How does one describe the feeling on election night, as the reality of a Trump presidency shimmered into view?
It's simplistic to say people were shocked or enraged. Or that this, the impossible outcome, had actually happened. For me, it was the enormity of knowing just how dreadfully bad, how incompetent and how destructive, the Presidency could be. And how avoidable all of what is to come could have been.
Trump supporters immediately tried to paste calls for unity over this election debacle - as if, somehow, 18 months of vitriol, hateful rhetoric, never mind the wild assemblages of half truths and falsehoods could be washed away, or deemed appropriate. They were aided by that unique need of conservatives to not just win, but to crush. For a moment, in our stunned faces, conservatives had their wish of how it would feel to not just prevail, but to destroy the liberal ideal.
It would be enough, really, for conservatives to take their win for what it is - a solid rebuke to Democrats and the Obama years laced, in a deeply unfortunate way with the appeals to anger, resentment, and prejudice that have been simmering around the first black President. To try and overplay a bare majority, a loss in the popular vote and poor performances in key races and among important subgroups will be - as many of the transitional choices have been - a bad mistake with unanticipated repercussions.
Donald Trump, of course, can't be bothered with the level of nuance required to see his win for what it is - the modest success of appealing to a base of white, rural, high school educated mainly male cohort steeped in anger and resentment and a feeling of being left behind. Despite the breathless hand wringing post election, the demographic realities on display in the vote were not, really, news. What was remarkable in one sense was yes, the white majority, though slim, still can prevail; what was equally remarkable was just how desperate the appeal had to be to make that happen.
"Make America Great Again," he bleated over and over. "Drain the swamp!" he cried in the late phase of the campaign... but mostly, Donald Trump put on a show. It was a brutal show, to be sure - shouty and hateful, accusatory and blame filled, thin on actual policy or any understanding, really, of the nature of divided government in this complex country. Trump made a host of mistakes, some built on the natural abrasiveness of his personality, some the neophyte mistakes of someone new to politics, never mind presidential politics. But ultimately, what saw him through, was his real gift as the ultimate huckster - the desperate story of saying and doing anything, yes anything, to make the ultimate sale.
His campaign promises, as such, literally make no sense - virtually no aspect of our immigration dilemmas is solved by building a wall along the Mexican border. "Repeal and replace Obamacare" is a right wing pipe dream that lacks any coherent sense of what "replace" looks like, never mind the damaging effects of immediate repeal, if it could be done, which it actually can't. Foreign policy... what foreign policies, really? A penchant for dictators and a romance with Russia does not coherent policy make. Sabre rattling the destruction of NATO, threatening the long standing interests favoring free trade... none of these are answers, even to questions nobody thought to ask.
No, Mr. Trump was elected as a "black swan" - a chaos event meant to "shake up" the status quo, built on the incoherent resentments of some of the least informed voters in our body politic, for reasons that should be acknowledged as not nearly as off as they might seem. Legions of lobbyists, cozy insider relationships, sweetheart deals... Trump is the terrible solution to an actual, well defined problem that official Washington cannot fully comprehend - try harder, do better, help the people with their actual problems.
Even if Trump were serious - which he's not, has never been, and never will be - and even if he could get beyond that unfortunate habit of simply lying with every sentence he speaks (or tweets), he lacks the kind of thoughtful approach needed to achieve anything close to the results he barely understands he promised. For the occasional good in some of his less than awful appointments - General Mattes perhaps, Mike Pompeo, maybe - Mr. Trump has, with each passing day of transition, reinforced the impressions that he means almost none of what he said. A cabinet of inexperienced loyalists, full of ethical conflicts, financial self interests and wild ideas supporting the Presidency of a serial liar whose poor business practices were legendary 30, even 40 years ago, and have only hardened since.
Get angry? Fight back? Is there really a choice? It's been almost quaint, watching everything people seemed to value - decency, fair treatment of others, the reasonable discourse of competing ideas - seemingly fall away. At this point, even in this day of his ascension moment, we're beyond the "who's normalizing Trump" discussion and simply watching the divide between Those Who Have Figured It Out and Those Who Are Still Catching Up. Reporters, pundits, experts... it's past time to come to terms with the new reality. These are not nice times. There will be no casual acceptance. Just Shout, Shout... and let it all out.
This isn't personal - none of it's personal, really. Trump doesn't have empathy or really any concern for the feelings or fate of others. It's been All About Him since he was a boy and why stop now? His need to be popular, and powerful, and perceived as successful overrides virtually any other concern. I don't care what you think... as long as it's about me. Is he dangerous? Of course. Is he also pathetic, easily ridiculed, and likely to fail? Absolutely. Despite how it sounds, I don't hate him, largely because I don't find him nearly interesting enough to care that deeply. In this age of politics by National Enquirer, though, politics will be played as personal. Who do you like? Who's nice? Who's good? I say, don't fall for it. It's not who you like... it's who should be governing, and how.
Yeah, it's bad, and likely to get worse, even as things often slip into farce. Between Trump's lax morals and the army of sycophants and opportunists coming to Washington, there's little doubt that "Drain the Swamp" is actually shaping up to be #BuildABetterSwamp as only Trump can - big, shiny, and spray painted gold. Republicans will be lucky to extract even the bare semblance of an organization out of this debacle (and good luck to the Wisconsin boys Ryan and Priebus who've decided to ride this thing to the bitter end), and if there's any justice, they will reap what they so richly deserve. As for the rest of us, hang on to your hats - the not red ones that don't say "Make America Great Again." If we're lucky - or maybe resistant enough - we can get this thing back before the damage is permanent. It's not much, I know, but for now it may be all we've got.