By Andy Jones
In 2016, David Bowie and Prince died unexpectedly, and I was crushed. In 2017, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino passed away, and I was saddened. These inevitable endings remind us of our mortality, and of our powerlessness. Your love for Prince could not have saved Prince. He walked a path independent of your path, no matter how many of his songs you may have downloaded. At the end of 2017, we learned that France will miss Johnny Hallyday, and Mayberry will miss Gomer Pyle, but there’s nothing you could have done for these musical stars who likely didn’t sing to you.
To my mind, the greatest losses of 2017 were not people, but bedrock American values upon which we had come to depend. In 2017, I lamented the loss of important abstractions, such as respect the United States had earned from other nations, executive branch adherence to the laws and guidelines in our Constitution, and, perhaps the most valuable of all, our hard-earned traditions of our democracy. Unlike with the final curtain calls of favorite singing stars, this loss was our fault. As a nation, we elected Donald Trump.
While voters in red states mistakenly thought they were electing a Republican, complacent voters in blue and purple states missed the warning signs. We know now that we had ignored the rust belt and the people who lived there, we underestimated the anger of low-information voters, we failed to understand the extent that resentment, racism, and nationalist anger had taken hold of people with whom we largely chose not to interact. We had failed to recognize or confront our nation’s new enemies, such as alt-right internet trolls, and Russians who had weaponized our national digital distractions of Facebook and Twitter.
We believed, normalized, or neglected to defy the central “political” and entertainment figure who kept the media busy, and thus we elected a liar, a huckster, a flimflam man, a charlatan, and a self-hyping bigot. We somehow believed him when he said, “I alone can fix it,” even though, as Luke Skywalker says in The Last Jedi, “Every word in that sentence was wrong.” As we examine our current era’s calculating army of storm-troopers — the media manipulators, necktie-wearing xenophobes, and Russian provocateurs — we see that Trump depended upon collusions with such allies in order to rip up the social conventions of truth-telling and decency, and thus has begun to dismantle our representative government.
The difference between the loss of our musical heroes, on the one hand, and American Democracy, on the other, is that together we actually can fix the latter. We can band together, open our eyes,
understand our nation’s enemies, foreign and domestic, and we can make some different choices. In 2016, we as a nation took some terrible risks, with terrible and embarrassing results in 2017. In 2018, we can take steps to address our nation’s ills, to confront outside agitators and domestic bigots. Women are stepping forward to run for office, as are people of color, LGBT folks, and a great variety of resolved and sometimes enraged citizens who have awakened to the military and ecological threats to Americans, and to humankind.
The recently-passed tax bill reminds us of the ways that we are not protected by the bubble over Davis, or the bubble over California. By eliminating some of the deductions we enjoyed for the significant state and local taxes we pay, the crafters of this partisan experiment in political punishment have disincentivized the investments we make in local schools — Davis schools are some of the best in the state — as well as the contributions we make in local non-profit organizations that champion our Davis values and causes.
We awaken on the first of the year as if suffering a hangover from a party we did not mean to attend. We all have felt the ill-effects in 2017, but the morning sun can bring with it a hope for change, for correction of our grievous national error. I look forward to supporting–with rhetoric, with contributions, and with deeds–those leaders who share our concerns and our outrage, and who seek to forge a new path of action, of resistance. In doing so, we might return to the bipartisan American values that have emboldened us during our historical battles with tyranny and fascism.
At the beginning of a new year, we must take heart, for I believe we are ready for this challenge. As Winston Churchill famously said, “Never give in — never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
Andy Jones is the Poet Laureate of Davis. His most recent book, titled Pub Quizzes: Trivia for Smart People, is now available at The Avid Reader in Davis. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/andyojones.