald is obviously very smart as opposed to very stupid.
The one thing I learned in politics, having been a municipal councillor for twelve years, was that sitting across the council table from you might be a person who held opinions and tenets that were diametrically opposed to one’s own, and additionally the person was very smart. America just got this lesson in democracy, but half don’t seem to realize this.
People, politicians, commentators and pundits are flailing around with all kinds of highly questionable and non-applicable analysis. Donald didn’t waste any time on insignificant theories like ‘whitelash’ and other racist and misogynist claims, instead he said anything that would keep him in the limelight, and get him elected, true or not. The clever thing about that is he is now in a position of power to accomplish many things. You can’t do anything if you don’t get elected, a la Hillary.
What he will actually do is mostly unknown, but he is not a stupid guy so it is unlikely that he will do stupid things. Additionally he was clever enough to recognize the truth of the matter, which was that many people in the general population were highly dissatisfied with their economic situation and the powers held by banks, corporations and economic elites, not to mention the lack of real and reliable information in the mainstream media.
My own wish, especially on today’s date, is that he will keep the world out of wars, and difficult or not, work towards a more harmonious relationship between the world’s great people’s. My further wish is that he will somehow account for the fact that people need a decent home and a living wage in order to fulfill their daily lives.
Regardless of his former experience or convictions I am sure shouldering the responsibility of the leader of the free world, with all its warts, is a humbling and molding experience he cannot escape. He has a few weeks to get ready for it. It will be a sombre space and a time of introspection capable of making any candidate more magnanimous.
I am also reminded at this time of Leonard Cohen’s thoughtfulness, “there’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in”. When things are broken we gain more wisdom and understanding. It seems appropriate to think of this in light of the present disparity on all sides. We are about to view the world in a different light. Let’s hope it is positive, thoughtful, engaging, and progressive in every sense of the word.
You’re right…..not everyone who disagrees with us is stupid. Wrong maybe, but not stupid! :>)
Let’s hope the light continues to get in…..
Thanks for the article!