On the following day, Donald Trump was elected President of the Dis-United States.
“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking / Everybody knows that the captain lied / Everybody got this broken feeling / Like their father or their dog just died …”
Cohen wrote about hate as well as love, war as well as peace, of the profane as well as the sacred, the agony as well as the ecstasy of life. For this he was often mocked as a gloom merchant: a depressive who wrote songs to slash your wrists by. But after months of relentlessly cruel and ugly politicking in the U.S. presidential campaign, and the election of an ignorant, racist, intellectual pygmy to the presidency, we need a songwriter like Cohen even more. There is some strange solace to be found in the way Cohen wrestles so lyrically in his songs with the best and the worst of human nature.
I faint at the sight of a stubbed toe, yet, in the aftermath of Trump’s election I found myself entertaining fantasies of a deranged gunman with an assault rifle who might kill him. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated, two have been injured in assassination attempts and so far this year, 12,818 people in the U.S. have died by gunshot. So why not Trump, I found myself wondering. It would make for a bloody but poetic conclusion to his rabble-rousing campaign.
But in “A Street” Cohen, a Jew, urges us to “Forget that tired story/ Of betrayal and revenge … see the ghost of culture / With numbers on his wrist / Salute some new conclusion / That all of us have missed.” In “Going Home” he voices the yearning we all have for “An anthem of forgiving / A manual for living with defeat / A cry above the suffering / A sacrifice recovering.”
Never overtly political, Cohen once said in an interview that he wished that he could “… really come up with something, because we are all really living with defeat and failure and disappointment and bewilderment, these dark forces that modify our lives. Everyone is engaged in a mighty struggle for self-respect, meaning and significance.”
So how can we prevent ourselves being overtaken by a despair, or a loathing of our own worst impulses, and those of our fellow human beings? Cohen suggests that we need firstly to “Recognise that your struggle and your suffering is the same as everyone else’s. That’s the beginning of a responsible life. Otherwise, we are in a continual savage battle with each other with no possible solution, political, social, or spiritual.
I have a less blood-thirsty fantasy about how Trump’s presidency will be halted in its tracks. All it involves is Trump and his trophy wife spending three months living in the White House described in Jodi Kantor’s 2012 book “The Obamas, A Mission, A Marriage”. In the book, Kantor reveals the vast and peculiar stresses of life as a U.S. president. Your home, the White House, has the charmless “frozen-in-time quality of a museum and the blankness of a high-end hotel lobby”. It’s a tourist attraction visited by thousands every year but has no private entrance. Lots of other people – domestic staff, guards, and aides - share the same roof. Thirty-three of them are devoted to managing your daily schedule. Many of the ten or more public engagements you must attend are “sweaty, crowded . . . and scary”. Any trip beyond your backyard involves a motorcade which causes hours-long traffic jams. A date with your spouse takes weeks of planning. A swim at the seaside involves a cordoned-off beach and splashing about with security men in wet suits clutching aquatic weapons.
Even the Obamas, disciplined, intelligent, and politically experienced were challenged by the way of life imposed on them by the White House - quite apart from the intense psychological, intellectual and social demands of their jobs as President and First Lady.
Trump obviously thrives in the blankness of high-end hotel lobbies. However, just as obviously, he doesn’t have the brains, self-discipline or political experience to cope with the extraordinary demands of the presidency and constraints of White House life. In my fantasy, Trump’s presidency ends not with a bang but a tantrum. When he realises how much unrelenting hard work the Presidency involves, and just how ignorant and ill-prepared he is to do it, Trump will storm his way out of the White House and back to his gold and marble eyrie on Fifth Avenue.
Should it turn out not to be not quite that simple, let’s hope with Leonard Cohen that we’re as “stubborn as those garbage bags / that Time cannot decay … still holding up / this little wild bouquet: democracy is coming to the U.S.A.”