The Mourning After

Well, let me warn you in advance, this is going to be long, and fairly rambling, as therapeutic rants tend to be…Like most of you, I’ve been in a state of shock the past few days, still trying to wrap my mind around why a country that was so clearly on the upswing would commit election seppuku like this. Unemployment at under 5%, the markets at record highs, the economy lifted out of the abyss into which George Bush and the GOP had flung it; Bin Laden dead, Al Qaeda crushed, and ISIS being hounded from its caliphate; Science rescued from the dark ages of the Bush years: Vital stem-cell research resumed, the revival of science-based solutions, efforts being made towards renewable energy, protecting the environment and combating global warming; Eight years of scandal-free, inspirational governance, a long-overdue flourishing of gay and transgender rights, the Supreme Court poised to be rescued from the disastrous GOP nominees [Clarence Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy and Alito] that produced ghastly rulings like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, Exxon Shipping v. Baker etc, . And most of all, just a general respect and admiration world-wide for the character of its leader, and the tone and direction the nation was heading. As an expat who had lived through the GWB years, it was a welcome relief to finally see folks from around the world starting to look to the USA as a source of inspiration again, and as a target of their esteem, rather than their derision.

And now this buffoon, this Chaucerian fraud, someone who should never have risen beyond the level of late-night comedy fodder, has his tiny, immoral hands on the terrified tiller of the ship of state. I’ve been disappointed after elections before. Dubya’s victory (victories, for the love of God!) was a kick in the pills, and I knew it would be a disaster for the country from the get-go, as Republican administrations always are. But I didn’t feel the physical revulsion after that debacle that I’m feeling today. I mean literal nausea at the prospect of the next four years under the cloud of this shameless charlatan’s antics, proclamations and policies.

After eight years of absolute class in the White House, without the hint of a scandal or impropriety, we now have this demagogic ignoramus as our nation’s avatar: A vain, obnoxious, narcissistic, misogynistic, bigoted, pathological liar. A man who openly mocks the handicapped, women and veterans. A shameless con-artist, sexual predator and thin-skinned bully, utterly unsuited for playground duty, never mind command of the greatest nation on the planet. A totally unqualified, impetuous amateur, who openly muses on why we can’t use nukes or end our alliances on a whim. And the guy a black heartbeat from this malignant presidency? Mike Pence, American Taliban: A guy so ethically ill-equipped that he thinks gay couples represent a “societal collapse”. This kind of ugly bigotry should register the same disgust as saying “black couples represent a societal collapse”, and instantly disqualify you from being considered for higher office. But in 2016 USA, it’s just garden-variety, standard-policy conservatism. And soon it could become the law of the land.

Both Trump and Pence of course toe the party line with their open hostility towards science and scientific consensus: Trump, an anti-vaxxer who thinks global warming is a hoax (he’s already tabbed Myron Ebell, arch climate skeptic, to head the EPA – akin to putting The Grinch in charge of Christmas decorations); Pence, who’s so deep into his anti-science cave that he denies evolution, wants creationism taught in the nation’s classrooms, thinks smoking doesn’t kill, and actually claims the earth is cooling. His contempt for women, and their right to control their own bodies, goes beyond that of even Trump. It’s been his mission to destroy Roe v. Wade, limit women’s access to health care, and tear down the wall between church and state, and now he’s got a president and a Congress that will make his dark, theocratic vision a reality.

I don’t have kids of my own, and on days like today, I’m especially glad that I don’t. I’d struggle to explain to them how such a singularly contemptible and unqualified human being could be picked by other humans to represent them and lead their nation into the future. How would I explain to them that their president is a pervert, a cheat, a racist and a pathological liar, and that for most voters these things don’t matter? The fact of the matter is that Trump, with his grotesque character defects, is the very embodiment of everything a decent parent hopes their child never becomes: greedy, belligerent, vindictive, bigoted, intolerant, egotistical, narcissistic, perfidious, incurious, and completely devoid of empathy. He’s a man who’s spent his entire life fucking over other people, by any means possible, to satisfy his own selfish desires. After Obama’s impeccable example for our kids, we get this depraved, entitled thug who brags about his own sexual assaults and his thirst for violence – a dim-witted, roided-up Machiavelli, without the learning or the scruples.

Anyway, I’ve waited a few days to comment on this election to let my emotions cool down a bit (and perhaps in the desperate hope that it’s all just been a terrifying hallucination or dream), and after a drop (OK more than a drop) of scotch and some very long walks in the mountains with my dog, I’m confident I have achieved at least a reasonable bit of perspective on this thing. There are three reasons why I’m not in full panic mode about this awful transpiration:

  1.  I’ve been extremely heartened by the unanimous  reaction of my international friends, my colleagues and students, and most of my American friends: With very few exceptions, it has been some combination of shock, dismay and horror. I haven’t heard a SINGLE Taiwanese citizen express satisfaction at the result, and most are beyond flabbergasted that America would make such an ill-considered choice. Many have actually sent me messages of condolence, which I find honestly touching. Even my sane and secular pro-Trump friends have dialed back their rhetoric in the wake of his victory. I don’t think any of them actually thought he was ever anything but a colorful protest candidate aimed at the arrogance and corruption of both parties (but particularly the identity politics championed by the regressive left), and now they realize they’re going to actually have to live with the entire range of disastrous consequences that are going to come with his administration.
  2. This isn’t China. We’ll all have the opportunity to flush this orange turd down the toilet in four years, and get about the business of fixing the damage that will no doubt come in the intervening years. Judging by the proclamations Trump’s already made about what he plans to do, the people with whom he plans to surround himself, and the fact that he’ll have a rubber-stamp Congress behind him, that damage is going to be significant. But we were always getting an oligarch no matter who got elected: someone who would, above all else, protect the interests of their moneyed puppet-masters. Until we end this government of the uber-rich, by the uber-rich and for the uber-rich, the plight of the vast majority of average Americans (at least in economic terms) isn’t going to change appreciably. It will be harder to end this cycle now that we have legalized bribery through Citizens United, and the disparity is no doubt going to be even more pronounced now that the zombie corpse of trickle-down economics is about to haunt us all again, but ending this cycle should be everyone’s primary focus.
  3. This is a necessary, long-overdue wake-up call to the left. I’ve argued for a long time, and gotten a lot of blow-back from my liberal friends, about how toxic identity politics has become. For a party with a history of espousing classic liberal values, Democrats have completely lost the plot by associating themselves with vile groups like BLM and modern feminists, and vile concepts like “safe spaces”, “trigger warnings”, “no platforming”, cultural relativism, political correctness and other hobby horses of SJWs. This kind of division along tribal lines was bound to create an opposition, and it’s an opposition of their own making. A return to valuing first principles like freedom of speech, individual responsibility and secularism is badly needed, or you open the door to demagogues like Trump who will seize upon the opportunity to fill the void.

I’ve recently finished Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of our Nature”, which shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that human civilization has, by almost every metric, been moving in the direction of peace, despite our intuitions arguing otherwise. So in the vast sweep of things, I look at this result as a temporary spasm of nativism, reactionism and stupidity that will ultimately give way to progress, peace, science, secularism and civil rights.. And while the arc of the moral universe is long, it does indeed bend towards justice. We’ll get past this. We’ll learn from this. We’re better than this. It seems fitting to let the late, great Leonard Cohen have the last words: There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

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