So That Happened
This morning, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed reading existential-dread-filled post after existential-dread-filled post, I stumbled upon an anomaly; a conservative Facebook friend and Trump voter. Of course, I say “anomaly” because Facebook works to separate large blocks of human beings through its “helpful” algorithms. And what the algorithms don’t do we do for ourselves, by unfollowing and/or un-friending people when things get too ugly. In this way, Facebook seems to affirm what we know and feel is right. When a despicable meme pops up in our feed, we feel virtuous by blocking it. And when the good, and true, and right meme pops up, we feel virtuous by passing it on. Go us.
And pass it on we do. Puppies. Babies. Babies snoozing on puppies. I’m partial to humor. I’m happiest with my Facebook friends who make me laugh. Laughing feels good, and it reminds me not to take everything so damn seriously, which I’m prone to do. But whether posting something cute or something funny, we’re nevertheless practicing a kind of intellectual side eye. We know there are dark forces out there, but so what? There’s a baby sleeping on a puppy.
But one of the most popular themes on Facebook this morning is: What am I going to tell my children about the election? As a father of a seven-year-old boy, this question resonates. It resonates because I didn’t start considering it nearly soon enough. I didn’t start considering it seriously a year ago, when I told our son a Donald Trump presidency would basically be like a Lex Luthor presidency, trying to bring it to a level he could understand. I’m regretting that now. Because words matter. Had I considered the possibility then that Donald Trump could win, I’d like to think I’d have chosen more measured language.
And on the whole, that is the biggest critique I have on our politics right now: words.
For instance, when Joe Wilson called President Obama a liar, he was accusing Obama of lying about his intentions. By doing so, he was purporting he know what was in Obama’s heart. The immigration bill Obama was discussing at the time hadn’t yet been finalized; Obama was in the middle of trying to assuage Republican fears, work together, hammer it out. But, no wonder, we never got that far.
Coming back to the important point: words.
All of us need to watch our damn mouths. We’re too cute with words. We’re so cute with words, words have begun to lose their meanings. “Lying” is supposed to be a black and white word—but in 2016, it’s a shades of gray word. (“Context” has become a favorite tool for defending deliberately crafted lies, which should horrify us all. Perhaps this is living in the shadow of Bill Clinton’s definition of “is.”)
“Fascist” is another word that’s been used to death. We’re so numb to it now we just elected the textbook definition of one—something that couldn’t have happened if people weren’t so saturated in hyperbole.
Donald Trump has a problem with words. He says whatever he wants, lies habitually, and his supporters don’t care. He is the apotheosis of nonsense. His words don’t matter.
Returning to my conservative Facebook friend’s post. The thrust of her message was to set aside the hard feelings and come together for the good of the country—something I’ve already done in my own household through discussions with my wife and son. But here, on my blog, I get to be a blow hard. I get to take sides with Jon Stewart and call Trump President Fuckface Von Clownstick. (Because I like humor.) But I also get to lament how the sentiment of setting aside hard feelings for the good of the country—a sentiment shared by every President to come before Donald Trump, including Obama—is laughably out of touch this year. Dangerously tone deaf, in fact.
We’re so bitterly divided as to not see the irony in the Hillary Clinton email thing. The irony is in the Republicans’ accusations of her “jeopardizing our nation’s national security” while they are, by literal definition “jeopardizing our nation’s national security.” And they did it in plain sight by politicizing the hacking of her emails. What they should have done was set aside that issue until after the election, thereby standing with the Democrats in the face of unprecedented cyber-attacks. Every email leaked isn’t just an attack against Hillary Clinton. This was (again, by literal definition) jeopardizing our nation’s national security. By making political hay out of Hillary’s leaked emails, Republicans chose to ally themselves with criminal actors (Russians, if you prefer) over their fellow Americans. And they did it by pointing the finger at her and accusing her of having done in the past what they were literally doing in the present. But, by all means, let’s sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop. (Unless anyone thinks these hackers can’t get into the email of a sitting Republican president, at which point the Democrats will no doubt take their turn at the political knife.)
But I will give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt. I will do this because I remember how it felt when Republicans lined up against Obama before he was sworn in. I remember the message “I hope Obama fails,” and how that made people like me (who voted for him) feel. I remember just how much Mitch McConnell and John Boehner cared about our mandate, and I’ll try to understand what it is the American people are after here and now. But this is all irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter if Democrats try to obstruct Republicans the way Republicans did to Democrats. Donald Trump will have all three branches of government and a weak and ineffectual Republican party that has so far been unable to control him. He will have almost zero checks and balances. So what will that look like?
I’m not sure what the “good” Donald Trump supporters believe in. It doesn’t seem to be the traditional Republican conservatism. It doesn’t seem to be his character, most people seem to admit he’s an asshole. It doesn’t even seem to be his flailing foreign policy statements, unless you count “defeating terrorism,” which every politician and their grandmother promises to do. I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely believe he can build a 2000 mile, $12 billion-dollar wall and have Mexico pay for it. I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely believe it is possible to block all Muslims from entering the country “until we can figure out what’s going on.” I don’t think there are too many people out there who genuinely think it’s a good idea to bully and intimidate the press, or “open up those libel laws,” and/or dismantle the First Amendment. I do believe there are people gullible enough to think a man who doesn’t pay taxes and is so boastfully proud of his self-proclaimed greed is going to rewrite the tax code to bravely hurt himself financially so he can benefit the blue collar workers he’s worked so hard to consistently screw over, time and again. That’s refreshingly normal politics.
But what did Donald Trump voters vote for? Well, we’ll see. After such a long election, it’s kind of strange to admit there’s so much we don’t know about him. We know there are an awful lot of lawsuits pending, including fraud and a seedy child rape case; but we haven’t had the opportunity to examine his taxes, potential international business conflicts of interest, and alleged Russian entanglements. Something tells me we’re in for a lot more partisan-fueled investigations and hearings. Time will tell.
As for our son and what we tell him. We tell him that this presidency is unlikely to affect our daily lives in meaningful ways, so don’t worry about it. Look outside your window. You still live on the same street. You still have the same neighbors, same kids on the bus. You’re still stuck with the same mommy and daddy. Your dog is still going to stick his snout up your butt. Go play.
And while you’re playing, spread love. Look for people you can help. Find a grownup if you see someone getting hurt, or bullied.
We tell him that we live in a democracy, and that means you don’t always get what you want. We tell him the trick to a democracy is to hold onto it, even when things look desperate.
And when he’s gone to bed, my wife and I discuss what we won’t do: We won’t be hysterical. We won’t live in fear. We won’t ever, ever pretend that man is a good role model. And we won’t pretend to be proud Americans for the duration of his presidency. Besides his standing in diametric opposition to the principles this country was founded on, his low moral character is now inseparable from our international brand. But if you’re a Donald Trump supporter and you’re reading this, you know exactly how this feels. This is what you’ve been saying hyperbolically of Barrack Obama for eight years. The difference is, this time, words have literal meaning.