“I’m not going to watch.”
Before 8:15 this morning, between my apartment door and my desk, I heard several variations of that sentiment expressed by people I like and respect. The cries echoed others heard throughout the past week, a defiant “no can do” attitude — as in no-can-watch-any-inaugural-activities — expressed as a badge of honor, and almost always without inner conflict (save for one torn business-side colleague).
Really? No matter how one swings politically — in fashion, that’s code for no matter how much one loathes Donald Trump — how could you not watch? How could you voluntarily remove yourself from witnessing this most monumental of events, ushering in a new, unchartered era for the U.S. and the world?
I’m neither historian nor political analyst; I’m a fashion reporter. But you don’t have to be Doris Kearns Goodwin to know that insular communication is, at the end of the day, no communication, and the deafness permeates our society, fostered and festering on both sides of the vast political divide. Fox people speak to the Fox choir. CNN people speak to the CNN choir. Social media encourages extremism all around; whichever the side, whatever the issue, a zealot sees nothing by degree — they looooove you, you can do no wrong; they haaaate you, you can do no right. Meanwhile, measured, interested discourse — let alone any desire or attempt to question one’s own pedantry — occupies an ever-narrowing place in the culture and, ample anecdotal evidence suggests, the individual psyche across all ideologies. But then, what is the former but the sum of the latter?
Again, not a historian. But right now feels like the most fractious moment in this country’s history since Vietnam, maybe even since the Civil War, though to say that may be parading my own ignorance. Personal knowledge gaps aside, you have to be dumb as a box of rocks not to recognize this as a moment with major historical resonance.
How can you not be curious? Curious for curiosity’s sake — about matters more potent than who’s wearing what (though Lord knows, we love that). It used to be considered human nature to be drawn to unusual and/or ceremonial activity — get wind of an event, a commotion, any mass human gathering and wonder, what’s this all about? Not anymore, unless I already know what it’s about — and it’s about exactly what I’m about. This level of disinterest is particularly unnerving among population subsets whose lives should thrive on curiosity — some journalists and students included. Ugliness and mistrust aside, what about mere fascination with the sea change: Barack Obama to Donald Trump in eight short years. How did that happen? The dichotomy between modernist Michelle and traditionalist Melania? (Then again, staying put in New York — not so traditional.) Not to mention Hillary Clinton’s incredible graciousness at Trump’s swearing-in and lunch as protesters and police squared off in the streets? What does it all forecast about the next four years? How could even the most passionate of horrified partisans not tune in to look and (just maybe) learn?
Yet float a Kim Kardashian heist story, and no one can get enough. Love her or hate her, the curiosity gene kicks in. Kind of sad.