Transmissions from a Heartbroken Mob on a Los Angeles Freeway

With nationwide protests sending out a clear message, why does it all just feel like shouting in a bucket?

Like a lot of Jews, I tend to fall back on sarcasm. But also like a lot of Jews—particularly those who’ve followed the fresh trail of new-age anti-semitism so overt that the Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against our president-elect—I don’t really have anything funny to say right now. Is that too melodramatic? Probably a fair question (how many people thought the world was ending when, like, Van Buren was elected?), but at the same time, US Politics has been a 250-year experiment in trust, and trust is something that is easily compromised.

For the past three nights, from New York to Chicago, Kansas City to New Orleans, thousands upon thousands have rallied in the streets, unifying in hatred for a man who, ironically enough, is essentially himself the King of Hate. Naturally, I can’t speak for all the rallies, but on Wednesday night in Downtown Los Angeles—starting outside City Hall, and then spilling onto the neighboring freeway, blocking traffic for miles—I can tell you that the crowd was extraordinarily young, and, for the most part, it lacked any real organization. And why would there be? By all non-partisan metrics, Hillary Clinton was dominating the race: a substantial poll lead; a sweep of all three debates; an endorsement from every single legitimate newspaper in the country. Why would anyone have prepared a calculated response to her defeat?

los_angeles_protest-2016-cred_jason_j_cohn2There are certain realities that we’re prepared to face in life, and, for liberals, having the nation’s first black president be succeeded by an icon of white supremacy was not one of them. In response to that reality, what’s been happening is a mass-scale emotional breakdown. It’s fear manifested into despondency manifested into aggression, and, the other night in LA at least, it’s a damn near miracle that no one was seriously hurt—either by the bottles hurled at police officers on the highway, or by the beanbags shot into the crowd to forcibly clear a five-lane highway.

What’s been happening is a mass-scale emotional breakdown.

Next-day reports made that particular gathering seem relatively contained, but let it be known: the protest was pushed to the limits of a riot. Frankly, the LAPD were surprisingly patient about it all (by their standards), and the fact that only twenty-eight people were arrested is astounding. But in a way, it feels like the LAPD’s relative restraint almost came across as a disappointment to a certain shared emotion in the crowd. Like some part of those who were there were hoping for something—anything—that would make them feel like a more substantial occurrence was happening out there. Because, as it was, all it amounted to was a collective poof of anguish—not signifying nothing by any means, but simply not signifying enough. January 20 continues to roll closer, Trump will be sworn in, and it’s hard to imagine that he even hiccuped from the top of his tower before sending off that terrifyingly tone-deaf tweet about this all being “unfair” to him.

Years from now, when this is mostly just a horrible memory, it’s unlikely that these protests will play into the known narrative of the 2016 election. At least, not as things stand right now. So far, Trump is all talk. And for all we know—even though it’s an absolute pipe dream—he could end up being just a routinely shitty president, and there’ll be no need to keep going out there, night after night, screaming into the dark without a plan. We should all be so lucky. FL

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