Covid-19 fatigue had hit its highest by the end of 2020. People were sick and tired of virtual holiday celebrations, and college students wanted to return to a more normal existence on campus. By the time we got to New Year’s Eve and the clock struck that proverbial Cindrellian midnight, people were talking as if all that was wrong with the world would be fixed simply because 2020 was ending. But Jan. 1, 2021 came and went, and the U.S. reported 147,159 new cases of the virus. It seemed like 2021 was going to be as harrowing as 2020 for the time being, a feeling that was amplified tenfold when the pandemic took a back seat in the news cycle because our democracy was under siege by a violent mob. Watching the events of Jan. 6, 2021 caused me to question my faith in an institution that I had previously taken for granted: the American government. Conversations with friends and family revealed that one thing was for certain: no one was entirely sure how to comprehend what they had just witnessed. Rather than burying myself in political punditry from across the spectrum — as I’d done several times before — I found solace from my intensifying confusion by playing through some Beethoven repertoire on the piano. As I played through the third movement of the “Les Adieux” Sonata, I marveled at how lively and joyful music the music was, especially when the composer himself had such a difficult life. Beethoven’s story is disturbingly similar to our present reality. Facing progressive hearing loss, he endured the embarrassment of having to explain his condition to the public and the consequence that they would have to speak louder for him to hear them. His affliction led him to isolate himself from society — similar to what we have all been forced to do for the last year. When his deafness became inevitable, he slid into depression. But that wasn’t all — the lesser known story has to do with his political views. Beethoven was a staunch supporter of democracy and freedom — views he developed as he juxtaposed what he heard about the French Revolution with his current life in the repressive Austrian regime. Specifically, he admired Napoleon as a heroic revolutionary so much so that he dedicated his masterful “Eroica” symphony to him. But this all changed when Napoleon declared himself Emperor and became the exact thing Beethoven despised, leading him to scratch Napoleon’s name off the symphony. Napoleon invaded Beethoven’s home country, Austria, in 1809. It was around this time that Beethoven’s hearing had also forced him to stop performing in public. While Beethoven was experiencing extreme sorrow and worry on both personal and political fronts, he wrote his third cello sonata — one of the most positive and joyful works ever written. The even more baffling fact is that the inscription on his manuscript reads, “amid tears and sorrow.” In an interview with The Campus, Middlebury Professor of Music Larry Hamberlin noted Beethoven’s ability to write exquisitely humorous works during his lowest moments in life. Pieces like his second and eighth symphony — full of musical jokes — were written when he was at his lowest point and even contemplating suicide. “This was like a personal skill he had. He wrote his way out of depression,” Hamberlin said. Beethoven said that his art was the only thing that got him through his depression. Just as it helped him, his music can provide solace to us as well during these uncertain times. The horrific scenes of the Capitol riot left many terrified about the future of our country, but we — like Beethoven — can find hope in the face of fascism. Years after witnessing political turmoil in his country, he wrote his “Ode to Joy” as the fourth movement of his ninth symphony, a piece that has been used as an anthem of protest in many places, including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protest. The fact that Beethoven could set this positive poem about joy and freedom to music at the end of his troubled life is the ultimate symbol of resilience and hope. Here’s my recommendation: the next time you’re stressed or worried during these troubled times, rather than scrolling through Twitter or reading a pundit’s commentary, try listening to a piece mentioned in this article, or any piece by Beethoven. The refreshing positivity never gets old. Tejas Srinivasan is a member of the class of 2024.
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Most Americans have heard the expression “the melting pot” used to describe the diversity of our country. Most have also heard the commander in chief refer to immigrants as “animals” and talk about “sh*thole countries” when referring to nations like Haiti. This juxtaposition poses an important question: What would the re-election of this president mean for the future of immigration in America? Immigration was a central issue in the 2016 campaign as Trump turned the notion of a border wall into a ubiquitous catchphrase and joked about deporting his opponent. This year, however, the pandemic and subsequent recession have forced immigration to take a backseat in the national consciousness. There is only one word to describe the actions and sentiment of this administration towards immigrants: xenophobic. While his base celebrates the border wall, the president is busy finding additional ways to keep people from other countries from entering America. Forbes Magazine reported that by 2021, Trump will have reduced legal immigration by almost 50% since arriving in the Oval. We saw a glimpse of this within the first months of his administration when he signed the executive order that banned citizens from Muslim-majority countries like Iraq and Libya from entering the U.S. In the name of American safety, the “Muslim ban” established clear prejudice against foreign nationals, an ideology apparent throughout his term. Another legacy of Trump’s tenure is his most unpardonable policy: children in cages. Pictures of young migrants forced to live in horrible conditions, wrapped in meager tinfoil blankets were all over the news and social media, yet it seemed like the people writing policy at 1600 Pennsylvania were unperturbed. Since then, the Trump administration has quietly created more policies to slow and stop forms of legal immigration, the most recent being his proclamation to temporarily suspend work-based immigration to the United States. The wording of this policy is consistent with the administration’s attack on anything foreign: they claim their aim is to protect American jobs, yet simultaneously alienate the immigrant base that makes up for 17% of the labor force and 10% of the electorate. Saying immigrants “present risk” to the American labor force is inherently counterproductive to the country’s economic growth. Trump brags that he gave life to the best economy of any modern president, but his policies may stifle U.S. GDP growth for years to come. The numbers provide a compelling argument on their own, but the administration’s rhetoric raises even more concerns. It first alarmed me in early 2017, when I heard a radio conversation on Breitbart between former Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller. They addressed the “scary” realities of legal immigration in the country and demeaned foreign workers. My parents are first-generation immigrants who came over legally and have been here for over 20 years, so I’ve had my eyes opened to the colossal amounts of red tape within the naturalization process for a while. It is the deliberate deceleration of this process that is perhaps the biggest “silent killer.” The Trump administration has made it harder for people to obtain work visas by adding harsher guidelines for businesses that make it harder to sponsor foreign workers. Here’s the bottom line: even the thought of immigrants working and improving business in this country makes the White House uncomfortable. “Aliens.” It’s been the official nomenclature painfully attached to foreign nationals for years. The term is all over tax forms, immigration documents and even the news. We see it just enough to remember that there has always been the slightest bit of distaste towards immigrants in this country. The Trump administration has amplified this “slight distaste” into an explicit bias, yet that hasn’t discouraged immigrants from expressing their love for this country. Even though they can’t vote, my parents have been constantly reminding me to spread the word about voting. Whether it’s passion, hope or just anger that gets them moving, immigrant communities are more active in our democracy now than ever, and that is proof that they are no different from the “Americans” that the White House explicitly favors. We cannot pinpoint why exactly the Trump Administration loves to make this distinction, but if it is allowed to continue, the principles of diversity and progress that have made this country so attractive to the outside world will become obsolete.