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Inauguration week: tears, rage and a brief feeling of fondness for George W Bush

Postat la Jan 22, 2021

Monday

It’s a subdued Martin Luther King Day in the US, and we take a bus across town to visit MoMA. I haven’t been to the modern art museum in New York since before my children were born and this feels like the week for it. Everyone is jittery about the inauguration on Wednesday, about news of the Covid death count hitting 400,000 in the US and about American democracy under strain. Perhaps art will lift us.

It is odd to get cabin fever in a city of 8.5 million people, but that is how New York feels right now; stagnant, airless, expectant. A friend recently flew to LA for work, something I used to hate and now regard with intense jealousy. I turn to my sluggish children, complaining their legs hurt before we’ve even reached the museum, and give them a version of the pep talk about New York from the end of Meet Me in St Louis: “Everybody dreams of going there, but we’re luckier than lots of families because we’re really going!” Or in our case, we’re already here. “Aren’t we lucky?” I trill. Flat looks of contempt all round and a refusal to go up the stairs to look at the impressionists.

There are other things to enjoy at MoMA. The half-tyre thing embedded in the floor with bottles on top of it. The shiny prism things hanging off the ceiling. The rock things in a heap. The fibreglass mermaid. We stop in front of a large screen and too late I remember the effect of video installation on my wellbeing. This one features a two-second clip of Wonder Woman – Linda Carter’s original from the 80s TV show – stepping forward and back, over and over on a loop. My children stop, excited, before getting the measure of the thing and turning to me in baffled rage. “What is this?” they demand. I shrug. Things repeat; the fictions we tell ourselves doom us to endless circularity; even superheroes get stuck in a rut. “What can I tell you, it’s art.”

Tuesday

It’s a week of renewal, hope, regeneration and moving on, by which, of course, I refer not to the inauguration of Joe Biden but to Ben Affleck throwing out a lifesize cardboard cutout of his ex-girlfriend, Ana de Armas. As the Daily Mail reports on Tuesday, after happening upon the event via long lens, the cardboard figure is so awkward a shape for general rubbish disposal that it takes “two grown men” – neither of them Affleck, although for a short, heady period there is speculation one might be his brother Casey (it isn’t) – to get rid of it.

It is the second story of the week to feature a middle-aged male movie star gone to seed, the other, of course, being Russell Crowe, who became tetchy with a fan on Twitter after he criticised Crowe’s almost 20-year-old movie Master and Commander. It’s a great movie and I’m 100% Team Crowe, who when photographed in Sydney, heaving himself about the tennis court, has – forgive me – a vague look of Steffi Graff about him that I’ve never quite been able to resist. If not entirely in on the joke, Crowe is at least self-mocking enough to absorb it.

Affleck, on the other hand, seems a man not remotely in touch with his preposterousness. Mocked for looking unhappy in trunks or carrying a tray of iced coffees from Dunkin’ Donuts with insufficient dignity, he is condemned to serve out his days as the butt of endless dopey memes. You could, if you tried hard, probably work up some observations about the American soul via Affleck, but perhaps that’s one to park for less feverish times.

‘Nobody knows this, but I have a tuna sandwich concealed in each mitten.’ Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday

We’re here, at last. The day starts by text, when a friend sends me a clip of Nina Simone singing New World Coming, and I spend 10 minutes trying to reply to her with a gif of Christopher Walken dancing in the Fatboy Slim video before giving up and doing something else. It’s a great day for democracy.

Joy comes out via the suspension of ordinary anxieties. For a single morning, I ditch my concern that I’m frittering away my children’s college fund on unnecessary pastry and buy two – two! – pains au chocolat from Pick A Bagel on the way back from drop-off, then sit for three solid hours and stare at the screen in various states of rapture.

The big surprise is how moving it all is; how satisfying it is to see Trump’s family, standing like an assortment of melted candles on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, while he delivers his last, mad speech (“have a good life, we will see you soon”) before buggering off to the strains of YMCA, Melania stalking, bird-like, beside him.

At the inauguration, I’m not worried about snipers. I’m worried about people in masks, with reduced fields of vision, getting down stairs without tripping, particularly Kamala Harris, who’s traded in her Chuck Taylors for three-inch heels. Big belts, big hair, sharp pant suits – “Christ, it’s all too much for America’s lesbians,” texts my friend Tiff, and she’s right. There’s Michelle, warrior queen, Hillary resplendent in purple, Pelosi with her all-female security detail presumably somewhere off-stage. Even Amy Klobuchar, always the bridesmaid and vibrating with her customary nerves, does a good job with the warm-up act, or perhaps we’re just too giddy to care. “Bloody love Klobes.” “LOVE HER.”

This largesse extends, briefly, to Republicans, or rather to the gnome-like figure of George W Bush, who you are not permitted to feel fond of without someone reminding you of Iraq, but today one still does, a courtesy very much not afforded to Mike Pence. When he arrives, I actually give my screen the middle finger and although I’m alone in my apartment say aloud, at normal volume: “Pence, you absolute c–sucker.” It’s not even a word I use! Sheer madness.

From there it all flies by in a blur. Tears at Harris being sworn in, heart swelling at Biden. Along with the rest of America, I dash for a wee during Roy Blunt, have a little weep at Gaga, am confused by Garth Brooks, ignited by Amanda Gorman, and after it’s all over, am so overwhelmed I have to put myself down for a nap.

Thursday

There’s a comedown, and the New York Times, as ever, is there first to enhance it. “Biden confronts a confluence of crises,” runs the front-page headline on Thursday, before detailing the long list of catastrophes awaiting the new president. Already, reporters note, there is a turning away from Trump by such groups as the Proud Boys. On Monday, in a private far-right messaging forum, they called him “a total failure”. By Thursday, the paper reports, members of that same forum are calling him a “shill”, and “extraordinarily weak”.

This rejection would be reassuring, or at least a trigger for schadenfreude, were it not so thoroughly alarming. By ditching Trump, the far right is paving the way, with greater speed than anticipated, for a replacement figurehead who this time may be less inept and moronic. But at least the desires of these groups are back where they belong; on the lunatic fringe, not dictating national policy.

Friday

Too much relief and excitement leads to nervous collapse. On Friday morning, I have a fight with a woman on eBay about a misadvertised scooter, then spiral into sweary meltdown at the supermarket. “Please put your item in the bagging area.” My item is – Jesus Christ – already in the sodding bagging area, it’s making us late, muther-.

“Are you embarrassed?” says my daughter.

“Why would I be embarrassed?”

“You’re shouting.”

“I’m not embarrassed, I’m angry and it’s perfectly legitimate.”

“Are you angry-embarrassed?”

It’s going to take us a while to get back to normal.

‘Oh, he’s not … we’re not together.’ Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP