The Incredible Lightness of Donald
Learning to Accept Trump’s Absurdity
When Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Sarah Palin recently visited the White House, President Trump led his guests on a tour. “He showed us the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom and explained how that was where the president’s son died,” Nugent said. “He knew the designer of the chairs.”
There is something fundamentally surreal about American life under Trump. The fact that the creative forces behind “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Bawitdaba,” and Sarah Palin’s Alaska came together to listen to the former proprietor of the Miss Universe Pageant describe the provenance of the chair that Lincoln sat in while he watched his son die — this is absurd.
We’re living in a political version of Schrodinger’s Paradox: Trump is both the legitimately elected president and at his core illegitimate. He has the most important job on the planet and is also a complete nincompoop. The former host of The Apprentice fired both the FBI director and missiles into Syria. Our president was once a star on WrestleMania, and is evidently still proud of that accomplishment. It’s weird!
But in the face of this absurdity, I’ve felt a strange emotion — a sense of lightness, a liminal state that is oddly freeing.
The fact that Trump was elected makes me feel as if the burden of history has been lifted from America’s shoulders. Even if you don’t believe in the catechism of American exceptionalism, most of us have a core sense that there’s something different and special about our nation; the triumphant racial narrative surrounding Barack Obama’s election testifies to this.
But how important can the United States be if such an absurd person could be elected to lead us? Maybe the office of the presidency doesn’t deserve our respect, since someone who merits no respect was able to win it. Maybe the Constitution isn’t so special, since the man sworn to uphold it clearly doesn’t care about that oath in the slightest. Maybe our sacred Founding Fathers shouldn’t have tried so hard in the first place.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera writes, in refuting Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return, “We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come….We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?”
What can American life be worth if we are governed by such a boob?
Kundera was writing about life under Communist dictatorship and the tragedy of the Prague Spring. Although Trump would prefer to rule as an autocrat, his own incompetence and our system of checks and balances has (so far) made him merely a would-be strongman, an authoritarian without authority. Life has continued on mostly as normal in Trump’s America, and for this we can be thankful.
I’m not arguing for nihilism. American public life still has meaning, and America is still the nation that defeated the Nazis and invented rock and roll. And it’s easier for me, as a straight white dude with a job and health insurance, to throw up my hands at the news of the day and declare myself removed from it.
But we must accept that the president is a buffoon and adjust ourselves accordingly. The cult of the presidency — our habit of treating the executive as both the nation’s moral leader and a royal demigod — has long been troublesome, and it’s good that Trump is (unintentionally) demolishing it. America’s role on the global stage already deserved to be diminished after our disastrous interventions in the Middle East; Trump’s hamfisted “diplomacy” may spur other nations to do a better job at policing the world.
The Commander-in-Chief shouldn’t be taken seriously anymore, and neither should the United States. For the first time in our history, America has the chance to be a “normal” country. And it’s okay to be normal.