Why I Have Not Posted About The Unspeakable Tr*mp (2018)

Why have I not posted essays and rants about the unspeakable Tr*mp?1 Surely he is vile beyond measure, ignorant and vicious and destructive and crooked as can be. Surely he is a serial liar and a cynical psychopath and a narcissist of epic and dangerous proportions, as well as a con man, a fraud, a criminal, and a traitor. Surely he is deliberately trying to transform the United States into a corrupt authoritarian racial plutocracy. Surely he is the worst thing to happen to our country since the Civil War – worse, maybe, because the Civil War was necessary and unavoidable and despite the carnage had many good effects, while Tr*mp is unnecessary, was completely avoidable (indeed he came in second in the election), and the only good effect would be if our society were to recoil in disgust after he is gone (if he goes) and move further toward decency than we were at the start of his ridiculous, catastrophic, poisonous and discredited regime.

So why have I not written about it, as one outrage followed another, and the question of each day became, as in a home with an insane child too big to control, what has he done now? Four reasons at least.  First, the outrages come so often, and accumulate so fast, that they are very hard to keep track of. Some violence or scam or deceit or calamity that would have been front-page news for months in a more civilized regime is buried under the avalanche of more, day after day. This may be by design, as a way to overwhelm opposition with profusion, or it may just be what the river looks like when the banks have washed away (or been demolished). But it seems almost trivial now to concentrate on any one violation in the face of so many others, and there is not time to concentrate on them all.

Second, despite the profusion, the serious press (and there is still a serious press) have said just about all I could say. Why take the time and effort to write a screed against some Tr*mpian enormity when a similar screed can usually be seen in the day’s Washington Post? There is no use writing unless I have something to say that no one else is saying, and the clamor of response now comes near to meeting the clamor of offense. Why say what Paul Krugman or Frank Bruni or Charles Blow or Alexandra Petri has just said better?

Third, Tr*mp and his excesses have become a national obsession. When I gather with my friends and colleagues now, he is always the first and often the only topic of conversation. I feel obliged sometimes to point out that we have again ceded our dinner table to him – is there not something else we could be thinking or talking about? So to add one more yawp of outrage to the general din not only contributes nothing new, it involves me further in the stampede of attention. Is there not something else I could be thinking or writing about?

And fourth (and this is the most important), it makes no difference what I think or write. I have no control over the situation, and no influence. Write my Congressman? I live in Nancy Pelosi’s district! Send money? I already do that, as much as I can, a drop in the bucket. March in the streets? Too old and infirm, and anyway one more marcher would make not much difference in San Francisco (if anywhere).

No, the point seems to be that this is the Kali Yuga, in Hindu thinking the last aeon before a grand reordering brings us back to a golden age. Whether there is a golden age coming or not, it does seem clear that things are pretty bad right now, far beyond my ability to affect the result. And so attachment to what happens next is a sure route to pointless suffering, with the emphasis on pointless.

If I were to collapse into constant distress, as I see so many of my colleagues and compatriots doing, would it help? If suffering helped anyone, perhaps there would be a moral choice involved. But when I see Tr*mp turning a certain foreign policy choice toward his own enrichment, or when I see him chopping away at the roots of a developing sane world order, whom does my anguish damage but myself? The evil men who have taken power will use it as they please regardless of what I say or do or how I feel. Therefore my only rational option, as always, is to disengage, renounce attachment, and return to my breath. This is hard to do, as hatred, real hatred, feels so right in these circumstances. I name the hatred when it arises and let it go, but I don’t regret it. This is what hatred of slavery must have felt like, not for the slaves (deeper for them) but for the Abolitionists. John Brown felt real molten hatred like mine – good for him, we honor him for it now.

Of course we must drive them from office, by electoral methods if possible. They are trying to foreclose that by erecting barriers for our side’s voters in states they control, flooding campaigns with dark money and Russian bots, imposing grossly gerrymandered electoral districts, and other illicit means. Tr*mp’s stooge judges will soon make that dramatically easier. The sabotage of Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court was the first step toward a total trashing of democratic norms, in classic Fascist style, and a grab for absolute power. This happened well before Tr*mp was “elected.” Since then it has become quite evident that politics by shared rules is over. If it has to be tribal, then I want my tribe to win. We should never go back to a system where we play by the rules and they don’t.2

Meanwhile I will fight from the sidelines. I am too old and frail to fight any other way, and also I am philosophically opposed to political change by violent means, And so I emphasize, for whatever officious government eyes may be reviewing this post, that I am no danger to anyone and am not threatening anyone; I am not urging any violence and will not participate in any. But an old man can dream, can’t he? In my dream I buy a ticket, the best I can afford, and enter the special area of the National Mall where the executions are being held. I see a long row of gibbets set up on the Mall. From each hangs one of Tr*mp’s collaborators. They remind me of Penelope’s faithless maids in the Odyssey, hanged by Odysseus’ son Telemachus from a ship’s cable.

As when long-winged thrushes or doves get entangled in a snare, … so their heads were held fast in a row, with nooses round their necks, to bring them to the most pitiable end. For a little while their feet twitched, but not for very long.3

But it is a long row. Tr*mp is not there – in my imagination he has been given the Mussolini treatment elsewhere (upside-down with his mistress, in this case Ivanka rather than the blameless Stormy Daniels or whoever his current mistress happens to be). But the gibbets on the Mall stretch out of sight: Pence, Sessions, Miller, Kelly, Bannon, Kushner, Nielsen, Ross, Zinke, Bolton, Pruitt, Wheeler, Mulvaney, Price, Azar, Kobach, Conway, Mnuchin, Perry, Carson, De Vos, Sarah Sanders, Scott Lloyd, McConnell, Ryan, Grassley, Nunes, Gowdy, Koch, Adelson, Mercer, Hannity, ….  I object to the violence, as it is my duty to do, but very very softly so as not to disturb or distract anyone.

Too many gibbets to see − an unwieldy fantasy. More satisfying to dream of a guillotine set up on the Ellipse, where the meridians of the Capitol and the White House intersect. I have a front row seat (like Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities) and watch and listen closely as the heads fall one by one − plop! − into the basket. I keep score in my red, white and blue souvenir program, waiting for my favorites to have their turn. Again I protest the violence very softly, and then I cheer and eat popcorn. I can taste the honest iron tang of blood in my mouth. They had it coming! U! S! A!

July 2018

  1. The asterisk in place of the vowel communicates that he is unspeakable. Actually the proper way to set his name would be [tr*np]*. The font is two points smaller than the body of the text in which it is set, to show his smallness. His name is not capitalized, to show his unworthiness. It is set as subscript, to show his insignificance. The italics, used for foreign words, indicate that his regime is un-American. The brackets show his isolation; the second asterisk marks his illegitimacy. His name is deliberately misspelled, to emphasize his illiteracy and to express contempt. And his title is omitted because it degrades the office to identify him with it. Note the brown font – if I could I would print his name in special ink made of actual dogshit from the street.
  2. See Rob Goodman, “Hey, Democrats! Fighting Fair Is for Suckers!,” Politico, July 4, 2018, archived at https://perma.cc/NGQ5-2VZQ.
  3. Odyssey, Book 22, lines 470-473, [translated by E. V. Rieu]. Penelope’s maids were hanged unjustly, as these folks would certainly not be. I like the twitching part.