The Surreal Real: Coming to Terms With President Trump

November 12, 2016


Three days later and I’m still reeling. Three days of numerous stunted conversations with both friends and strangers, all replete with pauses and head shaking and holding up of hands, all ending with words neither illuminating nor comforting. The fact, like the sudden death of a friend, is too brutal for either. The unspeakable has been spoken. Loudly. Across the nation and the world. By tens of millions of my fellow citizens. It brings a sense of profound dislocation, a shattering of one’s sense of reality, a confirmation of one’s worst fears about our own nation. A FDNY friend calls and tells me he has not felt this sense of loss since 9/11 when scores of fellow firemen perished beneath the rubble of the Twin Towers. Another, older friend compares his feelings to those he felt on and after November 22, 1963.
Suddenly, overnight, the horribly surreal is all too horribly real and will remain real for years.

I find myself asking, where the hell am I? Is this the country of my birth? Yes, it is. And most resoundingly, no, it is not. Something has changed. Something primal and riddled with inchoate rage and violence, something that has been growing for many a year, has been revealed. And no event in my life has made that revelation more horribly obvious than the stunning election of Donald J. Trump, a man who has never lifted a finger for anyone other than himself, a man who embodies all that is debased, degenerate, degrading and dangerous in American culture, to nothing less than the presidency of the United States. And this at a hour when, due to the machinations of G.W. Bush and the connivance of Barack Obama, the powers of the presidency have been expanded and enlarged more than any time in American history. The event is singular in its indictment of both the American people and the American political system, particularly the Democratic Party , that pushed such people to such desperate measures.
I never watch TV news and I find myself obsessed with watching TV news, as if I somehow need visual verification that this event has actually happened and I am not, in fact, hallucinating. And there it is: Donald Trump, the same man who spoke of grabbing pussy and banning Muslims and building a wall to keep out Mexicans, is sitting in the Oval Office with Barack Obama preparing to take it over. There is Donald Trump, the same man who cheered on spectators attacking protesters at his rallies and bragged about not paying taxes, being led by Speaker Paul Ryan to the spot at the Capital where in 70 days he will take the oath of office. Meanwhile, the talking heads speak of Trump’s cabinet, naming Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin, all of whom four days ago were punch lines.


I am trying to come to terms with the fact that this obscene and sickening narcissist, a man who has never spent five minutes in public service, this scamming, hustling, Reality TV personality, will be leading my nation, the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and I cannot.
And yet I must.
More, as significant as the political aftermath are the cultural effects, which for many supporters of the president –elect means instant legitimization of the basest of human impulses: racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti LGBTQ,, anti any and all progressive movements. Indeed, as reports of high school students chanting “white power” and “Build the wall” filter in, such horror has already begun. Certainly, white supremacists, who loudly made their presence felt at his rallies across the nation, are rejoicing in the ascension of this grotesque man.

Still, as with any violent and traumatic attack on one’s sense of reality, the mind in time fights back because it must fight back. It would be absurd to look for silver linings in this darkness but perhaps, perhaps, perhaps with enough work there will be opportunities, which are a very different thing.

Perhaps there will at last be widespread recognition of the immense political betrayal of working class Americans by the Democratic party, especially under Clinton: NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the laws that led directly to the mass incarceration of millions, mostly African Americans, and above all, the political apotheosis of Wall Street. All of this continued unabated under Bush and Obama, all of it that has led directly to the greatest concentration of wealth in the fewest hands in modern times and the simultaneous immiseration of millions of Americans, now so crazed and hopeless that enough of them seek salvation in the absurd and vicious promises of a billionaire con man with no political experience or knowledge of governance whatsoever.

I have in my travels over the past few years met and spoken with some of these people, formerly working class and now called the “precariat “ as their lives have become so precarious. Former members of the Democratic party, one and all, formerly well employed, now forgotten and seething in their hollowed out cites and towns which no killer app can save for the simple reason that no killer app was meant to. I have felt their volcanic anger and their completely justified sense of primal betrayal and it was frightening. Yet I did not see this coming.

What to do ? What to do ?

I do not know.

What I believe is this: The election of Trump is an unprecedented political and cultural disaster demanding unprecedented political and cultural responses — chief among the latter, solidarity and decency and kindness which in an age of casual cruelty take on radical proportions. Protests have begun. May they continue and grow and grow and grow. Mass civil disobedience on a scale never before seen in America may be our only hope. There is nothing that would please the powers that be more than violence as it would be instantly and indefinitely used to justify massive police oppression.
Whatever we do may we have the wisdom to do it right.

14 Responses to “The Surreal Real: Coming to Terms With President Trump”

  1. Lisa Martin Says:

    Hi Pat,

    I am a bit late coming to this piece (clear and powerful, as usual). Nearly two weeks after the election, my initial shock, horror, disgust, and fear, have eased a bit, but I remain with a profound sense of dislocation. One thought is that we on the left erred greatly by not anticipating this. We need to understand the context in which this huckster — a friend referred to him brilliantly as a “country club Frankenstein” and “vulgar carny from Queens” — could ever have been elected POTUS. The people are lost, but we need to remember that not all are racists, homophobes, and bigots. (Remember, many states that went red this year voted for Obama in ’08 and ’12.) We need to remain vigilant, and put our money where our mouths are, supporting causes that will fight the ugliness that is surely to come. It will be a long four years, but we cannot give up hope.

    Yours Ever,
    Lady Bab

  2. maybe just maybe Says:

    But what does this mean for public education?? Lets face Obama destroyed public education and started the anti teacher fiasco with arnie duncan……maybe trump can be great for public schools because really the dems were destroying us any way…

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      Public education has been under attack for many years and Obama, because he was the most insidious, was certainly the most effective attacker. I despise the man. That said, to place faith in a hustling con artist like Donald Trump is inexplicable to me. Like Bush before him with No CHild Left Behind, Obama sought plausible deniability with Race to the Top attempting to undermine unions and schools piece meal. Trump is for charters and vouchers. This is meant to deal a death blow to the entire system in a much speedier fashion. Donald Trump conned a lot of decent and desperate people who have been abandoned and betrayed by the Democratic party for decades and into supporting him. They will, one and all, soon find out that Donald Trump played them as he has played people his entire life.

  3. marcos carrasquer Says:

    It has been a long chain of betrayal of the working class by so called liberal or left political parties in power. And this has been going on since Mitterand in France, Blair in the UK, Gonzalez in Spain, Clinton, Obama you name it.
    What Labour Party support did the British miners receive in 84-85 during their year long strike against Thatcher’s pit closures policy? Her politics were not based on economical arguments, they simply aimed to destroy a powerful miner’s Union and she succeeded because the Union stood alone; abandoned by a scared Labour Party.
    For me, definitely a turning point in History; the miners were defeated and since then it has been free drinks for anti-Union politicians in power everywhere, ‘left’ or rightwing.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      You are right Marcos. And please know that I am delighted to hear from you, my dear friend and comrade in arms.

  4. John Giambalvo Says:

    Beautifully written, as usual. And this is terrible news, of course. But I’m also reading everyone on the left worried that the hair of the entire progressive movement is on fire because of what happened and that’s just silly. Most people voted with the left agenda last week. Also, folks should remember that Obama has departed more human beings and sent them back to the desperate circumstances they came from (a HRV, in my opinion) than any other president but, because he had a D next to his name, no significant opposition took place. He was able to do nothing in terms of bringing about an actual livable wage for all Americans and, because he had “tried”, no one really held him accountable for the failure. This won’t be the case with Trump who may, after all that is about to happen, be the best organizing tool progressives have had in more than ten years. There is another silver lining here: The people who didn’t care about what he said voted for him anyway because they are hurting. The left, who likes to shut people up if they speak out of consensus, ignored poor people who were really suffering. In a sense, I’m almost glad they weren’t able to get away with it. I think the election should be a lesson to the urban elites. My two cents there.

    • patrickwalsh Says:

      And a good two cents it is. Thank you John. I will think about what you say. God knows we need to look after each other.

    • Megan Says:

      Patrick, I am sorry for all who are reeling, but wouldn’t we all just be feeling in the same direction if the result had been different?

      • patrickwalsh Says:

        Hi Megan,
        I know some people would be but I am not one of them, as reprehensible a figure I find H. Clinton to be. Trump is far and away the most manifestly unqualified person ever to reach the White House. This is, I think, a rupture in American history.

  5. Marty Babits Says:

    Thank you for your eloquent depiction of the shock and horror that so many millions of us are feeling.

  6. Danny Says:

    Simply beautiful Patrick; I wouldn’t expect less. Thank you.

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