Now comes the moment in the life of our republic when we set aside the divisiveness and rancor of a hard-fought election and rally together as one America, except that’s not really going to happen, as we all know. In checking around folks’ social media pages and picking up bits and pieces of conversation since Tuesday’s vote, it comes as no surprise to hear people express a yearning for a return to normalcy. Too bad. Tuesday proved there is no such thing.
I was totally wrong about the outcome of this election — a failure I’ll carry around for the rest of my days — and now I guess I owe the legions of Trump fans a small debt of gratitude: I finally understand the bitterness that so many of you have carried around in your hearts these past eight years. It feels so much different than what you can learn by reading (or writing) a thousand think pieces on the subject. I don’t know how you managed for this long. This newfound gift also brings incredible sadness, because here it is, only Day 1 of the Trump Regency, and already it seems as if the world has been turned on its head.
So congratulations to my friends with the Make America Great Again Crowd: You now get to determine which direction points up and down in our new reality. Weigh that power carefully. And don’t expect those of us on the other side to nod our heads and commiserate when the inevitable screw-ups and catastrophes occur. The country will go through the usual calming rituals when Donald Trump assumes the presidency and then we’ll go right back to where we were before this election happened, perched almost evenly between two Americas that do not see eye-to-eye.
Savor the moment. It won’t last. It never does. In handing over yourself to politics, the first rule for maintaining a decent level of sanity is to remember that politicians always disappoint. Always. But whereas this humdrum wisdom eases the normal course of affairs — helping one to make peace with imperfect leaders, Hillary Clinton being only the latest — Donald Trump has raised expectations so high with his campaign (“Only I can fix it”) that you just know what will happen once he fails, as he surely will. The worldwide special interests that have conspired to sap the strength of “real” America — the core myth that propelled Trump to victory — will only grow in power and mystery with each Trumpian dud. We will always be at war with Eurasia.
George Orwell gave voice to his fear of totalitarianism in writing “1984,” but it remains to be seen how far Trump intends to press the implications of his appalling campaign. Based on his scammy business record, there’s reason to believe Trump’s plan was always aimed towards a lesser goal, the pursuit of the Big Con. Much of his campaign has been more like an exercise in ego gratification than anything else. But who knows? Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and now Trump has both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, a gaggle of toadies and sycophants for advisors, and apparently an Amen Chorus numbering around 50 million voters as the only things restraining his worst impulses.
I know this screed has already strayed well into the land of sour grapes, and I apologize — I wrestled with the decision to even write a column today, such is the foulness of mood — but I was struck by the point made by another column writer who got blindsided Tuesday (I’ve lost track of his name among a very large crowd): You can be wrong about the election and yet be right about the candidate. Until proven wrong, I’m sticking to the same story.
People are frustrated. I understand as much. Maybe you’re running a small business and are overwhelmed by obstacles that only seem to grow worse, whether it’s finding decent help or wondering why your customers are going off elsewhere. Maybe your job has vanished, or you’re working in a new one that pays a lot less than it should. Maybe your life is actually fairly comfortable but you don’t like the direction the world is headed, with the cacophony of proverbial others demanding their place in the American mosaic. Maybe it’s because people in small towns such as our own are seeing all the action go elsewhere. Our children too. It hurts.
But this inchoate rage against the elite — no matter how much the rage is merited, and yes, we do have some horrible elites in this country — is not the answer. Donald Trump has proven to be more politically resilient than people expected in part because there’s so much wrong about him that no one can settle on a single narrative to explain his appeal. He abuses women. He has a wink-wink act going on with white supremacists and alt-right figures who truly constitute some of the worst people in the world. He’s ignorant about policy and doesn’t care to learn. He’s an international embarrassment. All so true. Yet all too much. I always preferred one word for Trump: fraud. He’s masterful at the part.
So, no, do not get your hopes up for a revival of small-town America under a Trump Administration; don’t be fooled into thinking his ascension marks a return of the golden era for the white working class. If we’re lucky, Trump will do only as much harm as a standard right-wing conservative: gutting schools, funneling favors to the rich and powerful, beating up on the poor and vulnerable. If we’re not so lucky, pray. Regardless of the lengths to which Trump plans to press his power, one thing you can count on with him, and perhaps with the nation as a whole: People are usually better at kicking down than punching up. You may think the boot will crush the real deplorables only to find it’s swinging your way. Small-town America is just another paying customer with a seat at Trump University.
“I hurt myself today,” sang Johnny Cash by way of Nine Inch Nails, “to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.” It took Cash’s country western quaver to give full power to those lyrics by industrial rocker Trent Reznor, in a foreshadowing of the industrial midwest-rural southern voting alliance that has installed Trump in power. Thing is, the song may be beautiful, but it’s not pretty. The hurt cuts in ways one cannot predict, only fear. The song tells us as much. You could have it all, the candidate promised. Only later do we discover the kingdom of dirt.