“I will not allow Trump to make me crazy.”
I am still so deeply embarrassed and ashamed of this fact. I am against Trump in most aspects of his presidency, and I am a confirmed centrist — far from a far left orthodox liberal who instinctively is against any Republican policy. I am open to good ideas wherever they might originate; I am not ideologically wedded to the right or the left. I like nuance. I see most arguments have two sides to them. The gray areas are the most interesting places for discussion.
But nowadays there is not much gray. There is only black and white. You are with us or against us. As Andrews Sullivan so ably described it, “America, Land of Brutal Binaries.” Angry persons engaged in political combat.
As such, it has been a hard time politically for me.
But Trump is such a blowhard that to become upset with this or that policy is often to indulge a frothy rage and the resulting exhaustion. Why become driven to distraction when a toddler does something stupid? I look at Trump in much the same terms.
If it a “hard time” for me, it is going to be much harder for those who have been living on anger and adrenaline for two years. It is almost not hyperbolic to say that politics is going to ruin such a person’s life.
My father is more than a bit this in allowing politics to poison his life, although he is not liberal but conservative. I cringe a bit when he brings up politics and brace myself for a gust of negativity. It is not so much that he loves Trump (my father could not bring himself to vote for Donald Trump) but that he loathes liberals. He hates liberals more than he likes conservatives. Many liberals are similar in that their dark hatred of Trump colors everything else, directly or indirectly. Their hatred is tangible, visceral. It must be exhausting. Think of the energy expended!
I have spoken with some recent and not-so-recent former students — especially young women — who seemed to be almost made crazy by Donald Trump. Their mental health seemed almost to have come unhinged. It would not surprise me if they were seeing a therapist mostly because of President Trump. They appear unmoored.
I sometimes feel a bit the same. When Trump threatens NATO or NAFTA, or calls the press the “enemy of the people,” or says some unconsidered, boneheaded thing on Twitter, there is that throbbing wound of Trump that aches. “How much longer until the next election?” I wonder to myself. Two years: we are halfway through his term. Be assured, gentle reader, I will vote against him. I care enough about the political health of my country to be deeply concerned. At times I want to pull my hair out because of President Trump, as do many others. I will go to sleep uneasy at the stressed state of the nation. I fear for the future. I am hardly alone in this.
But I will not allow Trump to make me crazy. I am 51 years old and have been through plenty in my life. Trump will come and then he will be gone; life will go on. I will not lose perspective. I will not become unmoored.
I sometimes think the persons most damaged by politics in the age of Trump are the chattering classes of journalists and politicos. They live on political gossip and the shifting winds of public opinion. They are always on Twitter. They allow the anger of the age to course through them as tribes gather to garner support or shout down the other side, and they poison themselves. Twitter has come to look like the mean kids in middle school posturing and preening before the fight against the rival clique. Twitter is the last few chapters of “Lord of the Flies,” as David Streitfeld described it. And it is not so much Twitter as a technology platform, but the negative energy coursing through the American body politic that came onto Twitter. Trolls and doxxing; calling out and shouting down. I will not have it in my life. This asperity of temper. This meanness. Trump is the worst, but many “#resistance” types opposed to him, in my view, are not much better. You become what you fight against. A hardening of the lymph. A coarsening of American life.
Who is enlivened and excited about this? It is the Pat Buchanans and Andrea Dworkins of yesteryear, the Ben Shapiros and Jessica Valeris of today — the “cultural warriors” who see sociopolitics as a zero-sum combat. It is Congressman Steve King of Iowa and Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California. The other side needs to be fought and vanquished. “Alt right” protesters come to an urban area looking to provoke, and then “Antifa” counter-protesters show up to fist fight them. Persons of one political party in the workplace go out of their way not to encounter persons of the other party, and even in family gatherings this happens. The country is badly divided. Evangelicals gather in their churches to fight for Christianity in public life and embrace Trump (“Ban abortion!”). Campus activists gather in the womyn’s studies department to fight Trump (“Support a woman’s right to abortion!”). It is boon times for polemicists. For scorched earth campaigns and campaigners. People pay attention again to an Ann Coulter, or to a Rose McGowan.
There have always been these contentious voices of confrontation in American society, but Trump has brought them to preeminence. The one side heaps anathema on the other and calls for excommunication. Intolerance is the order of the day. Tribes and tribalism. I am hardly the first to notice and remark on this.
So much emotion and anger, so little listening or sharing. Black and white thinking. Nuance and common ground become scarce. I live for the nuance! (Maybe that always was the problem with Twitter: 140 characters is always going to be simplistic — bumper sticker thinking.) Too much of the Democratic Party look like the “woke” progressives who are in favor of “Democratic Socialism” and get all hot around the collar about “microagressions.” (“America is sooo racist!”) Too much of the Republican Party are hardcore Trumpkins dedicated to fighting to the death “political correctness” and “owning the libs.” (“They want to turn America into another Venezuela!”) The one extreme lives to fight the other extreme. Where would the “social justice warriors” be without the “Make American Great Again!” supporters and vice versa? It is a strange, unhealthy symbiotic relationship.
Most Americans are much more towards the moderate middle of these extremes. Many Americans are as exhausted as I am by politics as combat and want something different. Maybe we need to create a new political party for the large number of Americans who want to find common ground and work together to solve problems. Is it true that most Americans want this endless “culture war”?
What does seem to be true is that if you are enraged by politics or whatever it is going to infect all aspects of your life, to one degree or another. You shall have little peace. The more angry you are, the less peace you shall have. And this is not sustainable. You will lose friends — or not gain any. The anger will burn you up. You will get sick (.pdf). That is always the irony of anger and striking out at others — you try to inflict injury on your ideological enemy, but usually they don’t notice or they don’t care. But that anger infects yourself and you are the worse for wear. You seek to poison the other but it is you who is poisoned.
I see some of these millennials who complain about the Aziz Ansari date, or are upset about the “patriarchy” in this #metoo moment and I wonder. There is Donald Trump or Harvey Weinstein or whatever other man they are upset with, and then there are the men in their real lives. There are the lower marriage rates for millenials. There are the college loans many struggle to pay back. There is the “online dating” and all the problems that come from that. There is the anger and rage — the desire to “cancel men,” or to embrace political lesbianism (.pdf), or whatever. Lots of politics and anger and anxiety, less romance and good sex. A time of meanness and angst. Complaints about inequality at home and in the workplace. Anxiety for the future because of global warming and climate change. It seems many young women in America are flailing around, the ground beneath them unfirm and unsure. At once so angry, yet still so fragile.
But this Trump moment will come and go, and the political passions of the moment will cool, even if they do not go away. The cultural moment will turn. Another will begin.
I wonder if many millennials will not do themselves lasting damage. The tenderness and trust between the sexes, the respect for neighbors and strangers — this is not easily repaired. This tendency to assume the worst of one’s fellow Americans — this may linger. Especially among those who pay the most attention to politics: the Twitter obsessives, the journalists, the lawyers, the political junkies, the activists, etc.
My father (a lawyer) is such a “political junkie,” may God help him. My dad and his Wall Street Journal and Fox News — as I see it, it is akin to whisky to an alcoholic. But thankfully my wife does not pay much attention to all that. And many millions of other Americans outside the beltway pay only so much attention to politics. They will keep their equilibrium. Politics is just one concern among many in their lives, and not the most important.
As for me, I see we are halfway done with Trump’s term as president. I will vote against that demagogue, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow. But I hope that when November of 2020 finally arrives I can look back and say I was not turned into an asshole by Trump or the tensions of that time.* I kept my perspective and my cool, as much as possible.
My daughters will be ten and thirteen on election night in 2020. They will be in fifth grade and eighth grade. They will be approaching that point of adolescence where they stop listening to me. College won’t be far away. I will spend my best hours with them. Similarly, I will be married for eighteen years, and I will be only five or six years away from retirement. That is where I will spend my best hours. Time, my precious time — and my life energy.
That black hole of negative energy — Donald Trump — will not get my best moments or my best energies.
I refuse to allow Trump to co-opt me into his reality TV show — the dark drama he has made of presidential politics.
Can you say as much?
* What do I mean by “asshole,” or in the “hardening of the lymph” nowadays? Well, my father has a friend who is pro-Trump. This man is elderly and lives alone; he survived a heart attack, and had a kidney removed because it was shot through with cancer. I am frankly surprised he is still alive. Last month two of his long-time friends from his apartment building “broke up” with him — suddenly cutting all ties with him because of his support of Trump. He was heartbroken. That is what I mean by “asshole” and “hardening of the lymph.”
ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND IN REAL LIFE:
“Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.”
“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing everything with logic. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.”