He’s always courted the desperate—people seeking a second career in real estate; gamblers; and now voters. Trump’s hair, that thin veneer of gold, combed across a layer of liverspotted skin pulled slack atop a brittle skull, is the living embodiment of his politics, just like it was, no, still is, of his business. Trump is our Joker, and the Joker was never actually particularly funny.
Trump isn’t fun anymore. If that was true before it’s worse now.
When I think what he is doing and what we have to do to stop him my breath catches short in my chest; the pit in my stomach grows a size; my eyebrows knit together in a permanent mask of concern.
Trump’s approval ratings are in the toilet of course, with the odd article saying how disenchanted even some of his stalwarts are becoming. Of course, Trump’s business-model has always been based, not on approval, which is hard, but on preference, which is easier, and which he can call approval in the carnival-mirrors of his mind.
This week something feels quite different—but I don’t think it’s Trump; I don’t think he’s doing anything differently. Trump’s whole raison d’etre is to put people in a good mood; and his means has always been to play the clown; the loveable goof. It’s what got him elected. It’s also been the key to resisting him. People would hear about his latest wreck, chuckle darkly, and then sign a petition or call a congressperson or share something on Facebook. It was always bad; but time was Trump’s stupidity was at such cross-purposes with itself that it was still good for a laugh.
And let’s not forget the reason people voted for him in the first place: he made the Washington old-guard uncomfortable. Even for those of us who have always hated him—and as a New Yorker I can say “always”—there was a certain pleasure to hearing him pretend he wanted to go after Wall Street; to hearing him pretend to know what the nuclear triad was; to finding out to our relief that fixing healthcare and immigration and taxation would be easy and he’d get them all done on the first day. As much as I had my fair share of “uh-oh” moments—usually one a day—I also had my share of laughs.
For me, Trump has never been a loveable goof; a goof is loveable almost by definition, and Trump, for all that he wants to be loved, can’t be and could never be. I think he knows it, and that’s why he’s always courted the desperate—people seeking a second career in real estate; gamblers; and now voters. Trump’s hair, that thin veneer of gold, combed across a layer of liverspotted skin pulled slack atop a brittle skull, is the living embodiment of his politics, just like it was, no, still is, of his business. Trump is our Joker, and the Joker was never actually particularly funny. I still think about Trump on the dais at his Comedy Central Roast: his face frozen in a semblance of a smile but unable to laugh at any of the jokes directed his way. His skin, like his hair, is too thin. He can’t be loveable because he can’t admit to his imperfections; but also because he can’t give his public a break. The “negotiator” has never actually come out of hiding to do something right for our country. With Bush, we could always point to the war in Afghanistan as something he was doing right (he wasn’t but we could pretend). With Obama there was the fact that at least he was a step up from Bush (How? I never understood how. Maybe it’s better having an African-American who speaks in eloquent paragraphs absolving criminal bankers of even their most blatant crimes and sending flying robots of death to murder Pakistani wedding parties than a white person who speaks in gibberish? Let’s put a pin in that one for now). Anyway. Such is the incompetence of Trump that the media can’t even do what has seemed to be their job for the last 3 presidents and pretend everything is alright.
Good. That’s progress.
Yes. Progress. We’ve moved from Denial to Anger.
If there was ever a positive to come out of a Trump presidency it was that he would be so bad; so unlikeable; so impossible to sugar-coat (or rather to gold-leaf) that we as a nation could no longer ignore our problems. Under Obama we could say that we were making progress—racism, economic instability and inequality, global warming, police corruption, foreign policy... everything was making progress. Except it wasn’t; or not enough. And if this setback is what it takes to wake us up, so be it. Except we can’t catch our breath. Well, we’re going to have to catch our breath and more, because our situation is not getting any better on its own.
We are not alone in our fight. We are gaining allies every day. Part of what’s helping us along is that the bloom has finally come off the rose, even for most of Trump’s very best friends. I can imagine an indulgent chuckle from a smart Trump-supporter regarding the promise to build a wall on our south border; I can’t really imagine one towards his directing the latest rage-tweets at the recently widowed wife of a U.S. soldier. Lewis Black famously said: “Democrats are dumb; Republicans are stupid. And dumb isn’t funny.” He went on to explain: with a Democrat you say: “Oh. He got it wrong again.” With a Republican you say: “I can’t believe he said THAT!” We are getting to the point where Trump is no longer stupid; he’s just dumb. Who knew chaos could become predictable?
Another of my favorite philosophers, Jim Jeffries, said about Trump (before the election, of course): “There’s a little bit of me... that thinks: ‘Fuck it, let’s do it. Let’s do it and see how crazy shit can get.’” Again. We’re getting to the place where we’ve seen how crazy shit can get without ALL of us dying; with just some of us dying; the usual people, as it happens. The marginalized. The Puerto Ricans still waiting for their relief. The black people who fear for their lives at every traffic-stop. The sufferers of drug addiction who were sadly addle-minded enough to believe Trump when he promised them relief.
Whiplash, I know. Going from bleak political analysis to quoting standup comedians and back. Interspersing jokes in discussion of a president who has people expecting their health insurance to be cut so they’ll have to crowd-source their surgeries and even check-ups.
That’s the point. We’ve been making jokes this whole time, and when we haven’t we’ve still laughed at the covfefes and the “I have a huge, throbbing, rock-hard crowd” comments. But now? The jokes are as funny as ever but the underlying anxiety is getting worse all the time. I have been expecting this development for a few years now; on some level we all have. What helps? I suppose the comedy does still help; to some extent it always will, as long as it is crafted in the same puckish spirit we’ve grown to expect and appreciate; as long as it represents the same plea for sanity in the face of lies, criminal mischief, greed, vengeful cruelty.
But what will really help? In other words: what will feel satisfying? When your stomach rumbles it doesn’t quiet until you eat; and then it doesn’t quiet for long. When your stomach has a pit in it, it means your spirit is flagging and needs to be nourished. That empty feeling is a good thing. That pit in your stomach is a good thing. It’s a material reminder of your soul’s, your best self’s yearning for connection to God or to the Music of the Spheres or to other people; a connection that can only be achieved through pursuing justice and goodness; a connection that pulls you away from Trump and everything he represents.
Take seriously the pit in your stomach, and nourish the need that it represents.
Above all, recognize that the yearning for connection and the diminished spirit go hand in hand. We are always most able to make a connection when we least need to.
Make the effort.
Giving of your time and money help. Not everyone has spare money; and when that happens, a lot of people feel they don’t have time either; more to the point, not everyone has spare energy.
general anti-trump: https://www.pride.
And for those of you who, by strange and wonderful alchemy, can turn your despair into inspiration, a special post-script: the founder of trumpforprison.org has started another project, one designed to combat directly the cynical attacks on the young, fragile status-quo of our health care system. I urge and encourage you to take a look: https://www.psachallenge