This week I thought I’d depart a little from the regular format, because this wasn’t a normal week. We went to the polls, we elected a billionaire reality-TV star to the presidency, and then to top things off, Leonard Cohen died.
So let’s stay with that theme.
On Election Day, we ran a wonderful “Why’s This So Good?” — renamed “Why’s This So (Damn) Good (and Topical)?” in its honor — on David Foster Wallace and his appeal for sincerity in a time of cynicism. This riff on John McCain’s “anti-candidate” presidential candidacy in 2000 eerily seemed to predict the phenomenon of Donald Trump:
Suppose, let’s say, you’ve got a candidate who says polls are bullshit and totally refuses to tailor his campaign style to polls, and suppose then that new polls start showing that people really like this candidate’s polls-are-bullshit stance and are thinking about voting for him because of it, and suppose the candidate reads these polls (who wouldn’t?) and then starts saying even more loudly and often that polls are bullshit and that he won’t use them to decide what to say, maybe turning “Polls are bullshit” into a campaign line and repeating it in every speech and even painting Polls Are Bullshit on the side of his bus….Is he a hypocrite?
And I loved this bit of language from writer Ryan Marnane: “I suppose the biggest difference now is that the current deployment of political promise — if one could call it that—seems empty, falling upon not only cynical ears but also unbearably circumspect hearts.” (It’s the unbearably circumspect hearts that really gets me.)
What I’m reading online: I’m just going to list a sampling of stories I read this week.
A call to action for journalists covering President Trump, by Margaret Sullivan in the Washington Post. It’s a manifesto all journalists should pin to their computers:
One thing is certain in the presumptive era of President Trump. Journalists are going to have to be better — stronger, more courageous, stiffer-spined — than they’ve ever been.
Donald Trump made hatred of the media the centerpiece of his campaign. Journalists were just cogs in a corporate machine, part of the rigged system. If many Americans distrusted us in the past, they came to actively hate us.
What we can’t do is buckle. What we can’t do is slink off and hope someone else will take care of it.
‘Something is happening that is amazing,’ Trump said. He was right. Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson followed Trump to 170 rallies in 35 states over the past year. This nails it.
The first question I usually asked: Why do you like him?
The answers were nearly always the same: He’s saying what I’m saying, thinking, feeling or wanting to hear. He’s not a politician and not part of a corrupt system. He’s honest and speaks his mind, even if it gets him in trouble. And he’s tough.
What’s on my bedside table: For some reason I picked up “Ripley Under Ground,” by Patricia Highsmith. It’s one in the series about charming sociopath Tom Ripley, with some of the darkest humor in print. Like this passage about Ripley removing the body of his latest victim from the wine cellar:
Murchison went up half the steps very nicely, but Tom had spent a lot of energy on it, and had to pause. The rope was cutting his hands a bit, and he was too impatient to run to the toolshed for his gardening gloves. He took another grip and made it to the top. It was easier going across the marble floor. He varied his task by rolling the wheelbarrow round to the front and tripping it on its side. He would have preferred to get Murchison out via the French windows, but he couldn’t cross the living room with him without taking up the rug.
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “Young, Gifted and Black,” by Aretha Franklin. I wanted to listen to Nina Simone and absorb that righteous anger of her this, but I couldn’t find any of my Nina vinyl, so I put on this great album. The title song, opening like a gospel choir, or a spiritual from the time of slavery — tremendous. I know many blacks felt particularly betrayed by the election, and I’m not sure if this song will cause a bitter taste in the mouth right now, or be empowering.
And I’d like to end with some lyrics from Leonard Cohen, which seem particularly brutal and haunting. They’re from “Everybody Knows,” in that moment when his voice became deeper, and darker.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight is fixed
The poor stay poor and the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is sinking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody’s got this broken feeling
Like their Momma or their dog just died
Everybody’s hands are in their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
that’s how it goes
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.