Should it matter to us if the American people select Donald Trump to be their next president? Of course. Donald Trump is a primitive man, unwinding before us in real time, a barking neo-fascist racist activating primitive emotions of scared, vulnerable, and angry Americans (generally white, older, uneducated, and male). Barack Obama has presented us with a remarkably thoughtful and cerebral presidency. By contrast, Donald Trump might well become our first gall bladder president, secreting bile into the body politic, excrescence of aggression and depression.
Political polarization has landed us in a space in this nation where emotional responses, personal responses, overwhelm (trump!) our capacity to consider what makes sense, what is reasonable — what interests, positions, and policies might reasonably align with ways the world is changing and with our long-term goals and aspirations, individually and as communities and as a nation. Social media obviously reinforces this tendency — which has now, after numerous Internet election cycles, become a civic habit — to react, rather than to act, to shout and scorn rather than deliberate. We live in our fears and sit on what we hate. Everyone is building walls.
As citizens, one rational response to the prospect of a Trump presidency is to think tactically. Draw analogies from the past and consider our response. Should we move to Canada? Buy a gun? Sterilize ourselves? We are all asking these questions, and with good reason, because a Trump presidency introduces enormous uncertainty. That is what happens when a democratic people select a crazy person to be their leader (or a manipulative person who wants us to believe he is crazy).
But spinning (surely false) historical analogies to help us understand the meaning of a Trump presidency (he’s a Teddy Roosevelt, an Andrew Jackson, a Huey Long, a Benito Mussolini), and to help us construct a tactical framework for adjusting our lives, is fruitless. A Trump presidency takes us into uncharted territory because the circumstances that make him a viable candidate are new and unique. We are witnessing our first reality television presidential election, which promises to usher in our first reality television presidency.
Amidst all of the theatrics, however, and the frenzied focus on how quickly and how permanently Donald Trump will lead us into the gutter (or the abyss), we need to remember that he is a small, weird, and likely self-destructing product of much deeper and longer-term environmental, demographic, and technological forces that can either lift us to new heights or cast us into shadow, but which either way will change our world in directions Donald Trump can barely comprehend and can certainly not control. Trump is the one being moved. He is not the mover.
We already know financial and economic markets are much larger, more mysterious, and more powerful than any human agent. Global demographic shifts also matter more in an interconnected world. And we know, as well, that nature can and will follow its own imperatives. Some among us imagine the world magically, and symbolically condense these manifestations of transpersonal randomness into concepts of God. Whatever lens we choose to use to understand our world, it’s fair to say that markets and populations and nature and God all do not care about you and me (and our inconsequential interests and concerns), and certainly do not care about Donald Trump (or his towering penis).
Do we want Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button? Do we want Donald Trump making life and death decisions on our behalf? Do we want Donald Trump as our Commander in Chief? Do we want Donald Trump selecting our Supreme Court justices? Of course not. We can all agree we don’t want to give Donald Trump those god-powers.
But once we settle on this axiom — no god-powers to Donald Trump, ever — the fact remains that even if he were to become president the world will remain much larger and more inscrutable than someone like Donald Trump (whose truly unhandsome reflection consumes his entire universe) can even fractionally comprehend.
Politics. We are in a major election year, in which voters will literally cast ballots for thousands of candidates for office, from the mayor in the smallest municipality, to county sheriff, to state legislator and state judge and state governor, to US senator and US representative. Moreover, each of these elected officials will be responsible for approving budgets and staffing government offices and making decisions, virtually all interconnected and empowered by data-sharing and social-sharing regimes that are transforming public service. And so politically-driven change will seep into our lives from hundreds of different directions and sources that have nothing to do with Donald Trump and that really care not at all about Donald Trump.
Finance. The finance vampire squid now penetrates all aspects of our lives, from the impact of high-speed trading to the prevalence of financial engineering to the deliquescent flood of right-wing money into politics in the wake of Citizens United. Donald Trump’s spurious claim to be self-funding his presidential campaign, with its ridiculous subtext about self-reliance and self-creation, will fold like cardboard against the tsunami of money that already buffets our society from all directions.
Demographics. The United States is a nation demographically remaking itself. We are becoming more diverse with reference to ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation.The old binaries are breaking down. This is a millennial thing to say, but in this instance millennials see things far more clearly than their parents. And that is why millennials do not support Donald Trump. In this sense, the rearguard fulminations of the old white men left behind matter little and are mere sound and fury against a tide they cannot reverse.
Technology.We know the digital age has changed everything. And changed nothing. Technology has connected us and empowered us, but also agitated our silliest and most primitive and most terrifying instincts. And so we live with and must come to terms with genomic databases and gravity waves, alongside artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, alongside pervasive surveillance and drone assassinations and ISIS beheadings. All technology enabled. With propulsive, wrenching impact on our lives that Donald Trump, with his shitty tweets, can barely comprehend.
Nature. And there’s human-induced climate change. And landform change. And species change. We might profitably address the affinities between Trump’s birther challenges to Obama’s origins and Trump’s ethno-bilious climate change denials (The Donald tells us he has received “many environmental awards” / climate change is a Chinese hoax). Both forms of denial reflect Trump’s balls-up / walls-up hatred of the world. But nature, especially, doesn’t care about Donald Trump.
Obviously we give the president god-powers. And obviously Donald Trump is one of the last people in the world with whom we can trust those god-powers. So the 2016 presidential election matters. By all means, vote. Please vote your pocket book or your portfolio or your values or your children. And please do not vote for Donald Trump. Because he is probably insane. And will not be good for the United States. Or the world. Or you.
A few more thoughts on my Trump essay. I’ve published this thing elsewhere, and quite a few of my friends and family members have read it. One point of confusion is the assumption I’m saying it doesn’t matter if Trump wins.
Of course, Trump as president probably = disaster. I appreciate why people around the world lose their lunch just thinking about the possibility. But my concern is the Pavlovian media focus on Trump only helps him, and reinforces a really pathetic instinct we have in our country to equate politics with personalities.
We definitely need to avoid electing Trump (which I don’t think will be that difficult, honestly). But the deeper issues I write about (politics, finance, demographics, environment) matter more. If we don’t connect these forces to the life experiences of the people supporting Trump, we’re likely just going to deal with the same thing again going forward.
Reminds me a lot of the 1850s leading up to the Civil War. Maybe less the Know-Nothing trope now in vogue. Perhaps more the economic and cultural contradictions that cleaved the Southern States from the North and birthed the Republican Party. Which now reemerge through Trump and his supporters as a kind of a return of the repressed, a reminder that we have never been fully a nation, and that we harbor some primal, seeping wound, our own original sin.