i think donald trump won the debate last night, and i’m going to use this blog post to try to get to the bottom of why i feel that way.
i’m not going to edit this post very much. i’m just going to read it over twice and post it, since i know this is the topic so many of us are thinking about this morning. (sorry mike nuckols, that means another from-the-gut, all-lowercase-letters post.)
the most overwhelming feeling i’m feeling right now is anxiety. i’m sitting here slumped in my living-room chair. i began to feel it almost immediately after the debate began, when he turned on her for the first time, on NAFTA and trade, when he took that tone with her, that tone we all know so well by now, trump-friends and -foes alike. that harsh, cutting, condescending tone, combined with his simple and unminced language, feels to me like the heart of his appeal. and i thought he unleashed it quite effectively last night, particularly in the first half-hour.
i felt like she did not fight back this initial onslaught convincingly. instead of fighting fire with fire, i thought she fought too much fire with not enough water. i winced as she flashed her too-wide joker-smile, trying to convince us (and herself) that she was clearly above this ghastly man. but i didn’t buy it. it didn’t seem to me that she felt genuinely at ease, the way a person does when he or she is truly above his or her opponent. that’s when my anxiety kicked in, this anxiety that has not yet begun to abate.
i am not genuinely finding solace anywhere right now. i’m trying to will solace into place. the solace i am attempting to take has three levels. i'm going to take the topmost layer and drill down.
the first layer is the most obvious: i get anxious about a lot of things. i am prone to anxiety. (i'm not prone to all emotions, FYI: for example, i am not prone to depression.) i tend to get anxious when i feel overwhelmed by something, be it my kids or job stress or the conflation of our political system with the values of reality television or simply some Big Looming Bill, like my kids’ braces or sleepaway camp.
so this first level of solace i’m attempting to take is that what i’m feeling is simply my mood, and not an objective assessment of our actual circumstances. this is just how i get.
the second piece of solace i’m attempting to take - the next level down - is my deep and genuine love for my friends who are trump supporters.
i live in fairfield, connecticut, with my wife and three children. like many suburbanites, we have made our friends here in town by pairing up with the parents of our kids’ friends with whom we feel the greatest kinship. you know the dance. it’s not unlike a romance. when we feel that shared sense of humor, that conversational rhythm, that click, we take it to the next level and Ask Them Out on a dinner date, then away for a weekend, and so on.
Many of our closest friends are Trump voters. this may be hard to believe for some of you to believe, those of you in the more midnight-blue parts of our country, my beloved friends in park slope and silverlake and, you know, the theah-tah.
but it’s true. many of the people we’ve grown to love just about more than anyone else wouldn’t vote for hillary clinton at gunpoint. they are going to vote for donald trump. and after last night, i suspect, now more than ever.
so this second level of solace i am attempting to take this morning is my bone-deep knowledge that these people - my friends - are not evil. they want the deepest and most important part of what i want in life - a better world for our children. they look after my kids as they do their own. and they are some of the least racist people i’ve ever met.
i am trying - hard - to see the world through their eyes this morning, and to see, if not an outright endorsement of trump, at least, a less fearful assessment of how dangerous President Trump would actually prove to be. perhaps - this is me trying to convince myself - a trump presidency will not be the apocalypse that so many of us have worked ourselves up to believing it could be.
there is a small part of me that can glimpse this path - a path in which president trump simply bumbles forward, buffoonish and ineffectual, like one of those semi-forgotten corrupt presidents from our history books, whose greatest contribution to our country amounts to some Teapot-Dome-ish blatantly-impeachable cash-grab. perhaps the checks and balances built into our political system will conspire, with a strong dollop of good luck, to keep our country, and the world, on the rails.
if that path is at least a plausible one - if Nuclear Trump is not permitted to materialize - then perhaps this anxiety we feel this morning, at least to some degree, is also of our own making. maybe it's just a reality-distorting fear-cloud lodged inside our own emotions, not a genuine forecast for the skies ahead.
but then i think of the supreme court, that deep building block of truth that has animated, like a hidden hand, so many of the forces that have defined this election period. when i think of the court, and the scalian stooge that trump will blithely plunk into place for a generation or more, my ability to hold onto this tenuous vision, that of a bumbling-forward but non-apocalyptic trumpian america, begins to falter.
this brings us to my third and deepest level of solace. which is not really solace at all. it’s more like resignation.
maybe we can't be free of trumpism until it actually rules the roost for a little while.
maybe, in a frighteningly unfortunate but dramatically sound kind of way, we’re not going to be able to scrub off this stubborn crust of american intolerance until it takes a turn at the wheel.
maybe the mere looming threat of a muslim ban won’t scar us enough to teach us a lesson - just as the child doesn’t truly learn from the teapot he doesn’t touch. maybe to move past this thing, this clog lodged in our chest, maybe we’re just going to cough this fucker up and see what it looks like in out in the open, in its fullest form.
maybe - to really turn the page - we need king joffrey for a little while.
one of my favorite quotations is the Martin Luther King Jr. quote often repeated by our (great) current president. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
this third level of solace i feel is that my belief in this quote is undimmed by what we saw last night. and that the bending of that arc towards justice will continue unabated during a trump presidency.
but history tells us that that arc bends slowly, with many casualties. i believe with all my heart that our civilization - if not our country - is on a path towards greater justice. but in the near term, we may be in for painful times ahead.