Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner November 19, 2020
In the reams of posts, cartoons and opinions which I looked at over the torturous few days of the American election, I most often clicked “save” on a poem. Poetry is the mode of expression adequate for these soul-sized times. Here is one I clicked:
“We need to sit on the rim of the well of darkness/ and fish for fallen light/ with patience.” Pablo Neruda, the Nobel-winning poet from Chile.
Fishing for fallen light is what America must do now and for some time to come. More than 70 million voters, knowing all about children in cages, about 230,000 fellow citizens dead from COVID-19, about insults to minorities, the disabled and soldiers, about gloats regarding conquests of women, about the cultivation of white supremacists, and about 20,000 documented lies uttered while in office, still voted for this president.
“That is what hurts” said Van Jones, an African-American commentator on CNN, in tears.
On Twitter, I follow Gerald Butts, the smart Cape Bretoner and friend of the prime minister who served as his principal secretary. Butts writes succinctly and wittily: he said early on election night: “We think of ourselves and the Americans as being very much alike. We are not alike.”
Another poster said, “I don’t ever again want to hear someone say, “This is not who we are.” This is clearly who half of us are.”
How that must sting conscientious Americans. Who dares say that he or she understands these voters? We know the arsonist-in-chief lights flames of grievance and calls for violence when he is cornered, but what is motivating them? White guys we get, but Latino men and African-American men too? Catholics? Evangelicals? What is it in them that Trump speaks to?
I really wish I had studied more abnormal psychology. Failing that, I turn to poetry, whose very ambiguity gives me some insight. In 1933, as Stalin was opening his gulags, a Jewish-Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, wrote: “We live without sensing the country beneath us. Our speech is inaudible at ten paces.”
That resonates with us today through our masks and our deep sense that we don’t “get” America any more. The dogs of war were unleashed by this immoral man, but we didn’t know such hate was hidden there.
A lot of reflection and investigation must follow if America is to come together with the slightest sense of renewed understanding of itself. And work to reform its outdated electoral system which so baffles the world and did not serve this election well.
At McGill, American-born professor Jason Opal savaged this electoral system. Set up in 1787, it endows the states with 538 “electors,” nameless people who must vote as directed by the voters in their States.
He said: “Today we have hyper-partisan hatred. America is an outlier among democracies. We need a Canada-like, national, non-partisan commission, such as Elections Canada, running the show, evenly, across the country.” I have a thoughtful friend here in Peterborough, John, who says; ”I am a 70-year old liberal dismayed by their unhealthy views of God, their belief in a prosperity gospel, their juvenile understanding of socialism and its benefits, and the corruption of their political system with big money, gerrymandering and voter suppression.”
A glimmer of hope, indeed a bright light, has been President-elect Joe Biden’s behaviour, highlighted by a masterful speech in which he dared to quote biblical sources (Ecclesiastes), a beloved hymn by Minnesota priest Michael Joncas called “On Eagles Wings,” and poetry by Irish poet Seamus Heaney.
“History says “Don’t hope this side of the grave.” But then, once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme.”
For those Canadians galvanized by the efforts of one Stacey Abrams to mobilize voters in Georgia for their January 5 runoffs for two Senate spots, there is the website New Georgia Project. I don’t think we can donate money but we can send cheer.
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