Some protesters asserted that President Trump's stances on immigration have encouraged ICE to become more assertive in their detention efforts.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Some protesters asserted that President Trump's stances on immigration have encouraged ICE to become more assertive in their detention efforts.

January 30, 2017

MEISEL | Art and the Post-Trump Problem

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Since Trump was elected, I am bothered every day by a certain set of questions and anxieties. Whenever I go on a news site or look at a paper, our current president apparently fits the bill of tyranny wearing a fresh set of big boy underpants. He has begun an enormous upheaval of all values we carried closely to our hearts. Truth, facts, common decency—these diamond American ideals have gone out the window.

Meanwhile, the media stands by professionally wide-mouthed. Each drop of presidential chum kicks them into a ratings frenzy of red-faced disbelief. Conveniently, their process is rinse and repeat. The president does some shit, the media says some opposite shit, the kids get mad, etc.

This, I guess, is the current state of things. Yet I hear so little said and so little written about what it’s like to experience this moment. I don’t mean “Trump’s America.” Contrary to the headlines, this country has not suddenly shifted into some kind of Orwellian regime with a fresh brand name. I refuse the social media algorithm which insists on feeding me hope for a united country, similar in image to the harmonious multicolor smiles one might encounter in a Coca-Cola commercial.

None of it can contradict in my gut the fear, the boredom, the need for attention and the anger that those growing up in today’s America do feel. When I go outside, I am often struck by the feeling that this nation is drawing its breath in for a scream. I have no idea whether it will be a death-wheeze or a battle cry but either way the noise, the movement and the air of this place pulses with the need to say something.

Despite its dying, this world is new and each moment is new within it. After the election, I could hear the echoes of “never before in history…never before in history,” as both a sign of celebration and a mark of fear. This is perhaps the only truth we can all agree on. We have never been here before.

In early January I met up with a friend I’ve known since the 8th grade. He had spent the past seven months in court-ordered rehab, sober by popular standards, subsisting on cigarettes, coffee and kava. He was, as usual, dressed like he was about to depart for an ashram.

With no dangerous sorts of intoxication ahead of us, we decided to drive to a hookah lounge. We sat there and talked. An open-mic started. North Georgia nightlife eventually poured in.

It had been awhile since we last saw each other. I had promised to send him my writing and my music—everything I was proud of and wanted him to enjoy too. He was the first person to take it seriously. I never did. I had told him I would call. I didn’t. I wanted to hear what music he was making, since he brought up he had been producing some. I still haven’t.

Still, he was happy to see me, and I was happy to see him too. We had the type of relationship earned after you get into a lot of trouble with someone else. It was simple. We trusted one another.

When I dropped him off at the halfway house I was overcome with almost a feeling of mourning or loss. Driving back home in the wooded dark I thought about everything I had wanted to say but didn’t, and all the new insights that had just been relayed to me by someone who had come to terms with sobriety. I thought about how difficult it was to express certain pains that I knew, at their core, so many others around me also felt—how I can see so many people driven to hurt themselves and others out of an unnamed grief that will never be fulfilled so long as we can’t look it in the eye.

Art and creative expression appear to me as the most successful and most needed relief to these personal/emotional/spiritual difficulties we all experience. No matter what the facts may be or what the truth is in the newspaper, art presents us with a type of communication necessary for continuing into this absurd darkness we are all facing. And how little of it today feels fulfilling as it should. Perhaps that’s one reason why we’re all boiling over with anger and fear. Otherwise, when faced with the overbearing futilities of struggle against the most dangerous of powers, how else can we remind ourselves that we are still here for one another? That we are still, not in spite but because of this world, speaking?

Stephen Meisel is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at smeisel@cornellsun.com. His column  Appearances appears alternate Mondays this semester.

  • “When I go outside, I am often struck by the feeling that this nation is drawing its breath in for a scream. I have no idea whether it will be a death-wheeze or a battle cry but either way the noise, the movement and the air of this place pulses with the need to say something.

    Despite its dying, this world is new and each moment is new within it. After the election, I could hear the echoes of “never before in history…never before in history,” as both a sign of celebration and a mark of fear. This is perhaps the only truth we can all agree on. We have never been here before.”

    This is some of the most prescient commentary I’ve ever read regarding the zeitgeist. Beautifully written.

    We have never been here before, to be sure. But our current circumstances have their progenitors, their roots. We can trace them and discover how to wind back the hands of the Doomsday clock. The fascism of the 1930s, the radical left of the 1960s – the children of these extremes are stirring and sloughing against one another like bubbling oil and vinegar in a overheated pot. All we need is a great communicator – a noble humanist – a new MLK or JFK. Someone who can sit all of the angry children down in a circle and lead us in breaking bread.

    If fate is kind, that person is waiting in the wings.