Back before there was iTunes—before Napster was even a thing—I heard a song on the radio. It was by a relatively new band, They Might Be Giants. We lived in Illinois at the time and I was being paid so poorly that we couldn’t afford luxuries like CDs. When I called the local radio station to ask them to play the song (“Birdhouse in Your Soul”) they apologized—they didn’t have the album. “We really should,” the receptionist told me. Although I was only earning a part-time salary—the fate of many a doctorate holder—and my wife was still in school, we eventually bought Flood. It quickly became one of our favorites. One of the songs that immediately struck us both was “Your Racist Friend.” It’s been going through my head lately, for some reason. “I know politics bore you, but I feel like a hypocrite talking to you and your racist friend,” the duo sings. I could quote the entire song, but let me highlight one of my favorite lines: “Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”
I’ve been reading online that some people are saying, “Just get over it. You lost. Deal with it.” Auf Deutsch, “Komm damit klar.” After so many rounds of Kübler-Ross that Elisabeth is getting dizzy in her grave, I’ve begun to realize something. This was no ordinary loss. I’ve been alive long enough to be disappointed with election results several times. The psychological trauma from Tuesday rates somewhere between 9/11 and the Challenger explosion. To put this is perspective, when Reagan won I was depressed for a while, about as much as when the Steelers lost Super Bowl XL, and I’m not a sports fan. I’ve never spent the hours after an election glancing at the faces of others to see if they looked as damaged as I felt. “Just get over it” people?—it’s called shock. “Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.”
This was no ordinary election. Yes, I was born in the Kennedy administration. I was too young to understand Camelot, but I’m now old enough to read the writing on the wall. I saw our nation put a man on the moon. I felt the unending frustration of Vietnam. I watched Nixon resign after Watergate. God help us, I even survived two terms of W. I’ve never felt that we were bargaining our soul before. I was at the crossroads at midnight. I know what I saw. Can a man who has openly treated women as objects, insulted people for their race, and advocated thug violence to win lead a unified country? I don’t know. “If anything was broken I’m sure it could be mended,” the song says. Let’s hope so, but let me contemplate the ghost of democracy past. It’s my right.