img_0053

I said to myself, “I am thoroughly happy and content, now. If my most pitiless enemy could appear before me at this moment, I would freely right any wrong I may have done him.”

Straightaway the door opened, and a shriveled, shabby dwarf entered. He was not more than two feet high. He seemed to be about forty years old. Every feature and inch of him was a trifle out of shape; and so, while one could not put his finger upon any particular part and say, “This is a conspicuous deformity,” the spectator perceived that this little person was a deformity as a whole. A vague, general, evenly-blended, nicely-adjusted deformity. There was a fox-like cunning in the face and the sharp little eyes, and also alertness and malice. One thing about him struck me forcibly, and most unpleasantly: he was covered all over with a fuzzy, greenish mold, such as one sometimes sees upon mildewed bread. The sight of it was nauseating.

The above is an abridged passage from Mark Twain’s 1876 short story “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut,” and the sense of disgust that the protagonist feels at this fuzzy little troll-person very accurately sums up my feelings right now about president-elect Donald Trump. I borrowed Twain’s description because I, in fact, cannot accurately convey with my own words the deep visceral disappointment that I am feeling about the election results. The closest I can come to expressing it with my own faculties is by making pained guttural noises (not unlike what I imagine an aardvark dying would sound like).

I, and nearly all of my friends, family, and Facebook feed are feeling shocked, outraged, and afraid at the prospect of Donald Trump being our next president. It is tempting (and quite enjoyable in fact) to sit back and fire insults at Trump and his supporters. Like this: Trump and his supporters are the human embodiment of a Nickleback song— tasteless, gross, loud, and limp. Yep, that felt good. I could do that all day. Yes it is tempting (and fun), and yet counterproductive. For here is the twist in Twain’s tale: the narrator reveals that the “vile bit of human rubbish seemed to bear a sort of remote and ill-defined resemblance to me!”

Like Twain’s character, we as a nation are now face to face with a clear embodiment of our own twisted nature. I don’t believe that most of Trump’s supporters are overtly racist, misogynistic, or stupid, yet I do know that Trump’s victory has seemingly given license for some of his supporters to partake in some very racist, misogynistic, and stupid behavior. The KKK in North Carolina has announced plans for a Trump victory parade. On Thursday at my own NYU the door to the Muslim Student Association’s prayer room was vandalized with the word “Trump.” On Friday a teacher reported that a ten year old girl had to be picked up from her school because a boy had grabbed the girl’s vagina—when asked why he did it, the boy said “if a president can do it, I can too.” Since the nation’s founding, America, while boasting some truly great cultural, social, economic, and technical achievements, has always harbored an appalling underbelly of racism, sexism, and domination. Because we have elected an appalling, racist, sexist egomaniac to be our president, this underbelly is simply being more blatantly exposed than usual.

If there is any silver-lining to the fact that some people now feel emboldened to play out some of their darkest drives, it is that we as a country can no longer ignore it. Whether in a single person, a family group, or an entire nation, things do not change unless it is first recognized that there is a problem. In my eyes, it is clear that we have huge racial, economic, social, and educational divides in this country, and that those divides breed fear, hatred, and disregard. We cannot simply write this off as the fault of those “ignorant” Trump supporters. If we want America to be great—not “great again,” but for the first time— we all have to accept responsibility for the fear and prejudice in our country and in our own hearts and combat it with love whenever we see it.

I am encouraged by the massive and active backlash against the election of Donald Trump. Right now there is a days long protest roaring at Trump Tower, just a subway ride away from me. Liberals and democrats have been suddenly inspired to action in a way that they would not have been if Hillary had been elected. This is a wake up call. There is a huge amount of energy behind the anti-Trump movement and if everyone who is disappointed in the election results decides to use this energy not towards Trump-hate, but towards acts community building, volunteerism, social justice, and general kindness, then I believe that we can transform Trump’s presidency into a step forward, rather than two steps backwards.

In addition to being inspired towards social action, I also also feel an urgent desire to double down on my musical life after this election. For playing music has been a bridge in my life to communities of people that I would have otherwise not been exposed. I’ve performed with and for people of all different races, cultures, sexual orientations, and political leanings (yes I’ve even been in a band with a Trump supporter or two). It did not matter what our superficial differences were, we were all there to just enjoy the incredible human endeavor of making music.

For it is not politics, but our shared passions (whether music, sports, cooking, dancing, art, science, writing, sewing, etc…) that have always brought people together. In 1999, it didn’t matter if Eminem was white, he was accepted into the historically black Hip-Hop community because he could rap really well. In 1947, it didn’t matter that Jackie Robinson was black, he was accepted into the historically white Brooklyn Dodgers clubhouse because he could play baseball really well. In 1898 it didn’t matter that Marie Curie was a woman, she was accepted into the historically male scientific community because she discovered Radium (and made many other great scientific breakthroughs I don’t claim to understand). Now I admit that Robinson and Curie were “accepted” into those communities with a lot of struggle and backlash, and I need to point out that you shouldn’t have to be superlatively great at something to be accepted into a community. Yet the point that I am trying to make is that it is in fact rarely politicians that affect true social change and progress— the most powerful positive force in the world is normal people coming together to do the things we already love to do.


dsc00490

Watching the presidential debate last Monday was similar to what it would be like to watch the mighty German national soccer team play a match against the tiny nation of Belize* if all the Belizean players were drunk and high on cocaine. Imagine: Germany is far and away the better team, relentlessly and smugly scoring goal after goal after goal on Belize, yet the intoxicated Belizean players refuse to recognize any of the goals scored on them. Belize stubbornly pretends they’re tied and that its an even match. They celebrate furiously every-time they administer a violent slide tackle or use their hands and try to throw the ball in the goal. Also the referee is Lester Holt, and he obviously has no control over this shit-show of a match.

Now I’m not suggesting that Hillary is as precision perfect at debating as Germany is at soccer, nor am I suggesting that Donald Trump debates like he’s drunk and high (although he was sniffling a lot, rambling on and on, yelling… you know what, maybe I am suggesting that). I’m pointing out the vast difference between Hillary and Trump that was exposed by putting the two candidates on stage with each other. One came across as being competent and substantial, and the other came across as being as competent and substantial (and aesthetically pleasing) as a chicken McNugget.

And yet, Trump still has his supporters. No matter what ridiculous, inaccurate, or offensive thing he says, a lot of people are still going to vote for him. The logistical and ethical holes in his policy plans do not deter Trump supporters. They just like the way he talks: simple superlative adjectives delivered in a coarse, firm tone and a healthy dose of xenophobia. That or they just hate Hillary— probably continuing in the ages old trend of hating or distrusting women, what with their vaginas and everything. Hillary can present all of the well-researched, plausible policy plans in the world, she can continue to not say racist or offensive things in public, and she can tout all of her experience in both the white house and senate, but she will not sway some people.

I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Hillary is objectively more qualified to be president than Trump— yet that’s not what matters to people. Do you like Hillary? Or do you like Trump? That’s the question. To use a musical example (this is a music blog after all), let’s address an old question: Beatles or Rolling Stones? Sure you can like both (I do), but everyone likes one a little more than the other. Some people are going to fight me on this, but I’m also not going out on a limb by saying that The Beatles were the more musically advanced group. The Rolling Stones never wrote music in odd time signatures, they never utilized a Bach-influenced piano solo, or borrowed from Indian Classical music— The Beatles did (Here Comes the Sun, In My Life, and Within you, Without You, respectively). Yet I am not going to try to convince you that you should like the Beatles more than the Rolling Stones just because they are more musically intricate. If you like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles (or vice versa), you do so because you just like the way they sound, and that’s fine. Unfortunately political decisions are a lot like this as well— I contest that they aren’t always (or even often) informed intellectual decisions about who would make the best political leader. Most likely, if you support Trump, you just like his Trumpiness, and if you support Hillary, you just like her Clintinivity (and the truly inspiring fact that she could be the first woman president).

I suppose I was comparing Donald Trump to the Rolling Stones in that last paragraph, and for that reason I would like to sincerely apologize to the Rolling Stones. I also don’t want Hillary to start thinking she’s the Beatles of politics (whenever she reads this blog post). These two candidates are not the Beatles and Stones— we’re dealing with two of the most hated candidates of all time. If I’m searching for comparable musical acts, I’d say this election is closer to The Backstreet Boys (Hillary) vs. Milli Vanilli (Donald Trump). If you don’t remember Milli Vanilli, they were the German R&B duo popular in the late 80’s who were eventually outed for not actually having sung any of the vocals on their album and for lip-syncing at all their concerts. They were just models posing as singers (perhaps not unlike many singers today). Similarly, Donald Trump is just a super rich guy posing as a politician (perhaps not unlike many politicians today). The longer he sticks around, the more likely it is that he will be exposed as the phony that he is— I only hope we don’t have to elect him president for him to be fully exposed.

For as much as I clearly detest the man, I also feel sorry for him. It must be hard to so often stand up in front of people and not know what the hell you’re talking about— Lester Holt’s asking you questions about creating jobs, and you just want to go watch the Bachelor. I admit that I sometimes feel a little bit Trumpy in my NYU jazz studies master’s program. Compared to some of my other classmates, I don’t sight read very well, I don’t know as many tunes, and I’m not as familiar with the Jazz language, and yet when it is my time to take a solo, I have to come up with something to say just like the rest of them. Between trying to simultaneously navigate the song form, the guitar fretboard, and the sound of the band at large, I sometimes get lost and basically don’t know what the hell I’m playing or what I should be playing. I end up just rambling on incoherently.

The difference between me and Trump (well, hopefully not the only difference) is that I am not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. When I suck (and I suck often), I want to do it freely and openly in front of my teachers and classmates, beckoning them to help me. The repeated embarrassment of this experience will motivate me to practice my craft and elevate my level, and (if nothing else) the fact that I’m paying many thousands of dollars for this education will hopefully motivate my teachers to show me the way forward.

Playing jazz, running for president, and challenging Germany in soccer are all enormously difficult tasks. No one is born ready for these endeavors. Sure, you can pretend you are— you can also pretend your sloppy spray-tan looks really cool. The better idea would be to resign yourself to the difficulty of your goal (whatever it may be), embrace a life-time of honest learning, and walk the long path from mediocrity to competency and ultimately to mastery. That’s my plan at least.

*I want to say that I meant no disrespect to the nation of Belize in this blog. Belizeans don’t get drunk or high more than any other nation (although the white tourists who travel to Belize probably do). Just to clarify I picked Belize because they have a pretty bad soccer team and I traveled there once.