Walking the dogs Sunday morning is distinctive, as I usually do not have one of the podcasts I regularly listen to queued up. The resulting experience provides room for contemplation and composition; it’s a mediative time that sometimes takes on an almost spiritual aspect.
For whatever reason, this morning my subconscious stirred me to hit play on “The Light of the Seven”, by Ramin Djawadi, composer for “Game of Thrones”. Not only is it a wonderful piece of music on its own, it is both ruminative and evocative in equal measure. [Reader: go ahead and hit play while you read.]
The piano opens, peacefully creating mental space through its simplicity and silence. I find the opening an invitation to introspection, and the cello joining in gives it an almost processional feeling, which is the point of the episode’s opening. At 1:15 in, the opening repeats, but this time the melody quickly moves into more ambiguous territory, with isolated chords that carry something nearly ominous. Silence. At 2:39 the motif begins again, and this time shifts into a more strident and assertive passage, and as it winds down the feeling of portent is palpable, a feeling rewarded with the falsetto of young voices taking the song directly into growing unease, with the organ taking over and building a complex series of lines that transform the mood, building dread. A cello line builds a bridge into the final segment, organ echoing it and then adding layer upon layer of aggression, the piano’s original motif shifting into darker tones. Violins join to build the crescendo, an echo of the original Game of Thrones theme, as if the reminder that this isn’t a story of happy endings.
Where are we as people in the arc of this song?
Friday was my birthday, a completely banal part of an extraordinary week. Horrible people doing horrible things in Charlottesville. Good people trying to push back in many ways. Our criminal Administration responds in its unique ways, offering continued evidence of an extreme unsuitability for service in our executive branch and giving false courage to cowards of hate. As the week progressed, pieces of our current chess board started moving, potentially faster and with greater purpose. Potentially. Let’s review.
Trump’s petulant immaturity compelled him to display his worst, as he attempted to validate Nazi and racist people and their collective, ignorant grievances. The response started as the typical, ineffectual expression of outrage, but this time some new notes emerged. Business leaders had had enough (or at least had to act like they had), and his CEO security blanket was taken away, Trump crying like a two-year-old. Mass resignations from the arts council, expressed in the full flower of artistry. Some GOP leaders stepped more fully into the light of sanity and reason, their language gaining force by virtue of being more direct.
By Friday, confirmation of Bannon’s banishment, whatever that will mean as he shifts back to his platform of hate and willful ignorance. Rep. Michael Cohen (D-TN), ranking member of the relevant subcommittee, announced he was introducing Articles of Impeachment. Inevitable, sure, but the step needed to be taken. The GOP still isn’t quite ready for the circus, perhaps hoping Mueller’s work will prevent them from having to do the heavy lifting. As Fall approaches, it is more likely than ever that the 2018 election cycle will be dominated by this essential nonsense. Unfortunately, billions will be invested in ways that will not improve social democracy, but that’s a whole separate piece.
As Trump becomes more and more isolated, and less and less insulated from the harsh light of reasoned judgment, we know we are into the latter parts of the song. Tension is building and there’s more suspense.
For many, the Trump cycle will play out within the early parts of this building dread rather than the grand climax. His eventual ouster and a return to some sort of normalcy will highlight that we still have a broken republic, one in which our democratic institutions have been systemically undermined, and our population has become infantilized and inert at the same time.
We have no easy answers, and we cannot even see if there is a path forward. Part of the reason for being in this position is that external forces are placing pressure on the system in different ways, whether they be global economic plundering, persistent disenfranchisement and exploitation, growing competition for resources and habitat, accelerating failure of outdated institutions, and the amplifying paroxysms of ecological crisis.
For me, the cello line is starting. We are at 5:22, aware of all of this, but not yet in specific and understandable ways. Some pieces are clear, and our events attest to them. Yet, I sense we are entering a phase of repeating dread, each repetition amplifying on another, accelerating toward our climax. Layer upon layer. Civil unrest is the result of each cycle, whether eruption of U.S. racial enmity, continued religious extremism, or ecological diaspora.
We don’t have wildfire and dragons, but we do have zealots, pedants, and evil people exercising levers of immense and destructive power. Winter is coming.