NOVEMBER 9, 2016
The polls predicted that Hillary Clinton would narrowly win. What they didn’t predict was that she would win so narrowly that she would lose. Certainly Clinton was a terrible candidate, as uninspiring as an Ohio dentist. Her smug condescension made Donald Trump the bizarre underdog. Besides, Americans were not ready to proceed from an African American president to a woman president. History was moving too fast for them.
We may survive Trump, as we did Ronald Reagan, or we may not. My first goal, now that the election is over, is to renew my expired passport under the lame-duck Obama presidency. If Trump really is Mussolini, I may finally fulfill my longtime dream of living in coastal Sri Lanka.
I hope a massive resistance movement arises, but, knowing Americans, it will not. We are like “good Germans,” patiently accepting the will of the majority — even when it’s a minority.
Have you ever lived with a bunch of hippies, and after every meal everyone waited for everyone else to clear the table and do the dishes? Usually a woman named Julia did all the work, but sometimes she was away visiting her boyfriend, Claude, or she just got really stoned that day, and the dirty dishes sat there, and sat there, and sat there. Well, that’s what happened in the last election: everyone waited for Julia to knock on doors in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin, but she was putting her mother into an assisted-living facility and didn’t have time.
Bernie Sanders says: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” I say: “Democracy means everyone has to do the fucking dishes!”
I pored over the exit polls in The New York Times and The Guardian. The main surprise: Clinton won the working class — households making fifty thousand dollars a year or less; Trump won all the richer demographics. Trump did not win because of angry blue-collar males; he was supported by upper-middle-class guys — and women. (Trump won the majority of white women voters and the majority of college-educated voters.) This was a revolt of the suburbs.
We have been living in a progressive era — with Black Lives Matter demonstrators, transgender rights, and political correctness on college campuses — and many white people are sick of it. They are drawn to Trump the way one is drawn to a standup comedian who punctures unspoken pieties. The more Obama and Clinton ridiculed him for his sexism, racism, and xenophobia, the more of a puckish rebel he seemed. The vast majority of white, middle-class — and rich — people are sick of being lectured to. They want “honesty,” and they don’t care, apparently, if honesty is accompanied by a bit of racist demagoguery.
Joseph, one of my elderly father’s two live-in aides, is from Uganda. Speaking with him, I learned that we are the same age — sixty-three — and both have daughters in their mid-twenties. Today he and I were discussing prayer.
“I wake up every morning, and I thank God for life,” Joseph told me. “I never ask God for money, because if you have life, you can always make money, but if you have no life, you cannot make any money. If you ask for money, God will give you money but no life!”
“What else do you pray for?” I asked Joseph.
“I pray for my enemies to live a long time so they can see how much good God is doing for me! If you pray for your enemies, you will live twice as long.”
Maybe we should all pray for Donald Trump — at least, those of us who hate him.
According to quantum theory, on the subatomic level Trump isn’t president.
Trump tweeted the other day that millions of Clinton voters cast their votes illegally. It’s possible he actually believes this. Though believing nonsense gives one power in the short run, eventually it’s a weakness.
For about a year I’ve been attending services at the Park Slope Jewish Center. On Friday I went for the first time since Trump’s election. How much more fervently did the congregation pray! The Hebrew chants rang out with unanimity and strength. Suddenly the last two thousand years of Jewish history were vivid to me: the tenuous life under czars, kings, caliphs, emperors. For the Jews, Trump is nothing new: just another Haman (the villain of the Book of Esther). Prayer is more meaningful in the face of oppression — or, in this case, coming oppression. When you have nothing, God moves nearer. In Exodus 2:23 God hears the outcry of the Jewish people laboring under Pharaoh:
And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
We prayed as loudly as we could today, in the hope that God would hear our sighs.
A new theory: Trump won through reverse psychology. He didn’t want to be commander in chief and did everything possible to discourage voters from choosing him: publicly encouraging his fans to beat up protesters, boasting that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win. Americans were fascinated by his devil-may-care attitude, and flocked to him.
Trump towers over us.
Trump has created a unique political style in which nothing he says matters. Thirty percent of Latinos voted for a man who said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . . . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists” — while he was announcing his candidacy. Trumpism is an explosive cultural force, like Beatlemania. You either embrace it or find it insane.
My trigger word is “Trump.”
JANUARY 20, 2017 INAUGURATION DAY
Three weeks ago my friend Charles Krezell asked me to help with a documentary about Trump’s inauguration. He’d shot two similar previous films: Not My President, about the 2000 George W. Bush inauguration, and Bigger Than the Beatles, about the 2008 Barack Obama swearing-in.
Yesterday I arrived at Charles’s “command center” in the Capitol Hill district. Six cameramen were standing around a small house chatting and drinking beer. A half-hour later Sergei, a blond Belarusian of about thirty-five, burst in, fresh from the streets. “It was wild!” he said. “Anarchists were setting fires and throwing bottles at the cops.” What was I getting into — an apocalyptic American breakdown?
After an uneasy sleep I joined Sergei in the morning to film President Trump’s inauguration. When we arrived at an entrance to the parade route, a row of mostly young people, some with bandannas over their faces, stood with linked arms, forming a human barricade to prevent Trump supporters from entering the inauguration. Anytime someone attempted to push through, the protesters would link their arms more tightly to repel them. It was a little like the game Red Rover. Behind the demonstrators was a row of police, who would lean forward and pull attendees through the line of protesters — without arresting anyone. Sergei made videos of these skirmishes.
A young woman with a microphone and a knee-high amplifier led a chant of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.!” Each time someone pushed through the human barricade, the protesters shouted, “Shame! Shame!”
We were there more than an hour, and gradually, through some mysterious means (possibly Twitter?), the number of demonstrators grew until no one could penetrate their line, which was now four anarchists deep. I saw well-dressed, silver-haired men and women arrive, assess the situation with wry smiles, then turn around and try another route.
“It’s time to go inside,” Sergei told me, so we walked around the corner to an unobstructed entrance. Once inside we were shocked by the small number of forlorn Trump supporters lining Pennsylvania Avenue, awaiting his arrival. What happened to all the hysterical white guys at those rallies? Have they already lost faith in Trump?
Sergei and I reached a gathering of protesters, and he interviewed a woman in her fifties holding a large tie-dyed peace sign. She said, “I came mostly out of rage. Rage was my plane fare.”
I wrote down slogans from the signs:
RESPECT EXISTENCE OR EXPECT RESISTANCE MAKE THE PRESIDENT READ AGAIN (with a picture of the Constitution) MY PUSSY IS NOT UP FOR GRABS I HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO SEE YOU AT THE IMPEACHMENT
I think Facebook and Twitter have improved protest signs. Americans are becoming more adept at short, clever commentary.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” announced a deep voice over a loudspeaker, “the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump!” I saw a truck pass with people waving, but I couldn’t tell which one was Trump. The boos, where I stood, outnumbered the cheers.
Yesterday was the inauguration; today, the Women’s March. At first this was just a demonstration; then it was history. Though no one said it aloud, the event was larger than the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and Joan Baez sang “We Shall Overcome.”
Where had these people come from? It felt as if the earth herself were pouring forth humanity to combat the soul destroyers who’d seized the White House.
You know a demonstration is really large when the street becomes like a crowded elevator. For three minutes at a time you can’t even walk forward. The Women’s March was this populous.
I passed a woman sitting next to a sign: TOO SCARED TO BE WITTY. “That’s witty,” I told her.
THIS PUSSY VOTES A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RESISTANCE WILL WE HAVE TO PASS THESE SIGNS ON TO OUR CHILDREN? GROW A PAIR! (with a picture of two ovaries)
There were numerous NOT MY PRESIDENT signs and the occasional NOT MY FüHRER.
Pop singer Madonna spoke to the crowd, saying, “The revolution starts here!” and she led us in singing: “I’m not your bitch. . . .”
It was a brilliant strategic move to march the day after the inauguration. Demonstrations during inaugurations tend to get swallowed up in the news coverage of the actual ceremony. (I protested both George W. Bush inaugurations, and the protests got hardly any attention.) On the first full day Trump was in office, we dominated the headlines — and, as it turned out, dwarfed the tiny attendance at his swearing-in. Also we had real celebrities, and he didn’t. And it was brilliant to hold a women’s march, rather than a gathering of all dissidents. Hillary Clinton was almost the first woman president and received more votes than any other failed candidate; she lost to a swaggering man who brags about molesting women. This was the Revenge of the Pussies.
I’ve never been around so many women. Everyone was thoughtful, respectful — a million people each letting the other go first. The police made zero arrests.
It was humbling to think that most of the pink “pussy” hats — wool caps with two ears — were hand-knitted: possibly the largest mass knitting project in history. The hats added a level of commitment to the gathering: marchers hadn’t just traveled hundreds or thousands of miles; they’d also spent many hours fabricating hats to ridicule Trump.
The event was so big the sound system couldn’t reach most of the crowd. But it didn’t matter.
It was like a group-therapy session for a million people. All our lives we’re taught that “They” — the invisible men who run the world — care nothing for us. But standing in a sea of resolute women (and the men who love them), we unlearned helplessness. Compared to our gathered numbers, what was Donald Trump? A puny man trapped in a room.
And throughout the world other women were marching: in San Francisco, Boston, LA, Chicago, Paris, London, Tokyo. Marches took place in Costa Rica, Ghana, India, Lebanon, Myanmar, Tanzania, Antarctica. My wife went to a gathering in humble Poughkeepsie, New York. The total number of marches: 673.
Will the Women’s March help? Who knows. One thing’s for sure, we seized the initiative, and Trump lost it, at least for a moment. But is that enough? Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore advised every person in the crowd to run for office, and the crowd screamed its approval, but will they actually do it? It will probably take more than marches to defeat this malevolent trickster prez and his pugnacious minions.
Today at the National Gallery I discovered Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert’s Amazon Preparing for Battle, a small bronze statue of a French-looking woman wearing a sheer gown, sandals, and a helmet. Her shield rests behind her as she intently strings a bow. While I admired the sculpture, a woman in a “pussy hat” came up and said, almost in a whisper: “That was us yesterday.”
TrappedTrump blundered into the White House, and now he’s trapped, like a moose in a shopping mall.
Trump resembles no other American president, but is strangely reminiscent of George III, the mad British king against whom we rebelled in 1776.
In two weeks Trump has moved from crazy to CRAZY.
I just realized: I’ve been fighting for social justice — and losing — for fifty years.
For the second time in one week, a Jewish cemetery has been vandalized. The biggest surprise of Trump’s presidency: the anti-Semitism came so fast.
Headstones were knocked over in another Jewish cemetery today. And I just ordered a poppy-seed bagel. To defy Trump, I’m becoming more Jewish.
America is beginning to unravel, like when you start to tell a friend a story and then realize you’ve forgotten the details. You know it’s about a woman who married her own son, but you can’t recall her name or what country she lived in or why she wed her own child. You stammer to a close, embarrassed. That’s our nation now. “America, the home of the free and the land of the brave.” You remember those words from somewhere — a song? a speech? — but your recollection is vague. Could it have been the “land of the free and the home of the brave”? And why were Americans considered brave? What did we ever do that was so courageous? Fight each other in the Civil War? Is that bravery, or just stupidity? Anyway, America no longer seems like the land of the free or the home of the brave. It seems like the land of seventy-three-year-olds working at Walmart and bullies who kick over gravestones in Jewish cemeteries at night.
Today I wrote this bumper sticker: I Was Against Capitalism Before It Was This Awful.
Russia has won the Cold War, twenty-six years after it ended.
Perhaps this is our national karma: Ronald Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union, which became a kleptocracy, which helped elect Trump to destroy us.
Last night’s nightmare of nuclear holocaust: I am standing in Macy’s in downtown Manhattan when, through a picture window, I see a large explosion in the sky and spreading black smoke. Immediately I know it’s the Bomb. I rush into the chaos on the streets and decide to walk north, toward Yonkers. But where will I get food? Will someone take me in? These anxieties awaken me.
This was a Trump dream.
Trump’s administration could be seen as a slow-motion coup. Republicans have been gradually taking over state legislatures throughout the country, giving themselves the power to gerrymander congressional districts. In this past election Republicans received about 50 percent of congressional votes but won 55 percent of the seats. Republican legislators also pass laws suppressing the African American and Latino votes in the name of fighting “voter fraud.” This gradualist strategy (plus the intervention of the Russians) enabled a minority of Americans to elect a government that is methodically rolling back fifty years of social progress.
What does a con artist do once he becomes president: try to hustle the whole world?
A while ago I was speaking to my friend Emory Cranston, a retired farmer and cracker-barrel philosopher, about Trump. I referred to Trump as stupid, and Emory strenuously disagreed: “He won, didn’t he?”
“Winning doesn’t necessarily imply genius,” I responded.
“Look at the way he dispatched those fourteen other Republican candidates — like a bullfighter!”
I was silent. Then I replied, “Your brilliant Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to be running a very efficient fascist state.”
Emory thought for a moment. “Maybe he wants chaos,” he mused. “A lot of those alt-right types just want disruption.”
Perhaps Trump is here to create confusion, sending out tweets for racism, then against racism; attacking China, then praising China. In this atmosphere liberals are demoralized, independents grow more cynical about government, and fascists are delighted. If Trump can cause enough social disintegration, normal people will yearn for a strongman to bring back stability. That’s when the real Mussolini will emerge.
Only in America are there anti-elitist billionaires.
I draw some consolation from the thought that Trump’s Muslim travel ban failed; so did his Obamacare repeal. In fact, he has accomplished nearly nothing in part because he has a new enthusiasm every fifteen minutes. It’s not governing that interests him but dominating the news cycle. Good. Let him have his ratings, as long as we can salvage our tattered democracy.