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.