So Trump’s Not Your President, Huh?
(First published on November 9, 2016 on Pure Film Creative.)
I’ve been hesitant to write this; I’m making efforts to be less didactic and more receptive these days, particularly after the shock of what happened on Election Day. However, there is a great deal of hysteria on my Facebook feed about Trump, which probably cannot be assuaged by what I have to say. But I can try to redirect it by appealing for what President Obama called for across the campaign trail: focus.
Linked at the end of this piece is the devastatingly effective ad my father made for the Republican Party in 1980. Ironically, the call is to vote Republican “for a change,” Obama’s unfulfilled campaign message. Republicans actually delivered on the promise of change; the Reagan Revolution really was a revolution. The GOP captured thirty-four seats in Congress that year, eventually eroding Democratic control over the House and upsetting the balance of power for many decades to come.
We moved back to New York from Rome in 1979 so Dad could work on that campaign. Growing up in Italy, I knew very little of the American political process, and all of my information came from him. He summed up the Republican attitude, and why his focus was on Congress rather than the White House, as this: “We’re not really interested in the presidency. It’s Congress that matters.”
As distasteful as the reality is, Hillary would never have been able to govern effectively without Congress, just as Obama was thwarted at every pass, despite being the smartest, coolest, most well-meaning man in the room. It would have been four to eight more years of the same anemic governance.
I live on a tiny planet all my own, just like the Little Prince I was born as. It’s the same kind of asteroid most of my social network lives on. It provides sunsets and sunrises at the move of a chair, as many as you want a day, a skewed reality that has led us straight into the fetid, toxic swamp of absolute right-wing rule we woke up to on November 9.
I seem to have no Trump supporters in my direct feed on Facebook. When I see comments from them on the feeds of friends who live in rural areas, or in comments to articles online — and these people are invariably barely literate — they seem exotic, alien. We don’t inhabit the same world at all. How could they possibly have voted that way? What did America do to them that they would so obviously try to destroy it?
If I remove myself from the outrage that blinkers me I realize that I have no idea how to have a conversation with these people. I look down on them, as all educated people do. And that is the core of the problem we face today: I’m just another Marie Antoinette among so many others, but Whole Foods is now all out of gluten-free, sprouted-grain, hand-ground bread to feed the masses. It’s going to be a bleached-white, dystopian loaf with zero nutrition of the kind those fat, repulsive creatures in the flyover states are forced to eat. (“The flyover states.” I’m such a clever, witty New Yorker, right?)
Now that I’ve changed my own perspective, I see those Clinton fundraising parties just down the road from me in Beverly Hills and environs as they really were. I see the guests as the impoverished troglodytes in the flyover states saw them, chuckling over champagne, arched eyebrows framing arch comments, vegan options on the menu at the $50,000-per-plate dinner. Change their clothing to knee breeches, elaborate hoop gowns, and piled powdered wigs. Behold them in the glimmering, splendid gilt of Versailles-upon-Pacific, at Windsor-on-the-Hudson! How importantly the fountains splash, how handsome the hipster servants, how pithy the premium cable star who is so brave and unafraid to take off her clothes despite That Body, show after show, season after season. Nobody at those events has been so desperate they had to sell their land for fracking, poisoning the environment for them and their children; the assembled are the frackers, not the fracked.
While she tittered and charmed and quipped about Trump’s “basket of deplorables,” la reine Hillary held no press conferences, no rallies in the heartland — which is what it should be called if people like me respected the men and women who defend this nation and put food on our tables more — until it was too late. It was just more expensive dinners in exclusive enclaves, private speaking engagements at hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop. Let them eat Wonder Bread.
Now turn your perspective of the debates to one that identifies with the plain-speaking white alpha male who is being mercilessly dumped upon by Her. Look how She shimmies and shakes so adorably. Admire how her sneering comments complement her smirk.
As I was going home on Election Day to watch Trump’s inevitable trouncing, I composed a post-election tweet in my head: “Good. The next time I read about that vulgar arriviste from Queens it had better be his obituary.”
I am embarrassed of myself now — I loathe snobbery; it’s the most sniveling manifestation of social insecurity. And the liberal kind is the worst because it’s so hypocritical, and yet so rampant. But mine is exactly the attitude that allowed Trump to be swept into power. With every SNL skit, with every snide posting and mocking attack ad, another person out there in the creaky, rusty, neglected flyover hinterland who felt belittled and exploited, whose life appears to be unending days of hardship and injustice, cast a vote for Donald Trump.
One of the things I have observed about Dad and “his creepy conservative friends,” as a foul-tempered Democratic entertainment journalist I looked up to as a youth called them — with typical zero regard for my feelings and absolute regard for his own opinion, thereby deepening my embarrassment and loathing of Dad by several fathoms — is that the end justifies the means. The Republican strategy to grab hold of Congress has been to harness the “great unwashed,” as Dad himself might put it, to cement the feet of the uneducated working class into an unshakable base by saying what they want to hear, by praying in the way they want to kneel. And so Donald Trump has said and done whatever it takes to get into power.
What he does in the White House is likely to be a very different thing. Almost every New Yorker from the kind of socio-cultural groups that have had interactions with him over the decades, directly or indirectly, will tell you the same. And, no, the redecoration won’t be tacky: Ivanka will guide it.
Why are you saying “Donald Trump is not my president”? Yes, he is, he very much is. He won fair and square. He won against an unprecedented assault from the media, our massive entertainment industrial complex, every polling and betting powerhouse but two, and a plutocratic political class that, left and right, is plainly corrupted by power to a degree that is in direct proportion to America’s status among mankind. Even if you hate him, if you fear him — and I by no means discourage you from that — you should respect him for winning that epic battle against such formidable opponents.
At the very least, he has broken it down and made it honest: Our election process is nothing more than a very long season of an elimination reality TV show, in which personality triumphs over geeky reason, experience, education and intelligence.
Not your president. Hmm. This must be because he doesn’t represent your individuality, your entitlement, your ideals, how you perceive yourself. As an American who has lived a healthy portion of his life abroad, I assure you that Trump represents how much of the world sees America: loud, brash, bullying, vulgar, stupid and uncultured, rich, ostentatious, oversized, crypto-fascistic and more often than not mendacious. Obama is our aspiration, and it is a noble one. Trump is our reality.
The more you protest and scream your fears, renounce and denounce, the more emboldened the GOP becomes. They see you as unruly, tantrum-prone children who must be disciplined and protected for their own good. Like responsible adults, they will ignore you and simply enact measures to contain you, but they will be within the limits of the rule of law, make no mistake about it. The GOP has achieved its end by any means. They aren’t going to destroy the nation. They will, however, keep sending you to your room until you behave.
In the couple of years before we left Rome so that Dad could “save the nation” by helping to sweep his “creepy conservative friends” into power, he was head of Republicans Abroad. When then-Governor Reagan came to Rome on a world-tour pit stop, Dad came back from a function and railed about him being “stupid.” He was distraught that Reagan was the nominee. An actor? From Jane Fonda’s state? Still, Dad fell into step and did his bit for what he perceived to be the greater good of America, to make it great again after it had been laid waste by twenty-five years of a do-nothing Democratic congress, and four years of Jimmy Carter.
I have changed my opinion completely after November 8, 2016: it isn’t the GOP that needs to reinvent itself, as I’ve been writing for years. The Republican party isn’t inevitably going to collapse under internal strife and finally emerge as a responsible, honorable party of the opposition. I agree with Michael Moore: it’s the Democratic Party that needs a complete overhaul. For a start, they need to stop focusing on the presidency and start the arduous slog of reclaiming Congress. And good luck with that: the Republican movement to control the House of Representatives begun by Dad and his “creepy” lot, with the gerrymandering of districts through legislation passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures, is well nigh unshakable.
The election of a man like Donald Trump is appalling. I know Dad probably agrees, even though I don’t discuss politics with him. But Trump will fall into step behind the Grand Old Party, because they are the Borg. Don’t be fooled by the smokescreen of divisiveness: they will be completely united, in a matter of days. There will be no internal struggle that will lead to their collapse. Paul Ryan and everyone within the Party who opposed Trump will be forgiven. They will rally and they will rule with an iron fist. Because, children, that’s what they are convinced is best for you, not because they are willfully evil sociopaths.
Hillary Clinton was no doubt the most qualified person to govern this nation in my lifetime. I supported her over Obama until the end of the 2008 primary, mainly because I knew that her backdoor network in Washington could conceivably get things done around a recalcitrant GOP-controlled Congress. But thinking that you can govern without either house, or the Supreme Court, is as delusional as believing you should rule by divine right. The GOP owns the government completely now. As hateful as much of what they say and do is, we will finally have functioning governance. And there is unlikely to be any overreach by the executive branch.
In hindsight, Hillary should have downplayed the gender card. I never cared that she was a woman — I looked at her résumé and decided she was the best person for the job. But the “I’m with Her” angle was alienating to other men who are less analytical, and they are the majority. She should have just run as a person, just as Obama did.
As a white man from the most privileged socio-cultural group of the most powerful city of the mightiest nation on earth, I am so used to a lifetime of guilt and deference to other people’s triggers and issues, so sensitive to the fact my very existence is de facto un-politically correct, that I don’t even notice when someone disparages my race or gender. In my world, it’s an institutionalized prejudice at this point. But philosophically speaking there is no difference between “reverse” racism and sexism and the standard version. At the risk of sounding like Milo and Ann and other rightwing professional trolls, you do not empower your race and gender by disempowering another. Your cause is just, but you need to find another way, because I’ll bet every male anti-social justice warrior on Reddit and 4Chan who has been muzzled on college campuses across the nation voted for Trump, and they are legion.
Do you know what a year and a half of condescension gets you in a bar full of under-educated, unemployed, baseball cap-wearing American white men, who now lead half the lives their grandfathers did in towns shuttered and deserted, who understand maybe twenty-five percent of what you say in any given conversation with your peers, despite the fact you’re speaking their own native language, who think Michelob is a craft beer? A big fat fist in the face.
Done and done.
The sooner you accept what has happened, and relax into the probability that nothing terrible is going to happen to you at the hands of a vain, fatuous, inarticulate native New Yorker, a former Democrat, with his sleek Orthodox Jewish daughter and his bombshell immigrant wife, the sooner we can start to be productive. Remove your wig and the pantsuit breeches and begin to take the country back methodically, with a long-term plan like the GOP has. And, no, don’t back schlubby left-wing populists like Michael Moore and Bernie Sanders — that is counterproductive.
If we are sensible, sensibility will prevail. Protest, by all means protest. Force this man to be a decent president. Just stay focused.
Let me start this with the man in the mirror: I vow never to use the term ‘flyover states’ again.