Watching the results on Election Night was like what I’d imagine living in an eighties teen horror movie would be like — the summer camp air curdling into one of vague suspicion, as a strange dawning sensation of doom takes hold. Slaughter: Ohio, Florida, Michigan — all bloody and prone. Who will be picked off next? Pennsylvania? Wisconsin? Minnesota? Your state? The vote is coming from inside the house.
Trump didn’t think he was going to win — not him, not his cracked, wincing campaign manager, not the sozzled Nazi werewolf chairing his presidential bid, not the jackal pack advising him, not the rival camp, not the media. Trump, that demented circus peanut, knew that he had lost every debate, that he had failed to appeal to the mystical moderate voters who determine elections, that he had trailed in most every poll.
And yet when the ballot boxes were locked and the results came filtering back, Clinton was in trouble. A few hours later, she was dead meat. DOA.
There was no grand strategy here. Trump was obviously petrified and unsure of himself, woozily winding his way onto the Hilton dais to claim victory at 3:00 in the morning. This plainly wasn’t supposed to happen. Trump, pea-brained gurnard that he is, only swims downstream; he’s never supposed to reach the spawning ground.
Meeting with Obama, Trump looked awkward and reticent, his blazer button straining against his gut, his tie snaking under and over his crotch like a long, red tongue. He had no mastery of the moment, no sense of prestige, no long-awaited vindication. Trump looked like he was awkwardly stuck in a waiting room with the president of the United States, dreading the doctor who’d soon be plumbing his asshole for cancer.
But then, the fact that this busted orange mule never knew what he was doing hadn’t slowed him or his ilk down before. Donald Trump is not the anomaly he’s been made out to be — he’s as American as apple pie and measles blankets, the real Jay Gatsby, a bogeyman half Horatio Alger, half Bernie Madoff.
Nor is he unprecedented in American politics. There is no brighter era of America in which Trump’s spiritual fathers cannot be found, ranging from Andrew Jackson to Teddy Roosevelt, and crescendoing with Ronald Reagan — that simpering, vicious moron of whom America is so fond.
Perhaps it seemed impossible Trump could win. I thought Hillary had it put away. The metrics were broken. Clocks no longer worked. The wheel of time had spun off its axis. These excuses are all valid to some extent. But some humility is called for here. I was wrong, and the fact that I saw some of the seeds of destruction, but not the crushing denouement, make my errors worse.
You may have been wrong. Few were right, and those that were tended to belong to the repellent, remorseless core of Trump’s chickenshit klavern. The worst people in the country won. I see no point in false optimism or silver linings here; this is seriously fucked up.
But this catastrophe was not inevitable. This apocalypse can be combated.
In order to defeat Trumpism — that strange bundle of live wires currently electrocuting the country — it is necessary to first understand how it prevailed on Election Day. That its victory is, right now, more tenuous than its most loyal adherents believe does not make it any less potent a threat to the most vulnerable people in America, or to the country’s few remaining worthwhile norms and functioning civic institutions. Or, indeed, to life itself on this planet.
It starts with accepting a simple fact: the Republican Party nominated a candidate better suited to winning a presidential race in 2016.
In an election in which both candidates disgusted most of the country, one excited their base, while the other did not. One candidate seemed authentic, fresh, and energizing to many; the other did not. One candidate spoke, in dark, meandering screeds, of fears not usually reconciled in political speech, and of concerns and issues rarely addressed by either party; the other did not.
There was a variance in energies between the two sides, and enough of a magnetic pull to the demagogue, and away from the gray avatar of everything decrepit and failed in politics, for the most improbable of victories to occur.
That this winning candidate is also one of the biggest assholes on the face of the Earth, an authoritarian fraud who might destroy the world, is irrelevant. Find me a self-proclaimed “rational voter,” and I will show you a liar. A vote for Trump was not some endlessly reasoned and debated decision for many American voters — but an impulsive one.
Many Trump voters went for him for simple reasons that ran a gamut: they didn’t know what else to do, they were fearful, they were entitled, they were angry and embittered, they were racist and malicious, they were confused and without malice, they were ignorant, they were not ignorant — they do not accept life in America as it is today, and they will vote, if courted, for the one guy willing to walk through life as a six foot upraised middle finger to everything known and despised. Maybe some of his promises will come true — and failing that, at least we sent a big “fuck you” up the flagpole.
It was appealing. It was a decision that couldn’t be ignored by the elite who usually rule American life unperturbed.
This shock to the system did not occur in a vacuum. The crisis of President Donald John Trump is the bill coming due on a four-decade social, political, and economic project that has succeeded in worsening, coarsening, and ending the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. This disease permeates the air in America, crystallizing into a constellation of pain: loneliness, frustration, despair, as immutable as the stars in the night sky — distant, implacable, and hanging over every town in the country.
Yet we don’t even have a name for it. Liberals rear back in horror at the insane climate denialism of their opposite numbers — but what then is the liberal reaction to the reality that our country is a cesspit for the vast majority of its inhabitants, an everyday gambit of fear and humiliation? That “America is already great,” or even more cloying and nonsensical, that “America is great because America is good” — is it any wonder the Democrats lost?
These are insults added to the injury, smug testimony from our leaders that the pain and confusion so many Americans feel is somehow not real — even as, when the cameras are turned away, these same leaders beggar and impoverish more Americans. Much of the post-election nattering has focused on the role of the white working class in voting for Trump, but I would go further: this election was proof of the utter failure of either party to be relevant to 99 percent of American life — to even acknowledge the desperation that is a fact of life for most of the country.
There was an enormous disparity in the energies fueling each major candidacy. The GOP was stormed by a charismatic strongman who delighted in shooting his mainline rivals in the backs of their heads, cheerfully driving a backhoe over the mass grave, to the noisy acclamation of his faithful — the pied piper of a brutal and a popular awakening.
And why not? Jeb Bush and John Kasich and Marco Rubio and the dozen-odd graspers on those awful debate platforms were the architects of so much grief and misery in this country, that even a show trial would’ve stretched on for decades. Better that a wealthy Cheshire Cat cut each of them to the quick on live television. This is not rocket science here. It was enjoyable for people to see this happen. And the promises he made — oh! Baron, like love to me!
For electoral reasons, the Democrats must pretend they care about ordinary people’s well-being — that they are not a party of capital, as the Republicans obviously are. How ironic it was then that Trump’s message, which occasionally cut against the grain of typical GOP messaging, occupied their usual terrain: paeans to manufacturing, to the resurrection of American industry, to vague, all-inclusive health care, under a system in which “I will not allow people to die on the sidewalks and streets of our country.” Marry this to a virulent program of murder, deportation, and scapegoating, and you have the makings of a pretty decent dictator.
It was Trump’s hellish, dystopian vision — that “our country does not feel ‘great already’ to the millions of wonderful people living in poverty, violence and despair” — which nevertheless verged closer to the unspeakable truth. Trump, in his restorative mode, of “making America great again,” unwittingly did what his opponents could not in any plausible sense display: he recognized that this country does not feel great to many people living in it.
In his chauvinistic squeal of a campaign, in which he mobilized white nationalism as a binding force for his faithful, he promised the world to those poor working whites, with a lunatic’s lack of foresight and self-control. Trump cruelly raised the hopes of enough of them to eke out a sidelong victory.
What powered Trump to victory was a maintenance of the Republican coalition, and a hundred thousand voters in several economically depressed northern and midwestern states that had previously gone for Obama. There were racists, there were nascent fascists, there were diseased rich fucks — but, I am sorry to tell you, there were also people who’d have chosen a better option were it presented. If you can’t understand that, you risk two terms of this insanity.
These are the facts of Trump’s narrow electoral victory. He did not win the popular vote. He won where it mattered, among people who don’t feel they matter.
It’s funny, isn’t it, who was right and who was wrong. The Samantha Bees and John Olivers and Trevor Noahs of the world had their fun little jokes about Trump, didn’t they — humorless, vapid Trump, resolutely unable to laugh at himself. He’s orange, with a two-digit IQ, and takes shits in a gold toilet bowl. And his followers, oh, what a gift for comedy — unhinged, unwell, violent — and best of all, loathsome, the perfect target of derision, because who would feel bad mocking the worst people in the world?
It’s what you see in front of you and pretend isn’t there that gets you — not what you don’t know, but can’t find out. Case in point: the Democratic standard-bearer this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton — one of the worst presidential candidates in American history.
To hear the Clinton loyalists tell it from the artificial moon they live on, orbiting our corporeal reality in a dissociative fugue state, voters in Fond Du Lac and Saginaw and Scranton voted against Clinton only because of a malicious media, James Comey, Benghazi, emails, and Vladimir Putin — and not because, by every metric, they hate her fucking guts and have done so for thirty years.
This is the reality anybody with two volts of brainpower and a Rust Belt address might’ve stumbled across, yet which somehow eluded every major Democrat in an election year.
Why is Hillary Clinton despised? Misogyny, of course, a deep running vein of it — Clinton is right in her suspicion that her persistence in public life has bred contempt in a way no man could ever invite. The violent extremity and gendered viciousness visited upon her is no accident; it speaks to a deep sickness in American men. She is, after all, a woman who demanded a man’s career, no small source of resentment to many Americans of both genders.
But there’s the rub. The Democrats are, plainly, co-conspirators in the destruction of American life, “history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party” — the willing executioners for free-market zealots, warmongers, and Wall Street. A career engaged in such politics is a morally undesirable career, no matter your gender. Especially so when you are the type of politician Hillary Clinton was born to be: an ignorant hawk with no conception of how her feckless adventurism might destroy entire societies; a greedlord, in love with the accumulation of wealth; and, most vividly, a lying hack who couldn’t sound sincere with the Sword of Damocles hanging over her.
She cannibalized Sanders’s platform when it suited her, with the shamelessness of a starving vulture, then discarded it again. She had no ideas, and ran a campaign suggesting as much. I don’t think anybody really deserves Trump — but Hillary Clinton deserved to lose.
The endless celebrity deification, the forced jocularity, the feigned hipness, the idiotic sops to pop culture, the lifeless, stage-managed jokes, the pervading sense that this was all perfunctory to her, an inconvenient hurdle to be cleared, en route to the office that was somehow hers by right — the abiding sense that whoever Hillary Clinton actually is, she is not going to be found in public. It seemed like this inclination was only worsened by her advisers, one of the most rancid collections of suck-ups, influence-peddlers, and incompetents since the Harding Administration. (In fairness, Trump is about to give her a run for the money.)
This echo chamber of sycophants didn’t seem to get that not everyone viewed Hillary’s run as so historic, or deserving of reverence — and in their near-pathological inability to accept criticism or fault, ensured they ran a weak candidate, wounded by a thousand cuts, with no compelling reason for running.
No compelling reason for running — I’m not sure Trump has one either, but what he lacks in design, he makes up for in creepy fascist agitprop. With Clinton, it was never clear what the hell she was doing on stage.
Reading the leaked emails showing the Democratic elite had connived and conspired to boost the fortunes of one of the most widely disliked charlatans in recent political history, in a primary campaign that had all the trappings of a good, old-fashioned Dem machine ratfucking, but with none of the skill, it wasn’t merely that Team Hillary came off as venal and corrupt — it was how stupid they were. For all their whining about the email scandal, it was an entirely self-inflicted wound, a classic Clinton scandal: one part wrongdoing, two parts arrogant refusal to admit wrongdoing.
Not that the email scandal really mattered. Though the Clinton gang will never admit it, Comey was a paper-pusher desperate to avoid appearing to influence the election one way or the other; in covering his ass, it came down slightly against Clinton.
Imagine the hue and cry if Comey hadn’t blurted out the existence of new, unexamined emails, and one of his psycho special agents leaked the news. The Trump mob would’ve flash-fried Comey in hot oil. If anything took hold from that investigation, it only reinforced what a significant number of Americans already believed: that Clinton was really as inauthentic and untrustworthy as she seemed.
The bill of goods was no good at all, from day one. Nobody really wanted her to be president.
Unless you were very excited for Hillary to be the first female president — a proclivity most young women found secondary during the primaries — the only reason to vote for her was to deny Trump access to the nuclear codes. The fact that Team Clinton ran a tactically incompetent campaign, up and down, with no meaningful awareness of the conditions most propitious for victory, was icing on the cake.
The result is, they lost the race for the most powerful office on Earth to a version of Count Dracula that hates reading. If you lose to Donald Trump — serial sex predator and gold-plated bankruptcy pest Donald Trump — after he runs the campaign equivalent of eating paste, you are the biggest loser in the history of loserdom.
What would Hillary Clinton have done as president? Why was she running for president? I suspect the answers to these questions have nothing to do with policy — a subject conspicuously ignored by her most loyal acolytes, intent as they were on constructing a fantasy heroine image of Clinton unconcerned with her total mediocrity.
As with the many governors and senators who ran for president, seeking to fill the bottomless hole of ambition and ego upon which they’ve built the foundation of their empty lives, Hillary reached a point where she ran out of rungs on the ladder.
In this sense, she really did transcend the sexism that has dogged her entire career; she was one of those unlucky few captive to the delusions of high office. There was nowhere else to turn but towards the White House. The only alternative lay, perhaps, in admitting at last that such egomania devoid of principle is deadly — that in some deep and profound way, this is no way to live one’s life.
Well, her hand has been forced now. She’s finished, and finished in inglorious fashion. I’d feel a bit bad for her but for her pathetic closing number: unable to face her despondent volunteers at 2 AM in the Javits Center, the young people she claimed she’d done it all for, the woman running for the most powerful position on earth couldn’t find it in her to thank them, and concede the race.
In her arrogance, she could not absorb the truth, leaving a grotesque, glorying Trump as the only pageantry of the night. In the truth’s place, out she sent John Podesta, the ashen-faced lobbyist scuttering on-stage, like a mortician regretfully explaining your card has been declined.
A fitting end to a moribund career. Good riddance.
“Vengeance is mine.”
So thought a lot of people last Tuesday, consciously or not — a posture which “poses an implied question that is never answered: Vengeance for what?” Maybe they didn’t entirely know themselves; just a vague, painful throbbing at the base of their necks, a pregnant, silent anger, an inability to look at the mirror.
Whatever the cause, something is different here. One age is dying, and another is rearing its head.
This election was a reckoning, a bastard starchild of extant forces, the magnetic fields already bending and shearing the planet. Listen carefully, and you might hear the same fascist baying from country to country — from Japan to the Philippines, India to Russia, from Jerusalem, Athens, Budapest, Paris, London — and now, from New York City.
A weirdly pagan resonance, being picked up around the world on some fascist subterranean frequency — the rumblings of a dark monitor stone, now come to life. And now, this dumb, appalling power, this brute force, unenlightened by conscience, unencumbered by pity, is America’s destiny.
It will be bad — a violent acceleration of America’s drift, and with it, perhaps, the destruction of the last remnants of an enlightened society.
Medicare and Social Security will be on the chopping block. War will reign as the boss universal, the very pretense of diplomacy discarded with, once and for all. America won’t just continue its deportation regime; it’ll be something akin to a reality show now. Capital will surge up the ladder even faster, marrow being sucked from the poor.
It is tempting to ascribe Trump’s victory solely to the unabashed race hatred that powered his most nightmarish assaults. This is, after all, a much more plausible explanation than many of the excuses proffered for Clinton’s failure. It was everywhere in his campaign — in his rallies, in his platform, in the souls of his ghoulish advisers.
Richard Nixon set the mold for any successful conservative leader — you must wedge yourself between the white electorate and any favorite racial punching bags with a crowbar. From his first speech, inciting his audience against Mexican migrants, Trump took this tactic to nauseating depths. It resonated with the Republican Party, because racial animus remains as great a lodestar of reaction as it did under old Nixon.
Was it solely racism that powered Trump to victory? No. There’s more to any story in which Trump bests Clinton in districts that voted twice for Obama. Trump’s campaign is incomprehensible without his blitzkrieg against Muslims, Latinos, and African Americans; it is also not the full breadth of his slithering appeal.
To defeat Trumpism requires a full understanding of how he succeeded in drawing his flock together; the hatred he espouses is one mutually reinforcing facet to the other grievances and disappointments of Trump voters.
This is all the result of kneecapping any attempt at reform of the system — the reform fails, the pain remains, only now it comes out sideways, through the only permissible path: the far right. Incredible though it may seem, our systems are better girded against a soft left than a hard right. Whether in Europe or America, the elite consensus to destroy any left wingers crazy enough to decry the state of things, in even the mildest terms, exists to preserve what they have now.
That is not a solution, and it is proving far more ruinous in the long run; by destroying those people asking for a better way, you have empowered men who do not ask. The left-wing Syriza was discredited and wrecked in Greece by a coterie of bankers and bureaucrats committed to a failed policy — and a leadership that was unwilling to push back. Is it any wonder the only anti-austerity vanguard left standing is that of a neo-Nazi gang?
Bernie Sanders could’ve answered Trump’s gold-plated promises with a better way, one that meaningfully addressed the pain of American life without illusions — without gimmicks and falsehoods and racist invective, without the bullshit woven into every Trump pronouncement. It was how he won in primaries like those of West Virginia and Michigan, states not typically thought of as hotbeds of Vermont socialism.
Sanders was thus destroyed in this roiling election year to clear the way for a would-be plutocrat who couldn’t explain her email storage, much less contend with these same surging forces. Many Obama voters who will be most affected in the coming four years stayed home on Election Day. Why bother? Clinton treated the election as if fourteen-year-old Snapchat users might cast the deciding ballots, and was rewarded by losing states nobody even thought would be contended by Trump.
And yet, this is anathema to Democratic ears. The media organs and political hacks will indulge the wildest fantasies pinning blame on Putin, or the FBI. But bring up the transfer of America’s wealth to a moneyed class that has entirely captured electoral politics, and prepare to be called crazy.
It’s become something of a joke for well-fed blogger types, that “neoliberalism” — the Econ 101 designation for the regime of free-market policies that have come to dominate capitalism in the latter half of the twentieth century — is a catch-all term for denigrating anything the Left doesn’t like.
Well. Let them hear this, ensconced in their bright, wonkish chapels, in Clinton campaign HQ, in parts of New York and DC and Chappaqua. To sneer at any possibility that this election is related to the economic devastation a term such as “neoliberalism” signifies, visited upon average Americans for decades, choking the life out of communities and homes, enraging and warping the psyches of those afflicted — this is not just ahistorical, not just suicidal, not just incorrect: it’s deeply wrong. It is shameful.
You are either ignoring or laughing at the evisceration of people by drug addiction, treatable health problems, overwork, malnutrition, foreclosure, infant mortality, slum housing, usurious loans — the sundry complications of poverty. The list is endless, and each bullet signifies another humiliation, another compromise, another deadening.
The peanuts you have thrown to the unwashed hordes do worse than nothing to remedy these problems. Instead, with every untenable half-measure, every pseudo-reform giving the false appearance of justice, every betrayal, there is an inevitable disappointment, a further alienation from the notion that politics might serve the citizenry. An unending humiliation.
The results will be radioactive. There is a perverse and hideous gift here. While the madness of a Clinton interregnum would’ve proceeded according to standard operating procedure, a banal yet sickening continuity with that of Obama and Bush, the colossal weirdness of Trump’s movement does represent something of an innovation. Frankly, Trump is too fucked up to ignore, and his core gang of freaks will make this country an extravagantly worse place.
You won’t have a choice but to try something new.
So, what is to be done?
Take the advice of Deadspin’s Daniel Roberts, who is still waiting for a response from Trump on his challenge of a $100,000 prizefight:
Donald Trump caves all the time. He just doesn’t like to admit it. As one of his former attorneys told Vanity Fair, “The key to Donald, like with any bully, is to tell him to go fuck himself.” And when people have done that, literally or metaphorically, Trump, more often than not, has reacted in much the same way he did when faced with the draft: He’s found a way to get out as quickly and quietly as possible.
Trump’s ascension is less weird than it was two days ago. Saying “President-elect Trump” out loud doesn’t quite catch in the throat the way it did last Wednesday. Reality is beginning to take hold.
Obama and Clinton and the entire GOP establishment isn’t helping matters, choosing to be gracious at precisely the moment it is important to give Trump the cold shoulder. This is entirely the wrong tack to take.
There was great opprobrium among liberals when Rush Limbaugh declared, at the start of Obama’s first term, that he hoped the new president would fail. But now, this is perfectly reasonable — and far less offensive than helping the American Mussolini get comfortable in his new seat out of some misguided notion of chivalry. Obama is Limbaugh’s political enemy; why would he want his enemy to be successful? And so it should be with us and Trump.
Some media hacks may cover themselves by saying all Trump supporters are racists, comfortably deferring some uncomfortable questions about the situation we face. But the hardcore white nationalists nesting in the Trump camp certainly do not think that to be the case. They fear the day Trump is found out to be a fraud, who will not be bringing any factories back — but by then, they hope the window will have been cracked enough for their beliefs to have slithered into the White House, respectable and airbrushed.
Irrelevant but for their bloated sugar daddy, such white supremacists cannot be willed into non-existence. But they can be isolated and weakened and deprived of importance, their most shameful and terrifying need from the straight world. Trump’s racist followers aren’t the “alt-right,” a marketing appellation coined within that community which the media readily, regrettably adopted. If they must be thought of at all, they are “shitheads,” “anime Nazis,” or simply, “Republicans.”
They may be loud and sinister; they may harass and impugn and assault those weaker than them. They are also cowards, emboldened by their tangerine stalking horse. I know them; they are young losers who crave the attention otherwise denied in life. Their will is as weak as their leader. Stop giving them for free what they dream of all day long.
No more of this narrow view of either wooing or abandoning “the white working class,” either. The zero-sum, emotionally bankrupt thinking on race that has dominated this country — one in which African-Americans see their voting rights stolen, while white Americans are incited against “welfare cheats” and other euphemistic scapegoats while further immiserated themselves — must be smashed. It is time to defend and support the entire working class — the black working class, the Latino working class, indigenous Americans, and the white working class.
There is no need to pick and choose between helping one group to the detriment of another; an alternative vision will answer Trump’s bigotry with an abiding antiracism, a radical compassion capable of freeing all Americans from the indignities of life today in this country.
There can be no dealing with this man. Bernie has lain down a gauntlet Trump cannot meet. Now, every day, and in every way, it is time to say “go fuck yourself” to Trump and his ilk, until the weapons capable of destroying him can be perfected.
Trump is, for all his monstrosity, just a symptom; as daunting as the challenge of frustrating Trump and the GOP’s agenda at every turn will be, of even graver importance will be constructing an alternative vision capable of contending with the crisis of American life.
The protests that have rocked America in the wake of the election — right out the gate, no quarter given — are a promising and heartening start. They remind me of Trump’s ill-fated Chicago rally during the primaries.
I was there, I saw it, but more than that, I felt it. I felt the air go out of that room when the speaker announced Trump had canceled, turned tail like the fake tough guy he is, afraid of a bunch of kids and students and union members. I saw the astonishment on the faces of his flock, the absolute shock, and the sudden burst of jubilation that overtook the half of the room there to mock and embarrass Trump in turn. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.
It is time to organize and prepare a politics that matters. It is time to confront and defeat Trump and those like him, not pay him soft homage. No more ceding the ground of what’s important to these snakes; we can’t anyway, our very lives depend upon it. Besides, we have a better way.
And so we say goodbye to the old ways — Goodbye! Goodbye! Goodbye! — and prepare to meet them there on the low road, where we might face what is coming — away from the fear that kept us from reaching you.