Like millions of people around the world, I will never forget where I was or how I felt when I heard John Lennon was shot by a deranged fan outside his New York City apartment building on December 8, 1980. It didn’t seem real. Could this really have happened? The world suddenly seemed like a darker, more hostile place.
Lennon had just sat for a lengthy interview with Playboy, released a new album, and, with his extremely lean physique and Yoko by his side, he seemed ready to be back in the public eye after a five-year hiatus. Fans were happy that Lennon was making music again and that he seemed to have found peace in his personal life. Fans were glad he was re-emerging. And then he was gone.
Along with the Beatles, Lennon was a constant, comforting presence throughout the sixties, as baby boomers moved from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, listening not only to his music, but to his message. Though he aspired only to play rock and roll, meet girls, and be bigger than Elvis, the historical moment and his millions of fans around the world demanded more of him. The relationship first-generation fans had with Lennon, the role he played in their lives, was historically unique and profoundly important. Millions still feel his absence, and wonder what he’d be doing and what he’d think about the rapidly-changing world we inhabit without him.
Lennon’s violent murder made that December even darker, and seemed to mark the end of an era. The following month, the hippie-hating former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, B-movie actor and tv huckster for the military industrial complex, would become president. Reagan’s victory seemed to repudiate much of what Lennon and the sixties represented. Along with Lennon, hope and innocence were lost too.
Liberal America was appalled that an affable but questionably qualified right-winger, a celebrity, was about to become president. Less than a year later, when Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers, many feared, justifiably, that the President’s actions would hasten the decline of unions and worker protections. Then came Reaganomics—with massive tax cuts for the rich, reductions in government spending for social programs, deregulation of everything from banking to children’s television, and the beginning of the decline of the middle class. There was a shift in values—a Culture of Greed took hold, flourished, and continues.
We are in another dark December, and millions of Americans are dis-eased by the incompetence, mental instability, bigotry, and general lack of decency of the man about to become President—a con artist who manipulated those most hurt by the Culture of Greed. (Reagan shines by comparison, as does Bush.) Millions fear for the future of the country in a way they never have before. Therapists are seeing “Election Stress Disorder” in their clients. Hate crimes and bigoted school bullying are both on the rise. Old friends and family members argue bitterly before retreating to their own echo chambers. Facts, the pretty young right-wing ingénues tell us, don’t exist anymore.
This election, like that of 1980, also seems to repudiate much of what the sixties stood for—inclusiveness, personal freedom, civil rights, social safety nets, and environmental concerns. More than half the country looks at our President-Elect with a mix of disgust and despair. Some find him humorous; I never have and never will. Contemplating the Trump victory and the next four years, millions are filled with anxiety. Though the consequences are much greater and wide-ranging (especially if you’re not a white man), my reaction to Trump as President in some ways harkens back to how I felt after Lennon’s murder. It didn’t seem real. Could this really have happened? And yes, the world suddenly seems like a darker, more hostile place.
Anticipating the start of Hillary Clinton’s presidency next month, while reflecting on Lennon, would have felt very different. I would have felt hopeful; that we’d be moving, however incrementally, toward the better, more just world we envisioned while listening to the Beatles. Instead, the moral arc of the universe has been bent backward.
Trump’s victory, almost four weeks ago, and Lennon’s murder, almost four decades ago, are two senseless things that should not have happened, and would not have happened in a sane society. These events resonate together in my mind, creating a synergy that makes these dark December days even darker.