While doing a bit of a bookshelf purge this weekend, I happened upon a thick wedge of newspapers, folded in half, and pressed between two big notebooks. This isn't uncommon for me. I've been working at newspapers on and off since September of 1993, and am terrible at throwing anything away. But the way these were placed indicated that I'd saved them intentionally. When I took them down and opened them up, I immediately understood why.
When I fanned them out so I could take a picture (since no experience can be complete until it has been photographed), my mind and heart swelled with a feeling that encompassed shock, sorrow, anger, dread, and a tiny glimmer of a remnant of a sliver of a dream of a hope. President Obama's election and inauguration both occurred less than 10 years ago, when the state of the union was so dreadful and divided that only the least likely imaginable figure could come forward and restore something remotely like balance.
Then "least imaginable" took on far more horrifying dimensions, and I don't know one person who genuinely believes we're going to come back from it. My friends tell me, truthfully though not mirthlessly, that I have a reputation as a pessimist, and I understand why, but goddamn, I did not expect the blast of emotion that accompanied these reminders of a time I still think of as recent, but which, thanks to the changing nature of time and the escalating venality of the men in charge of the country, now feels almost prehistoric.
Do you remember Obama's election night? I remember seeing thousands of people literally dancing in the streets with ecstatic relief that the tide of corruption, fake religiosity, cronyism, intentional vacuousness, and far worse represented by the Bush administration, had not only been stemmed, but appeared to have been reversed.
This was naïve on many levels, but it was also true on at least a couple of them. How could we have known that the sound of all that joyful dancing in the name of at least the beginnings of a glimmer of national human unity would awaken every nasty parasite feeding on the anemic blood of every grub in every fetid little warren in the sewage-soaked undergrowth of the American consciousness, inspiring them to join forces in an effort not merely to oppose, but to negate and erase Obama's legacy and our support of it, no matter the cost?
(And in the meanwhile, we couldn't even get it together enough to acknowledge the indisputable fact that not voting has an impact on election results.)
Looking at these old papers (one of which would publish its final print edition four months later, while the other two are so focused on radically different survival strategies they no longer even bother to think of the other as competition), I remembered the years and months that led to that extraordinarily beautiful American moment, and, armed with these tokens of history's first draft, tried to compare the way it felt then to life under Trump.
I tried to connect the bleak sensation left by eight years' worth of daily personal defeats for me, my friends, and everyone I respected and admired in the world under the Bush-Cheney cabal to the Bizarro World malevolence of Trump.
I tried to imagine a figure in the current political marketplace whose dignity and character would prove so radically compelling that their vanquishment of Trump's second term might somehow echo the dizzying lightness that followed Obama's progress from unlikely to undeniable less than a decade ago, which nonetheless seems like forever.
No, I couldn't.
But I didn't throw the newpapers away either. In the absence of concrete hope, memory has its consolations.