On my last night in Berlin I drink a half-litre of beer and do my best to finish a pork knuckle that is larger than my two fists with their knuckles interlocked. The pork knuckle sits on a bed of sauerkraut, guarded by a moat of gravy and two large potato dumplings. The date is November 8.
Half-drunk, I listen to This American Life on the way back to my hostel. Ira Glass, the podcast’s host, is clearly very concerned about the election. I’m not worried — common sense, I’m sure, will prevail, and there’s no way the pundits in the US will be as inaccurate in their predictions as their UK counterparts were in the run-up to the Brexit vote.
A scroll through my social feeds relaxes me further. Instagram is full of declarations of solidarity with Hillary, many of which are posted by highly-influential female artists: Madonna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, J. Lo, Lady Gaga, Rihanna. Although I’m aware that most of these women appeal chiefly to liberal-minded audiences, I’m confident that a star responsible for hits as blandly palatable as ‘Roar’ and ‘Firework’ will sway any undecided voters from Middle America on election day. (Love you still, KP!)
Taylor Swift, I notice, is one of the only American pop stars I follow who does not claim overt support for Clinton. (Britney Spears doesn’t mention politics at all on election day, but does post a stock photo of strawberry ice cream and a video of her son’s interception during a recent soccer match.) Swift’s post features an American flag emoji, but no indication of a political leaning.
This reminds me of Glastonbury. In the wake of the Brexit verdict, announced during the festival, many vocalists alluded to (“a lot of us are concerned about the events of the last couple of days…”) or directly addressed (“Brexit is fucked”) UK voters’ choice to leave the EU. These mini-speeches were met with cheers by Guardian-buying crowds up to their shins in mud— myself included.
Some artists, though, failed to mention or only skirted around the topic. Among them was Adele. My memories of her set are entirely absent of Brexit commentary, though a Google search now indicates that she did refer to the vote vaguely, saying “it’s a bit weird, the stuff that’s going on at the moment.”
My theory here is that both Adele and Swifty — artists whose careers are built in the middle of the road, on the support of the general public — are shrewd in their political silence. I can only assume that Adele’s audience skews older than that of Rihanna’s, and is thus more conservative. A significant portion of Swift’s success, rooted in her early country sound, is attributable to listeners whose parents are likely, I’d think, to vote Republican; listeners whose parents may have supported the burning of the Dixie Chicks in effigy after that band’s lead singer criticised George W. Bush in 2003. So it makes sense for both women to be noncomittal, for fear of pissing anyone off — even if it’s not a moral position I’d advocate.
Pop conspiracies forgotten and election hopes confirmed, I watch an episode of Brideshead Revisited and go to bed. Tomorrow, I am sure, will be a good day.
I am the only person staying in an eight bed dorm, so when I wake on the morning of November 9 it’s just me, my laptop and seven empty bed frames. The red strip at the right hand side of The Guardian’s live infographic of electoral votes reaches further and further left, towards the 270 cutoff point. I skip breakfast and spend the morning on my laptop. CNN calls it.
I pack my things distractedly, soundtracked by Trump’s flaccid acceptance speech. My absentmindedness becomes obvious once I check out of the hostel: I’ve left my padlock somewhere on the dorm’s floor, I’ve forgotten to fill up my water bottle, and I fail to board the first S-Bahn train that arrives in front of me at Görlitzer Bahnhof, passing five minutes in the bracing cold until the next one arrives.
Waiting for my connecting train to Dresden, I hear what I think are American accents. A youngish couple near me are discussing what to eat; they eventually settle on chicken nuggets and coffee from McDonalds. Despite my best efforts at eavesdropping, I hear no mention of the election. The couple are instead preoccupied by a 15-minute delay to our train’s arrival.
It’s only when the train is about to pull in that I hear them reference Trump’s win, as footage of his speech plays on a large screen opposite the platform. “Just goes to show how much people dislike her,” the man says.
“She’s a liar,” his wife replies.
“He’s a nightmare.”
A few hours later I sit in a cafe in Dresden, spooning the froth from my cappuccino. I read a long think-piece about the media’s failure to take Trump seriously and struggle to digest voting statistics as they continue to roll in.
That evening I watch Clinton’s concession speech (are we calling it that?) at a wooden table in my new hostel’s dormitory. Three two-litre bottles of Pepsi sit on the table behind my laptop. A little later, midway through Obama’s address, three men enter the dorm. None of them pause to watch or comment on the President’s words. They grab the Pepsi bottles and a box of wine, and return from whence they came.