On Election Night in 2016, drunk and dumbfounded, I wandered to a bar in Beverly, Massachusetts to drink. It wasn’t particularly different from most nights drinking, really, except the despair and dread had a weight to them that endless self-pity can’t quite conjure. I forget the bartender’s name because, let’s be honest, I forget most of your names, bartenders, but she was someone I knew and she was wearing a hoodie that said “Nasty Woman” on it, and I looked at the chyrons announcing Trump’s victory, and the confetti or whatever, and I sat down. I probably said something like, “Give me a double of well whiskey and a PBR,” and then we might have chatted as I think I had several more of those plus probably a pint of vodka I had gotten somewhere along the way, and then I left and I wandered around finishing my secret booze and eventually found my way home and woke up and probably gagged and thought, “I had better get something more to drink.” My plan, such as it was, was to drink and drink and drink, and eventually probably die. It wasn’t a very good plan, but at the time, it was the best I could do.
I gave up drinking and dying eventually, for reasons orthogonal to the election and American politics, but in the background there was always this despair and dread, the feeling that not only was my understanding of myself wholly misshapen by a decade and a half of alcohol abuse, but that my understanding of history as a narrative that made sense was completely and utterly wrong, that I had been taken in by shysters and charlatans whose grand unifying theories of political change were no different from any tale woven out of straw, full of gaps and ready to crumble with the slightest scrutiny. It was all moments cherry-picked to serve a story; and just as the people in AA could cherry-pick coincidences and strokes of luck to find God, so too could the Marxists and the liberals to find progress, whatever that might mean.
We weren’t exactly doomed, but I lost interest in trying to understand what was capital-g Going On, and decided my larger political goals were probably best served by helping individuals at the micro-level and doing the very obvious Right Thing at the macro-level. My ambitions shrank. I no longer wanted to be a Great Man (ew) or die for a Reason. I became the kind of person who, having barely survived a number of near-death experiences, is grateful everyday to simply be alive.
Some days are, of course, better than others. Some days, of course, we get to exult in the narrative arc, even if it’s a fiction. Some days, as we walk to the coffee shop in the middle of a pandemic, our brothers and sisters might text us, “On my run and people started cheering,” and then pots and pans will bang from a window across the street, and our partners will text us a screenshot from CNN announcing a foregone conclusion, and we will shiver and well up and whistle at the people banging pots and pans and allow ourselves, if only for a moment, to feel relief.
There is work yet to be done. But tonight — tonight I am setting off fireworks.