The Mad King
What are we dealing with, here?
On January 21, in the most stunning display of dissent in modern American history, an estimated one million women, men and children marched on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to protest the inauguration of Donald J. Trump.
Similar gatherings took place in virtually every major city in the United States — and in many more cities across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people wielded homemade signs reading, “Impeach the Peach,” “Don’t Tweet on Me,” “nobody likes you,” and (my personal favorite), “We Shall Overcomb.”
It was like the Bizarro World version of the 2009 Obama inauguration, which may as well have happened in 500 B.C., somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy.
We’ve come a long, strange way from “Hope and Change.”
Within hours of the protests, the nascent, embattled Trump Administration was in damage-control mode. Trump deployed a poorly-suited toady named Sean Spicer to lecture the press on the topic of journalistic integrity. “We’re going to hold the press accountable,” he said. No questions were taken.
Earlier, at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Trump stood before the Wall of Honor — a memorial to fallen operatives — and used the opportunity to crow about his “running war” with the media. The red curtains in the Oval Office were ripped down, replaced with Trump’s favorite color: gold. Trump’s most feared and trusted lieutenant — the gaunt, deathlike Kellyanne Conway — wore some sort of Union Jack-style military uniform to the festivities. The night before, at the Liberty inaugural ball, Trump danced a two-step with his iron-jawed wife, Melania, while Sinatra’s “My Way” played dourly in the background.
It was all very North Korea.
While it may be tempting to sit this one out, and ride the endless wave of entertainment provided by the Cirque du Trumpe … the truth is that we are witnessing an extraordinary moment.
We may not see it — insulated as we are by two great oceans, and blinded by our deep love of this country — but to the rest of the world, the truth is plain:
These are the actions of a man who is already losing his grip on the Presidency.
Weeks, months from now, in the protests and demonstrations that are sure to follow, keep an eye on the looters.
I’m not talking about the handful of hooligans who are likely to peel off from the crowd and throw a few rocks through a few store windows.
The real looting will be happening from inside the White House. It will start with the stripping of funds from the National Park Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It will then take the form of tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy — financial loopholes you can drive a Gulfstream through. It will take the form of defrauding cops and teachers out of their pensions, and denying health care to the elderly.
All that freed-up money must go somewhere. I’m guessing that it will go “up.”
This is the sort of thing that happens in banana republics and crumbling, ex-Soviet blocs. It’s the sort of thing you see in PBS documentaries of Third-World countries and think: “Oh, those poor bastards.”
No one with a functioning nervous system can doubt that Donald Trump and his proposed cabinet of bankers, CEO’s, heiresses, oil men, and various scoundrels are going to plunder the U.S. Treasury. Attempting to deter them from doing so — using Senate hearings, ethics committees, and other soft instruments of law — is a fool’s mission. That would be like asking a stray Doberman not to lunge after an untended pork chop.
That Donald Trump is afflicted with some sort of exotic personality disorder is no longer a matter of medical speculation. Much like climate change, it is an easily observable fact. (“Hey, it’s fuckin’ hot out!”) This man seems constitutionally incapable of honesty, thoughtfulness, or grace. He is aggressively mendacious. He is physically revolting. He is morally deformed.
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s followers — many of them, at least — have fleshed out a cultural vision that keeps all the slime of Trump’s Batman-villain rhetoric, but leaves out the self-aware humor. Anti-intellectualism is once again in vogue. You can now safely mock the handicapped, bash fags, and use the word “retard.” (Just don’t come after Santa Claus!) This brand of brazen, malicious idiocy makes Joe the Plumber look like Nikola fucking Tesla.
Not only that, our very notion of reality — what we see with our own eyes, and feel with our own hearts — is under assault. We’ve been dragged down the rabbit hole and into an era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Vladimir Putin — who we’re all pretty sure murders journalists — is a natural ally in this landscape. A man who might have argued for the elimination of the Department of Energy — if he weren’t too stupid to remember it by name — is now in charge of that agency, and just days ago learned that he would be responsible for our stockpile of nuclear weapons. A celebrity neurosurgeon, who may or may not be high on laughing gas all the time, has been put in charge of public housing, if for no other reason than that he is black.
Trump seems to want to reshape the texture of our world to suit his famously vulgar and fickle tastes. He appears to invent whole stories, whole histories, whole relationships and exchanges with people, out of whole cloth. He does this on a moment-to-moment, breath-by-breath basis. It is an extraordinary thing to behold.
How to fight such a man? How to persuade someone who, by his own admission, can’t be swayed with appeals to reason, tradition, decency, humility?
How do you take down a mad king?
And what of the “deplorables”?
Where are all those red-cap-wearing, red-meat-eating maniacs who filed duteously into gymnasiums back in October to rail against the coloreds? What’s their response to all of this? What do they think when they see their friends and neighbors marching angrily in the streets? Are they happy?
They should know — perhaps better than anyone — that this is how it happens. This is how the gentle push of anger becomes a full-fledged resistance. This, on the steps of the National Mall, and in Pittsburgh and Phoenix and New York and Oakland and Los Angeles, is how dynasties fall. It’s how sedition turns to mutiny.
In the end, what dethrones Trump won’t be some quaint sex scandal involving Russian hookers. It won’t be the Republicans removing him from office in favor of the pliable, robotic Mike Pence. It won’t be anything as devastating and cinematic as a nuclear strike. It won’t even be his own broken brain.
It will be fatigue.
This level of anxiety and conflict is exhausting. It isn’t healthy. It can’t be sustained. Something will give. And maybe it already has.
Early on in his candidacy, Trump tweeted: “A nation without borders is not a nation at all.” He was referring, of course, to his Great Dream of building a wall along the American Southwest — as if airplanes don’t exist.
I would argue that a nation — and our nation, in particular — can’t exist without the voices of diversity and dissent.
Trump holds the microphone, but we control the electricity.
Donald J. Trump does not need to Make America Great Again, because, in a way, he already has.
In his complete disregard for wisdom and lucidity, in his total estrangement from reality and truth, he has pulled off his best magic trick yet. Somehow, he has managed to rouse the ire of a dozing electorate. Twice.
He has done our nation a great service. He has unified us under the banner of revolt.
He has reminded us of the strength of our generosity, and the generosity of our strength.
In a perverse stroke of irony, then, his Presidency is already a roaring success.
His work is done.
Now, ours begins.
(I live in Pittsburgh, with my girlfriend and cat. Follow me on Twitter, if you must.)