All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
—W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”
On Tuesday night, three days before the inauguration, a 45-year-old man lit himself on fire outside Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington DC. Reports from the scene describe the act as a direct protest against Trump’s looming presidency, and say the man specifically referred to Trump as a “dictator.” The protester suffered third-degree burns but is expected to recover.
Here we are. The last day. I’ve had the Grateful Dead playing in an endless loop in my head for days now — “Don’t you let that deal go down, oh no” — but barring a meteor strike or some other form of localized bedlam, the deal is indeed going to go down at noon Eastern time tomorrow. Donald Trump will be sworn in as the next president of the United States of America, and people are already lighting themselves on fire at the prospect.
The event itself promises to be a genuine humdinger. Mr. Trump and his crew have lined up a real murderer’s row of talent to perform at the various events. My understanding is that the headline act will be a barbershop quartet from Muncie, Indiana, followed by a dog that can catch sticks with its butt. The list of those refusing to perform is an avalanche of, “Yeah, no thanks.”
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The real show, of course, will be the protests. Tens of thousands will be on hand to shout down “His Orangeness” on Friday, followed by hundreds of thousands more for the Women’s March on Saturday. Ominously, Trump’s people told the commander of the Washington, DC, National Guard to not show up for work on Saturday, so there will be troops in the streets dealing with command confusion in the middle of a massive, angry demonstration. This does not bode well.
This matters very little to Mr. Trump, because odds are he won’t be in town for very long. As he told the Times of London the other day, “My Day One is gonna be Monday,” so look for him to flit out of DC immediately after the swearing-in on Friday and sidestep burning people on his way back to the comforts of Trump Tower. His first official act as president is to take the weekend off. As far as I’m concerned, he can have the whole month. Is a year too long? Four?
So this is the precipice, I guess, and we’re all about to fly out over the edge like Wile E. Coyote holding a sign that reads, “Was This Trip Really Necessary?” Mayhem with Russia, mayhem with China, mayhem with Taiwan, mayhem in Congress over the Affordable Care Act’s repeal, mayhem over the nominees, mayhem with the intelligence branch, mayhem with the business holdings, mayhem in the media and of course mayhem on Twitter, and the man hasn’t even punched the clock yet.
Thursday the 19th of January, 2017. Over at NASA, they call the line between light and darkness the “terminator.” That’s where we are, right on that line. To be sure, the light has not been very bright for a long time, but the creeping darkness is utterly complete. Remember sitting in the perfect blackness of your bedroom as a kid, holding your hand in front of your face and not being able to see it? Remember being afraid? Welcome back.
I am going to spend this day collecting things. My little daughter’s first smile of the morning, her first perfect hug, the mosaic she will make of her breakfast. The side-by-side bobcat tracks in the new-fallen snow like a secret only I get to share. The taste of my wife’s mouth as I kiss her good morning. The dog’s cold nose against the back of my leg, a goad to duty and the food bowl. The smell of birch bark as I load wood into the furnace. All of these things, these little things, will be mine forever, gathered on the last day before everything changed.
Tomorrow my thoughts will be with the DC protesters, with Black Lives Matter, with the righteous remnants of Occupy, with the Water Protectors of North Dakota, with the water rights activists in Flint and with anyone else of good conscience who intends to stand the barricades and not tuck tail and run because some fool of a pig snuffled up a presidential truffle. I will be prepared to lose more than I win, to lose things I did not believe were capable of being lost, and I will fight with my brothers and sisters to gain them back. The terminator brings darkness, but then it brings light. When you can’t see your hand, take hold of mine, and remember that we are here together, you and I.
Go collect some memories while you can. There will never be another day like today, and tomorrow comes rushing.