There is a willow tree on Belle Isle that hangs over the Detroit River. At sunset, I would tightrope its thickest limb and jump into the water, breast-stroking there against the current so as not to float away beneath a sky bruised with Easter colors. Instead of God, I’d think of great blue herons and arcs of champagne light as I swam. Of balloons cut from strings and the tendrils of pink anemones relinquishing angelfish. The last time I dove in was mid-October, the day before leaving Detroit for good. That night in the river I dreamt it was our purpose to become light. I reasoned that every star we see and name was once, too, an Earth where one, then many, and then all had lit up with the knowledge of oneness. This mission complete, the inhabitants thinned and coalesced and became radiant; became a beacon and instruction for the next Earth in a cycle that would end only when all the blackness of space became a canvas of light; a pointillism of the infinite.
I thought about how those Earths before ours came to discover the harmony that set them free. Maybe it was making connections—the way a solar system is reminiscent of an atom or how, from overhead, a city grid evokes the surface of a microchip. Aided by prophets and stewards and fire-keepers those Earths continued long enough for these connections to add up until all distinction blurred into a recognition of eternity—until a blade of grass could be mistaken for a field, a grandfather’s face for a mountain, a death for a birth.
This November, I was, again, taking account of my river dream while walking in Vancouver. My thoughts came to a juncture when I asked myself, earnestly and without judgment: Am I crazy? At the precise moment this inner question ended a heron exploded from the marshland to my left, taking flight over jungle gyms, soccer fields and charcoal grills. That bird, that figuration of blue dust in flight, was enough to keep me believing we were light in wait. The next day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
In 2016, LIGO registered the collision of two black holes, proving another dynamic of gravity. It’s difficult not to find this discovery prescient in a year on Earth when darkness has conspired to oppress the very lightness of our being. One fears the reverberations of this election, this dark collusion, will be felt for decades to come, if, in fact, it does not end our species. The men who will now lead this country are weighted with the whispers of ego and fear. They do not believe we are boundless. They harbor a Hobbesian vision of the world, ascribe themselves neither to wonder or curiosity, and are immune to art. I state the latter with fullest confidence, as it is impossible to truly read Milton or hear Bach and condone utterance of the word “bigly”; to view Picasso’s “Guernica” and call for an increase in nuclear arms.
But forget art, for it is no secret these men are philistines. If we look at history, a more accessible discipline, we find our new leaders demonstrating a willful ignorance of, or will to repeat, many of its most recent and tragic aspects. To recall the Holocaust or Japanese-American internment during WWII and yet call, 60 years later, for the creation of a Muslim-American registry is to have learned nothing from the past. Which begs the question: What are humans here for, if we cannot, finally, learn the most blatant of lessons and progress? A child learns to pull back from a range’s molten ring after just one touch, yet we continue to let fear and hate stoke to violent conflagration our hearts and minds. And now, again, bodies will pile up and rights will be violated grossly.
In thirty years, if we survive, someone will make a film chronicling the period in history when America willfully elected a fascist buffoon as its President. The movie will sweep the Oscars and people will emerge from the theaters asking themselves and their wives: “How could we let this happen? How didn’t we realize…”. Let me give them all a head start: We are fucked. Start shooting the movie tomorrow. Its only suspense now lay in the extent of the damage.
To trace the origins of our country’s looming fall is not difficult. Never has a mind had to compete with so much to remain noble. Peppered as we are by inanity, wedded as we are to “devices”, our exposure to the hyperbolic, grandiose, and surreal is ever constant. So conditioned have we become to these qualities that we demand them now not only in our entertainment—but in our food, clothes, news, and politics. The natural result is a decline in our collective powers of discernment, leading finally to an inability to distinguish fact from truth; the objective from the subjective. This blurring of the real and surreal, perpetrated—whether consciously or not—by a techno-corporate machine aimed, seemingly, at human obsolescence, has left our nation prone to the whims of a lunatic.
Those older than myself have likened the dread so many of us now feel to that experienced during the Vietnam War or at the election of Ronald Reagan. I want, desperately, to draw comfort and faith in our continuance from these parallels, but obstacles exist now that were in past eras unfathomable. Namely, a swiftly heating planet, the heedless charge toward Artificial Intelligence, and a technological ubiquity that fosters indolence while persisting under the guise of “increased productivity”. So perpetually spun, are we, in a maelstrom of manufactured obligation that we fail to question what, ostensibly, is being produced. In the cash grab that has become American capitalism the answer is: More of less substance and less of real human worth. President Trump is this trend manifested in the flesh; America, a stomach set to burst on phantom hunger.
But this is all low-hanging fruit, and nothing Orwell didn’t articulate more eloquently 67 years ago in 1984—a book I dare you to read now and attempt a restful sleep. Follow that up with Nicolas Carr’s 2011 book, The Shallows: “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” and an honest look at where we stand, and, like me, you may be compelled to move deep into the woods with a dog, some seeds, and a lifetime’s worth of books and blank paper. But for an obligation to protect those now most vulnerable, I would do so.
The most elementary test of human decency was failed by those who voted for Donald Trump. No amount of Bible study, personal growth or prayer will forgive that. Money and fear, again, proved more compelling counsel than the man many Trump voters proclaim as their savior. And, again, those acting most antithetical to Jesus’s teachings were the ones most vocal in citing his influence over their Presidential vote. These are the same people who mutter “It’s God’s plan” when a cop shoots a black man missing a taillight, but who have a psychic breakdown when their son, at 40, dies from lung cancer.
Yet, at least the religious Trump voter has, like a lighthouse rarely heeded, purported an ideology from which to, savagely and often, deviate. The remainder of President Trump’s supporters, cabinet, and campaign donors are too smug and bilious to bother, now, even alleging principals they will subsequently contradict. And why should they? In electing Donald Trump our nation wrote a blank check for authoritarianism, with upwards of 62 million Americans affirming that logical consistency, causal relationships, and rational argumentation have no worth. These people demonstrated that ease, fear, and impulse outrank reason and human compassion. The vast majority of them own guns.
The scale of pronouncements herein is not meant to ignore the points of light and consciousness that exist, and continue to emerge, throughout the world. Survival, now, will depend on the fierceness of their shine. Complacency will result in dictatorship, and in fact, has already led us to the precipice of one. Between good and evil the contrast could be no starker: There are those who want to divide us through fear and hate, wage war, and care nothing for the earth, and there are those who believe we are one human race capable of lasting peace, progress, and stewardship. The moral relativist has no place in this fight, the line is drawn and clear.
The fear felt now must be a galvanizing, not a paralyzing, one. The nearness of our end must be the fuel for our flight. Who’s to say how many opportunities at courage we have left; how many chances we have to stand up and say No? The body knows when it’s time—your head will get light, your heart will beat fast, and instead of letting a co-worker’s remark about Muslims, or a cousin’s homophobic rant go unaddressed to sour the air we all must breathe, you will swallow your nerves, speak up, and say No, that’s not right. Because, this time, you must.
It might never all be light, but there is light enough to see the path. Those evenings on Belle Isle I would climb from the river and walk to a bench nearby. Wind would dry my body as I tipped tall cans of beer watching the last light flair to gold the grass, the water and the willow’s boughs. The world, then, wasn’t so mad, and if the beer and light mingled just so I could convince myself that I sat on the surface of a star. Bodiless, burning in a love for all things, lighting the way for a boy who somewhere dreams of herons, mending his heart with the promise of a glow far off.