On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

I almost couldn’t get out of bed. Derek was up, opened his laptop and said “Oh my god.” I knew from that statement that what I thought couldn’t be true when going to sleep,  just might be true now.

The wave of statements that Donald J. Trump had said over the election felt very, very heavy. The racist, ignorant, sexist things he said were now words from the mouth of the President of the United States of America. The flashbacks to the video clips, the tweets, the new stories. It all seemed so incredulous and absurd. And yet, on the morning of November 9th, 2016, it became not a farce, but a real part of the American discourse as Trump became President-elect.

Twilight on Election Eve
Twilight on Election Eve

As a woman, I felt a guttural fear for the rights of women. Trump was on video stating that he forces himself on women. Changing rape culture needs to come from shifting attitudes from both sexes. What lessons are we teaching the young men about respect and consent when the President-elect has a history of abuse?

A Not-So-Great Wall

As a citizen of North America, I felt a deep worry about the insular and xenophobic nature of Trump’s immigration and (often vague) foreign policies. The most famous and seemingly ridiculous statement was the infamous wall:

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” – Donald Trump

When today’s politicians talk about a wall, it’s a physical representation of a societal break. I saw the wall built on the border between Budapest and Belgrade. I saw the wall carving out land between Israel and the West Bank. To me, it represents a failing of our modern society. Are we so crude to need a wall to resolve a problem? As humans with decency and compassion, can we not find a stronger, more elegant solution?

<center> The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery
The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery

A wall is not sustainable. It seems we are forgetting our history. With poetic timing, Trump was elected on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Then We Take Berlin

I visited Berlin last weekend, just before Tuesday’s election. The city is vibrant and undeniably cool; it’s modern but carefully remembers its history. The Berlin Wall is marked across the city. Cobblestones cut through now bustling public squares that laid barren in no-man’s land for years. You can read about protests and escape stories, both successful and not, as you meander through the city using a phone app.

Cobblestones mark where the Berlin Wall cut between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate.
Cobblestones mark where the Berlin Wall cut between the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate.

As an epicenter of the Cold War, two global powers fought for supremacy. The division in politics caused the division of families and freedoms with the Wall. While the Wall became a symbol and highlighted the division, the Wall was not a real political solution.

Trump’s rhetoric uses societal divisions to his advantage. The ‘them versus us’ approach is more effective than I would like to have thought. As some people cheer “build the wall” in response to Trump’s election, I hope we can look back to look forward.

I love the country but I can’t stand the scene

The same year the Wall fell Erich Honecker, an East German politician, said, “The Wall will still be standing in 50 and even in 100 years – if the reasons for it have not been removed by then.” Change can come in time and in ways that are unexpected.

Grand societal shifts are built incrementally. Yet, it’s almost impossible to predict which action, large or small may trigger the moment that changes come to a head, the action that cements that the way things were will not be the way things will be.

Trump’s election was a strong statement. It’s a reaction and counter-reaction to the American political system. Perhaps there will be true change that will bring power and prosperity to all Americans. Perhaps.

Shepard Fairey Mural at Mehringplatz, Berlin
Shepard Fairey Mural at Mehringplatz, Berlin

As we move forward, I feel the need to work harder for the cause I believe in. To stay vigilant to abuses of civil liberties. To foster compassion.

My hope is that we remember our history and tear down the walls between us, between genders, backgrounds, and political stripes before anyone can build a physical Wall.

And as we mourn one of the great artists of our time, I’ll let Leonard Cohen share some appropriate words as we wrestle with the leaders we have and the leaders we deserve.

As The Man with the Golden Voice says:

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
As time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
To the USA


Also published on Medium.


4 thoughts on “On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

  • November 12, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks Hannah
    I really enjoyed this post . We can only hope that humanity will prevail.
    I feel blessed to have seen Leonard Cohen in person.

    • November 12, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      I’m so glad to hear. I agree – we have to hope! And I only wish I had seen Cohen perform. A reminder to carpe diem!

  • November 13, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Dear Hannah:

    I never saw Cohen perform live, but I did see the
    actual Berlin Wall, in 1970’s…so it seems we
    must have hope and at same time discern
    what is the correct way forward –

    Do you send this to other members of clan….if is
    ok, I would like to do so. Let me know.


    • November 13, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      It must have been something to see the Berlin Wall at the time, and to know how history now evolved.

      I haven’t shared it with the clan directly, and I’m honoured that you would like to!

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