The poet T.S. Eliot got it wrong. April isn’t the cruelest month. That would be November, the bleak, gray moonscape between the fun and fall colors of Halloween and the jolly glitter of Christmas.
Not even November’s single respite of cheer, Thanksgiving, can keep me from glum thoughts about desolation and loss.
Especially this November, when the family won’t be together for Thanksgiving and probably Christmas as well. It’s not just the pandemic and its current resurgence that are so dispiriting. It’s also the way our country has changed in recent years, almost beyond recognition. Makes me realize I’m getting old.
Why, I’m so old I can remember when America was a beacon of hope and admiration in the world, not an object of pity and ridicule. When the country cultivated allies, respected treaties, led coalitions and supported the international institutions it helped found. When America stood for free trade and human rights, confronted climate change and pushed for nuclear nonproliferation.
I’m so old I can remember when our president did not embrace dictators, run up millions in personal debt with foreign lenders or turn the presidency into a private cash machine. When our president did not extort foreign governments to dig up dirt on his political rivals, pay hush money to porn stars, play footsie with neo-Nazis and white supremacists or use language you wouldn’t want your kids to hear. Also, tell lies by the bushel, every day.
I’m so old I can remember when the justice system focused on keeping Americans safe, instead of shielding the president and his friends from prosecution. When immigrants were recognized for their contributions to American society, not turned away at the border and separated from their children. When corporations and rich people paid a significantly higher share of their wealth in taxes than teachers and nurses.
I’m so old I can remember when our government listened to its scientists, when it rewarded competence, instead of political loyalty, among civil servants. When our government strengthened protections for health and safety, instead of destroying them. When our government would confront a national health crisis head-on, instead of trying to downplay it, let alone mismanage it.
I’m so old I can remember when presidents tried to bring us together instead of tear us apart. When voting was considered a right, not a gift to be doled out by the party in power. When there was no good reason to doubt that a president would respect the results of an election.
If there are enough of us who hanker for that lost and golden age — a mere four years ago — then maybe on the first Tuesday of this cold, raw November we can accomplish the impossible. We can vote to turn back time, undo the damage, restore the norms and rules, the honesty and the decency, that America used to take for granted.
Sometimes you have to revisit the past — and repeal the present — in order to move forward. To turn the long, dark November of our soul into a springtime of hope and renewal.