Sunday, December 11, 2016
In for the long haul
Someone once asked Lord Byron what it was like to live his life in a poetic frenzy.
No man, he replied, can live his life in a state of poetic frenzy. How would he shave?
I've been thinking of that line as, day by day, President-Elect Donald Trump has been filling out his cabinet with a rogue's gallery of the corrupt, the deluded and the unfit—though not Rudy Giuliani, thank God for small favors. Trump's supporters insist that credit be given for his right decisions, and I will happily flutter my hands to heave and cry "Hallelujah" at Giuliani being denied the world stage. The thought of that man, either insane or doing a fine imitation of insanity, becoming Secretary of State. The mind reels.
And you really don't want your mind reeling too much, not every day, all day. Very unsettling, a constant state of reeling. At least mine for me. I know I've written that Trump's continuous stream of lies and insults have to be responded to, forcefully. But can decent people spend the next four years continually keening in grief and alarm?
My wife walked into my office Saturday, sincerely aghast at Donald Trump's latest jaw-dropping statement: bitching about being Time magazine's "Person of the Year."
"They were very politically correct," Trump told a rally at Baton Rouge, before polling the audience, who were enthusiastically in favor of "Man of the Year."
Time magazine, though it had previously named women "Man of the Year"—Wallis Simpson, Elizabeth II even, ironically "American women" in 1975—changed the slogan to "Person of the Year" in 1999.
Is there a difference?
Sure. Any change is a little jarring. I remember when Ace commercials went from "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man" to "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks," or some such thing. The groove of habit is etched into your mind, and any deviation just feels wrong, even if it is an improvement. You'd have to be a boob to urge Ace to go back to "man"—many of its employees are women; why exclude them from the advertising? So customers don't notice a shift?
The adult adjusts to change, but the child, or the child within, howls for the old to be returned, now. The entire basis of our current political moment is an infantile retreat into nostalgia; fleeing into the past, when white men were in charge and life was better, so we have to get back there right away.
"Political correctness" is now the all-purpose, one-size-fits-all label that the Trumpians use to dismiss the new standards of racial, ethnic or sexual sensitivity. Upset that your local bus station has gone back to water fountains labeled "White only" and "Colored?" Don't like the yellow star sewn to your coat? Cope with it, you lost! Try not to be so politically correct!
It wasn't that I didn't share my wife's outrage, I do. Rather, I have my outrage meter dialed down of late. You go to the forest, you wear yourself out if you start pointing out each tree. I used the Time magazine opportunity to talk about pacing. The world has officially gone crazy, as a wave of backward-looking nativism that the lumpen population has been gulled into believing will bring prosperity. Britain departed from the European Union like a passenger leaping from a plane because he doesn't like who's seated next to him. The Philippines elected a murderous madman in the form of Rodrigo Duterte. Now we've got four years of Donald Trump. We'll be lucky if by May France hasn't elected Marine Le Pen.
This is a nightmare that is only beginning. Years will pass until it peaks, until the wave crashes and begins to roll back and we can see what our soggy world has become.
I'm not saying we surrender, lay back and let the changes wash over us. They of course must be resisted. But fear and outrage are not in themselves productive.
"Dismiss your grief and fear," Virgil has Aeneas counsel his men in "The Aeneid." "Save your strength for better times to come."
That's worth considering. This is a long-haul situation, where seismic forces are driving the world in a direction, and we have to, as Hunter S. Thompson would say, ride this strange torpedo to the end.
You read about these situations, in history books usually before wars. Suddenly the old order, which worked for so long, is repudiated. New passions are stirred. The lowest echelons rise up and claim control. I can't get too upset about Trump wishing women were back in the kitchen, their existence not diluting the value of his Time magazine honor—which, at the risk of falling into a trope, was extended to Hitler in 1938, Stalin in 1939. But I'm saving that outrage for when we start nosing into war with China. Though it might be argued that the cataclysm is necessary, it's what brings people to their senses, when they'll look up and go, "Oh, we elected a brittle baby with no knowledge and no curiosity. That was probably a bad thing."
So a practiced numbness. And not without cause. The most terrifying aspect of Trumpism, for me, is how news, facts and discourse are all undercut, debased. You can't inform and you can't argue, because they reject you prima facie. It's like watching a horror movie. The audience can scream "Look out! Don't go into the barn!" all they like, but those on screen won't hear them.
The only hope is for them to eventually figure it out for themselves when the fact of where Trump is going emerges. And for that to happen, he has to get there. I hate to say it, but I think we have to hit the canyon floor first.
That sounds defeatist. But all the various deus ex machina miracles people are hoping for—the Electoral college fails to validate the election—are just that, miracles. Impossible pipe dreams. We're strapped in, and the roller coaster car is clicking up that first, enormous hill. I just can't start screaming my head off right now, because I sense that's coming whether I scream, stay silent or, as I've been doing, gaze with fixed horror as the amusement park grows more distant and that first downward plunge draws ever nearer. It's going to get a lot worse than this, and fast.