Updated: May 6, 2019
Written by Matt Harkins
On a Wednesday in November of 2004, I showed up to school the day after 200,000 votes in a county in Ohio delivered George W. Bush a second term in the White House. It was a casual dress day, and I wore all-blue clothing in support of the Democratic Party, but also to express my “blues” in a literal fashion. When my teacher asked me why, I thought about mentioning that the country was endorsing an unjust war.
I wanted to tell her that one Presidential election cycle had turned John Kerry, a true war hero and statesman who supported reproductive rights for women, into a pretentious sophisticate and a “baby killer.” I thought about Tom Daschle, and how his loss in a tight race had eliminated the highest ranking Democratic attack dog.
I felt that the answer to the question should have been so apparent that the fact it was raised in the first place was puzzling. I didn’t know who was listening or what they would think, so I just said something about how it was a sad day for America. How could my teachers and classmates go on as normal when, to me, something so disastrous and traumatic had occurred in society the night before?
I haven’t seen anything in media that captures this feeling as well as the HBO movie Too Big to Fail. You can find it about halfway through the film, after the context of the 2007 economic crisis is set up and it becomes evident that America’s financial dominoes are about to fall. There’s a scene where Timothy Geithner, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is jogging around New York City as a business journalist explains the urgency of the moment. Geithner looks at a subway stop, pauses for a moment, and observes people casually exiting from the 2 and 3 trains. He calls Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and expresses his sense of alienation from the subway riders. “I’m on the street, Hank, and people are just going about their business, they have no idea the whole thing is about to fall down.”
I had another one of these moments late last night as I was walking through Collegetown. After cable news stopped churning out interesting conversation, I made my way toward my favorite establishment to see if a $2 Pabst Tallboy could alleviate the vertigo induced in me by the evening’s political kinetics. Before entering the establishment, I stopped in my tracks. I blinked for a second, but before I opened my eyes, I imagined hordes of politically conscious students taking to the streets, chanting against a candidate who owes his success to hurling vile filth at almost every marginalized class in society. I thought I saw a classmate expressing his sadness at the fact that a segment of our society is so dejected and angry that the only way they know how to engage in politics is through congregating in unruly hoards and clamoring to build walls around themselves in an effort to keep out the people they’re scared of. But none of that was real. I actually watched several students walk back from the library as if it were any other night.
It was confusing and disorienting. Campus media tells me that faculty donates overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates. Talk radio tells me that the Ivy League is full of social justice warriors primed to protest even the most miniscule transgressions against “political correctness.” I tell myself that I’m unable to tolerate injustice in the world and would go to the ends of the earth to maintain fidelity to my values. We all tell each other that “it’s 2016, we’re better than this.” The stories, theories, and narratives I use to explain the world, in that moment, failed. My societal schema, which I thought was well cultivated and refined, had been shattered in the blink of an eye. There was no symbolic bang to signify that the world ended. There wasn’t even a whisper.
But today, this grey world keeps on spinning. The media is splitting their time trying to explain how this caught prognosticators by surprise, catch up with the breaking developments of Republican Party as it reorients itself toward its presumptive nominee, and speculates about what’s next. Journalists are proclaiming the death of True Conservatism. Republicans are deciding whether to support Trump, carve out a strategy to deny him the Party nomination, or burn their voter registration cards. Democrats are either reveling at the opportunity to beat Trump in the fall, cautioning against an optimism that could spur general election complacency, celebrating the demise of the Republican Party, calling for Bernie Sanders to exit the race, or suggesting that true leftists should reflect on whether significant distinctions exist between the two parties’ presumptive nominees.
Trump is pivoting toward the center and outlining his strategy to make Hillary Clinton more unlikable than him. Bernie Sanders is predicting that he’ll be able to execute one of the most magnificent comebacks in American electoral history. Hillary Clinton is vetting running mates to match up with her presumptive counterpart and mentally gearing up for what will be a disgusting and mentally taxing five months. Ted Cruz is licking his wounds and eating his words. Carly Fiorina is carrying her luggage through a crowded airport without fanfare or attention. John Kasich, the patron saint of lost causes, is throwing in the towel.
And I’m picking up the pieces.