Thursday, November 10, 2016

River of Progress

Like a great many people I know, I woke up yesterday morning with the heaviest of hearts.  It was easy in the post-election haze of shock and awe to feel depressed and defeated.  Even the journalists on every news network I watched Tuesday night (and I checked in with all the major networks across the spectrum) seemed somewhat bewildered, confused, and...well...low-energy, to say the least.

It's an extraordinary thing that America chose to elect a man who received no endorsement from any living former president nor any major news publication...a man who was endorsed by the KKK.  It's an incredible thing that America chose to elect a man with absolutely no political experience who unleashed and rode a tidal wave of misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia to our nation's highest office.

In the wake of that, when viewing it from that perspective, it's easy to feel disgusted, despondent, depressed and like one wants to give up.  I understand that the Canadian immigration website crashed under the deluge of traffic it received Tuesday night, and scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday morning was like a visual depiction of grief and all its stages - most prevalently anger.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, many Americans with whom I was close (including my partner at the time) were desperate to ex-patriate to Europe, where life seemed better and people seemed more accepting.  I believe the Canadian immigration website was getting a lot of traffic back then, as well.  Yet I never, ever had this inclination, despite the fact that I was frequently working in Europe for extended periods back then.  I was adamant about staying in the US, and proudly being an American despite the jokes that I should pretend to be a Canadian citizen during my foreign travels.

I believe that America is beautiful, and I am proud that it is my home.  Not only is it a stunningly beautiful country in its landscape and natural wonders, but it is a country founded by a handful of visionary geniuses (who were riddled with all the flawed trappings of human genius) on the principle of Freedom.  Part of the beauty of that freedom is that our wonderful land is a place where truly all voices can be heard - most importantly those of dissent.  We witnessed the humbling power of that beauty yesterday, when a strong and vocal minority of the electorate raised their voices of dissent and swept a terrifying, seemingly despotic man whom they felt represents their ideals into power for at least the next 4 years.

The river of progress is a winding one that, just like rivers in nature, sometimes winds back upon itself.  In a strange twist of history, a vestigial institution of a time when our founding fathers felt that both one's genitalia and the color of one's skin determined suffrage was the quirk of our voting system that empowered this minority of voters.  The Electoral College, which was established in lieu of a direct, popular vote as a compromise to appease the slave-owners of the South, empowered a minority voice of dissent against the future legacy of our first black president and the possibility for a woman to finally break the ultimate glass ceiling in America.

I think that it is important to remember that while rivers may wind back on themselves occasionally, and sometimes narrow almost to streams, they always continue to flow.  The analogy makes me think of yet another beautiful, American creation: Charles Ives' setting of Robert Underwood Johnson's poem The Housatonic at Stockbridge.  The river of progress is, like the Housatonic of Johnson's poem, sometimes "overshy" and sometimes "masks its beauty from the eager eye".  But I do believe it will continue to carry us ever onward, and that this week's shocking result is just a "restive ripple" which encourages a "faster drift". I hope it is a wake-up call for us to try to extricate ourselves from our liberal echo chamber and truly hear this voice of dissent, as Michael Moore was encouraging us to do back in July.  I, like the narrator in the poem, "also of much resting have a fear", and I look forward to following this river "to the adventurous sea" that lies beyond, no matter how seemingly meandering its path.

We must remember that we are the voice of the majority of the popular vote that chose progress.  As a result, no matter who is our president, progress was made, and progress will continue.  Perhaps taking confidence in that, we can continue to appreciate the terrifying beauty of our right to Freedom of Speech and listen to these voices of dissent with a bit of compassion, hopefully enabling us all to find a path forward...together. 

Charles Ives
The Housatonic at Stockbridge

TEXT (Robert Underwood Johnson)

Contented river! In thy dreamy realm
The cloudy willow and the plumy elm:
Thou beautiful!
From ev'ry dreamy hill
what eye but wanders with thee at thy will,
Contented river!
And yet over-shy 
To mask thy beauty from the eager eye;
Hast thou a thought to hide from field and town?
In some deep current of the sunlit brown
Ah! there's a restive ripple,
And the swift red leaves
September's firstlings faster drift;
Wouldst thou away, dear stream?
Come, whisper near! 
I also of much resting have a fear:
Let me tomorrow thy companion be, 
By fall and shallow to the adventurous sea!

Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano

recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

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