Je Suis America
I wrote this in slightly different form on my Facebook feed tonight and then attempted to go to bed:
This is worse than 2000, worse than 1980. This is — again, mark my words — the start of another civil war. We who work in the arts, or work for the arts, or believe that arts, culture and entertainment have a role to play in our politics will no doubt come away with some painful and bitter lessons from tonight. One of which is that our work really matters little. Yes, I know, we can change some lives, sometimes, but we can’t change of enough of them, and now I think that we never can. My worst fears are confirmed: We’re a frill. A diversion. Completely, absolutely dispensable. Nothing.
And even if that’s completely, fundamentally wrong, the result of tonight’s election proves that we’re far less important than we think we are — or thought we could be. I’ve devoted a lot of my life for the last 10 years to the idea of an intersection of arts and politics — that we can make the arts stronger by highlighting and marketing that nexus. That cause may have died with me tonight.
At this hour, on this day, I no longer know whether I can or wish to be a part of such a mission, such a journey. We cannot work for an America that will spurn hate when it is this much full of hate. We cannot work for an America devoted against its best interests. We have wasted our time.
Tonight, the American people decided that women should be raped — which makes sense, since the American people also decided tonight that women should not have control over their own bodies. Tonight, the American people decided that Jews are to be legitimate targets for harassment and demonization and maybe worse; that Blacks must be once more hung from trees; that Muslims must be murdered if they can’t be banned. Tonight, the American people decided that 20,000,000 people, if not more, need no health insurance. Tonight, the American people decided that if we have nuclear weapons, we should use them. Tonight, the American people decided that every longstanding international alliance should be chucked, that Social Security should be cut, that the rich should be quite a lot richer, that the First Amendment should be “opened up.” We are a nation of fools, of sick morons, of people who can’t add and can’t spell and can’t tell the difference between flaw and foe. Tonight, we the American people decided that it is better to have an existential threat to ourselves than not to have an existential threat to ourselves.
I wrote a bit more, and then I concluded:
I’m so sorry. You all have no idea how sorry I am. I am full of absolute shame and remorse. I feel unworthy of all the ideals I hold so dear that I couldn’t have done just one more thing to stop it. Just one more review, just one more performance, just one more post, just one more bit of outreach. An American I was. But maybe not an American am I any longer.
But I couldn’t sleep. I noticed my phone lighting up with the latest updates, one worse than the next. This is a terrible — the word I ought to use is cataclysmic — night for America. We don’t know what horror we have wrought, but real American patriots — the ones we’ll recognize only years from now, in hindsight — know horrors are inevitable now, and feel as powerless as I to do to stop them.
But this post is not just about the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States. It’s about why I do what I do, and whether the election calls those reasons into question.
My roots belong to the stage of Public School 165 in Kew Gardens Hills, in Queens. I fell in love with the theater from that stage, where classes did presentations and one teacher, one pivotal figure, staged productions of original plays and musicals for kids. I work in the arts, for the arts, and I have spent what very much feels nearly like the whole of my life in devotion to the arts due to the long, long succession of events, experiences and internal directional navigating that followed that first time I stood on a stage. Arts, culture, entertainment: my core, my definition, my purpose, my embodiment, my reason, my spirit, my grounding, my flight, my heart and, in recent years, my fight. Some 40 years later I am what became of that little boy on that vast-seeming proscenium; I am what that little boy chose to do with whatever his talents might have been or ever were. Politics was more private. Opportunities every two years, or every fourth year, to geek out.
I created The Clyde Fitch Report as a personal blog. I was lucky enough to be in full-time journalism then — a profession I came to late, around 33, after resisting since college. I always made extra income as a critic and feature writer, but I felt that I was an artist, and I don’t regret a minute of those 30 or 40 plays that I wrote or directed. Sitting down in 2006, October, at the very same desk at which I write this post, I created the blog in 30 seconds. It was only over time that I began to understand that here I could meld and channel my work in the arts and my passion for politics; if I lacked the credentials of a Chris Matthews or an Anderson Cooper or a Molly Ivins, I could earn that same credibility with the force of my words. I had zero idea that 10 years later, I’d still be sitting here typing –or working to launch a media company that imagines light, air and commerce at the intersection of arts and politics. As the years passed, I looked upon The Clyde Fitch Report — in its many phases and struggles — as a strong extension of that impulse to create art; to demand, through creating art, a better world.
For 10 years now I have lived the honesty of my conviction around this little adventure, which I named in everlasting tribute to a long-unsung American playwright. (I don’t so much root for underdogs as fall madly in love with them.) I believed this would benefit the world, would enrich it, would expose the tie of arts and politics not as exotic or laughable or curious, but as compelling and frankly obvious. I hoped that by exposing that intersection as real, as evident, I might find a way to raise for all in this land the influence and value of arts, culture and entertainment in America — that somehow I’d do my part to make it as pivotal and as personally transforming and defining as it was for that little boy on that stage in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens, in 1970-something.
I colored that mission was as broad a brief as I could: I don’t just mean high or low art, or high or low culture, or elite or popular entertainment. I thought: Well, it’s a big tent. It’s a creative economy as much as a creative class. I concluded that art was a birthright, creativity a human right. Until President Trump.
But as I sit here tonight, mouth-dropped and mourning, I honestly don’t know whether a CFR is a fool’s errand. What use are ideals in an America triumphant with Trumpism?
Tonight, 11/9, is a mirror of 9/11. It’s also the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It’s also the overture to the music of the Reichstag on fire, of the collapse of social order, of the impending use of nukes, of a stripping away of rights, of an American taste for hate that we thought we lost but which, it turns out, we merely put on hold until we were jonesing. What good is art, much less arts and politics, when fear is our reward?
I can’t even pray. I wish one of you would tell me what to do. Because I don’t know. The little boy is halfway through life at 48, according to the doctor, but feels nothing tonight so much as death: le petite mort with none of the pleasure and all of the disorientation. America was assassinated this evening: Je suis America; I am America. Art was supposed to light in darkness. Art was supposed to make artists powerful and politically consequential. Art illuminates nothing tonight. It is the end of the world.