In a Trump Stew
There is nowhere to start; I hope there is an end. I have pieces and I don’t know how to weave them because there is no thread.
There are many people, who as women, black people, latinos, Muslims, immigrants, or part of the lgbt community, have deep anger and cause for concern, which is important, because there are very dangerous factors specific to those demographics which demand attention and vitriol. I fall into none of those categories and I have a very basic anger. I am a human, and everything I know about being a human has formed its antithesis in a orange haired waxman.
Due to that anger, I posted mocking shit for most of the election cycle. It was shit, just shit, sometimes clever, and I wasn’t worried about offending anyone because I did not see how I could. I did not see any way that a rational human being could believe in Donald Trump. After the election I saw a lot of rational human beings who I know, trust, and love, who do. Or did. I hope did. I had good conversations with them, we resisted the temptation of easy reduction (for the most part) and I’m going to try to do that again.
I still don’t know how to speak about all of this. There’s too much, and no matter how much verified news you cite, people won’t believe it if they don’t want to, or they’ll find something they believe disproves it. From what I see, everything is wrong, he’s built a bedrock of very evident falsehoods, he champions un-American ideals, and threatens the media, but that is not what everyone sees. But instead of trying honestly and failing to talk about this, I have relied on satire without caring who gets it or agrees with it and who doesn’t. I think I naturally spoke of him that way because that’s how he sounds to me. He is dripping with this language that strikes me as fundamentally ridiculous, he’s soaked in it, in all his interactions, televised or tweeted or otherwise. Punctuated in monosyllabic bursts of assertion that so many seem to mistake for truth and honesty! Smart! Strong! Dumb! The language we use defines the world we see, and his is one of oversimplification, vagueness, lies, and ridicule. How could I speak of him in any other way? At least I didn’t lie. But I think, as it almost always is, that fighting fire with fire was more cowardly and presumptuous than productive. So I’m going to try and probably fail to show what I see, in the hopes that even if you think there are parts of it that are wrong, the parts we can agree on can be tended to.
I have encountered many different perspectives than my own, and it continues to be one of my greatest joys in life. But in November, I was surprised to find confirmation of a confusion I’ve struggled with for a long time: many of these differences in perspective are closer to different realities. The watch parties were the first moments when this confirmation rubbed close against me.
When I got to the first watch party, there were a lot of chatty people, all women, some much more casual than others.
“Oh God, are you okay?” one asked.
“Yeah; yeah, probably. Yeah.”
“Do you want some wine? I know you do. I do. Either way we’re screwed right?” She laughed, and smiled.
“Sort of. I mean. Not really. To both. I’ll see you guys in a bit.”
At the second house another friend offered.
“I don’t understand the casual setting,” I said.
“Hey, I mean, whatever is happening is beyond us now. I’m not going to not enjoy friends and this food. It’s friendsgiving; look at these yams, we got brown sugar yams, we got pecan pie, you want some? You want some wine?”
“I’m sure I will in a bit.”
Later, most of the girls who voted for Trump had left, which made sense to them in their reality, and I had found my positive spin while hiding from mine. The positive spin was that, maybe, you know, hypothetically, if he really doesn’t get much done, as they say he won’t, we could probably change anything he does later on, except for climate change. And that’s only one problem. It’s not just one problem, but I could frame it that way. We can work at one problem. I can work at one problem. There are some steps we can take. So I had my positive spin, and I went downstairs.
“Alright buddy? Have some wine.”
“No, I want to feel this one.”
I woke the next morning around 9, walked to our friends’ house, and put a piece of cold pecan pie on a plate. I added one dollop of butter pecan ice cream. I took a few bites. Pecan pie is delicious. I wish I could list all its merits. It’s rich and earthy at the same time, buttery, neglects crust in favor of nuts. I love pecan pie, and it’s even better with pecan ice cream. And I poured three fingers of whiskey into a mug. My friend didn’t know I was drinking, and gave me a beer. I drank that too. I also drank another beer. I rode a bike to my apartment to collect the rest of my whiskey. At first I drank it with water. I tried the next drink with Squirt, which was okay, but far from preferable. The next drink I tried with Le Croix Pamplemousse, which I figured couldn’t be that bad, might be good; it’s mostly water. I was wrong. It was terrible, but I didn’t have to endure it that long. Then I was out of whiskey, so I went to the bar and ordered one. I sat down to read Invisible Cities, which was a bad idea, because they all felt like an America in its autumn. Then I got a coffee, and returned to the bar to order two shots of whiskey.
“Oh did your friend end up showing up?” the nice lady tending bar asked.
“No,” I said.
Then I poured them into my coffee. I read, and watched people play pool. One man wore a sleeveless cut off white t-shirt with his blue jeans and sported a shaved head and a long chin beard. I resisted an urge to generalize. I don’t know who he voted for. A waitress asked if I needed anything, and I said “Yes, a whiskey please,” and she brought me one. I drank it and thought about the green felt on pool tables. You cannot find that green elsewhere. It’s very ugly. It’s only a few shades off from the Statue of Liberty, that I like, and yet it’s really ugly. That thought lasted me through my drink, so I had to approach the bar to ask for another. A man asked how my day was.
“Shit, about as good as yours I think,” I said. He was latino, if you think that adds to the story.
“What, you can’t see your son?” he said.
“I can’t see my son.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s my own damn fault man. I can’t see him and it’s my fault. I fucked up man.”
“We all fuck up.”
“No I fucked up. Chance.”
“My name is Chance. Yours?”
“I’m Arthur, good to meet you.”
Chance got up in his reality, and I asked for my check in mine. It was around 7:30.
Outside the bar a woman almost got hit by a car standing far from the safe center island where I was.
“Hey cross over here!” I yelled to her. I was trying to be friendly. I was seriously drunk, and this was stupid and dangerous, and very singular in its strangeness.
“Our friend died here,” I explained, and pointed to his memorial, which is not what I meant to say.
“Thank you,” she said, very quietly, and didn’t make much eye contact. She was latina, if you think that adds to the story.
“Have a good night.”
“Have a good night, thank you,” she said. I think she said thank you because she didn’t know what to say. Neither did I. Didn’t yet speak the language of my new reality. I think what I meant to say is something like “Donald Trump was successfully elected, redefining everything I believed about America and inviting comparisons to every authoritarian leader’s rise to power, everything that couldn’t happen happened, it’s all happening, holy shit it’s all happening please do not get hit by a car because it is all happening right now and I am very drunk because I cannot for these specific 24 hours continue thinking about it and a deep grief I was not prepared for is expressing itself through liquor, and I really am generalizing here, but I imagine you have a specific disdain for the events of last night, and probably find my binging unhelpful and trivial, but please don’t get hit by that car.” She was a lot more casual than me.
I walked to my friends’ house. It was dark, and orange light seeped in through the windows; hugging corners and drawing shadows where none should be. I opened a beer and a friend walked out from who knows where. I can’t remember. I ate rice. I don’t really know what happened. But later, sometime around midnight, we watched Star Wars. Then I remembered three Supreme Court justices are in their 80’s, and that there was no way Citizens United was getting overturned, and that three republican dominated branches of government sounded like a pretty good runway for everything he wanted to do, and then I wanted to go to sleep. These intrusions, everywhere, of something that felt like a new reality but was more familiar than expected.
I woke up sometime around 11. God it was a beautiful day — not too hot yet, blue as far as I could see, I love it, I love that blue, and the walk to my apartment opened me. My car had a new parking ticket and a boot on the front wheel. I got a notification that he tapped Myron Ebell to head the EPA. I forgot I was an optimist for a second — for half an hour — but I made a really good egg sandwich. It had brie that melted right into the eggs, and a habanero sauce from Boulder that tastes delicious, and whole wheat toast with walnuts baked right into it. You could focus on each element or the combination, you could really dive into the creamy brie and let the peppers scorch your mouth and take long, large draughts of coffee and sit at your sunny kitchen table and at least try to think about nothing except that delicious sandwich.
I got some work done, which meant thinking about my peers’ stories. What techniques were effective, which ones lagged, where the tone overstepped its boundaries, where the language needed polishing. I did a really good job, I read those stories twice, left great comments, and then even though I might have been late for class, I read them a third time and desperately hoped that I might have something more to say, that there might have been cause for a fourth or even God knows how many more readings just come on do some more readings. It’s hard for me to predict if people will buy into a story; what they’ll draw from the facts. Whether they will accept its inherent logic or seek to replace it from a space of their own invention. Mostly though, it’s hard because all too often I incorrectly assume we’re all reading the same story.
President Obama said they had a chat, and that he was hopeful. He didn’t mention anything about massive financial deregulation or ignoring the very obvious tide of automation or the apparent increase in hate crimes or the slaughter of benefits, which was nice. The day was still really beautiful. The trees were a nice blend of red, yellow, and dead, and I got to walk through some really nice leaves. They made a satisfying sound.
I woke up in the middle of the night to the bluewhite light of Alex’s phone leaking over her shoulder and the quiet noises that accompanied, and she said “Arthur I can’t sleep,” and I squeezed her hand, and wanted to say “it’s fine, everything is fine, it’s going to be okay.”
In his first weeks, the reality has settled in. The weeks of cabinet picks were early confirmation for many, but now, whether it’s new or old, this is really coming into being, growing into its fleshless skin and flexing sinews, testing the limits of its body and announcing in limpid tone its intention to carry out promises we didn’t believe would happen. Or I didn’t believe could happen. He made it very clear: this is happening. I had convinced myself that targeting specific religions and firing dissenters were bygones, that America as an established democracy, an educated populace, could not fall into the deathsteps of history, would not defy fact and proven sense. Well I’m a fucking idiot.
In many good conversations, appeals to empathy were made by my friends. “I would feel the way you do if Hillary Clinton won,” i.e. we are not really different, simply have a difference in opinion, who’s to say who is right, etc. I can say now that I’ve finished considering this line of logic, because the few factors left somewhat intangible have crystallized into fact. The kind that don’t change, the ones that exist whether we like them or not. Fact: Donald Trump is a seriously legitimate threat to our democracy. Apparently, also a fact: human emotion and behavior is immutable and the tangled struggle for decency safety security and happiness always has and will continue ad infinitum to bifurcate into defensive anger and future-focused compassion. Fact: humans are weak and succumb to those instincts that raised us from the mire and when those are nurtured they create disaster. Fact: human strength has yet to fail in the dark hours. Ultimatum decided by controllable factors: the darkest hours are yet to come.
I don’t know what the call to action is here. Keep marching, start marching, buckle in, call your congressmen and ask to impeach, stock the bunker? Many of the people I want to read this would have told me to hold tight for four years, but I hope that’s not still the case. I hope we’re reading the same story now.