WASHINGTON — Mornings are brutal here in our nation’s capital, and have been especially so as election day approached. After I wake and cut off the ringing, I lie on the couch that is my bed — the cost of living in D.C. is grotesque; this poor alum’s wallet misses Hillsdale as much as he does — and wonder why I want to get up to go be an intern at a magazine where I will not be able to escape what has passed for politics this year. My masochism gets the better of me and I open Twitter. Perhaps this time I will laugh and not cry. Somehow I will get out the door on time. Caffeine helps.
Yesterday, America picked its next commander-in-chief. As they say on the internet, #lulz.
My couch is in a living room in an apartment in West Falls Church, Virginia. Beltway Virginia is a suburban hellscape, one Dante could have taken inspiration from in his account of the third ring of Inferno’s seventh circle. It is a festering, open wound of highways, strip malls, and apartment complexes, a work of diabolical violence against aesthetics and humane living. Thank God for Trader Joe’s.
A bus takes me to the metro, and into WMATA’s hands I commit my schedule. The downtown Metro stations resemble nothing so much as bomb shelters, matching the rest of Cold War era Washington’s brutalism, and in the crush of the morning commute the abstract possibility of nuclear winter seems almost a relief, a reset of a civilization that clearly went wrong somewhere. After all, in the bird-flip-to-the-elites popularity of Donald Trump, we’ve discovered that blowing it all up is an appealing prospect to many Americans.
When I rise from the earth on long, oft-broken escalators, I’m greeted by the best cacophony of city life. Car horns and buskers and people shouting into phones, the sidewalks are full and the city is humming. This place is recession proof. But it seems as though the worse the rest of the country is the better for imperial Babylon and its bureaucrats. Never mind the homelessness everywhere, the panhandlers on every bench and every corner. Never mind the globular men in chalk stripe suits staggering from brunch meeting to lunch meeting past the hungry, ignoring their neighbor at their feet as easily as they ignore the rest of the country and the aches in their knees and ankles.
This city is evil, but I love it anyway. It is a coldly beautiful mixed-use temple, a monument both to the people and to mammon. Stately parks and marble monuments adorn common life. I almost weep at the Smithsonian museums’ collections, priceless art and knowledge made freely available to the masses through one man’s generosity and others’ careful stewardship. The Smithsonians are architectural masterpieces containing masterpieces, palaces for all citizens preserving and sharing the extravagance of extraordinary wealth and long history. They let us know where we come from and what is worth conserving and, like a mirror, let us reflect upon our present. In the same way, the National Archives, the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, are all visible reminders of the aspirations of our founders. It’s inspirational and hopeful.
But after the slog of the election, and the divides it drew even in the Hillsdale community, it is hard to hope right now. We may limp along in our partisan trenches or enter a state of crisis after yesterday, but civic revival must begin in the hearts and minds of the people, and neither of those gave a strong showing this past year. But when I’m tempted to despair for the country, to find the prospect of total destruction more than a passing flight of nihilistic fancy, this city’s beauty offers itself as a balm for my malaise.
That beauty can come in unexpected places. Farragut Square often plays stage to a ragtag pop trio with a beat up drum set, an electric guitar, and a cheap microphone. It is enough. Sometimes you need a black man to sing a sizzling Adele cover by your Metro stop to remind you that art is not going to die because the American experiment is having a replication problem.
And of course that beauty is found in expected places too. When I worry about the shrinking middle class, about runaway greed on Wall Street, and about declining economic mobility, I take some comfort in the fact that in the National Gallery I can see art I could never afford and find culture preserved and perpetuated. Fellow Hillsdale alumnus Gregory Wolfe literally wrote the book on how “Beauty Will Save the World,” and I hope that’s true; but I also hope that Beauty will save my election-ravaged heart and soul.
We’ll see in the morning. Maybe Twitter will actually make me laugh tonight.
Micah Meadowcroft ’16 is a former Arts editor and associate editor for The Collegian.