The Story Pool – Madonna Hamel
My sojourn out east is nearly over. I’ve sorted through 21 years of my life, jettisoning papers and photos and half-finished artworks. I sent 40 more boxes of books and sweaters to the Swift Current bus depot, where I’ll pick them up on my way back home. While in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City I’ve watched the Cubs win the World Series, I witnessed the shock of the world as Trump beat out Clinton, and I’ve stayed up late with a friend singing Leonard Cohen dirges.
Every night I would come home from sorting and pitching the detritus and cached treasures of my recent past to a friend’s house where I’d plop exhausted on a couch and either knock back a beer or sip from a hot cup of tea and discuss the events of the day. Besides the aforementioned biggies there were also the usual local issues and actualities to deal with: travel made inconvenient with construction blockages or subway repairs, a local politician got his hand caught in the cookie jar, a hometown boy just made it into the big league, a car went over the pier and investigations are pending.
Throughout it all it was hard to discern fact from fiction, or, what was reality from ‘just pretending.’ My niece says TV sports are the ultimate reality show, everything else is staged. I tend to agree with her. And Chris Hedges, keynote speaker at the International Author’s Festival would agree as well. In his book “Empire of Illusion” he warned us that elections in the States would look more and more like Wide World of Wrestling, with opponents talking trash about each other and inciting the rage and blood lust of the audience outside the ring. Civility, dignity, diplomacy will no longer matter, what will matter is getting attention, inducing fear and hatred inside a cyclone of confusion.
I remember watching Trump for the first time on an overhead screen in the Chicago train station. Over the space of an hour I watched him bully, interrupt, provoke and harass the apprentices in front of him. As he hurled and tossed slur after insult at the unworthy young trainees, I got more and more nauseated witnessing his carelessness. It made me uneasy that the only reason he could get away with being so cruel was because he was the richest man in the room. His entitlement was so infectious that his chosen apprentices, like little children, began to imitate his behaviour, as if it were a model for success, ridiculing and slandering the “fired” “losers.” The whole show was a futile exercise in chasing self-esteem by posturing as a demi-god. It was a perfect set-up for the rising social media which is all about comparing our insides with others outsides, outsides that are often invented personas.
Now that Trump has somehow managed to become president, I hear a lot of people reconsidering Trump’s methods as, perhaps, brilliant strategies. I’ve also heard claims that “he didn’t mean what he was saying. He was just being provocative,” as if that somehow makes his disparaging comments less offensive. How many of us have been badgered and harangued by button-pushers in our lives until we finally snapped and blew our cool? Have you ever turned around and said to them: “Gee, that really worked! You should run for office! I’d love to have you for my elected official.” I’m not the first to moan today’s politician’s lack of civility, dignity, diplomacy and the ability to think things through. But I remain steadfast in my insistence that just because Trump ‘won’ the wrestling match does not make his methods admirable. The end does not justify the means.
However I am not surprised that an electorate that claims to want “the kind of guy I’d have a beer with” was not overly upset at Trumps language about women. When you get a group of guys together drinking beer in a bar or at a game or in a van travelling the country, talk almost inevitably turns to “p***y” and “a**.” “Trump talks like us”, they can say. Apparently Trump doesn’t drink, so he can’t even use the excuse “I was drunk!”And even then, the language of drinking buddies or hotheaded celebrities surely is not the language of the leader of a country? Unless all of life is just about ratings.
People who use demeaning language mean it. You don’t absent-mindedly refer to a human being as a body part any more than you don’t accidentally call a black man the n-word. He meant what he said and if he didn’t he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to say it, especially in such a tossed off manner. On the other hand, how many people in The Middle were not being taken seriously, not being heard, not finding a venue to voice their frustrations and fears? Why wasn’t the media tuned into their plight? How is it possible that CNN headquarters is located in Georgia, a state claimed by Republicans? Were reporters living in their air conditioned offices, leaving only to go out to dinner and home via cab or the confines of their limos?
I don’t know how many of America’s ‘poor’ voted, but I do know that the national reporters for the big media companies are part of the same wealthy elite who are slowly managing to own everything. Big TV news outlets were blind to the poverty in New Orleans when Katrina happened, and they continue to be untouched by the desperation of out-of-work labourers in small town Michigan who no longer have work in factories and assembly lines. And they definitely haven’t a clue of the kind of despair of farmers and ranchers trying to eke out a living in Fly Over Country who must join agri-business if they want to keep their land.
Trump is dangerous precisely because he chooses to present himself as someone who just doesn’t give a flying f about entire groups of his own citizenry. If he was ‘just kidding’ he was kidding about being a hater. Why would anyone chose to be mistaken as a hater? I realize there has been some false reporting but even in televised debates where – unless a ventriloquist was involved – he revealed his own true nastiness. Does being rich really excuse you of your bad behaviour and posturing? Or as a street kid once asked me, sitting on a curb in Vancouver forty years ago: “Do morals even matter when money takes over?” Her words still ring in my ear as sharp contrast to those of President Trump.
I’m told often, by the wise old timers in my life, never to make important choices from an emotional place. Wait until you calm down. Don’t act out of fear, anger or confusion. In this election fear, anger and hatred seem to be the motivating factors behind the votes of many Americans. I resist joining the voices of anger that shame people who took to the street in protest of the election results because they are exercising a democratic right. But I am also disturbed by the cries of the protestors – because what’s done is done and perhaps they might just be living in a state of denial instead of rallying their inner forces to do something positive in their communities.
When Trump “won” I began texting my friends around the country. More than one has suggested that Satan is in office, however Satan is slick, charming and seductive – Trump is none of those. Another, in Saskatchewan, described Trump as a man who didn’t know his base, only their fears and biases. Monika, in Montreal, has taken up keeping a list of WW_D, meaning What Would (insert hero here) Do? (I chose to ask: What Would Martin Luther King Do?) Another worries that the haters will be emboldened by Trump’s win. I suggest that as lovers we might become more emboldened as well.
One thing I do know – this last month, awash in the constant exposure to every form of media, I have reached and surpassed my saturation point. I long for a walk on the land where I can muster some kind of strength and unwavering commitment to living with renewed principles. I hope to shake off the heavy energy that comes from too much negativity and name-calling. By Wednesday I’ll be back in Val Marie, where there are no giant screens projecting the latest scandal, no headlines on newsstands predicting the next catastrophe around the corner, no blaring radio replaying the most recent nasty invective.
I’m signing off now – I’ve got packing to do. Just as I write these last words I receive a text from Page who has gone out to the Grasslands to witness the rising super moon. “The sky is clear,” he writes. “The moon is coming up pink. And huge. A coyote chorus begins. Then two mule deer walk into the field, very close.” I need to be there.
Madonna Hamel is a writer and performer. Her radio documentaries have won awards for CBC for whom she’s worked as writer, producer, reporter and broadcaster covering the arts, religion and current affairs for over 20 years in Quebec City, Winnipeg, Windsor, Toronto and Kelowna. Born a Westerner, she calls Val Marie, Sask. home.