MAKE CHARLIE MANSON YOUR PEN PAL
& 49 Other Ways To Survive the Age of Trump
This website will be out in book form soon. If you want to go first to the Charles Manson step you will find it in Step 21. But please take all these steps seriously–if you’ve not yet misplaced your sense of fun in this bad time in which we find ourselves!
Step 1. Enter your closet and get out of town.
Vladimir Putin, that great democrat and lover of individual liberty, has opined that any allegations about Donald Trump’s link to his (Vlad’s) regime of towering decency is simply a vile attempt to cast “illegitimacy” on Trump’s victory. President Putin is an expert on how to maintain legitimacy since he has been known to rub out those who question his. Another of the great heroes of history, the Nazi war criminal, Hermann Goering, once blamed the Nazi bombing of Rotterdam on…the people of Rotterdam. They should have known the bombs were coming and been better prepared to put out the fires. Donald Trump blamed his loss of the popular vote on “illegal voters.” If only public officials had weeded them out, Trump would have won by a landslide. False claims about legitimacy…blaming others for one’s own deficiencies…Putin, Goering, Trump…OMG! (Many anti-Trump liberals don’t believe in God, but they do believe in G.)
OMG, indeed: it’s time to get out of town, at least for a while.
But where will you go? It’s expensive to travel. Cheap trips don’t seem nearly far enough away. Travel might break the cycle of anxious depression, but the logistics can be daunting: time, money, planning, and all the rest. A walk in the park or a sojourn down by a pond watching ants do battle might be OK for Henry David Thoreau, but he was unusual, not to say even eccentric. You are normal. You need a break. You need a BIG break. So: where to go? How to get there? How to pay for it?
Well, here’s a suggestion that won’t cost very much but has the terrific effect of a decisive and happy edging away from the Trump Abyss into which you (and millions of others worldwide) find yourself staring.
It’s simple, really: Get into your closet and get out of town.
This requires explanation, and explanation you shall have, now. Please start by considering that you need not get on an airplane or even board a drone in order to travel through airy space. You are doing so already. The earth is spinning on its axis, slightly tilted, at over one thousand miles per hour. This is not enough to break gravity (that requires seven miles per second), but then that’s good, as who would want a planet, our planet, taking off like a rocket ship. In time we would hit another planet or a star or a giant asteroid and Trump would be the least of your troubles (yes, there are difficulties in excess of those wrought by Trump, though it’s oft hard to think of any).
Still, a thousand miles an hour: that’s faster than nearly every jetliner. So you are already traveling through space, and a pretty fast clip, too. Note the word traveling: see, you are traveling already.
But, you say, you don’t feel yourself traveling. Well, do you feel yourself traveling on a jet plane? I don’t. I feel myself sitting in a sardine can with a loud engine hum around me, and people with phony smiles walking up and down aisles asking me if I’d prefer pretzels or peanuts for my meager fare and telling me, no, they don’t have Orange Crush. I don’t have any sense of moving at all.
OK, so now comes the fun part. You simply step into a closet. Put a chair in there to sit on. Turn on the light (if there isn’t one, just use a flashlight or hook up a lamp via an extension cord). Get some magazines or a book or your laptop. I would say that you should do this after work—I’d also recommend that you, if you can, try to get off work early. You are going to pretend that you are flying in a plane through space, and this is not a difficult pretense because you are flying through space (on Airline Earth) at one thousand miles per hour.
Settling into your closet with a seat on Airline Earth is even better than flying United or SAS because neither of these will let you use your cell phone or email—they say it will interfere with signals the pilots need. You need have no such restrictions on Airline Earth. You might even ask a friend to act as an attendant. They can rent a uniform (optional) and serve you a drink (Orange Crush, even). If you need to potty, you do what you normally do on a passenger jet: you walk to the nearest bathroom, which in this instance happens to be yours.
See, it’s getting better already.
Now you sit and enjoy your closeted flight for several hours. And then, once you have “arrived,” you will begin to explore your new surroundings. What? You say that they are no different from the old surroundings? This is not true because, you see, you will make sure you arrive at night.
Make sure you make careful daylight observational notes of what you see in your neighborhood or backyard (front yard optional) before you take off, because everything is going to look different at night. The trees will no longer be a symphony of greens and blacks and will no more constitute a castle for legions of multi-colored sparrows and cardinals. It will now take on a dim, abstracted outline, and you will have the impression that you have arrived in a world where picayune details are disposable and where great principles, albeit shady ones, have taken dominance. Everything will seem more indistinct but yet also less distracting–blurrier but also more conceptual.
You will have delicious feelings of anonymity and will be free to think thoughts—mildly forbidding but certainly creative ones—that you dare not contemplate in the sunlight. (Remember that Alexander Graham Bell was told during daylight hours that his new invention would ruin face-to-face conversation—he went ahead anyhow.) You will no longer be limited by the disapproving glare of others at 10 AM. It must have been at night when John Dillinger first got the idea that he could become a world-class bank robber.
No wonder Donald Trump stays up until all hours. That’s just the sort of nighttime protection that turns on the anti-social mind. But you are not a sociopath. You are responsibly original, which is why you didn’t vote for Trump.
These musings about how everything looks different at night—translucent, sometimes opaque; liberating in its gift of anonymity; metaphysical instead of sidetracking—are just a few illustrations of how night can change everything. If you leave on Airline Earth at 4 in the afternoon and arrive at 9 or 10, you will find that the world has sort of switched off. You will realize that you started in one place and ended in another. I’ve only given a small taste of how night visions are transformative. You will have your own experiences, and they may include such things as ghostly visitations or the donning of night goggles, which, some say, is better than any acid trip.
I would suggest doing this a few times every month. You need to get away from Trump’s America. On second thought, by the way, maybe you shouldn’t take your laptop or pad or smartphone into your Airline Earth closet. You might inadvertently read the latest mendacity from Him. That’s enough to ruin a good night’s fun, after you arrive, in your backyard.
Congratulations! Have you arrived in your dusky backyard after your first flight? Great—so glad to hear! You are now ready for step 2, which involves a longer-term project rather than just a quick plane trip in your wardrobe space (did you remember to remove some of the clothes?). This next step also has great diversionary power during the egregious political age in which you find yourself.
Step 2. Collect mohair sweaters and classify them slavishly.
It is said that Donald Trump is a massively impulsive man. The policy he makes will depend on whom he talked to last, and even then he might change his mind if he thinks said policy won’t be very tweet-able. This makes predicting his views and actions very difficult. Unlike other bad presidents, such as George W. Bush and Franklin Pierce, whose incompetence was predictable based on their long litany of previous views, Trump’s is uncanny. In fact, the sheer mess of his actions is a goodly portion of his inefficiency.
Thus if you try to track his actions, or attempt to find any coherent pattern in them, you will drive yourself mad. You will need something to keep you sane.
It would not be too much to say that you will be a prisoner of Trump, or of the Trump era. What do prisoners do in order to keep themselves at least fifty percent crazy-free? The writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman gave us a good idea in a story she wrote around the turn of the twentieth century entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In it, a well-meaning but conventional doctor put his wife, who was suffering from post-partum depression, in a room with chaotic half-stripped yellow wallpaper. She was to rest in this room until she felt better and calmed down. This was called, at the time, “the rest cure.” The wife was told that she must not exert herself, especially with keeping a diary or such stuff and nonsense as that. She must stay in bed. In fact, the room was a sort of jail.
But the yellow wallpaper—its ambiguous and intricate patterns—was something the imprisoned woman could not stop studying. She became driven by the vast possibilities the wallpaper afforded the bored but obsessive observer. A stain here would vanish. Where would it take up again? In time, the poor wife became more insane than ever. She even thought she detected a creeping woman behind the wallpaper. In time, that creeping woman became her. In the last scene of the story she is creeping over her husband, who has fainted at the sight of her. The rest cure failed.
It was as though she had been locked in a room with Donald Trump and told not to strain herself!
The moral of the story is: Don’t lock yourself during the Trump years in a bedroom with peeling wallpaper, especially if it’s yellow. You probably can’t afford to do that anyhow. You have to work for a living. But there’s another way to read this story: Incessant attempts at classification, if successful, can restore order to a fevered brain. The problem with the story’s heroine was not that she tried to discern patterns in the wallpaper—but that she was unable to do so. This made her madder than ever.
But this won’t happen to you if you’ll just purchase between five and ten mohair sweaters. Then go to work on them, and you’ll soon be cured of being made unsound of mind by the demonically zany mind of Donald John Trump.
The possibilities for classification are endless. Because mohair sweaters tend to be composed of long silky Angora goat wool, you can arrange your sweaters according to degrees of silkiness. This may take you two or three well-spent days or weeks, as you devise objective methods for detecting silkiness. Then there are colors. You can arrange the sweaters on a spectrum from violet to red, or from green to orange. If you have pink or mauve or maroon sweaters then the possibilities are even richer. You can arrange the sweaters according to degrees of sheen, or according to places of origin (Tibet, Turkey, Texas, and so forth and so on).
Then there are the ages of the goats, with the thicker fibers suggesting older goats. (Try when you attend to this detail not to think of Donald Trump as an old goat; it will only upset you.) Finally, of course, there are the various poses you can adopt wearing your mohair sweaters, though here you will need, perhaps, the help of costume shops. But you could pose as a skinhead or as a follower of ska punk. Take selfies. Post them on social media. Start your own social media site: maybe Mohair/MyHair.com
(There are other contingencies, such as ranking the sweaters according to crease resistance and insulation power. I have put these in parentheses, as a sort of stage whisper, because I don’t want to overwhelm you with the sheer number of possible classifications. You’re probably having enough trouble avoiding mental illness during this time as it is.)
Anyhow, there’s nothing like a little orderly taxonomy to clear the mind during confusing epochs. I’d not be surprised if the great classification systems, in libraries and botany, were not coincidental with the reigns of terrible presidents and kings. No doubt the Dewey Decimal System originated in the age of Ivan the Terrible.
At this point, dear disturbed reader, you may well have stopped reading altogether because you are so busy diverting yourself from Trump’s antics with the mohair project. Still, I know it takes time to get these arrangements under way, and it now occurs to me as well that you may be allergic to mohair. Thus I suggest you read on, as the next suggested step involves much simpler pre-arrangements than does the mohair business. By the way, how’s that Airline Earth closet of yours getting on?
Step 3. Hide out in your living room.
While there are all sorts of unproven stories about Donald Trump’s sexual escapades in Russia in 2013, they probably don’t amount to much. How can one so unashamed as Trump be embarrassed by a bedroom video anyhow? But we do know that while he might risk war with China and wants to wall off Mexico and would probably like to deport a few million Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims (their American citizenship is just a detail), he can hardly wait to buddy up with Vladimir Putin. His former campaign manager, who lives in Trump Tower, used to work for the pro-Russian thug who was president of Ukraine, and the Trump team changed the Republican Party platform stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine to something much more namby-pamby. Was this a signal to Putin? “I’m ready to deal. You can have the Baltic states as long as you give my boys and me an ownership stake in the Tsar Nick’s Palace.”
But let us stop right there. You and I both know that this is offensive and dangerous stuff, a foreboding treachery unmatched in our history. But for now you’re just trying to pull through it. And that’s why it’s a good idea to camp out—hide out, really—in your living room. This is especially recommended on cold days, rainy days, and on weekends regardless of the weather as long as Trump is president.
The technical details will not be difficult. You already have sheets and blankets for a tent. You get your sheets and spread them across various lamps and chairs. You’ll want to make sure the canopy (or canopies if you’re thinking big) are high enough that you can crawl into, under, and out of your new tent, or hiding place.
But all this is merely to spark up your fancy. Now your imagination must take the wheel, or something like that. You must pretend that you are in fact on the run; that you are in hiding for fear of your life; that because of your unorthodox opinions under a repressive regime you are among the realm’s most wanted—a price on your head (let’s say anyone who rubs you out will be the proud new owner of a Trump Tower in Tulsa (Oklahoma of course) or in Tomsk (that’s in Russia of course). So every moment you enjoy beneath your tent/hidey-hole might be your last. You will cherish every last second.
There are various things you can also do in order to heighten the effect. You can pretend you have pitched your tent in an obscure graveyard, right by the marker of someone you once knew and have always admired for his or her liberal opinions. Maybe they didn’t die for those opinions—Trump hasn’t always been president after all—but they are nonetheless dead. Here you might want, say, to put down a large shoebox beneath your homemade tent with your most-admired’s name written in block letters on the top with a Sharpie. This will do as a mock tombstone. So there you are: hiding out (albeit in our own living room), beneath a tent for shelter and concealment, hunted down but choosing to spend your last moments by the grave of a much-praised martyr. You might pack yourself some humble fare, such as a cheese and tomato sandwich on Wonder bread (nothing too fancy).
The late philosopher Ludwig Wittgestein lived on this ascetic sandwich for years. It was part of a self-denying and simple lifestyle that helped him, in the end, solve all the problems of philosophy (which he did twice—first by showing that all philosophical problems are just problems with language, and then, changing his mind, by showing that there are no philosophical problems anyhow because there is really no such thing as philosophy). This is quite a record for tomato and cheese sandwiches. So you should include them as you ponder, beneath your tent, your last breaths. If you’re going to pretend you’re about to die, better to pretend you’re about to die profoundly.
The tomato and cheese and Wonder bread won’t taste very good, but given that, unlike your shoe boxed compatriot, you are still alive, every bite, however tasteless, will seem to be a small miracle. Your neck may get sore beneath those sheets, especially if they aren’t quite high enough (low lamp props) and you have to bow your back and head all the time. But the aches and pains behind you will, likewise, seem to be wonderful—the gifts of a life still being lived before the Trumpistas get you.
Of course in time you will get tired of this sort of charade. But you will have learned its lesson. You are still alive. You actually do not have to hide out. The SS have not yet been activated to capture and water board you. You have asked, is Trump worse than death? And you have answered: No, I prefer life with Trump to death without Trump, even if dying means I am rid of Trump.
In sum, you have hidden out in your living room in order to learn gratitude that you still are. You may have to do this again several times, for there will be times during the Trump years when you might temptingly wish you were dead. It’s probably, then, a pretty good idea to store that big shoebox grave. You never know when you’ll need, once more, to give thanks for sheer life during a uniquely horrific time. Next time, by the way, try deviled egg and tofu sandwiches on cheap hot dog rolls. Once you’ve gotten through eating that, you’ll feel as blessed about being as alive as you are after a colonoscopy is over.
But then even one of those doesn’t last four whole years.
I should think that taking plane trips in your closet and concealing yourself in your living room are perfectly compatible with the much longer-term project with the mohair sweaters (of course if allergic to mohair you may not have started that anyhow). There is no reason why you cannot fly and hide out from time to time while working on the mohair at other times. In short, there are two ways, at least, that this book can help you: by encouraging you to take up multiple projects or by suggesting to you many different possible steps with the likely outcome that at least one of them will get through the epoch of the odious and minatory Donald. The next step, by the way, has some theological implications—it is still not too late to turn to angels (well, angel hair anyhow). This may seem crazy, but we are living in a crazy time.
- Rent an angel and borrow its hair.
Donald Trump has assumed office in a divided nation, and division in the land is now so repeatedly apparent as to become a cliché. To miss the country’s divisions would be like not seeing the stars on a cloudless night, or failing to notice the grass on a spring day in the Washington Mall. “Our divided nation” is among the most successful memes around; and unlike many other memes it has the virtue of being true. In every Senate election in 2016, the winner was from the party that carried that state’s votes in the Electoral College. No ticket splitting of any significance could calm the factionalism of party. While some Republicans mused that they might vote for Hillary Clinton because they were convinced Trump had no real qualifications, in the end they did not. They went right out and voted from Trump. Tribes are not hospitable to independence of thought.
What splits the nation is clear. It is fear. For Trump voters it is fear of immigrants; of legalized abortion; of same sex marriage; and of regulations to ameliorate climate change, which Trump called, with the hearty agreement of his followers, a Chinese hoax. But if Trump voters feared these things, now anti-Trumps fear Trump. If one part of the country gets its fears relieved, it is at the expense of the other part, which has its anxieties multiplied.
It is a melancholy situation, but it is one that as a Contra Trumpista, you must face. And one superb way to face it is not to face it but change the subject to something more ethereal and transcendent.
Enter, on cue, angel hair.
Angel hair is said to be glass fibers, and it is quite true that you can buy the stuff in this form, as perhaps billions do every year at Christmas time, so that they may drape their Christmas trees with something that looks like a gargantuan but shiny spider’s web. You wouldn’t want to meet the spider that was able to weave a web that size. But since it is the Christmas season you probably won’t, though it might now occupy the White House.
Regardless of the chemical nature of angel hair, its effects go well beyond the material sum of its atomic parts. Its shimmering translucence, its mystically transformative light, is not explicable by reference to the Periodic Table of Elements. And that is why you must get into it with a gentle vengeance. What better way to float above fractured America than to surround yourself with the stuff?
Do you have potted plants at home? Bathe them in angel hair. Are there chairs you own but rarely sit in? Where blemished human animals once rested their all too necessary behinds, let angel hair reside in splendor. Let it descend from your ceiling, frozen in its supernal glitter as it finds its miraculous support from suspended all-silver coat hangers. Swathe every non-functional space in your household with the stuff. Make every day Christmas at home, even if you aren’t Christian.
I say, “even if you aren’t Christian,” because in fact angel hair may come from places, and beings, for whom Donald John Trump is but a dirty speck in a Gobi dust storm–for angel hair is oft associated with sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects. There is even a religion, called Raelism, the adherents of which are convinced that angel hair is ionized air sleeting off an electromagnetic field. This phenomenon could only come from an atmosphere created by something unearthly—in sum, a UFO. There have been strange sightings—and touching—of angel hair dating back to celestial sightings over Nuremberg in 1561. Over a cloudless sky in 1952 France appeared descending giant flakes. Those standing at a 1954 balcony in Venice reported shining spindles flying across the sky—leaving angel hair in their wake.
While some scientists are sure that these materials—if matter they are—come from certain types of spiders flying through the air, what sorts of spiders fly through the air and would be large and facile enough to spread giant sheets of angel hair as they speed along in the atmosphere?
There appears to be no reliable scientific explanation for these sudden appearances of angel hair in the heavens.
But there is one distinctly possible account of what is going on: that UFOs are indeed in our midst and it is they who are the sources of this mysteriously airy substance. And what are these UFOs trying to say? What will they say if and when they land?
The likely answer comes from a great 1951 film—The Day The Earth Stood Still. In it an alien took human form and warned all Earthlings: Settle your differences lest you blow yourselves up; if you cannot settle them, we will do so for you by destroying you.
And these various eruptions of shining gossamer in the sky—otherwise known as angel hair—may well be a precursor of precisely the same warning to the United States of America: Settle your differences—the ones that give rise to the Putrid Trumpkin Pumpkin—or we shall wipe you out (unless Trump does so first).
In other words, you should render your living quarters awash in angel hair not only because it’s adorably exquisite—but also because it is prophetic of an alien invasion that will put an end to the unhappy fractures that have given rise to the first American Presidential demagogue. When you arrive home each night in the Age of Trump you will find yourself greeted by a twinkling coruscation that will not only delight you—but may also become the substance into which Donald Trump is dissolved: to vanish altogether forever.
Get rid of the man!!!!! the Aliens from the planet Angelica will say, or we will destroy you.
And we would take that deal, winking and sparkling angelically all the way. Incidentally, Amazon sells Angel Hair at 40 percent off about now—a post-Christmas discount.
The angel hair project is, like the mohair sweater one, a longer-term undertaking. Is it possible to do both? Yes, and perhaps you should try both in these despairing political times. Indeed, there is no good reason why angel hair would not look good on a maroon mohair sweater. There’s some good news for you. And here is some more: if angels don’t work to divert you from Trump, you can always go to a more humble source: ants! In fact, you might even want to include a few ants when you hide out in your living room; the ants will give the whole experience a kind of realism.
Step 5: Start an ant farm.
There’s been conjecture that Donald Trump will start a shooting war with China. There’s also been speculation about why he insists on cozying up to the Russians, and one idea is that he hopes Russia will help him double-team the Chinese. Why would he give autocratic Russia a pass and confront instead the world’s other superpower, the autocratic Chinese, whose big idea seems to be economic power rather than military power? Is it because the Russians are white and the Chinese are yellow? We know that Trump is a white nationalist. Is it because the Chinese are the world’s other superpower, and part of Trump’s “America First” is making sure America is first, whatever the nutty cost?
We know that his supporters in the rural heartland blame the Chinese, along with Mexicans and Muslims, for America’s perceived woes (“we never win any more”). Will Trump’s various provocations end not just in a trade war with the powerful Chinese economy but also with a nuclear war? How will an incinerated Portland make America great again? If Trump gives Russia its head and ends sanctions against them, will that embolden them to attack Latvia? Then what? Will Trump let Russia take over the Baltic States, who are in NATO, while sending the U.S. Navy into Chinese waters with their war radars turned on? The mind reels. Can one real estate developer and ex-reality television star really trigger such terrifying global anarchy?
But while you’re considering such imponderable messiness you can still soothe yourself, and what better means of doing so than starting an ant farm? I’ll bet some of you out there have always wanted to do so, though if not you don’t need to say anything. This is your chance. The construction and observation of an ant farm will calm you better than almost anything else, even vodka, which you probably can’t find anyhow because it’s lurking in the tomato juice.
There are two ways to begin an ant farm: the hard way and the easy one. The hard one builds character, but at this point you’re not looking for character but distraction. Yet if it is human pluck you are trying to attain, you can always go into your nearest park or back yard (during daylight hours before your closeted airline flight) and spend hours following various ants around until you locate the nearest ant hill, though unfortunately it may end up being several lawns away, in which case your sturdiness of character may be tested with a trespassing charge, maybe even one from a Trump fan.
They’re lurking everywhere.
You will need to transfer the anthill to a couple of jars, which should preferably be smooth and not have any etching or writing on them. You’ll be glad of that because writing will remind you of print, and print will remind you of Trump news, which you’re trying to flee.
I could go on in this vein, but it’s likely better to turn to the easy method, which involves simply ordering an ant kit, or colony, online. This will assure you of the right biological equipment. You won’t need to track through your neighbor’s backyard. You will be assured of having all the specialty ants, including above all the queen, who lays eggs for the entire cohort. It’s really hard to find a queen in your own backyard—any royalty at all, really.
It is at this point better for you to go online to discover further instructions, but I shall mention here a few essential steps, such as making sure that you don’t pack the dirt so tightly that the ants cannot get around in it; making certain that the dirt is neither too dry nor too wet; and putting some black construction paper over the jars when you’re not spying on the ants because they (like Trump’s crooked cronies) are used to working in the dark and are stressed by too much constant exposure to light. You also shouldn’t shake the jars. Ants are almost fragile as are Chinese and Americans when nuked.
But what will you learn from watching an art farm? You’ll find out that the chaos being engendered in the desecrated White House is not how things have to be. The ants constitute a functioning organization. They carry out their specialties with great humility and aplomb. The queen is good at nurturing. The warriors are good at fighting. The workers are good at working. They have no leaders and need none. They each do what they’re good at.
You’ll learn that leaders, even those who tweet like orange eagles, are overrated, and that while it’s great in a way that human beings can learn new skills, they rarely perform them as well as if these were the skills they were born with. This is why most human beings, for example, walk better than they do accounting or brain surgery or lawsuits. We are born to walk. We are not born to sue people. It takes a long time to get good at an acquired skill. President Trump has developed, over time, a single skill: a tremendous ability to get people to notice him. Now he’s trying to do a job that challenged Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Eisenhower.
Yikes! But I’m watching my ant colony just now. The queen is tired. But she has substitute moms to relieve her in caring for the ant kids. A little while ago I dropped a little honey into the colony. The worker ants are busy distributing it among the farm.
Wow! They actually seem to know what they’re doing.
Four Xanax tablets wouldn’t make me feel any better. What are you waiting for? An impeachment?
So far, I admit, I have recommended diversionary steps that require some doing. Even taking a global flight while closeted with your wardrobe requires some preparation. In the interest of suggesting at least one step that will benefit you, I offer the following one, which is quite readily do-able as long as you have fingers. (The discussion may seem to go off track, but remember: you are trying to distract yourself from awfulness.) This stept does require imagination, but then you are a liberal elitist who voted against Trump. So imagination in you abounds. Congratulations!
Step 6: Cultivate a fingernail fetish.
As this is written, Donald Trump is on a rampage about the intelligence community’s finding that Russia hacked the Democratic Party’s emails in order to help him get elected. Sources say that this convinces him the CIA and FBI have become “politicized” and that he intends to do something about that. A “political” finding is one that goes against him. A “non-political” one aligns with his preferences and interests. Orwell’s 1984 has come, only 33 years late.
This is appalling, disturbing, and tyrannical. And what are you going to do about it?
You’re going to stare at your fingernails. That’s what! Doing so will help you get through the ordeal of the Trump years. Nothing distracts like a compulsive distraction.
At first this incessant gazing at one’s digits may seem to be an overly passive response, but that judgment would be an error. Passivity in the body may mask a terrific activity in the mind. Your fingernails, once you learn how to “read” them, are a fantastically intricate phenomenon. Made of a thick protein like material called keratin, one should maintain their texture, growth, and beauty by eating foods rich in Vitamins A and B12, plus selected fatty acids.
They are the only part of your body that arches into a perfect half moon. (You can check your elbow or an x-ray of your appendix, if you have one, and find no moon of any sort.) A fingernail is deceptively simple in form (for that matter so is a toe nail, but it’s harder to glare up close at toe nails). There is a nail bed on which the nail rests. There is a nail sinus, the root at which the nail is attached. There is a subtle, near-invisible protective outer layer called the cuticle. There is a fine border tissue around the nail, though I forget what that is called. In my head it isn’t quite nailed down.
The nail protects the sensitive skin beneath, but it also has uses as a tool, to which anyone who has bitten her nails and then tried to find the lip of a roll of tape can attest. Sweet and useful are the functions of the ordinary but wondrous fingernail. People have set world records regarding the length of their fingernails. One person let her fingernail grow over two feet long, though, oddly, none of these record holders have been Americans or even Texans. You could let your nail grow that long and then display it front of the White House. This would be giving Trump the middle finger for sure, though he might be at Trump Tower that day.
Nkondi, in the Congo section of Africa, is a wooden religious idol with fingernails hammered into it. But this example of cosmic significance is only one possibility. There are others, much simpler, for you. You can stare at your fingernails for hours on end. Examining them up close, or with a magnifying glass or even better a quantum microscope (if there is such a thing), will give you a glimpse of endless whorls and patterns.
Indeed, you may even notice different crosscurrents on different days. You will of course need to attach your own personal meaning to these various concatenations of forms and lines. You should not do this subjectively. Take notes of particular patterns on particular days and then see what happens to you. If the news is good, then you will know how your fingernails predict tidings of great joy. If the news is bad that day, well, then, you’ll know about that, too. Pay special attention to the half moons, for subtle gradations in those can be as informative as the work of any great astrologer, such as the one Nancy Reagan consulted when another show biz personality was president. You can also squeeze your fingernails, hard: the rapidity with which the pink returns will be a sign of good health or possibly new blessings. You will need a stopwatch.
While this particular step involves fingernails, you may actually choose a different obsession. One man I know plans to ride out the Trump years collecting drink coasters from parties given by Frank Sinatra. A major change of subject is especially good to have during bad times, when you can’t really do much to remedy them. Even so, if you want to hit the streets in order to protest Trump, you can always take a break from your fingernails. Again, though, a four-foot long thumbnail will be a hit during any protest on the avenue. No cop or other Trump goon will try to bust you if they value their pretty faces.
But why choose fingernails? Well, a fingernail hobby is cheap. It won’t cost you a finger and a thumb the way stamp collecting (or even mohair sweaters) would. Fingernails are also a very personal part of yourself, and are highly regarded as such, as exemplified by the millions people spend each year in the United States alone caring for their nails. (Years ago there was even a TV ad suggesting that a leading dishwater liquid was good for the nails.)
Last, unless you are a Muslim or an immigrant advocate you will probably keep your nails during the Trump years. Otherwise, of course, you may have them ripped out of you until you fess up that you voted for Hillary.
To be sure, a fingernail fetish may seem to be a rather underwhelming diversionary practice, given that, well, it’s just your nails we are talking about (f I say “we” from time to time it’s because I sense that by now you are helping me with this book—I can feel your pain–thanks). But diversions during difficult times (such as the present one) often involve lowering one’s expectations. Doing this is also consoling (the next large section). Here, though, we focus on distractions. And sometimes the best distractions involve learning to live on less, as in the following recommended step. Let’s face it: the Trump years are not times of plenty. But if we expect less we will be disappointed less, too. So please read on. Again, the following step does not preclude other arrangements, such as hiding out in your living room while watching your thumbnail grow.
Step 7: Put your life on a stay-cation.
One of the world’s leading experts on President Richard Nixon—that would be Rick Perlstein—has warned that Donald Trump is, along with Nixon, the most paranoid person ever to assume the American presidency. Perlstein goes on to cite what Nixon said to an aide after he was forced from office: That when you’re chasing power you take chances that others won’t take, and it gives you this terrific high—but then when you achieve office you can’t stop taking those same chances, you chase greater and greater highs, and then you wreck yourself.
Perlstein thinks that Trump chases those same highs—dominating others—and won’t be able to stop. He thinks Trump is “miles sicker” than Nixon—even more paranoid and vengeful about enemies—and will use surveillance powers that Nixon never had to spy on his foes and destroy them.
Well, you and I, insignificant, might not be adversaries that President Trump cares all that much about. But if he starts abusing his office we’ll all get nervous. As the goofy guy shoveling snow in the movie Fargo put it, “that doesn’t sound like such a good deal for us.” These wintry zombie upper Midwesterners know a thing or two about bad luck—after all, they were born in a six-month icebox.
All this would seem to smack of bad portents indeed, but let us not despair and consider yet another way to get through what the Chinese call, proverbially, “the interesting time through which one is doomed to live.” And yet another way to survive is to put your life on stay-cation. This does not have to be permanent—only until Donald Trump is no longer president. You could even re-set the dial if Mike Pence becomes president. A Tea Party zealot with a talk-show host personality, Mr. Pence is not yet mentally ill.
The stay-cation is, in my humble view, one of the great inventions of modern life. Not only is it commendably witty as a term (OK, not all that witty). It is also a fine way to cope with limited resources, and if you voted against Trump then, given the outcome, you have restricted portions indeed. First, let us outline a typical family stay-cation and then consider how one can also enjoy a political one as well if you’re feeling very down in the Trumps.
Generally, the concept of the stay-cation refers to the limited monetary resources a family has in the summer. George, Babs, Millie, and Junior had planned to head to the Big Sur. It’s quite a drive from Muncie, but the whole family had longed to see it. Still, George didn’t get much of a bonus, and Babs has had her hours cut back at the local middle school, so what are they to do? The answer: head for the nearest motel “holidome” (a feature, at least once upon a time, of the Holiday Inn, but no doubt other chains have similar treats). I have myself luxuriated in the fleshpot decadence of one of these places. It consists of a large room with a veritable festival of soft indirect lighting for which no suntan lotion is required—already there’s an advantage over the beaches. There is an Olympic sized (well, almost) swimming pool shaped live an oval or perhaps a kidney or thyroid gland. There are round tables with umbrellas just for effect. Plastic coconut shells rest with a louche somnolence around every table. One can order anything—anything—from these tables from the Crab Rangoon to the Pineapple Powerhouse (six different juices and a quart of vodka in every glass). One can swim at leisure. Sunlamps can be rented for a reasonable price as long as you don’t use them for long, and George and his folks wouldn’t want to do that anyhow, as most people from wintry Muncie are scarily fair-skinned, as pale in skin as Trump is thin.
Anyhow, there’s probably one of these motel paradises not far from Muncie, and they are much quicker to get to, and much cheaper, than Big Sur. It will take our Muncie-ites by car two days to get to BS and two days back, so that only leaves three or four days out there at most. Three days in the motel Elysian Fields, and George and Babs and kids will be ready to go home. They’ll have had their vacation (stay-cation, that is), and they’ll realize that, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home in Muncie, where the sun is real and the food a good old-fashioned (and honest) frozen pot pie.
Now it’s possible that George and Babs voted for Trump, who carried Muncie; so let us leave them and talk about you. What is the sort of political stay-cation you could arrange for yourself over the next four years or so?
Well, the answer clearly involves reveling in the good stuff you have that isn’t likely to go away. Don’t expect anything new and exciting and good—no Big Sur for you—but do cling to the political luxury dome close to home.
For example: In 2016, if you are ticketed for speeding and you think it’s unfair, you can protest in court. That’s your American right! In 2020 you will be able to do the exact same thing. Now that’s not everything—it ain’t Big Sur—but it’s not nothing. True, if you do protest you’ll probably lose—the courts rarely side against the cops with big-brimmed Office Do-Right hats—and when you do lose you’ll have to pay court costs. But whether it’s 2016 or 2020 you will still have the right to oppose your ticket issuance. Trump won’t take that away from you. Well, he could, but he probably won’t.
And whether it’s now or later, you’ll still have radio news. This, again, is not nothing. After the death of Stalin, when the gulag prisoners got hold of a radio, they learned that Stalin’s successors were starting to pardon people, and they insisted that they be included. They’d have never done that without commandeering a radio, and yet you have one all the time. That’s not just walnuts. True, when these prisoners did protest many of them were shot to death; and when you tune into radio news you’ll have to listen to the latest depressing outrage. Still, you’ll have your radio, and if you wish to be a masochist (“hit me again—I’m still conscious”), then you can switch it on. Some of them, these days, require only a friendly tap on the front of the unit and you’ll be able to hear NPR (f it still exists) reporting the latest chicanery in that knowing and neutral tone of voice that they use for everything. “Today President Trump announced that he’s appointing former KKK leader David Duke to the Supreme Court. For details we go to our Supreme Court reporter Courtney Judge….”
Well, you get the idea.. The whole point of the stay-cation is live within your means; dminish your expectations; be happy for the little things; count your blessings; know that you can fight your speeding ticket and turn on the radio and be grateful, especially if you don’t dare do either one.
And if the economy blows up as a result of massive deficit spending and that little trade war with China, relax: You can probably still afford a nearby luxury dome. The Gin Sunsets are only $9.99—all you can drink, too!
Home from your political “holidome” but still feeling a bit blue? Ready to try something else? Let’s start with a strange fact. It is well known that liberal elites who opposed Donald Trump are secular. If one is a regular churchgoer he probably voted from the sinner Trump and not for the Methodist Hillary. This is a paradox, but then nothing makes sense these days, right? Up is down and all that? Well, since nothing is sensible anyhow, why not continue in this vein, you secular liberal, and consult a holy person—a pro, that is. If the angel bit isn’t working for you, and you’re tired of burrowing under a blanket in your living room and pretending to be a refugee in Trump Nation, then try this step. You have nothing to lose but your holiness, which you never had anyhow; and the step could turn out to be one of potent distraction at a time when you most fervently yearn for it. Not only that: it’s also exciting—if a bit flighty!
Step 8: Find a holy man and go skydiving.
There is a pithy old saying that reveals one of the leading strategies for finding calm during a nerve-wracking crisis. I don’t know the origin of this proverb, but I’ve heard it all my life. It says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and down here it’s all small stuff.”
I must confess to liking this little apothegm, and so I pass it along as yet another step one can take in order to survive the epoch of President Trump. The saying is an informal and witty way of stating that one must have faith in cosmic assurance. It doesn’t say that God is the source of such confidence. It just says that there is a source, and you and I should trust in it and realize that Trump is small stuff after all. It’s a bumper-sticker way of cheering one up. It’s humorous, short, and clever, as though it could have been written by the Cosmic Confidence Man Himself, whoever He or She might be. Down here on Earth of course the ultimate Con Man is Trump himself.
But let us get back to the power of the saying: it’s also an appealing little epigram because it suggests, with quiet strength, that if you and I can just find the right perspective, Donald Trump, even if he makes LGBTs illegal, will become a minor detail, no more important than whether you choose Starbuck’s of Seattle’s Best for your morning cappuccino. I’ve tried to include coastal coffee bars in my example, because that’s the well-appointed seat of Trump-inspired dread.
But Houston (by the way, Houston, like all the exciting, tony cities of intelligent denizens, went for Hillary)—But Houston, we have a problem. You can’t just adopt the small-stuff saying and believe it. You must compel yourself to believe it.
And this requires you to take the “down here” part of the proverb quite literally and dramatically. It means looking down upon Earth from a great distance above it, as though you were an astronaut. Now becoming an astronaut seems to be an impractical way of coming to believe that “everything down here is small stuff.” By the time you finished training, Donald will probably be out of office or even dead. No. You need a much quicker fix.
But a faster fix is eminently possible. You can go to the top of a tall building and look down below, seeing all the self-important cars and buses reduced to toys. If you are in true despair, and the previously-referenced saying still isn’t doing it for you, you could even consider jumping to your death. You could even ask if someone in the building could open a window for you so that you could jump out of it. This has a two-fold benefit. First, they won’t open a window for you because you simply can’t open any windows in these skyscrapers these days, so you won’t kill yourself after all, which is a blessing, because even Trump isn’t that bad. Second, your request alone might get you mandatory psychiatric care. You might be able to spend the Trump years in a noiseless sanitarium, where you’ll be so plowed under by anti-psychotic drugs you and your gown won’t even notice political news.
By the way, you could also replicate this skyscraper step by going to the Grand Canyon, where you actually could jump to your depressing death. Again, I wouldn’t advise it. But if you take this possibility with utmost serious, make sure you take a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam along with you so that you can get that final blessing just in case the Big Cosmic Person of the Proverb (BCPP) has a retirement home waiting for nice liberal boys and girls in the clouds.
But this brings me to my final bit of advice on how to execute this step of gaining perspective, so let us return to the main motion: You have the proverb, but you need to make it vivid enough so that you can actually believe it and live by it. And this is where the aforementioned priest, rabbi, etc. come into play. They are all holy people. So find one, and ask him or her to go skydiving with you. This shouldn’t be hard. These religionists are not paid all that well and will be happy to make an extra dollar or four thousand. Besides, as persons of faith, they will have no fear whatever of jumping from ten thousand feet. How can they lose? If the parachute opens, it is a sign that God loves them. If the parachute does not open, and you’ve agreed in advance to leave the four thousand to the charity of their choice, it’s likewise a sign that God loves them. The upshot is, God Loves Them!
The whole point here is that once you and the imam, minister, etc. look out of that windy side door you will see “down here” in the most life-altering possible perspective. You will not to be able to see Donald Trump signing an executive order that declares San Francisco is now part of bed-wetting liberal Belgium. You won’t be able to see any detail at all. You will only gaze from that transcendent viewpoint whereby everything beneath you is tiny stuff. And you will have the blessings of the priest, rabbi, etc. to get you over your fright.
Once you’ve done that, assuming your chute opens, you will never be afraid again. You will be as mellow as day-old pee. You will startle your friends, still nervous over Trump and the other malfeasances of modern life (bills, traffic, overwork); they will be astonished at how serene you are, as though you’ve switched to decaf or Xanax or both. And when they ask you, you can say stuff like, “I don’t worry about the minute problems down here,” or “Ask Father Bogdanovich over at Holy Nomenclature Cathedral—for four big ones he’ll tell you the secret.”
If all this is too much trouble—if you are scared shitless of sky diving and don’t have four thousand dollars to bribe a holy woman or man, or if you’re genuinely afraid you might jump into the Grand Canyon—then try something simpler. You can always try to ward off Trump by wearing a snake’s tooth necklace. This is an ancient remedy. I’ve checked. You can get one from $4.49 to $30. Why the disparity? I’m not sure, but I think it depends on the type of snake (swamp adders are sky high). Wear it if and when you do visit the Grand Canyon. It’s a great conversation piece, and you may meet someone simply wonderful on the precipice of the big ditch that will make you forget all about Donald Trump. Step back and fall, not in the canyon, but in love.
Then the two of you can spend the rest of your blissful lives together attending anti-Trump rallies.
By now, I hope, you have an answer to the question raised whenever anyone suggests that the subject be changed away from that of Donald Trump: “But change the subject to what?” someone is bound to ask. And you now have an answer: “Change the subject to what sort of lamp I’m going to put into my flying closet…or to the age of the goats that will supply my collection of mohair sweaters…or to what rabbi I’m going to hire to go sky-diving with me…or to whether I’m going to buy my ant farm from Hill’s or Colony’s (fictional companies, by the way)…or to what I’m going to ask the next UFO that comes bearing angel hair.” You now have plethora of ways to change the subject from the dictatorship of You-Know-Who. Furthermore, the possible avenues of escape run from the lowest point on the ground (see ant hill) to one of the highest in the atmosphere (see sky diving with an Assembly of God preacher). We now go to yet another one of those “grounded” diversions, as we suggest you take the following step:
Step 9: Find a flowerpot and burrow into it.
Loren Eiseley was a famed anthropologist who knew a thing or two about animal habitats. And let’s face it: you are an animal, and part of your habitat has been taken away from you. How can you pretend that America is the same place it used to be when it’s elected a demagogue with no governmental or military experience who lies when his mouth is open, and whose mouth is usually open?
You are like the creatures the late Dr. Eiseley described, such as the old brown wasps who stick to the cores of their rotting paper nests for as long as possible in Grand Central Station before they fall off dead onto the wintry benches below; or like Eiseley himself, who once went back to his native Nebraska to check on a tree his father had planted only to discover that it wasn’t there and had probably never had a chance to grow anyhow. As Eiseley put it, the wasps and I are just the same—it’s our territory that has changed. We haven’t left it; it has left us. Trump’s America has left us. We remain as we were.
One of Professor Eiseley’s more vivid stories involved a white field mouse fleeing the construction of a new suburban department store. The mouse knew it would soon be crushed, so it began to run, with Eiseley in close observation, across whatever was left of its sea of clover. In time it seems to have gotten into Eiseley’s apartment. The professor found evidence of it three or four times, for it had tried to burrow into a flowerpot in the apartment, knocking it over but leaving mouse droppings. Eiseley noted that the mouse was a creature not only of habitat but also of habit: it was doing to flowerpot what it would normally have done, in foraging for food, had the minatory Wanamaker’s store not be planned in its way. Of course the flowerpot is not a field, but the mouse was desperate.
You can make it through the Trump years, but the mouse probably didn’t make it through the Wanamaker years.
Still, you can take your cue from Eiseley’s wild field mouse. You can construct your own flowerpot and then burrow into it.
To be sure, this is not a step for everybody. Some of us cannot afford to take this step, and others of us might not be despairing or reckless enough to take it anyhow. But here it is for those who want to consider every possible method of analgesic from Trump Plague.
I refer not to a small flowerpot but to a very large one. I mean a flowerpot abode, sticking up on the street for all to see, but equipped with an above ground entrance by which one can enter what is—let’s make it official—an underground house. All around you in your living room will be rounded clay contours of a flowerpot. You will be a white mouse, a field creature, scared by the Trump Store, but you will have successfully burrowed into your very own flowerpot. You will have gone underground.
But that will not be enough. Once you are there, securely, you should cut yourself off from all electronic communications: nary a website or radio or TV or smartphone. Have you ever noticed how the whole of modern society is designed to make sure you are overly mediated? Recently I saw a pub scene in a 1960s British movie and thought: something is wrong here. Then I realized: there is no giant TV screen blaring. It is the contemporary insistence that we be always connected that makes it impossible for us to ignore Donald Trump and to flee his various and sundry prevarications.
Think of yourself as a field mouse. Do you think the field mouse, in its vainglorious attempts with Eiseley’s flowerpot, wished to be reminded of the Wanamaker Store? Of course it did not, and surely you are smarter than any white mouse. So get wise. Burrow into your flowerpot home—the neighbors will admire your creativity—and take nothing but old books and an alarm clock with you. You don’t have to spend all your time there, but it should be your refuge and your strength. It should be totally Trump-free.
Read books there, good books. No doubt there are some excellent ones on why monarchies are far superior to democracies. If the mouse had been able to read, it would have enjoyed tomes on why nature is better than progress.
The last major section of this little tome includes a recommended series of Affirmative Actions, and you are free to skip to that section now if you believe that so far all steps have been cowardly. To be sure, it does occur to one that some of the advice for evading Trump seems passive and craven. There’s an awful lot of hiding going on—in Airline Earth closets, under your grandmother’s ancient hand-woven blanket in the living room, and now in the underground flowerpot home. But this is not necessarily being yellow. There is little point in false bravado, which is foolish. If the whole Trump Thing, for now at least, is bigger than you are, you are quite prudent to switch subjects and cover yourself with darkness or dirt. These steps are those of cautious retreat, not stupid pseudo-courage. Do try to remember that; and if in this autocratic age you disagree, we are not interested in hearing your opinion. We have our own refuge to worry about. Meanwhile, however, here is a secular version of advice that some of Trump’s more evangelical supporters offer. If you can’t beat them, join them—but in your own irreligious way:
Step 10: Get born again!
This suggestion is partly inspired by Trump voters, especially the religious ones, but it is more than that—and it can become a dandy step for surviving not only the Trump years but also life with his more pious voters.
In 1917 aides to Czar Nicholas I of Russia told him he had to abdicate his throne. The royal family’s unpopularity—everyone believed that they had been taken in by an evil (un)holy man named Rasputin—was gargantuan. The Great War wasn’t going well, and Russia was losing big. The people were hungry and furious. There were riots galore. So Nicholas and the Romanovs would have to go.
Nicholas could not get his mind around this idea. Abdication? He could and would never abdicate. This is simply not what czars do. He said that abdication would only make sense if he were “born again,” by which he meant that he would have to start life all over again and find a realm in which such a thing as abdication were thinkable or perhaps even normal. But Nicholas could not be born again, and abdicate he did. Later, the Bolsheviks shot him and his family to death. Whether or not, since then, Nicholas has been born again is hard to say. But he was a Christian, so…..
Donald Trump’s voters, many of them anyhow, know all about being born again. A good number of Trump supporters are evangelical Christians. Being born again is a profound Christian idea. The notion is that when Christ died and rose again, it was a second life, and this is a second life that all Christians can share if they believe on Him. The Christian doctrine of baptism expresses this belief in a second life. The old person is buried with immersion in the baptismal tank or local creek, and the new person comes to life after immersion is done. It’s like being drowned and then being rescued as a totally novel person.
This also has psychological parallels. People in great danger will often say to themselves that if God will only spare them, they will live new and better lives. And then they will go to Heaven, which is a sort of deluxe version of Second Life.
Nicholas I was a Christian (Russian Orthodox of course). But the Christian idea is not exactly what he meant when he said he’d need to be “born again.” This was instead about going to one’s death and coming back in a completely new milieu—about dying in a world where no czars abdicate and waking up in one where they abdicate all the time. Or: dying in a world where nobody can fly to Venus flapping their arms and then waking up (or being born again) in a realm where people soar off to Venus on their own all the time. It’s a matter of switching what it means to be “normal” in this or that respect. The previous example was flying to Venus, but you may put in your own example, such as flying to LAX.
Here’s one more: you die in a world where no one falls off the rounded Earth and are born again into one where people are falling off the North Pole, and into space, all the time. After all, how can someone stand at the top of a big ball, like Earth, and not fall off?
You get the idea. And this brings us to how we can deal with the ascension of Donald Trump: You just get yourself born again!
Now there are two ways to do this, but (warning) the first is extremely hard and unreliable. In this first version you simply manage to find a way to die and then take a chance that you will be born again in some other environment. This is sometimes called reincarnation. But it has risks. For one thing, reincarnation might not really exist, although some religions devoutly believe in it. And for another thing, you might come back into a kingdom worse even than that ruled by Donald Trump, or you might come back in the world of some future, benign American president but be in the form of an earthworm, in which case you probably won’t notice how great, fair, kind, skilled, and merciful the new president is—even if it’s one of President Obama’s children; or Chelsea Clinton.
But there’s another way. You simply go to sleep and will yourself to be a new person. You sort of pretend that when you turned in you were dying, but then the next morn you’re not dead after all. You’ve been born again. It’s a matter of will power, of self-deluding will power.
Now comes the fun part. You simply assume that as a new person there is nothing strange going on at all. Mr. Trump has recently feuded with former president Clinton, the magazine Vanity Fair, a labor leader (fairly low-level) in Indiana, and the Broadway musical Hamilton. This may seem odd, but now that you’re a new person—been born again—it’s not crazy at all—no more crazy that Nicholas’ abdication turned out to be. You go through your business as though presidents have always done this sort of thing: that President George Washington casually challenged an obscure shopkeeper in Maryland to a duel; or that President Calvin Coolidge once made a huge public stink about a popular ladies’ magazine because it featured a louche color of lipstick; or that President Bill Clinton took to the airwaves to call Ronald Reagan a senile loser. This stuff is “normal.” It happens all the time. It was only in your “old person” world that this crap seemed wack-o. Now Donald Trump makes nuclear policy with tweets, but isn’t this what presidents always did—it’s just that Abraham Lincoln sent his outbursts about military strategy via carrier pigeon to the newspapers, which promptly published them all over the land—of course he only used carrier pigeons if the telegraph lines were down. But if Abe had had twitter, no doubt he’d have been tweeting much more often than making speeches about noble sacrifice. He’d have tweeted such things as “Dixie types are HUGE losers.”
Now this “born again” strategy will take some work. You may need to go to bed “dead” several times and awaken several times before the cure “takes.” But you can get used to anything. If Nicholas got used to abdication, then you can get used to Trump’s Tweets.
By the way, Trump’s on-again, off-again pal, Vladimir Putin, didn’t admire Nicholas II. He called him a “loser” for abdicating, and has said he himself will never abdicate. Winners just don’t abdicate. That’s also the sort of thing Donald Trump believes, but in your “born again” life this is perfectly normal for presidents. Just go through your day assuming that big winners like John Tyer and Benjamin Harrison had said the exact same thing—or even William Henry Harrison, who barely lasted through his inaugural address, which was a boring three hours long.
If I say so myself, there is an amazing diversity in the various steps being recommended here—not only between heaven and earth, between heading to your closet to hiding in your living room, but also between being born again (a spiritual concept) and the next step, which is almost totally academic. With such a variety of ideas, ranging from soul to brain, there can be little doubt that at least one of them will serve you well as you go through your diversionary period in the Awful Epoch of Trump.
Step 11: Start a new career—anthropology.
I know some anthropologists. Some of my best friends are anthropologists, and I know how exciting the profession can be. One word sums it up: exotic. What can be more intriguing than the fact that the Eskimos have 68, or is it 35, words for snow? The Trobriand Islanders have a different word for yams depending on whether the yam is orange or rotten or slim or fat or shaped like a bladder or a pancreas or a hexagon. Another traditional culture believes that women get pregnant by bathing in a magic pond. The algae somehow enter their bodies.
Of course none of these facts is strictly true (I just made them up), but then we’re now in the Age of Trump, which is fact-free and post-truth. So we won’t let a little thing like accuracy or a trifle like reality get in our way. Besides, the overarching point is true: that anthropologists get to study some really interesting shit.
Well, the good news in this Trumpista Regime under which we try to dwell is that you have, yourself, many golden anthropological opportunities. For instance:
Trump ran an improvised, wild campaign, several times dooming himself to near-extinction as a candidate (the crazy tweets, the fights with a former Miss Universe and the Muslim parents of a war hero, etc.). He changed his opinions almost daily. Yet this helped him with his supporters. Why? Why did they love his incompetence? Is it because they associate competence with elites?
You figure it out.
Here’s another: Trump said America was constantly “losing.” Millions believed him. But why? The unemployment rate is below 5 percent. Over twenty million more Americans have health insurance. Our mistaken foreign wars have largely been dialed down and off. Osama bin Laden is dead. The former president, Obama, departed with nearly a 60 percent approval rating. Why is America losing? What does that mean?
You figure it out. You’re the anthropologist. Think of it as a Trobriand Islanders yam question.
We have read that white Christians are desperate because of the legality of same sex marriage and the assignment of trans-gender rights in bathrooms. But why does this make them desperate? Cannot they continue to worship as they please? Did not Jesus himself tell them that wide is the way to Hell and crooked and narrow the way to salvation? Isn’t this sort of wicked thing what they should expect? Isn’t this par for the sinful earthly course? So why are they desperate? And why would thy vote for a philandering scoundrel like Trump to save them?
There, then, is yet a third anthropological opportunity for you. By the way, I’ve read that Trump voters, rather akin to Eskimos, have 37 different ways of saying “Make America Great Again.”
Use the Trump years to improve your mind. Enlarge your anthropological imagination. Open your psyche to the impossibly but (nonetheless) actual weird.
One of my anthropologist friends used to tell his classes that every anthropologist has faith that if properly studied every culture will make some internal sense. And then he would add that that was true of everything “except my mother,” whom he found impossible to understand. Now he can add to that list, maybe, “the whole Trump thing.”
By the way, he doesn’t have to worry about understanding his mother any longer. She’s dead. She’ll miss the Trump Years. Some people have all the luck.
At this point we can surely take inventory and conclude (though in the end we would be wrong) that the Trump election is the best thing that has ever happened to us. After all, it has given us the chance to become expert in: mohair sweaters, ant ethology, and the anthropological studies of Trumpista hillbillies. Even so, these may seem to be overly cerebral distractions. So here is one that is manifestly physical (though of course, since you’re a peaceable liberal, no one will actually get hurt). All options are on the table in this distressing time.
Step 12: Kick the garage’s ass.
With Trump it just keeps getting worse and worse. Let’s suppose that you’re an urban metrosexual. You don’t believe in God. You don’t buy your foods at Wal-Mart but at a boutique specializing in haute cuisine. You love diversity, especially the variety of the city, with its browns and blacks and yellows and off-white public artifacts by Henry Moore. And you read Vanity Fair Magazine, replete with its designer clothes, top twig models, arch coverage of the rich and famous, and scrumptious scandal stories.
And then Trump as president-elect attacked—a-tweeted—Vanity Fair. It’s like he’s delivered an existentially threatening attack on you. You live on the upper West Side or just off Michigan Avenue or Wilshire Boulevard, and Donald J. Trump seems poised to banish you to Staten Island, maybe, or even to Cud Flake, Iowa (which he won by maybe 20 percent) and where the only grocery shopping you can do is at some cut-rate Aldi’s, where they’ve never even heard of arugula and there’s not a copy of Vanity Fair anywhere within miles and miles. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even outlaw future publication of Vanity Fair.
You’re scared. You’re depressed. You might even be angry. Metrosexuals are allowed to get mad, too, you know.
Well, all our great neuroscientists (though about to get their funding cut) are in agreement: If you are bothered by a painful emotion, you just have to permit its release. So this is what you do if you’re in a fury about Donald Trump.
You get some cardboard boxes—U Haul will have those in abundance, or maybe you can even order some empty boxes from Amazon (where you can get anything); or perhaps you can order stuff that comes in those boxes (why not indulge yourself with a new carpet or amplifier?) Then once you have the boxes, you place them in your garage. You then proceed to kick them until you’ve come as close to destroying them as possible.
Perhaps you will want to write “Trump” on them with indelible magic marker. Then you kick away until exhausted. You’ll feel better. You can take a hot shower. Rinse and then repeat, if you have any boxes left. You’ll likely have a few crushed ones left. Drop kick them as though you’re punting a football. Then kick ass. Rinse. Repeat.
This may seem like a very low-tech solution to (or management of) your anger problems about the election. We’ll consider high-tech solutions in due course. But for now I’m trying to save you some money on shrinks and pills. If President-Elect Trump really does plan to spend loads of government money on new drones and cut taxes en masse, those pills, in a deficit-ridden and inflationary economy, are going to become a lot more costly. The price of empty boxes is much more likely to remain stable. How do I know this? Who said I know it? As a low info economic analyst, I merely believe it.
Now there are catches. No, it’s not that you won’t have any boxes. It’s that you may not have a garage. Urban types tend not to have those things—garages, like trailers, are for Trump voters. Even so, you can always go to a vast city park and kick. If anyone asks what you’re doing, they won’t mind when you tell them. Equally upset, they’ll want to kick boxes, too. But tell them to get their own goddamned boxes. If they refuse, kick them. Somebody has too pay for those dumb voters in Michigan, even if it’s your metropolitan allies.
You won’t miss Vanity Fair nearly so much as long as you kick something. Of course in the age of Trump you just might have to kick the habit of even having Vanity Fair. No doubt he’ll shut it down if he can.
Kick. Ass. Now. It’s good for your Vanity, and it’s only Fair.
It occurs to me that there is nothing in these pages that prohibits multi-tasking these various diversionary steps. What is to prevent you, for instance, from watching the serene competence of your ant farm while, at the same time, kicking boxes in your basement? One can pursue the anthropological understanding of Trump voters while wearing one of one’s mohair sweaters. You can read ads for angel hair while flying in your closet. And speaking of flying, why not head out, by ground or air, to Wyoming?
Step 13: Head for Yellowstone (while you still can)!
Let us entertain the rather outlandish proposition that if the (comparatively few) well-educated Trump voters weren’t scared about Donald Trump, we shouldn’t be frightened either. After all, Ph.Ds who voted for Mr. Trump (not that there was any such formal group) didn’t necessarily think he was qualified. Some admitted that electing him was something of an experiment, but they didn’t consider it, apparently, an especially perilous one. Maybe they read some history and thought: “If this country survived Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore, it can make it through Donald Trump, who after all won’t be boring and just might work out as a “disrupter.’”
But there’s clearly an excellent chance that these ornery doctorates have been wrong. President Trump is turning out to be very discredit the courts; crack down on press and speech freedoms; start a decimating trade war in with Asian countries; and so on and on. There is even talk of using tactical nukes on ISIS. Look for dirty bomb retaliation in Manhattan.
Well, this is where you simply have to indulge yourself. If we’re about to be in for an unprecedented bad time in this country, then you should do, while there’s still time and you’re still alive, the sorts of things you’ve always wanted to do; visit the places you’ve always wanted to visit; read the books and see the films and paintings you’ve always wanted to see. The step recommended here, unlike some of the more elaborate earlier ones, which involve watching ants crawl on your mohair sweaters, is a very straightforward suggestion:
Head out to Yellowstone National Park!
I myself have never been to Yellowstone, but ever since I was a child on the dull Great Plains I thought about it with wonder. I used to see colored photos of it through my View Master (don’t ask), which was what we had instead of home movies in the 1950s. Home movies tend to be boring, but there was nothing of ennui about Yellowstone as seen through my View Master. I never got there on my own. True, my wife and I once toured JELLYstone National Park, in which we pretended to be interested as a living locale, but just in order to get a free camera from a greeter, who was dressed up as Yogi Bear.
But now that Trump’s in, will you visit Yellowstone with me? I don’t know about you, but I’d especially like to see…Old Faithful. That’s the celebrated geyser of course. I’ve seen clips of it on youtube countless times.
This may be our last chance before Trump turns our national parks over to Russian petro-zillionaires, who will house Old Faithful in the lobby of the newest Trumputin Tower.
At first Old Faithful’s just this big bank of white steam that blocks out everything across the spring. But then comes the waterspout, and you must find your neck craning ever higher in order to follow it, 125 feet up. That’s 18 Wilt Chamberlains, and over 20 Michael Jordans! The water is clear and sparkling, as though thousands of Dannon bottles had exploded upward. It’s always on time, in the way that geysers are on time. It erupts every 44 to 125 minutes, and they’ve figured out how to predict the time of its next eruption based on how high the previous spout was. In the 1870s Wyoming settlers used to do laundry in it, which makes sense since the water reaches nearly 250 degrees F. But apparently it tore woolen clothes to shreds. Old Faithful is not only punctual and clean. It’s one rough dude. Don’t let your mohair sweater near it.
Anyhow, if America is going to fall apart, like the woolen clothes destroyed by O.F. years ago, I want to enjoy what time I have left. And you should, too. And that’s why Old Faithful, which I’ve always wanted to see, is for me. I plan to go. I suggest you do the same. At least you can say that the Trump years provoked you to see one of the great wonders of the land. And unlike Trump, it even seems to know what it’s doing.
There’s only drawback, other than maybe the time and expense. These eruptions might remind you of President Trump’s hostile and provocative tweets. But Old Faithful’s eruptions are much more predictable, and, for all their watery blurriness, they’re a lot more lucid.
I do concede that some of the earlier steps commended here have been somewhat complex to execute. To ride on Airline Earth requires patience and imagination. To classify mohair sweaters means a talent for taxonomy. To build a Flowerpot Home involves money. Kicking boxes and watching a famed geyser do seem easier, as does the following step, also potentially powerful in your quest to forget about the terrible and tumescent Trump:
Step 14: Go out for French toast.
It is said that President Donald Trump has broken all the rules. No one could get elected president with a 60 percent disapproval rating, but he did. No one could get elected president after a video revealed him saying that he could grab any woman nearby by the genitals. But he did. No one could be elected president who didn’t even know what the “nuclear triad” was, but Donald Trump did.
So what does one do if living in an era where all the old rules have been broken—have been rendered “inoperative,” as Richard Nixon’s press secretary used to say? One answer is to appeal to the old rules; to be a fuddy-duddy traditionalist, perhaps like a hedgehog that, itself a fuddy-duddy, insists on rolling itself into a ball when scared, even when sixteen wheelers are coming straight down the Interstate at it.
Or, perhaps inspired by the cautionary tale of the dead hedgehog, you as an anti-Trump person could always go the other way. If the old rules are dead, then abandon a few of them yourself. But what rules might you give up? Here’s one old rule that is almost surely applicable to voters against President Trump: The rule is, “Don’t eat French toast.” All that sugar is just horrible. Anti-Trump voters tend to be informed professionals who, quite well educated, watch their sugar intake very carefully. They shop at Whole Foods, not at Piggly Wiggly. They eat organic rutabagas. You won’t catch them eating caramel with a spoon right out of the glass container. Anti-Trump voters try to consume as many anti-oxidants as possible. They are herb tea types, not Taster’s Choice types.
Thus you might well think you should leave those overindulgent breakfasts to the Trump Types. Let them devour pancakes and hash browns. Maybe that way they’ll die early of clogged arteries, and President Trump’s voting base will be thereby reduced for the next election if there is one.
But let’s explore another route: the hitherto mentioned idea that maybe you, in the spirit of the times, break a few traditional rules of your own. So how about actually going out for French toast? How about getting with the program of breaking all the old rules?
The thing is, French toast with syrup is really tasty! If you can drop your squishy liberal, Puritanical professional guilt, you’ll really love them. Best of all, after you’ve come down from the sugar high you’ll get really sleepy. You’ll take a great nap—this is especially recommended on weekends. If one Saturday President Trump decides to give Vladimir Putin some distinguished service award for thuggery at the Kennedy Center, you’ll sleep right through it. Make every weekend a French toast weekend. Indulge yourself in the sugary arms of Monsieur Morpheus. You have little to lose, other than being hyper-awake for yet more bad news.
Besides, if you really think arugula tastes better than French toast, then maybe you deserve Donald Trump.
We conclude this section on distractions (Definite Distractions) by asking you once again to indulge your considerable imagination (even to the point of near-insanity)—and if you are a smart, urban liberal voter you know you have lots of fancy of indulge. You’re smart. You’re creative. You’re original. You’ve read Freud’s conclusion that poetic imagination is a denial of hard reality, but you don’t care. Trump is too hard a reality not to deny. Your mental health depends on your not facing up to reality. So:
Step 15: Put a mule on the piano
You may have voted for him. You may not have. We can all agree that his election was a singular event in an autumn that also saw Chicago (was that the Cubs????) win the World Series. The fall of 2016 was an autumn of black swans. Trump is the first American president never to have held political office or served in the military. He is the first reality TV star to be elected to this high office. He is the oldest to have been elected. And he is the first to have boasted about the size of his member—well, the first in public anyhow.
So what do you do when confronted with the bizarre? You can always resist it, of course. A friend of mine, once having encountered religious fanatics, said she needed to get back to some kind of “real,” and in her case it was a sweet roll. But there’s another method. When in Rome, as they say…so when confronted with the baffling, please join it. This means getting with the program. This means channeling the spirit in which things no longer make sense. This means being happy that they don’t. Don’t be like Alice and take Wonderland seriously. Be like the Cheshire Cat and refuse to take it seriously. Admit it: you’re mad. We all are. If we weren’t we wouldn’t be living in Trump’s America.
So, before we move to the Consolation Section, here’s the last big tip for amusing yourself to distraction: Put a mule on the piano.
If you don’t have a piano, buy one. If you don’t have a mule, rent one. And then put the latter on top of the former. Hint: A cheaper way of doing this is to just imagine a mule on a piano. This is insane. But it will prep you for what may prove to be an daffy time. After the horrors of World War I—where so many young men were shot or gassed to death that dour young women had to take over countries like Scotland lest nothing whatever get done—some Frenchmen started a movement called surrealism. The world had become a ghastly joke, so why not turn it into a a more cheerful one?
It’s in this surrealistic spirit that I urge you to conjure up a mule on a piano. It’s your choice whether or not it’s sitting or standing. There are other more practical possibilities. Myself, I have a dead ash tree out front. It will need to come down in the spring. I go out and dance with it every morning. You could do this as well, though for you it might be dancing with a cedar bush.
My father once tried to plant something called a “bottlebrush.” I have no idea what this plant could possibly be, but if you know, you could always do the box waltz with one.
Anyhow, you get the idea. Imagine, and do, really silly out-of-your-mind sorts of things. You’ll need to be discrete of course, and you can’t let this kind of thing just take over your life. But if someone asks you, you can say, “Our new president has just made a priority of getting rid of wind farms that block the view of his Scottish golf course. So why are you objecting to me dancing with a broomstick (with a mule’s head atop it of course)?”
Once you yourself go selectively mad, life over the next four years will start to make sense, and you’ll barely notice them.
And now I’ve got a date with a patio bannister. Of uncertain gender, it’s dying to do the rumba.
II: CURIOUS CONSOLATIONS
Section I outlined steps to help you change the subject—a long recognized diversion-from-pain technique. “Think about blueberry popsicles, Joey, and the surgeon’s knife won’t hurt quite as much.” In Section II we must become more precise about what the pain caused by Trump consists of. It is the anguish of grieving, as someone said when she lamented that America had never elected an out-and-out demagogue before. Something has died in America: some sense of decency and common sense, and all that without even contemplating how much hurt may be inflicted by the new administration. And so, like all people who grieve because they have lost something or someone, one seeks consolation: something to make one feel better without necessarily denying the fact of the discomfort at all. Some of these refuges are familiar: “He died but at least he didn’t suffer” or “Well, he had a long and full life.” The consolations offered here, starting with Step 16 below, are rather curious ones, though. They involve the weird suggestion that, for instance, one be happy for hearing loss or that we might find paradoxical solace in starting up a correspondence relationship with one of America’s most notorious murderers or that we join other adults in going outside and finding brown things…or that we become like little children or turn ourselves into guilty Presbyterians. These suggestions are of course diverse and even contradictory. Again, the idea is to help you find at least one that will help. Once more, there is no necessity to do them only one step at a time. It is certainly possible to join an adult playgroup and become a self-hating Calvinist at the same time. Isn’t it?
Step 16. Do NOT drink onion water!
If you are like many another anti-Trump voter you listen to National Public Radio. You like the cheery rationality of their reports, the intelligent neutrality of their voices, the serene recounting of well-vetted facts in an otherwise truth-exempt world. While you may be one of those who “watches” the radio, it is not necessary to watch the radio. You can just listen. And that also means that you will only hear Donald Trump’s voice. You will not have to look at him.
His voice is bad enough. It’s a squawking scream or a screaming squawk—you choose, but it isn’t much of a choice. He went to Wharton, but he has never shed—or he likes to affect—a tough-guy Queens accent. Or perhaps he never got taught out of this macho way of talking—this blunt, rather uneducated way of communicating—in which event perhaps the Trump family should ask Wharton for its money back or face yet another one of its lawsuits. Someone once did an experiment and gave Trump’s words a British accent. As usual when Americans hear a British accent (even an uneducated Cockney one), those same words sounded more intelligent. But Trump doesn’t have a British accent. He comes off as a working class Queens guy: a pampered billionaire (he says) who convinced millions of laid off guys that he had their backs. This is ocean front property in Arizona he’s selling.
But back to NPR, on which Trump appears aurally but not visually. Let’s suppose you listen to NPR but also that your hearing is in decline. This is actually plausible. Hearing loss among Americans from their twenties to the late sixties is about fifteen percent, which means that about one out of seven Americans are suffering. As one gets older this percentage rises dramatically. So it is quite possible that you are a hearing-challenged fifty-something liberal, a firm believer in globalization and diversity, an NPR addict who dreads hearing President Trump’s voice on your fine and stately Bose.
Well, if so, then you’re in luck. Your hearing is going. Unless you choose to torture yourself by turning up the volume—which is torture already because it’s always hard to find where you put that little remote gizmo—you will be able to hear Trump less and less well.
And then, if you choose not to watch TV, then you will soon be considerably Trump-free. One way to get through the Trump years is to be grateful for something you would otherwise regret: your progression towards deafness. It’s a nice compensation. It’s a splendid consolation.
Had Hillary won, you’d be panicking now about the deterioration of your anvils and stirrups. But she didn’t, so embrace the comfort of your hearing loss, you aging bleeding heart lefty.
Ah, but it’s more complex than that. For one thing, there is always a hearing aid. This would mean you could hear Trump again on NPR, but then you need to hear better as part of your work and your social life. So you invest in some barely visible mike just above your ear lobe, even at the expense of having to listen to the yuuuuuuuge shriek and caw of the Trump Fowl. But then you will also hear those rare compliments tossed your way across a crowded party room, too. It’s a rather complicated dilemma, isn’t it?
Above all, though, if you do choose to accept your hearing loss and be glad of it as the portal to a Trump-silent universe, do not give in and succumb to all those fashionably exotic home remedies recommended for the restoration of your audible powers. Some of these, to be sure, seem truly enticing, such as the ingestion, daily, of apple cider (the directions say nothing against your mixing it with vodka). Others are less tempting, such as drinking three glasses daily of water soaking in onion; or drinking a gallon of ginger-rosemary-sage-marjoram water each day. Or there is also the exercise whereby you hold your hands tightly over your ears while striking your head lightly on the wall—do this five times a day, six if you have time.
This has all been a bit intricate, so let us conclude with a brief summary for the sake of clarity:
If you are suffering hearing loss, realize that an ancillary benefit—your consolation–is that you won’t hear, sharply at least, the obnoxious tones of Donald Trump. This will make you feel better about an obvious sign that you are not immortal. Should you decide, however, that you want to restore your hearing, even at the expense of having to hear Trump, be aware that, besides the acquisition of a costly hearing aid, the home remedies consist of such things as drinking onion water. If that happens to work, then, in addition to enduring anew the voice of a phony proletarian president, you will also become a victim of halitosis.
You’re better off just banging your head against the wall—covering up your ears is optional.
Already, I trust, you will note that consolations in the Trump era do not come easily. This should not surprise you. After all Mr. Trump presages a disunited country in which respect for democratic norms may become highly contingent—in other words, a bad time. Therefore, suffering hearing loss but being happy about it may seem small comfort, but at least it is some comfort, and (perhaps best of all) you will not be tempted to drink fowl liquids or bang your head against the fireplace in order to hear what you don’t want to hear anyhow. This, I submit, is not nothing. But other, perhaps better, consolations await, such as this one:
Step 17: Spend some time every day with a 100% irony-free creature.
If appearance is over here and truth is over there, irony thrives in the distance between here and there. Irony abounds, and shall abound, in the Donald Trump years. President Trump says he is convinced that millions voted illegally, but when his press secretary was asked to give reliable evidence, he couldn’t. Then Mr. Trump, undaunted, threatened to launch a thorough investigation into a phenomenon that even some Republicans do not think exists. How would such an inquiry into phantoms occur and at what cost? What is its real purpose?
He says he will build a wall—actually a complex fence structure that will cost $6.5 million a mile—and wishfully thinks he can get Mexico to pay for all of it. His party says it is fiscally prudent, but so far nobody in the party is prepared to say that fourteen billion dollars is a waste of money during a time when President Obama (yes, Obama) deported a record number of illegal immigrants.
President Donald Trump will “send in the Feds” if Chicago doesn’t clean up its murder rate, but what does that mean? That he will send in the Army to occupy the South Side? How long will they stay? What will this cost? What happens if they’re needed in the war with Mexico?
How much irony, based on ignorance or design, is a rational person supposed to stand?
The gap between what is apparent (the content of blustering Tweets) and what is true (the reality of details and facts) is a rather breathtaking canyon, and might be sublime in its black comedy where it not so depressing. Donald Trump has a transgressive personality that flourishes in the vicious ironic space between will and actuality.
But here’s the other thing, also not lacking its considerable element of sadness: Trump’s entertainment industry opponents are as deeply into irony as he is. Bill Maher wants to “make American sane (not great) again.” He offers Trump’s reactionary new attorney general an olive branch in the form of a gummy bear. It goes on and on. Donald Trump will rename the Department of Education “Trump University.” He will fly around the country on Hair Force One. Stephen Colbert brought out a kindly old lady who said her porcelain dolls had larger hands—and larger penises—than Donald J. Trump.
Ergo: you are either fed the frightening irony between Trump’s puerile boasts and hard reality or the professional irony between Maher/Colbert’s pseudo-serious mien and their absurdist put-downs. Too much irony is not good for a person. Too much irony robs one of plainness and sincerity, of seriousness and direction. Those who live with irony 24/7 find themselves giggling (or trembling) in a fun house of malformed mirrors. They need to find something straight. They need to rediscover, if only for a while, a calming innocence. They need that corrective comfort. You probably need it, too.
And so in this era of Trump—this awful time of viral and tortuous raillery—you need to spend some consolatory time in an irony-free zone. And this you can only do by spending time with creatures that are themselves one hundred percent irony-exempt.
Speaking only for myself, I once knew someone like that. We had hired him out of the Yellow Pages to take care of our pets for a weekend when we were away. A fussy middle-aged man with a rusty-brown toupee, he got the time of our departure wrong and showed up at seven in the morning, which was when we heard the borrowed house key twisting in the lock. We asked him what he was doing, and he replied, without a touch of irony, “I’ve got a job to do.” He was eager to get right to it: walk the dog, feed the cats, and discuss the art of duty with the parakeet. He did not laugh when confronted with the irony between when he was expected to show up and when he did. He simply turned on his heels and left until later in the morning. His last words as he went out the door were, “I’ve got a job to do.”
This man was totally irony-free. I would gladly recommend that you spend some time with him as an antidote to the raucous repartee and derision in which we find ourselves. But I’ve lost track of him and cannot remember his name. When he appeared, no one could imagine that a vengeful buffoon like Trump would ever become our president. So we never thought we would need him again for anything. Though he did a good job with our pets, and even left us a bouquet of flowers, we found it more convenient to ask our neighbor to look in on the non-human animals while the human animals went off to Monaco or Monterey, or (more likely) Milwaukee.
But if this fine gentleman, earnestly dutiful, is no longer to be found, where can we find those without the perpetual guilt of irony? Where can we locate those with nary a crooked or satirical bone in their bodies? A little boy once told an adult that he was drawing a picture of Jesus, and when the adult said no one knew what Jesus looked like, the little boy said, “They will when I’m done.” This is precisely what you need: the incorruptibility and energy of those who don’t know any better. You need a refuge from all these depressingly cruel and gigantic crevices between the ghostly and the real, whether they be promulgated by Trump or some favorite satirist of the liberal left.
You need to get your childhood back, at least for a while—and daily.
And the best way you can do it—the best way to rediscover a world without the venality of irony in the time of Trump—is to spend some quality time, each day, with animals who spend all their time on four legs, or in cages, or flying about, or crawling around, or swimming ahead. You don’t need to “own” these creatures. You would do well to get a cat or dog if you don’t have one already, but it is also possible to acquire a hamster or gerbil, or simply to visit an aquarium or aviary once a day. Or maybe you’re into the exotic and would prefer a python. Turtles are nice, too. And so are hissing cockroaches.
Or you can watch animals on youtube every day with the sound off.
But here is the point: None of these creatures is tainted by irony. They do essential things and never kid around. They do not reflect on any gap between their habits and the insignificance or futility of their practice. They do what they do. Dog and cat owners, of course, will attribute irony to their pets—they will say that the cat is being perverse with them and that the dog is trying to trick them into getting extra treats—but that is the insertion of human irony into thoroughly straightforward creatures.
So you must simply spend time with these creatures. You must not try to talk to them or put words into their mouths or thoughts into their heads. You must watch them. Observing them in silence will reveal that they do what they do as ingrained behavior that has worked to fend off death or extinction for a while. But they do not know about death or extinction—to compare one’s endeavors with the certainty of approaching death is to be ironic (and melancholy). And irony is that from which you are seeking refuge. You are trying to rediscover simplicity, a straight way ahead, and an earnestness that you will never get from the cruel deviousness of the Donald and the constant ridicule of his critics. Watch the cat jump; notice the dog smelling; hear the cockroach hiss—they are all-in without a hint of self-awareness.
This is refreshing, and for a while it will expose you to a world of guiltlessness that, in this brutally cynical age, you need to spend some time in. There are other methods of course—you could work with kids like the little Jesus artist or empty your mind and sweep the floor. But animals (non-human) are best of all.
It’s a lot better than sitting around all day, bitterly, reflecting that Melania Trump sees in her husband six billion dollars and high cholesterol. Yeah, it’s funny for a moment; but it doesn’t really change anything. You’ll only feel even more anxious a minute later.
But watch your gerbil take her power nap. She doesn’t know about Trump.
She does know something—about plain solemn function—that you can learn a lot from in this vile moment of American politics and leadership.
It will be nice indeed if you can find solace in the company of an irony-free cat. But, as the following step will demonstrate, refuge from Trump may be discovered in less obvious places. It seems paradoxical indeed to find consolation in the career of a sexy celebrity unknown for her ability to sing or dance or act or play the viola. Yet that in and of itself should bring you comfort: that you can find some repose nearly anywhere:
Step 18. Konsole yourself with the kurious kase of Kim Kardashian.
The needy, shallow-skinned man child known as Donald Trump wants to make America great again, as though a country that has halved its unemployment rate in eight years and added over twenty million of its citizens to health insurance rolls is some sort of failure. Leaving aside the question of greatness, however, what is this “America” that Trump wants to restore to some mythic golden age?
The answer to this question will give us consolation.
No one better epitomizes America today than the celebrity beauty Kim Kardashian. She is an example of someone who is notorious not for talent or achievement but simply for being well known. She makes money by selective exposure of her private life (and sometimes parts), some of it no doubt tabloid and false, as she is likely more boring than she seems. She is happy to be photographed or filmed doing “private” sorts of things, such as pumping gas or shopping for high heels. So she has scant private life and likes it that way.
But she has also been shamed—not for doing a sex tape but for gaining weight. This was especially true when she has been pregnant. She was photographed quite full in a bikini, and it was rumored that she was packing extra pounds so that she could eventually get a contract with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig and we could all watch her take them (pounds) off while she was pitching WW or JC or some other slimming outfit. This contract never materialized, but if it had, shaming would have paid her lots of money, or at least the aftermath of shaming would have.
Whether or not America is great, what sort of America is this—what sort of Amerika is home to Kim Kardashian. The shallow answer is that it is a land where private life is up for grabs and where public humiliation is always lurking. Why is this?
The answer is deeply embedded in the cultural DNA of America itself. We are a democratic, competitive society. Thus no one is really supposed to be that much better than anyone else, so Kim Kardashian cannot (kannot?) possibly be a aristocrat whose private life is absolutely off-limits and secret. This may have been true for the “gentlemen” of another era, who pulled up the bridge over their castle moat and answered to nobody. It might even be true in a cowed Russia for Vladimir Putin, whom President Trump would like to emulate. But it can’t happen in America (not that Kim would want it to for herself).
We are not only, though, a land of “democratic equality” (which is why billionaires sometimes find themselves on the covers of the National Enquirer). We are also a capitalistic country, heavily invested in competition or what used to be called the rat race. There are winners and losers. Kim is a winner, so naturally millions, envious of her station and good looks, eagerly embrace her being shamed. In a nation of winners and losers and equality, however false, the winners need to be brought down a peg or three.
Well, this is the America that President Trump wants to make great again. It’s the America of Kim Kardashian. And this is precisely where—with Kim and her example—we shall find added consolation in the Trump Years.
It is because the Donald shall become undone by the very America he professes to lead to greatness.
Donald John Trump wants to have it both ways. He wants to be a celebrity—that’s in good part why he won the presidency—but he cannot stand to have his secrets known, and he cannot stand to be shamed. Unlike Kim, who makes money off her revealed secrets and staged humiliations, The Don breaks out in hives with either or both.
He will not release his income taxes. He will not take any criticism. He has a phobia about being shamed, and that is why he declines to be ashamed of anything he does.
Donald Trump says he is a proud American. But he cannot stand being what a famous American is. He will be undone by the very nation that (he says) he wants to make great.
Kim understands the system. So does the Donald, but he doesn’t want it to apply to him. Kim knows that she will, from time to time, be a scorned public figure. She even knows, I suspect, that in time people will tire of her. Yet the more President Trump tries to hide secrets, the more the media will work to expose them. And the more he rages over any perceived slights, the more the media and public will be hungry to slight him. The truth is, in America we like to see the mighty fall. It makes us feel better about ourselves and convinces us that in America anyone can be a loser—it might even be one of those things that does make America great already!
It won’t be media elites that bring down Trump, but they’ll know he’s in big trouble when they see a sensational and unflattering headline about him in the supermarket tabloids.
Many cultural (kultural) elites dislike Kim Kardashian and feel she brings down the level of public discourse. They should take a lesson from her. She tells us something vital about ourselves and about the America that, in time, will undo the Mighty Donald, who will learn that living by celebrity-hood also means dying by it.
This is what happens when you pretend to be a president but don’t know what you’re doing. At least Kim sticks to pumping gas in a tight sweater. She knows her limits.
Aristotle understood that emotions are both pleasing (as with confidence) and painful (as with fear). He also knew that a positive emotion feels better if it’s juxtaposed to a recent painful one. Donald Trump understands this, too, as he scared Hell out of an American rural population already scared (of anything with other than white skin and a heterosexual inclination); and THEN made them feel ever so much better when he told them, “And only I can fix this!” First the skillfully manufactured fear, and then the powerfully pleasant confidence: that’s the formula. But you can use the same formula. You can console yourself by starting each day with anguish. After that, even a broken toe or paper cut will feel ever so much better! Read on, thou disconsolate liberals, and this step will give thee rest!
Step 19: Start every morning with something putrid.
The Trump vomit keeps spewing. A famous actress at an awards ceremony baited him with criticism. Why would an American President, the supposed embodiment of dignified calm, be so insecure and stay up late at night in order to engender a tweet storm against…an actress? What will he do when he’s critiqued by Kim Ugh Jim, or whatever North Korea’s vile leader is called?
There can be but two explanations for this erratic behavior.
One is that he is a paranoid and vicious man. That’s bad news. The other explanation is actually less bad news but not by much: He’s doing it in order to prove to his supporters that he can stand up to liberal entertainment elites, even if Flyover Americans in great numbers watch those same elites on various screens. This second explanation means that he may be scamming his base. Isn’t this what con men do? Draw your attention to a glittering object while they pick your pocket? Will this president pursue plutocratic policies while posing as a populist?
In short, he’s either crazy or crooked. This is depressing. It’s inductive of panic, but you already knew that. How are you going to manage the reign of this man?
We need, now, to realize not only that this person causes you pain, but also to understand the nuances of pain itself. Consider this commended step a chapter on pain management.
Drunkards have been trying to tell us about these subtleties for years. One of them (I can’t recall which one, but maybe it was the old singer Dean Martin) once said, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink—because when they get up in the morning, this is as good as they’ll feel all day.” There is a lot to this. Folks with hangovers can look forward to feeling better. And nothing feels better than relief from a hangover. For that matter, if you have a terrible flu, Day 4 will be the best you’ve felt in years. Of course that’s not quite true. You felt better before you had the flu. But it’s all relative: compared with how you felt just two days ago, Day 4 is paradise. Chalk one up for Dean Martin. Buy that man a drink. Make his a Manhattan, extra cherries.
This field of examining pleasure and pain is called hedonics. Dean Martin was an expert. No one knew more about tomato juice and vodka as a hangover cure than did the Dean. And if he were around today he could help you handle the Trump years.
It’s simple, really.
You just make sure you start each day with pain. That way, even if you hear awful political news (“Trump Not Sure Canadians Should Be Allowed To Enter U.S.”), you won’t mind as much because you feel so much better than you did at 7 AM.
But the question is: what sort of pain, and where should it come from? There is no recommendation here that you should start your day, for instance, stapling your thumb to your big toe. You should eschew drinking arsenic and vinegar. You don’t want to overdo it.
There are of course mid-level sorts of pain, the kind that comes from ingesting ant larvae, fermented horse milk, quail eggs mixed liberally with ash, or fried human placenta. No doubt there are foul-tasting medicines you could take, but it’s not advisable without a prescription from a sadistic M.D. You could always chew two bitter generic aspirin every morning, though. No doctor will blame you, and a cruel one might even applaud you, as long as you paid him big bucks to clap (though Trump may yank Obamacare, and then you can’t afford to pay the doc anything). You could also take gagging lessons and then request the liquid penicillin without the banana flavor.
In fact, however, there is really a much more convenient solution to your pain management problem during the Trump Years. It’s called instant (sometimes powdered) coffee. This is especially recommended because, if you’re adamantly opposed to Trump, you probably like really good coffee. You’re an urban elitist after all. You want the Ethiopian Cappuccino, and that’s just the start. So drinking instant coffee will be especially masochistic. Once you’ve gotten through that, nearly nothing Trump does will seem as bad to you.
Despite attempts to make instant coffee taste better, it really doesn’t. Most of it tastes wooden, so imbibing is a bit like pouring caffeinated sawdust onto your taste buds. In time, though, you will feel sorry for fellow Trump-haters who do not drink the stuff to start each morning. Let them have their Uruguayan Mocha chino. That’s as good as they’ll feel all day. And when Trump tries to ban all of Meryl Streep’s great movies, they’ll be miserable.
You, on the other hand, won’t mind so much that you’ll never see Out Of Africa again.
Starting the day with boiling sawdust that gives you a buzz will indeed mean that the balance of the day will seem contrastingly wonderful. In a previously recommended step you were encouraged, if suffering from loss of hearing, to accept that malady as a consolation in an age when you are apt to hear, at any time, the furious snarl of a mad proto-populist. In the next step we suggest that, recovering from your odious cup of powdered coffee, you prick up your ears and LISTEN. It will be a great refuge from Trump. Best of all, the next step celebrates the sheer liberal diversity—the lavishly pragmatic contradiction–of our advice. We urged you, earlier, not to hear; now we encourage you to hear after all—though of course it all depends on what we are hearing here.
Step 20: LISTEN to tweets—stop reading them.
Donald Trump is The Great Follicular Pumpkin, and, like most members of that thankfully rare species, he has an itchy Twitter finger. On a given day, or early morning, he might Tweet about Chinese trade practices and then, a few moments later, offer another about last night’s new Apprentice ratings. One could be forgiven for asking a. why a president of the United States won’t get his sleep; and b. why we need him to be a TV critic as well as the ostensible leader of the Putin-free Free World. But apparently that’s just what a non-trivial minority loves about the guy. He’s so unpredictable. And he always says what he thinks. They rarely ask if he thinks. Indeed, they never do.
At any rate the news media finds itself in a quandary about these incessant and viral Tweets. Many of them are oracular and confusing—a sort of third-rate version of the old Oracle at Delphi, which predicted that a Theban prince Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Had the Washington press corps been around when the oracle said that about a promising royal lad named Oedipus, that pronouncement would have been news. It would be like, say, Edward Snowden predicting that Prince William will stab his father Chuck and poison his grandmother Betty in order to ascend to whatever is left of the British throne. What a great story!
Yet Trump’s Tweets are hardly all newsworthy. The media covers them with gusto anyhow.
In about the fifth paragraph they get around, sometimes, to saying that really there’s no here here. But coverage they provide, and it’s prominent; and soon enough Mr. Trump has managed to distract the media and public alike. Hey, we have a devastating trade war going, but President Trump thinks left-wing Rosie O’Donnell is too fat, so it’s all OK. What a guy!
Well, this wrenches the conditioning of any rational person who believes in real statecraft, and thus it’s irritating in the extreme. But here’s another remedy: Start listening to tweets rather than reading them.
No, I don’t mean those Tweets. I mean tweets, as in bird tweets, which, unlike the Putrid Pumpkin’s Tweets, will be productive of serenity and escape. As with the ant farm and other remedial projects recommended here, there’s a hard way and an easy way. The hard way is to go into your backyard, if you have one, or go the nearest park, if it isn’t occupied by Trump protestors, or just take a walk—the more rural the area the better, though if it’s really rural you might run into one of those fanatical Trump types. You will hear all sorts of birds tweeting during most of the year. They sing and squeak. They warble and gulp. They whine and click. They will sometimes do these things while flapping their wings or showing off their tail colors. They will sometimes rattle and cloak while spreading their wings and flying off with great flair. This might be the equivalent of leaving a room in anger, as you’ve done before (we all have) and as you tend to do when Trump comes on the screen, any screen, and today screens come in all sizes.
Well, that’s the hard way. You go outside, spend a lot of time away from your otherwise busy and successful life, tell yourself that you’re into the whole work-balance thing, and watch and listen to the birds tweet (or croak, though we don’t have a social network called Croaker, not yet anyhow; it might become a social network site specializing in post-funeral reactions).
But there’s also an easy way. You can just go online, where there is an enormous array of recorded and even videoed bird sounds. There are of course bird sound ringers on smart phones as well. It should not be too difficult to keep the aural musings of a Probothonary Warbler going all night in your bedroom while you sleep. As the famous fictional character Miss Jean Brodie once said, “For those who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing they like.”
Now birds make sounds—including tweets—for all sorts of reasons: to warn of predators (like Trump warning us of Chinese currency manipulation); to sing duets; to claim territory; to woo; to call chicks; to call the whole damned flock (as Trump does when he tweets out to all his fans in Dumb Luck, Tennessee). But I wouldn’t, were I you, get into trying to identify particular sounds with particular feathered communicative functions.
Leave that to experts. You are in this for the sheer aesthetic pleasure. Do not try to make bird tweets “mean” anything any more than you try to make Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony or a Taylor Swift song translated into Albanian mean anything.
Don’t “read” these tweets. Just enjoy them. Just let their lovely meaninglessness ooze over you, as opposed to the ugly meaninglessness of the Tweeting Tyrant, whom you are endeavoring to forget.
Speaking of birds, one member of the savage old Charles Manson gang sang like one. She turned state’s evidence, which led to the arrest of Charlie and his stoned-out cohort of killers. This was a long time ago—nearly half a century, in fact. My point is this: there is a perfect segue between the woman who gave up Charlie to the cops and Charlie himself, for he is the occasion of our next consolatory recommendation:
Step 21: Become pen pals with Charlie Manson—before it’s too late.
One way to get through the Trump years is to start thinking better of the president himself. Dislike is relative, so that even a frog is handsome next to a snake. Mr. Manson, now an 80 something jailbird, is thought to be one of the most evil men still living. But he is still living.
He also has a vast correspondence—though I’m sure he can’t answer every letter. His Facebook page has about 70,000 followers. There’s a website or two devoted to him. There’s even a podcast channel, which comes out of somewhere in Virginia. There’s no guarantee that Mr. Manson will answer your letters directly and personally, and he has no secretary in prison with him. And he’s no spring cult leader—he could die soon.
But you won’t know whether or not you can become his correspondent unless and until you try. So how about it? Survive the Trump years by exchanging letters with the even-worse Manson? Here’s the sort of things you will encounter.
First, Mr. Manson has never been defeated in his life. He’s a winner. He never loses. When asked if he believes in God, he said he sure did. “I believe in myself.”
Second, Mr. Manson is always evasive. When he was asked if he were Jesus, he answered the question with a question. Which Jesus? There’s the black Jesus in Florida and the Jewish Jesus and there’s a Mexican Jesus down in Mexico. Mr. Manson implied, but didn’t state, that he knew them all. Maybe he is them—all of them.
Third, Mr. Manson considers no one greater than himself. He called Ted Bundy, another famous murderer, a “poop butt” and a “mama’s boy.”
Fourth, Mr. Manson is vaguely oracular. He said that God was much bigger than the church, and when Charlie Rose reminded him that most religious people know that, Manson replied, “I am allied with a certain awareness of the desert.”
Fifth, Mr. Manson is a braggart. He told Charlie Rose that killing someone for him would be no more of a big deal than “walking to the drugstore.” (Of course he can’t walk to the drugstore; he can only walk to the mess hall.)
Well, that’s probably enough. Charles Manson would probably write you letters, if he wrote you any letters at all, that contained the words of one who has never lost; who is oracular and evasive; who boasts continuously of his feats; who insults others. Oh, and he can be quite threatening: he said that if all his children came after us, there would be none of us left.
You can see why he mesmerized his murderous cult all those years ago. They followed him all the way to canyon mansions, where they stabbed the inhabitants to death and wrote PIGS in blood on the walls in order to engineer a race war.
Once you get a weekly or monthly load of Charlie Manson you’ll be grateful that, whatever President Trump’s faults, we at least don’t have a leader of the free world who insults people, evades issues, brags incessantly, threatens others, and never admits an error.
In fact, even if Charles doesn’t write back, you might feel better already. At least he’s not president!
Well, OK: maybe corresponding with Manson won’t make you feel better. I can’t guarantee any of these steps, but the whole idea is to offer you 50 of them with the bet that at least a few of them will work. Also, remember the name of the game here: You have been proffered fifteen steps to help you change the subject from Trump; but if that does not work, you are now being given other steps, in this section of the book, that will console you even if you cannot divert yourself. At some point you might, to be sure, become so frustrated that you will just, out of despair, go stand on your head. Speaking of which, the next commended how-to step suggests that standing on your head is exactly what you should not do.
Step 22: Start skipping yoga classes.
If you’re a good liberal—and there aren’t any other kids of liberals—then 2016 was a year when your eyes finally became scale-less. Your cataracts were removed by the laser-like power of the Trump phenomenon, and you saw with miserable clarity the cataclysmic underbelly of American racism, sexism, and homophobia (the Terrible Three).
You’ve been living in a city where transgender bathrooms are as common a street pigeons, and where a modicum of racial tolerance is quite necessary. You’ve been living in New York or L.A. or even Pittsburgh, where women bosses are hardly exotic. You knew of course that there was this vast hinterland out there, but you’d only heard about it and generally thought of it as an empiricist would think of Plato’s mystic idealism—there’s something to it, maybe, but it’s so abstract as not to bother with. You’d also been told that you were part of a newly emerging demographic tide, sometimes called the Obama Coalition, and that the future was on your side, by now as assured as your daily Tinder visit. You sort of knew that Paris, Texas, and Moscow, Idaho existed. But it wasn’t the sort of thing you thought about on your way to the new Brutalism art show at your local Met. Your rather knew that there are no Brutalism shows in Baron, Wisconsin, but you wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t brutes there. Still, what did they matter? Brutes don’t vote. Do they?
And then the Hinterlands struck back, and said, “we’re still here, and we don’t cotton to these here unisex bathrooms and we don’t like white bitches bossing us around and we think this black lives matter stuff has been really overplayed and that our lives matter more than those of lazy people driving Lincolns on welfare.” And you were shocked, and then you were saddened and maybe angry for a while. And now you’ve stopped listening to NPR because the news is so bad. You never know when “He” might show up, and then you’d have to listen to his balefully boasting Queens accent. You’d like to tune into MSNBC, where you’ll have partisan cheering at least, but finally you realize that you’re so stunned that even the maniacally interrupting Chris Matthews can’t give you any juice.
So what do you do? Well, you might double up on your yoga classes. After all, isn’t it when you’re stretching in frozen place that you best achieve the acuity known as mindfulness, where you are able to accept your fears, your disappointments, and fold them into some off-white cosmic space located conveniently near the yoga center walls, just to the left of the coffee stand?
But this is precisely what you should not do, and the chapter on this step will explain why.
I do want to be clear, however, even as I develop this advice; and in order to be lucid I will even repeat myself. You will find other advice—other steps—in this little tome that conflicts with what I suggest here. Please know that this is intentional. The whole idea is to give the depressed Trump opposition, those millions who are freaked out, a wide array of ideas for how to cope. Go through them and pick one that suits you. Different strokes, you know; as Groucho Marx once said, “I have my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.” A wise man Marx was.
But now let us proceed to why you should, if not give up on yoga, at least give it a rest for a while.
The answer is simple. Trump has made you unhappy, so you are tempted to increase your yoga trying to become happy. You are actively seeking happiness. This is nearly always a bad idea. To be sure, it’s a Constitutionally permissible idea. Doesn’t the Constitution permit “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Or is that in the Declaration of Independence? What difference does it make? It’s still a bad idea, even if “the pursuit of happiness” shows up in the Bible or Shakespeare. This is why all those social surveys rate the U.S. the least happy of all developed nations, or something like that.
The pursuit of happiness (whether through yoga or Yogi Bear dolls) is based on a linguistic error. It is possible to pursue a physical thing, such as a yo-yo, but it is not possible to “pursue” an abstract pleasure such as happiness. Ideas, which are abstract, aren’t things found in your head the way swans, say, are found in a park. It is a capital mistake to confuse concrete and abstract. Happiness likely comes when you are least conscious of trying to find it. Happiness happens!
Take children: They play together—sometimes their liberal parents will even let them have unstructured time together between violin lessons and soccer practice and SAT training. And the kids are obviously delighted. They have no idea what they are going to do. They only know they are going to do it together—no solitary yoga for them. No child is more unhappy than when she is banished from the play group, and few children are more happy when they are in it.
So in order to find a palliative for the disillusionments wrought by President Trump (don’t you just hate to say it?), skip yoga and form an adult playgroup. At first your neighbors will not want to join, but you can entice them. Have it catered. Make sure it’s unstructured, although you might observe one rule: Each person in the group must do for at least ten minutes anything that another member suggests. This will be a rule, but it will quickly be discarded. The first member to benefit from this rule might, for instance, suggest that everyone go outside and find something brown and bring it back to group headquarters. You’ll be amazed at how many brown things are outside on a nice day. And you’ve love sharing them, even if there might be a couple of piles of dog dung—it will be dried and harmless after all. It may remind you of Trump (Trump/dump) but only for a few seconds.
Besides, the next person will suggest that you all go outside and ask strangers what the phrase “let’s do this” means to them. Again, collecting and sharing answers will be a blast. And by then there won’t even be a need for any rules. You’ll all just spontaneously stand on your heads and see who can do so for the longest. Become a kid again.
Of course a standing-on-head contest is a little like yoga, but this time you’re doing it not in earnest solitary duty but in spontaneous groupie jokiness. And while you’re at it, on your head, you can all look at images of Trump upside down. He looks like misshapen squash sitting on an orange blossom.
The Trump years are promising to induce a roller coaster of feelings: rage, sadness, and fear. It has thus seemed appropriate to recommend therapeutic steps that, likewise, trace a wide range of emotions. Just as the Distraction section of the book ranged, spatially, from skydiving to ant farms, and from hiding in your living room to pretending to fly in your closet, so does this Consolation section travel from mania to depression. In the last step we had a sort of ADHD childhood mania. Here, in the next step, one is asked to switch to tears. Between jumping for joy and drowning in sorrow you’re sure to find some consolation that works. You think?
Step 23: Weep yourself to sleep.
Recently reporters have been telling us how many of Trump’s appointees are conspiracy theorists. This isn’t surprising, since the boss long ago stated that President Obama was really born in Kenya. He grudgingly took that back, but many of his supporters said he only did it because he had to in order to get more votes, and they’re quite forgiving of him, as they should be, since so many of them are evangelical Christians.
Now we learn that one member of his new staff has suggested a Democratic staffer shot in a robbery was actually murdered on orders from Hillary Clinton. Another staffer had posted that Clinton was at the center of a pedophile ring. He has since withdrawn that post. Of course this particular person wasn’t especially important: just Trump’s chief national security advisor. We can relax because he’s into foreign policy and not domestic policy, where pedophile rings presumably belong. One Trump supporter, reading on line that a pizza in Washington, D.C. was world headquarters of this pedophile ring, went into it armed and ready to bust it up. He was intercepted, and no lives were lost. There were no children present of course.
It goes on. Trump supporters that have been polled demonstrate their belief that one of Clinton’s major staff members is a radical Islamic terrorist. Most of them think climate change is a swindle perpetrated by Shanghai scientists, but the good news is that they don’t say anything about Jewish scientists. What a relief!
Well, so what are you, who opposed Mr. Trump, going to do about all this?
You’re going to have a good cry—that’s what.
Weeping includes the tears that carry you off to sleep (the tears are the water, and you are in the boat, and the destination is the Land of Nod, where Trump doesn’t exist). What will you, so eminently urbane, call your boat—how about the Good Ship Globalization? So cry yourself to nightly rest. Scientists who aren’t working on climate change—other kinds of scientists—say that crying releases toxins, kills bacteria, improves vision (all those molecular particles drowned), relieves stress, and boosts communication—not sure I follow this last one because most people who’ve cried in front of me mumble their words.
At any rate, what can you, one ordinary person, however cosmopolitan, do about this vast array of conspiracy theorists that have the great powers of government? The answer is mainly zilch-o. So why not admit and even revel in your passivity and helplessness. Bawl and squal yourself to sleep. Get in touch with your inner river, your internal creek—the Sea of Misery within.
And when you wake up in the morning, you’ll feel so much better. You should know, however, that a friend of mine, who voted for Trump, not only thinks that Bill Clinton is a pedophile but also laughs himself to sleep each and every night.
Hey, no advice is perfect! At least you won’t be any more tired than he is.
It’s sometimes observed that when you forgive someone who’s done you wrong you are escaping from history. If history is a series of actions and reactions, or assaults and payback, then by forgiveness you break that cycle and thus transcend history entirely. Perhaps it’s time to think about this approach as a consolation during the Trump years. Forgive, even be happy for, Trump voters. Stop trying to fight them and their leader. But here’s an even better idea: be happy for them, feel better, and THEN get back to the historic fight against the first president of the United States who would really, really like to become a dictator. But first things first, and so we go to
Step 24: Be (somewhat) happy for your political enemies.
You’ll feel better during the Trump saga if you will become merciful and have at least a little joy that your political enemies, who say they’ve been victimized, are feeling better at last. Be happy for the newfound happiness of rural American palefaces!
The furious white folks who cheered and then elected Trump are like sports fans who have seen their team win the Super Bowl. It’s by now a well-founded medical fact that such “winners” get adrenaline highs and a general boost in self-regard. The opposite can also be true: guys whose teams lose are more likely to beat their wives. This isn’t a worry for males who are Hillary Clinton fans, since they’ve long ago moved on from that sort of thing and believe that such scapegoating is both uncivilized and even politically incorrect.
But enough about us losers: Let’s get back to the prideful winners. Their guy has won the big bowl. A standard check of the benefits of sports fandom will tell you that they’re feeling pretty damned good right now. They feel great. They have bonded with their fellow Trumpoids and no doubt threw at-home inauguration parties—sort of like getting out the Cheetos and beer and watching the Giants beat the Broncos 55-10, which, by the way, I think they once did. Trump is the Giants and Packers and Patriots all rolled into one.
The benefits for them of watching Trump are similar to the benefits of backing any winning sports team. Sports psychologists have learned that watching your team win while you’re in the gym will increase the pace of your own workout (good for the heart), and that even watching your team win when not in the gym is good exercise—all that jumping up and down to cheer. There seems little doubt but that those white people who watched Trump’s inauguration expended a few more calories than usual before they get back to their all too carbohydrate rich diets of peasant food from the local IGA. They will be walking, almost, on air; and because these are not people who take air travel much, walking on air may be as close to the clouds as they’re ever going to get.
Be happy for them. Don’t be resentful or envious. By the way, it’s also said that being a big sports fan will make your marriage work better and make you smarter, too. It’s likely that any number of rural white marriages have been improved by allegiance to Trump: at last the man of the house and the little lady, who’ve been fighting over whether they can afford a new monster truck, have something to agree on. It’s less clear that they will become smarter, since watching an NFL game is probably better for the little gray cells than listening to a Trump speech is.
It is said that Trump talks at a sixth-grade level. No one has analyzed the speech of Terry Bradshaw. Still, it takes some brain power to follow all those trick NFL plays, so perhaps we should start taking the prospect of President Bradshaw with some modicum of seriousness.
Anyhow, try to realize that while you’re in sorrow, at least some good, if rather benighted, Americans are ecstatic. I know a Trump voter whose professional football team hasn’t been good for years, but this fellow attended Michigan State and so he now follows other teams with Michigan State players, as long as these other teams win. Now, as a Trump man, he doesn’t have to resort to such desperate measures in order to feel good about himself. I feel (somewhat) glad for him. Why don’t you? It will be great therapy for you during the Trump years.
Maybe. Of course if you want to give in to your hate and bitterness, who am I to judge? Consolation isn’t for everyone. So should you want to gloat that Trump voters, whatever their momentary high, are much more likely than Clinton voters to have heart trouble and severe diabetes, well…I won’t try to stop you.
I never said surviving Trump was going to be easy.
It is vital for you, in perusing this book, to remain both pragmatic and hopeful. In fact, hope and pragmatism go together: If you find one thing doesn’t work, try another—and have hopes that the other thing will work. Pragmatism is an optimistic approach to life. Take the previous step, for example: it might well not work. Maybe you simply can’t bring yourself to be glad for a bunch of nihilistic dummies who voted for an insecure man easily baited with a Tweet. That’s perfectly OK for you to remain mad at them and hope they all perish in the opioid addiction that is supposed to be ravaging their communities. That’s a little harsh of course, but you’ve got to be you. Now move on to the next step. If the last one didn’t work to comfort you, maybe the next one will, for the next one asserts that you will be reassured by knowing that YOU are a lot happier than HE is:
Step 25: Always remember: it sucks to be him.
To consider what it must be like to be President Donald Trump, consider as well a story about a giraffe and a story about a shark.
In the 1830s some supplicant brought King George IV of England a giraffe from Sudan. The king loved the giraffe, but it was sickly. Its head drooped. Doctors were flummoxed but told the King that the giraffe was probably melancholy because it sympathized with the King’s painful condition of gout. In a short time the giraffe died. George IV had it stuffed. He may have died thinking that the giraffe’s elevated gout-empathy killed it off. (This may be the sort of thing the Donald might believe: that since everything revolves around him, even a pet giraffe would wish to die if The Trump were ailing.)
Now let’s go to the shark story. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson lost badly a section of New Jersey that he had handily won in 1912. It was no wonder that he’d won it in ’12. After all, he was the then governor of the state. Why did the results reverse four years later? Was it because Wilson was suddenly thought a terrible president in what was otherwise a close, but victorious election, for the president? Not at all: it was what had happened the summer before the November vote: a series of freak shark attacks (on which the movie Jaws is based) that ruined the beach and tourism business. This was blamed…on Woodrow Wilson. Well, it wasn’t precisely blamed on him, but the voters in this area had lost a lot of money. They were in a bad mood. And voters in bad moods tend to blame the incumbent.
The tales of the ailing giraffe and the devastating shark are clues to what it’s like to be Trump, and in sum, they suggest, consoling to you, that he is miserable. He will expect even giraffes to feel for him—he himself has a self-pitying streak—but the larger lesson of the giraffe is that it died because it had been transplanted and couldn’t adjust. Donald Trump is used to running things like a business—he is a businessman, right, par exemplum. He has captured the imaginations of about forty percent of the electorate as a “you’re fired’ stand-up kind of guy. But just as you can’t, as a free-running giraffe, enjoy yourself in the king’s pen, so can’t you run a political office like a business.
Harry Truman once said that the only way to get anything done as president was to push slowly for things and when they finally happen not be particular about who gets the credit for it. And Truman was a near-great president. Mr. Trump will have to persuade. He will have to be patient. He will have to work with people he doesn’t like. He will have to decline trying to hog the credit for everything. He won’t want to live in the White House. He’ll dislike having to go to work everyday and analyze stuff other than what’s on cable. He’ll long for Trump Tower and time off. He’ll miss the adulation. It’s one thing to be a candidate who engenders magical thinking. It’s another to be a prosy president.
He’ll be as unhappy as a giraffe in a cage.
And then there’s Wilson and the shark attacks. As president you’re often blamed for everything. What will happen when President Trump gets in trouble as a result of, well, almost anything, but most especially a financial scandal or a foreign policy crisis or an economic downturn? We saw the pathetic Richard Nixon in 1974, who, having lost the country in a doozy of a scandal, headed off to the Grand Ole Opry to be with his last redoubt of support: the country western folks. They gave him a fine old Volunteer State yoyo, but he wasn’t very good at yo-yoing, and the wooden spool dropped pathetically to the floor. He too wanted some adulation, but between the unfortunate losing of Vietnam, rising inflation, and Watergate, they blamed Nixon for everything. Being adored in Tennessee was a welcome respite, but even he knew it was transient. You could see it in that forced smile on his conniving face. And in a few months he was gone.
At the moment President Trump has only a forty percent approval rating. That’s historically low for a new president. When the time comes, will he be able to yoyo?
The people are so fickle. And you can’t fire them either. How unhappy a state of affairs that must be!
But why should Trump’s pain be a refuge for anti-Trump voters? There are a few reasons. One is rather base: you don’t like him and want him to live in a stew. But there are other things. Since, if you are against Trump, you probably aren’t religious (he lost the secular vote big time), you can’t really turn to God to find redress and justice. Yet you look for some sense of moral order, and the “giraffe-out-of-his-element” is likely to be the best you will find. At least you can find some comfort in knowing that for him who seeks a bottomless bucket of praise, the leaks in that bucket will cause him endless poignancy.
As Samuel Johnson said of the Pharaohs, they had to keep having pyramids built for them so that they would not soon “be reduced to yet another wish.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that thousands and thousands of poor wretches died trying to build those pyramids for the Trumps of the day.
Perhaps the next step should be classified under the previous section of Defining Distractions, but I think the therepeutic advice to read about dumb crooks is more of a Curious Consolation. As Gore Vidal once said, “it is not enough for me to succeed; others must also fail.” The failure of idiotic criminals will make you feel good about yourself, and if you feel good about yourself, you will feel better about the political fiasco with which your country is afflicted. Try it!
Step 26: Read trashy true crime stuff.
True crime novels and TV shows are among the most popular entertainment in America, and would remain so even without the Age of Trump. One can’t blame Donald Trump for everything.
Most observers conclude that the American public’s insatiable taste for true crime results from a fascinating with the lurid—murder, mayhem, drugs and deviltry, robbery, and rape. But that’s not it at all. Rather, the American people, mostly law-abiding (including, let’s concede, those who voted for Trump), love true crime because, not altogether happy themselves, they simply adore reading about, and watching on such channels as ID, people who are even more screwed up than they are. There is on the part of true crime addicts a bottomless pit of schadenfreude. This is an excellent cure for those of us who feel sorry for ourselves, for we are quickly cheered by those vainglorious and wicked people who get what they deserve. As bad off as we might be, we are far better off, and better, than the denizens of true crime. This is condoling to us in our post-election grief.
And in the Age of Trump, many of us are self-pitying–and rightly. So what better remedy than to delve into true crime? If you’ve not done so yet, you should. It will make you feel better. And if you already do it, re-triple your literary and video endeavors.
As an illustration, take Caitlin Rother’s Dead Reckoning, an original title if ever there was one. Not wishing to bore anyone with the rotten details of cunning and cruelty, I will only point out what happened—and this is only one detail among many—to one of the perps. This particular crook was Jennifer, the conspiratorial wife of the main felon, who was convicted of three murders, all of them unspeakably dreadful. Plot spoiler: Jennifer herself was convicted of helping with two of them. After she decided that, well, maybe it was a good idea to break up with homicidal hubby, she first took up with a fellow female inmate but then met a jewel thief whose main claim to fame was that he had eaten a diamond and managed to excrete it in jail several times until eventually caught with it in…well, let’s not go there. Jennifer was impressed with this man’s ingenuity and fell in love with him, whereupon he proceeded to mock her murderous husband, of somewhat ambivalent sexuality, by making fun of his “bony ass” and calling Jennifer his new “wifey-poo.”
It’s hard to get more flinchingly sordid than this, and yet Dead Reckoning has a lot more for those of you who wish to find joy in the stupidity, vanity, immorality, and just deserts of others. The sorrow of having to live through the Trump years will quickly diminish after a steady diet of people who will, by comparison, make you feel so much better about yourself. You are in the Trumps, but you are at least not in the pen.
AND, as a bonus, reading a lot of true crime will prepare you with joy for how some think the Trump years will end: with charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, the Constitutional standard for impeachment. Does building a new Trump Tower in Moscow at a discount, courtesy of the murderous President Putin, count?
By now it should be obvious: desperate times call for desperate measures. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that desperate times call for trying desperate measures. Suppose you are all alone in the Arctic winter. You are well bundled and have some food with you. But you don’t know where you are or how to get to camp. You’ll try almost anything. You won’t just try trudging in this direction or that one. You will also pray, promise God to be a good person from now on if you can just be guided to camp. You will even threaten the nearest penguin with roasting if he doesn’t show you the way. In sum, you will do things that range from the most spiritual to the most violent. And so it is in the wintry epoch of Trump, which is its own Arctic stranding. Thus you have tried, perhaps, reading about the trashy folly of true crime (the previous consolatory step). Now try something entirely different, and far nobler (just ahead). Desperate times call for desperate trials and errors. So consider
Step 27: Read dewy-eyed tales of self-sacrifice.
Exposing yourself to heroic tales of valor will bring you refuge from the craven cynicism of Donald Trump. You will soon come to equate “losers” (Trump’s favorite word of opprobrium) with bravery. What better consolation than to learn that losing is oft a deed not of stupidity but of courage? For example:
During World War II 1st Lieutenant John Robert Fox singlehandedly diverted German artillery by luring the Germans to aim it at him. He died but saved the retreat of his men. In time they retook the Italian hill from the Nazis, killed over one hundred Germans, found the still body of Lt. Fox, and placed some sort of medal on it. Or perhaps the Germans, seeing Fox’s self-sacrifice, placed the medal on it. The story isn’t clear. But maybe even Nazis admired self-sacrifice.
An Air Florida flight crashed into a frozen lake, but a helicopter came to rescue passengers. Arland Williams insisted that all passengers go before him, so he stayed on the wreckage, saving many but ultimately giving up his own life.
Richard Rescorla was security director for Morgan Stanley who calmly evacuated 2500 people from the burning 9/11 tower before he himself even thought of leaving. He knew the plan and executed it. He did not leave. He died, like a captain who puts his crew and passengers first.
These are all heroes, but to President Trump they might just be chumps. They made bad deals. No doubt as president he will be asked to pin medals on various and sundry family stand-ins, but he might well think that he’s pinning silver or gold on the relatives of people who were suckers. He is a Republican, nominally, but he will have little in common with the first Republican president, who called for yet more sacrifice for a noble cause at Gettysburg. Sacrifice is for losers. Donald never served in the military—that must make him a smart winner. He said that an American hero, John McCain, was a bit of a chump because he got caught by the North Vietnamese.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden among others says that the rural people who voted for Trump are “good people,” not sexists or racists. It is not hard to believe that they are good people, who probably do little acts of charity all the time in their towns. President Lyndon Johnson used to speak of these places as those where “they care when you’re sick and know when you die.” They may not do acts of supreme sacrifice, like Fox, Williams or Rescorla, but there would be little reason to doubt that they do small ones. These towns are maybe good places to be a poor widow.
Yet they have voted for a man who sees putting yourself at a disadvantage, ever, as a bad way to play the game. There are abundant reports of contractors hired and contractors bilked. If anyone has a complaint, said Mr. Trump, they can sue me, but I’ve got deeper legal pockets than they do. So why are these good folks, who would cheer a Fox, Williams, or Rescorla, so willing to support this guy?
They think they are at war, and he’s going to be a great general for them. The reckless man you wouldn’t want to live next door to can be a big asset in the trenches. These folks think they are at war with elites who want to take away their mines and factories (have in fact done so) and dis their way of life. They’re tired of hearing about black and brown people. Who cares about them? They are at war, and Trump is their general. He must have a white horse somewhere.
This is an old story. There are millions of crooks who ally themselves with other bad guys—guys who don’t mind holding up somebody or killing somebody—but their allies never stop to think: “If they’ll do it to these people, what’s to stop them doing it to me?” The planet is crowded with the graves of dumb allies.
Anyhow, when you read these stories of sensational and hyper altruism, you can’t quite resist the little mist in your eyes. If so, you’re a loser of course, but you can at least comfort yourself in knowing that you’re not alone because other people will be crying too—including the ones who voted for Donald J. Trump, once they learn he played them for suckers, too. Despite what the terrible Trump believes, losers are not only people of far more courage than he, who avoided Vietnam, has ever had. They also learn from their losses never to trust demagogues again.
Losers of the world, unite! Take pluck from the bravery of those who have gone before! You have nothing to lose but your tears. Take solace. There is far more to a good life than being a winner, especially a pseudo-one.
This book is starting to remind me of an old story about a father who thought his son was brilliant, even at the age of five. One day his precocious boy said, “Father! I’ve thought it over. I believe life is a…,” whereupon the father interrupted his son and said, “Stop right there. I want us to go to our local priest and ask HIM what life is. Then you can tell him what YOU think life is. You will compare notes, and he will see what a genius you are.” So off they went, whereupon the priest said, “Life, my boy, is a journey.” The smart five year-old replied, “A journey? You mean my father dragged me all the way over to this church just to hear you say that life is a JOURNEY? How trite!” At this point the priest, flummoxed, said, “Well, OK. It ISN’T a journey then.” This was one flexible priest. And so here we are, too. Maybe you can find comfort in the Trump years by reading tales of self-sacrifice, or maybe you can’t. Maybe you should stop reading about losers—if it isn’t working for you—and start being a WINNER (see next step). Maybe, you know, you’re not cut out to be a consoled loser but only a consoled winner. By the way, the smart kid who insulted the priest? He became a priest. I’ll let you decide if he won or lost.
Step 28: Stop whining and start WINNING!
Donald Trump is a world-class tweeter, and every tweet follows the same format. Trump is a winner, and the people he attacks (or a-tweets) are LOSERS. Flag-burners are losers who need to be deported, as all losers need to be. Muslims need to be deported because they are losers, just by virtue of being Muslim. Have you ever known a Muslim winner? A local labor leader in Indianapolis is a loser BECAUSE HE DISAGREED WITH TRUMP. Trump is a winner, and his a-tweet-ees are losers.
Well, come on now. That’s your cue. How can you survive the Trump years? By becoming a winner! There is no consolation better than victory!
No matter what the previous step might have suggested by way of the contrary view, if that step wasn’t efficacious for you then be flexible and adopt this philosophy in its stead:
Whiners aren’t winners, and winners don’t whine.
So how do you do it?
I’d start with Facebook. You’re probably there already, so here’s the formula for winning. Scroll through the various posts on your home page and troll every one of them. For instance:
Someone posts how proud she is that her adopted son found her winter boots for her. Your comment: “Congrats. Your adopted brat has an IQ above 90.”
Someone posts a photo of grooming her dog with the caption HOW TO BE A DICK TO YOUR DOG. Your comment: “What makes you think you confine it to your dog?”
Someone posts that their phone just fell into the toilet. Your comment: “That’s what you get for trying to wipe yourself with it, you dumb shit.”
Someone posts an apology for not getting a promised link up. Your comment: “No apology needed. We’re all grateful.”
Someone posts that he doesn’t consider Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to be a Christmas song. Your comment: “If you’re trying not to bore us with your opinions, you’re way late.”
You get the idea. People who think they are dicks to their dogs and praise their adopted kids and rue their wet phones and apologize for late links and think a Jewish songwriter should not be credited for a Christmas song, what do they have in common?
THEY’RE ALL LOSERS. You are a winner. You’ve stopped whining. You’re a Donald J. Clone. You’ll lose lots of Facebook friends. That’s OK. Now move onto Twitter, Trump’s field of expertise, where nobody even claims to be friends.
You’ll start winning so much you’ll get tired of winning. How comforting is that?
Do you remember when, as a kid, you had nightmares about, say, yuuuuuuge monsters with spray-painted bushy orange hair coming to take your civil liberties away? And you’d wake up and scream and then your mommy or daddy or both would come into your room and read you a story so you could be reassured and go back to sleep, maybe with the nightlight on? Maybe they read you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, where there was a gargantuan giant with orange hair that Jack managed to escape from? Or maybe they read you the story of Snow White, where a wicked witch with orange hair put a terrible spell on an otherwise innocent white nationalist princess? It’s in this parental spirit that we recommend you try this next step in order to find some encouragement and support during this terrible Trump epoch. But the story isn’t about Jack or Snow White but about another children’s favorite, whom you most certainly recall. Here you may well find comforts abounding.
Step 29: Think of yourself as Little Red Riding Hood.
If you didn’t vote for Donald Trump and fear his administration, then you are being lulled into thinking, in 2017, that you are the beginning of something. This is a trick the calendar plays on us all the time, at the start of new calendar years and decades, and at the start of new presidential terms.
But consider this: the calendar is just an artifice. History doesn’t keep calendar appointments. It keeps appointments with larger trends. And so, if you’re shaking at the prospect of Donald Trump, with his bullying impulsiveness and propensity for diversionary bread and circuses, just consider that you may not be at the start of a thing but in the middle of it.
Not only that, but once the middle is done, a happy ending is upon you.
Take Little Red Riding Hood. At the beginning of her journey she started out through the woods with wine and cakes in a basket for her old granny. She was only at the start, and yet, unlike anti-Trump voters, she was very happy with her new beginning. Not every little girl gets a trek through the woods with wine and cake. So beginnings can be deceptive. LRR thought hers was groovy. You think yours is horrible. But you could both be wrong.
To learn why, please read on. Don’t let Trump cause you to give up, either reading or hope.
Well, soon enough LRR gets into the middle of her journey. She stops to pick flowers—her mother told her not to, lest she be molested by the Big Bad Wolf (hereafter BBW, and while we’re at it, let’s call Granny “G”). BBW gains some valuable intelligence by conversing with LRR, who tells him that she is on her way to G’s house. You know the rest. The BBW gets to G’s house ahead of LRR, disguises himself (badly) as G, and soon enough eats LRR whole—meanwhile, though, as a merciful BBW he has only locked G in the closet. Go figure.
This concludes the middle of LRR’s experience, and, as it’s very dark inside the BBW’s belly, it’s pretty bad—sort of like being swallowed whole by Donald Trump at some fancy Manhattan restaurant, the sort that his “real people” voters will probably never see, as they’re all out in Greasy Spoon, West Virginia dining on coal dust and hoping in vain that the Great Orange White Hope will somehow reopen the mines.
Ah, but here’s the good news. LRR was only in the middle of her trip. There was still the happy ending to come, as a woodman hears her screams, cuts open the belly of the BBW, and frees LRR for fairy tale immortality. (G is released from the closet and offers the woodman some wine and cake.)
And so the start of Donald Trump’s term might just be the latter part of the middle of something else. Maybe Trump’s new term will turn out to be the prelude to a happy ending. If you live through it, you might look back on it as the beginning of the end. Trump is unable to stop immigration and automation. The country has to adjust to it. Robots take away some jobs (truck driving, for instance) but create new ones (somebody has to keep the robotic truck drivers well-oiled). White working class folks, with few skills to offer, will get a guaranteed annual income in exchange for which they do charity work in their broken-down rural communities and, flush with the glow of altruism, get over their paralyzing opioid addictions. There emerges a new consensus that, given the decline in white American birthrates, the USA needs immigrants to take up the slack. And meanwhile, Hmongs in Wisconsin and Somalis in Minnesota are now serving on their local town councils and get “Citizen of the Year” awards from Caucasian people.
Maybe the start of Trump’s presidency is just your momentary dwelling in the belly of the beast. And soon a woodman (Elizabeth Warren?) will come along! Hey, it happened to LRR. Maybe it’ll happen to you, especially if your name is, say, Lawrence Robert Redding (LRR).
Which it probably isn’t. Oh, well. Not every step is warranted to work for sure.
Little Red Riding Hood is a children’s story of course, and I hope it has brought you ease for just that reason. But perhaps it’s time to consider something more radical: not just reading a kids’ story but actually trying to become a kid again. Psychologists will call this regression, and they frown at it. Any reputable shrink will probably say, “Don’t go backwards into childhood; face up to Trump—deal with reality.” But shrinks don’t know everything, and I’ll bet they have their own secret methods for diverting and consoling themselves about Trump (such as taking double doses of Lexapro or keeping gratitude journals or pretending to dance around their offices with elephants—all of them childish activities). Besides, Jesus himself advised us to become as little children, and he, along with John Lennon, was the best shrink of them all.
Step 30: Become a little child.
It’s 2017, and foreign policy professionals are very scared about the inexperience and impulsiveness of the new president. Most presidents-elect get daily intelligence briefings. This one is requesting them only weekly. It’s said that he gets most of his information from (Fox News) television. Diplomats are worried. You might be worried, too. But this is not the first time that diplomats have been scared.
In the mid-1950s, for instance, the United States exploded a bomb on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. It was a big one, equal to 750 of the ones that incinerated Hiroshima ten years earlier. Ninety miles away a Japanese fisherman, riddled with nuclear fallout, died of poisoning. Tuna by the ton was worthless, unless you wanted to digest a glowing version of Charlie, the famous wisecracking cartoon fish of tuna commercials. Pacific winds, long accustomed to making their way to the Middle West, dropped a little radioactive rain on Chicago.
What a scary time it was! People started building underground fallout shelters. Those who could afford twenty plus tons of concrete and steel, and who didn’t mind putting a twelve-foot gash in their Bermuda grass, got right to it. Better dead than Red, said some brave anti-Soviet patriots; but others, with their shelters, thought it was better to be alive than Red. Why not survive the conflict and emerge both alive and red and white and blue all at once? One question, though: Should they shoot panicky neighbors who, during a nuclear war, might try to break into the fallout shelters? The debate about this issue became a serious ethical discussion in the United States. Ministers and rabbis spoke with solemnity on the subject but could not agree on answers.
Like 2016, 1956 was frightening. And I was alive then, too. But was I scared? Nah. I was just a kid, you see. It’s easy to say that I was lucky that way, and it’s likewise facile to say that as a kid I wasn’t expected to know or care about this stuff because, as a kid, there wasn’t anything I could have done about it. Well, guess what? There might not be much you can do about Donald Trump either. As a kid I wasn’t in a position to say, to President Eisenhower, “Hey Ike: don’t start that war with Russia. I might want to have a career some day.” But today you, an adult, worried reader of this chapter, are also not in a position to say, “Hey, Mr. Trump. Please don’t start that war with whatever country has insulted you (Macedonia?)—I might like to finish my career.”
That’s the point here. You can worry about Trump all you want, but you can’t really do much more about him than a five year-old child can. You’re just an common urbane citizen. So why not remember that and actually try to become a five year old child again? You can start by eating the kinds of foods a five year-old kid likes. Channel your still-potent inner pudding pop. This may be a time not only to ignore the news—maybe pretend you can’t read very well—but also to rediscover the joys of Mattell, which used to make toys that lasted longer than some GM cars did. Spend a little more time at Toys R Us.
Become as a little child—didn’t Jesus himself advise that? Revel in your blissful ignorance. After all, Donald probably won’t have much more information than you will, and he seems happy enough. Once his time in office is done, if we’re still breathing, you can always go back to Reuters and MSNBC.
And a good dentist can repair your teeth, ravaged by all those popsicles.
Well, we’ve thrown everything we can think of at you in order to help you find condolences, effective ones, during a ghastly time in America. And yet not a single one of them has really come from overseas. This is a regrettable oversight, since Trump’s America First movement finds its support mostly in Americans who’ve never gone overseas and who don’t hold passports. They are pissed-off xenophobes. They live in isolated areas far from any wicked metropolises or infectious foreign strands. So, as a protest, at least one efficacious consolation for the rest of us should properly come from beyond our sacred borders—and what better than place than from secular, neo-liberal, cosmopolitan, tolerant, free-trading, anti-Trumpian Germany? Just taking a suggestion from Germany is itself a reassuring way of sticking it to the Dreadful Donald, especially if the suggested step itself has a literary source that is famously American!
Step 31: Consider Sam McGee beneath the midnight sun.
Here are a couple of facts about Donald Trump. He said, of Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break, that it was so disgusting that we really don’t want to know about it. And there were signs at Trump rallies that said, “Thank Jesus Christ for Donald Trump.”
And then there’s a third fact about him. A friend in Germany wrote to say that the best way to approach Donald J. Trump was to think of “strange things done beneath the midnight sun..” At first I thought that the Trump triumph had maybe addled his brain or driven him provisionally insane; that he’d heard Trump’s comments about disgusting bathroom breaks, at least as practiced by his lady opponent, and then seen the Jesus Christ sign and noted the wild juxtaposition and just lost his mind in some ravings about the Arctic sun. I feared that the very idea–that JC would sanction a man who talked that way about women’s private habits—had been too much for him.
But I was wrong. My German friend isn’t mad at all. He’s just literary, and a Google of those lines about “strange things done beneath the midnight sun” comes from an American poem by Robert Service called “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Many of you had already caught on to this by the second paragraph, but I had forgotten all about the poem and didn’t recognize the line.
Reading the poem really does help us survive the Trump years.
“The Cremation of Sam McGee” is a sucker story, and that’s my European friend’s point. The narrator of the poem is in frigid Arctic country looking for gold alongside Sam McGee, originally of Tennessee. Sam delivers the bad news that the cold has done him in—that he’s tired of finding icicles where his beard should be—and that he missed the warmth of Tennessee, which of course he would never feel again. He wanted to die, Sam did, but as a Southern boy he feared death and burial by ice. He even said that, though dead, he would feel the snow in which he would be laid, and it would be mighty rough on him.
This makes no sense of course, but the frost-bit narrator is moved by Sam’s plea that somehow he be cremated—not an easy job on the tundra. He decides to keep his promise to the ostensibly almost-dead Sam, and the whole point seems to be that the test of a man’s character is whether or not he keeps his promise even out on the frigid plains where nobody will force him to. And keep his promise he does. He finally manages to find wood and fire and a platform and even a little house in which to cremate Sam. A man’s word is his word—surely a saying that Donald J. Trump belittles.
Yet it turns out that Sam only wanted somebody to build a nice warm fire for him. He wasn’t dying at all, and when our faithful narrator opens the door of the jerry built crematorium he finds Sam warming himself with a little gratitude. He then requests that the conned narrator shut the door, though, because he’s letting the cold in. It was all a trick. It was all a scam. But these are the sorts of strange things that are done beneath the midnight sun—where people go maybe a little crazy at times but where if you want to survive you need to be tricky. The narrator kept his word and got fooled. As they say in America, there’s a sucker born every minute, and at least one of them ended up beneath the midnight sun.
Another just might be the gullible man or woman who thanked Jesus Christ for Donald Trump. They are keeping their word to him, but will he turn out to be Sam McTrump? Bet on it.
Well, the point of the poem is this: that as strange as this event might be, in another way it isn’t odd at all. If suckers really are born every minute, why should anyone be surprised that some of them will end up under a sun shining at 12 AM, while others thank Jesus Christ for helping Donald Trump make scurrilous comments about Hillary’s water closet habits? This “’twas always thus” should be a consolation for you: think, “we’ve been here before,” and you’ll feel better.
Think about great American literature. “So many,” as Donald might say, great fictional characters are suckers about something: Gatsby about Daisy and the mysterious green light; Willie Loman about being “well-liked” as a crummy salesman; Captain Ahab about a white whale that, even if he kills it, won’t really make him feel any better and in pursuit of which he loses his life. Or think of yourself: haven’t you been a sucker at least once or twice in your life? Ever fallen in love? Ever believed that that new Porsche would be just the thing to solve all your problems? Ever invested with Bernie Madoff?
So yeah, my sophisticated friend in Germany has the right idea. Read witty poems about suckers—like “The Cremation of Sam McGee”—and realize that scams didn’t begin with Mr. Trump and won’t end with him. Congratulate yourself, if you voted against him, that you’re not a sucker yourself. You’ll feel better, right? Great!
Now download some images of great white whales and luxuriate in self-praise that you’re not so foolish as to try to kill one. And avoid building igloos beneath the Midnight Sun!
One possible route to refuge from Trump is to entertain the possibility that the threat has been exaggerated: that there’s really not all that much to worry about. This might be called the “Don’t Be A Chicken Little” method of consolation; or it might take its cue from Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman (“What, Me Worry?”). Aristotle long ago observed that one way to regain confidence after great fear is to believe that the threat had always been overhyped. In the interests once again of giving you every possible avenue of reassurance during the time of Trump, we therefore offer this next-to-last step in the second (Consolation) section of this little tome. It is based on the proposition that maybe Trump won’t be quite as bad as we fear, and it invokes an American folk hero (to some anyhow) from the 2008 election.
Step 32: Believe Joe the Plumber.
Joe the Plumber’s real name is Joseph Wurzelbacher. He stood out during the 2008 election when he asked Senator Barack Obama what he could do to help Joe attain his own plumbing business. Obama said, “It’s good for everyone if we spread the wealth around,” whereupon partisans on the other side immediately hailed Joe for having elicited from Senator Obama that he has really been a closet Marxist all along. Mr. Wurzelbacher made some moves to run for office himself in 2012, but these came to naught. In 2008 there were reports that he was not really a plumber. In 2012 he advocated gun rights and showed his profound sympathy for victims of the Armenian Genocide, who could have resisted, he said, if they’d had more ammo.
Joe made no known comments about the 2016 election. This may mean he has retired from politics. But perhaps he won’t mind if we make him an icon of the Trump voter. This is not entirely fair because we don’t know how he voted—this is a private matter—but it seems unlikely somehow that he voted Green. We do not know how he voted, and no one but Joe can presumably say, but he may well have voted for DJT, and if so he thought he was not doing anything remotely dangerous.
This is where you and I come in: We can believe Joe the Plumber and his ilk. We can believe there is no danger. Think of Joe as not only the defender of dead Armenians but also as a sort of gentle parental figure who comes into our rooms when we, as children, have seen some menacing hairy shadow. Joe turns on the lights, reads us another bedtime story, assures us that there is no hostile shade and that we have nothing to worry about. Then he plugs in a nightlight and bids us good night. (Since he’s a plumber he might also turn on a nearby comforting, softly swooshing facuet.) We sleep well, and the next morning we get up, rested, and ready to watch the Cartoon Channel. Maybe there will be a new character, called the Orange Yam, based on the 45th American president.
In truth, Trump voters generally did not believe that a vote for him put the republic in peril. Reporters frequently heard these voters say that while they regarded Donald Trump as impulsive, even possibly a trifle unfit for the presidency, and while many of them didn’t like his “morals,” they nonetheless thought he would shake things up—AND that he would be controlled by an excellent set of advisors (“he’ll have really good people around him”). They also cited the checks and balances of Congress and the courts—a good thing they remembered their civics in high school—and opined that if Trump failed to keep his promises, they could always vote Democratic the next time.
It’s not clear whether or not Joe, our symbol (apologies to Joe if he thinks otherwise) agrees with these blithe sentiments. But why should not Trump voters think it’s low risk to give the man a chance? After all, we have had some mighty bad mistakes in this land, including Vietnam, Watergate, and Iraq, and the republic under God still stands. With a country this big and this rich, after all, it takes an awful lot to screw it up for good. Not even the Orange Yam can do that—well, not, at least, outside the Cartoon Channel.
So, hey: believe Joe the Plumber. He (if he voted for the Don) and other Trump voters don’t seem to think there’s any big gamble here. It’s like buying a lottery ticket, and if you don’t buy, you won’t win. And there’s little downside to giving Trump (if not peace) a chance. Relax, folks. All the plumbers and miners and unemployed barrel makers think Trump’s no danger. Why shouldn’t you? The Democrats can always come back in the next election cycle if there is one.
So: console yourself with Little Red Riding Hood, Sam McGee, Joe the Plumber; drink bad instant coffee and cry yourself to sleep; forget about yoga and join adult play groups; take up correspondence with Charles Manson and start offending everybody on Facebook—these are just some of the recommended steps in this section, which we will shortly close so that we can move to the more proactive Third Section. There is one last step you can try, and its psychology is simple: You can get through all sorts of bad things if you believe that the misery is no less than what you deserve. Either you will comfort yourself with the justice of it all, or you will punish yourself even unto death. Either way, your troubles will be over:
Step 33: You’ll feel better if you’ll just admit that it’s all your fault.
It’s hard to advise you on how you take this final, calming step. But it’s certain that if somehow you can take it, all your Trump-Years problems will be solved. In fact, all your problems about everything will be solved. That’s the beauty of it.
But back to Trump. The man’s a Scot—he’s a Presbyterian, or he was. And so this bit of advice—admit that it’s all your fault—is a perfect fit with Presbyterian history, for that great church was home to the doctrine of John Calvin. In fact, in admitting that Trump is all your fault, you are in effect able to forget about Trump while always remembering John Calvin.
Of course John has been dead for several hundred years. Even in Geneva, to which he migrated from France, he’s barely remembered by most. But he had some great ideas, and his #1 was this: we are all sinners and deserve what we get. Have you recently crossed the street, quite innocently you think, and been hit by a speeding bullet of a car and had both legs crushed so that you may never walk again? Well, John C. would ask, what do you expect? You’re a bad person. This is what happens to bad people.
Now of course you could almost—I say almost—be forgiven if you think you are not a bad person, and you might even think—however stupidly from John’s standpoint—that the fault belongs to the driver of the offending car (maybe there was no driver; you never know in these robotic days). But you’d be wrong. You are a bad person—didn’t you have a cup of coffee in the office last week without putting a dollar into the till, as you’re supposed to do and as dictated by office rules? Oh, don’t say you didn’t have a dollar on you; don’t say that you planned to put it in later. You’re a sinner.
That’s why you were hit by the car. And the driver, or robot, of the car was also a sinner. Life is riven with sin. Even automated drivers are full of it. John Calvin did say that there is one bit of hope: it’s called Heaven. But you can’t be sure you’ll go there, although whether or not you will has already been decided. But if you do get there it isn’t because you’re not a sinner. It’s just that you won God’s lottery. But, you ask, what kind of God would set up such a cruel lottery? Well, JC (John Calvin, not Jesus Christ) would reply: “There you go again, blaming God. What a sinner!”
Once you accept that you and everyone else is a sinner, all sorts of good things happen. You will never expect anything good to happen again. You won’t need to follow the news because you know it’s all sin all the time. Think of the time you’ll save. And you’ll realize that not only is Donald Trump Donald Trump’s fault but DT is your fault, as well.
You’ll be cured of the DTs, thanks to a medicine labeled JC. It appears that Donald Trump himself, though a Presbyterian, has turned his back on Calvin (well, most Presbys have by now). But that’s your fault. I don’t know how to advise you to achieve this wonderful cure. Most Presbyterian ministers are squishy liberals (any other kind?) can’t help you these days. But if you get there, not only will you accept the Donald. You’ll never hope for anything good again, and will never, ever, ever, be disappointed—until, maybe, you discover that you aren’t heading to Heaven after all. But then maybe you will get there—God’s already made that decision—and you might even be up there with the Donald himself. Call it Paradise Heights. Junk food’s on the menu: Donald’s favorite—why are we not surprised?
III: AFFIRMING ACTIVITIES
The ingenuity of this book lies in its psychological progression. It begins with diversions, then moves to consolations, and now will end in a series of suggested actions. You may well not even need to read this far. Perhaps diversions are sufficient for you in the menacing era of Donald Trump. Or perhaps you built on the diversions in order to get to the consolations, and maybe you’ve peaked with those. But there is another possibility: that you have progressed from switching the subject to bringing yourself comfort and now, having recovered thus far, you are ready to ACT! And action items you shall have, starting right away. Some of these involve political activities of opposition. Some of them entail clearing your head of superstitious illusion. Some of them address ways by which you can improve your character so that you become more moral, modest, kind, and humble—the non-Don in other words. The advice here ranges from moving to new places to handing out questionnaires at Starbuck’s to eschewing the false idols of Danish furniture. Affirming Activity in the Trump years truly runs the gamut, and from more than just A to B, too—perhaps all the way up to P! So get ready to act, and we start with a wall—not Trump’s awful Mexican wall—but one of your own! Read along, dear one. Read along. Ready yourself to act!
Step 34: Build a wall and take it to your local Starbuck’s.
One of the things Trump has most vociferously promised is that he will build a wall to keep out Mexican rapists (nearly all of them are, he seems to think, except for a few “I assume, good people”). He will also make Mexico pay for it. Well. The poet Robert Frost once wrote that before he built a wall he’d want to know what he was walling in and what he was walling out. He wrote a poem about his neighbor, given to dark suspicions, who insisted that there be a strong fence between his and Frost’s property. “Good fences make good neighbors,” said this fellow, and it was clear what he meant: “We’ll get along fine as long as you know your place.” The neighbor wanted to hunker down. So does Donald Trump and so do his American (and even international) followers. They’re done with learning or encountering anything new. At the end of his poem (called “Mending Wall”), as the neighbor builds his thick stone fence, Frost describes him as “like an old-stone savage armed.”
That’s the paradox: the more we want to wall people out, the more we betray attitudes, of suspicion and mistrust, that lead to arming and war. But hey, here’s a positive “wall action” you can take in order to protest Donald Trump—it’s the first of our series of Affirming Activities. Build your own wall and take it to your local Starbuck’s
Now right away I’m sure you object. Even if you were able to build your own (brick? stone?) wall, you’d never be able to get it to Starbuck’s. It would be too heavy, and Starbuck’s wouldn’t permit it to be set up anyhow. Well of course not! The wall I speak of is a cardboard wall—you can find some folding cardboard and paint bricks on it. Right away, you see, you are parodying Donald Trump’s wall. You are also taking this parody wall to Starbuck’s, one of the great seats of liberal, urbane opposition to the Trump Regime.
You will then order your drink and scone or two and sit down with your short “wall” in front of you. On it you will hang a sign: “Do not cross this wall unless I can vet you!” This would be a fine burlesque of Trump’s xenophobic wall on the Mexican border. And indeed you would have a vetting questionnaire. Psychology Today has done a fine job of discovering the underlying attitudes of Trump voters. They are incorrigible approaches to the world. Trump voters tend to be rigid. They like following orders. They hate change. They think profits are more important than ideals. So your questionnaire will be designed around testing for these attitudes. Anyone who flunks the test is not welcome to sit with you. They must stay on the other side of the wall.
Once you set up this scheme, this boisterous arrangement, your fellow Starbuckians will naturally ask you about it, and you can explain to them that you are satirizing Trump’s paranoid wall posture. Before you know it, photographers and reporters will show up—for this is a news story—and your idea, your joke on Trump, will go viral. Here then is an affirmative action that you can take.
By the way, it’s rather unlikely that anyone with these retrograde attitudes will actually want to sit with you, for Starbucks outlets in major cities, where you probably live, have very few Trump voters enter them. What will you do, however, if you administer the questionnaire to someone who flunks but wants to sit with you anyhow? I’m not sure I know how to advise you. It might mean war.
Thus concludes the first affirmative action recommended by this book during the Age of Trump. Again, the idea is not merely to divert yourself or console yourself but to do something! Admittedly, dragging a portable cardboard wall and questionnaire to Starbuck’s might seem absurd, but then these are tragically ridiculous times. Besides, it’s always been true that good questionnaires make good neighbors. But if the paper wall doesn’t quite do it for you, here’s another action you can take that’s much more orthodox:
Step 35: Join your local Moose Lodge.
Donald Trump nominated as the new Secretary of Energy an ex-governor of Texas who once said he wanted to eliminate the entire department. That was in 2012, but since then, the former governor, Rick Perry, has had time to study. And over four years time, after detailed scholarship about what the department actually does, he has concluded that he would not want to delete it after all. He is now running the department.
Secretary Perry’s new conclusion seems convenient. It is easy to say that you want to get rid of, for example, the Moose Lodge until they want you to be the head of it. Then you realize that the Moose Lodge does a lot of good after all. In the case of the Energy Department, it oversees the safety of nuclear power stations in the United States. Mr. Perry reports that didn’t know that in 2012. He was running for president in the Republican Party, so of course he wouldn’t want to know because the voters he was trying to woo wouldn’t want to know it either.
We will not mention the functions of the Energy Department again (no doubt Secretary Perry has them well in hand), but in time we shall return to the duties of the Moose Lodge. First we must attend to the mammal for which the lodge is named.
Though perhaps it should have, the biological moose did not come up while senators were questioning the secretary-designate. During the confirmation hearings the new appointee said that global climate change was happening, some of it natural but perhaps not all of it. He said he didn’t want to go overboard, however, and cripple economic growth via job-killing regulations. Meanwhile, during the January of 2017 in which he uttered these words, moose in a much warmer clime were dying by the score all around New England.
The problem with the poor moose is shorter and milder winters. Ticks, during these warmer, more abbreviated seasonal events, tend to thrive. They feed off moose, which simply cannot eat enough to keep up with the blood loss. They are dying off at a breakneck pace. Scientists are tracking their fates with mathematical care.
Quandaries abound. Some biologists think that moose should be hunted in much greater numbers in order to deny the ticks their prey. There will be fewer moose, but their longevity and quality of life will be better. As for the unlucky, killed off moose, well, they can at least be grateful that the scientists are trying to help out their more fortunate cousins. These same scientists also point out that in time, when all the moose are gone, the ticks too will be out of luck. But other biologists think that the moose should be hunted in smaller numbers so that, somehow, their greater numbers will help them survive the massive infestation of blood-sucking insects.
It’s all rather a mess, and it seems to stem from the global warming trends that Secretary Perry is so lukewarm about. Life is like that sometimes, as when prisoners about to be hanged come out into the sunshine and say, “Well, the day’s starting off well anyhow.” Moose are dying even while the Secretary of Energy thinks we shouldn’t get too excited about the fact that every year gets hotter than the previous one. No one asked him about the moose or the ticks. Maybe it’s just as well, because neither species would be able to comprehend his explanation about the need not to overregulate; and the senators (another species) were ready to confirm him anyhow.
Depressing, isn’t it? But it’s part of the Trump Years. An energy secretary who once wanted to destroy his agency; a presidential boss who says climate change is a hoax perpetrated in Beijing; dissolving ice caps; expiring moose. Maybe the only entities really happy about this state of affairs are the ticks, which are having the time of their life. That’s quite a Trump legacy to be proud of: We enabled the most blood-sucking creatures on the planet to thrive. We stopped blood-sucking-killing regulations.
But there is something you can do to cheer yourself.
You can join the local chapter of the Moose Lodge.
Even if all the moose are wiped out of course, the Moose Lodge can still retain its name. There is nothing preventing a group from calling itself the Wooly Mammoth Lodge or the Unicorn Lodge just because those creatures don’t exist.
Becoming a Moose yourself may be the only way to keep “the moose” alive—if not in life then at least in memory. This organization is technically the Loyal Order of Moose. It’s located throughout the U.S. and Canada. It’s a fraternal order, but there is also a women’s auxiliary called Women of the Moose (WOM). It has almost a half million members. There is a Moose lodge in Bermuda. There’s even one in Brooklyn. You have no excuses not to join.
The Loyal Order of the Moose (LOOM) sponsors medical research. It aids the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. It supports recreational programs for wayward youth. It maintains retirement centers for both LOOM and WOM members. Both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were members, and so is Manute Bol, the NBA’s tallest player yet. Earl Warren, the great progressive Supreme Court Chief Justice, was a member.
Donald Trump has never been a member. This is a group with standards.
You will be asked to devote both hours and money to LOOM’s variously noble causes. You will exude a glow of altruism. Oh, and former President Warren G. Harding was also a Moose. This should tell you something. Harding was one of the worst of American presidents, yet LOOM was about forty years old when he took office and it has been going nearly a hundred years since he left office. The Moose has survived Harding. It will survive Trump maybe.
The animal moose, of course, will also survive Trump, though Donald John’s ignorance of climate change will do them no favors. Meanwhile, by becoming a member of LOOM or WOM you will do good works, forget about Trump, keep the moose alive in some symbolic fashion at least, and be consoled by being part of an order that has outlived Harding and Nixon, and remains alive even after Bush the Young Pretender.
Oh, and you might even think of heading to Vermont for the winters, which are getting more and more like summers now. It’s also Feel the Bern territory, and nary a Trump Tower in sight. There are still surviving moose, and an outstanding Moose Lodge in Rutland. Tell ‘em Rick Perry sent you.
Of course if you are a global-thinking urban liberal, joining something called a Moose Lodge may seem a bit, well, rural. So it may be an action of limited appeal to you. The next recommended step, however, goes right to the big city climate of sophistication in which you thrive. It is almost certain to attract you!
Step 36: Take over dinner parties.
Recently I myself attended a fashionably liberal dinner party at which the entire discussion was about Donald Trump. What will he do, someone asked, when he learns that the North Koreans have a missile that can hit San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle?
The discussion ranged over possible options: that he will become bored after five minutes of policy back-and-forth and tell his aides, “You handle this; I’m off to tweet about the Oscars”; or that he will simply say, “Nuke ‘em. Now,” and when his panicky aides begin to push back he will say, “NOW. Do it NOW. I won, remember”; or will he ask his son-in-law, 35, or Ivanka, what to do? Or will he do something else?
The entire uncertainty was scary in and of itself. Everyone had too much to drink. Dessert went down poorly. Gulps and belches ensued. Many people left early in horror. Some were trembling. The event was unmistakably a failure. The person who asked the question about North Korean nukes will never be invited by anyone to any occasion whatever, ever again. That’s too bad because his grandfather used to publish soft porn comic books, and he had great childhood stories. He was also quite in demand for completing guest lists so that they constituted an even number.
You probably get invited to these sorts of liberal elite parties. But if you are to push through the Trump era you will need to make sure they do not collapse as this one did. It’s really up to you to become proactive. This means taking over the discourse. It means making sure that, as the eight or ten gather round the table for arugula and goat’s cheese salad the conversation does not turn to…Him!
But how can you prevent it? One method is to prepare with care for these parties. This means research on some arcane subject, such as Albanian physicists or Cyprian cosmologists. You will need to speak up about such subjects right away and tell your fellow guests what you have found out and how, well, there is this whole other world (besides Trump) out there that should NOT be neglected just because a mentally ill narcissist and borderline personality is in the White Tower and professes to be the president.
“Did you know,” you can ask, “that it was an Albanian physicist who first discovered the secrets of sinusoidal flow?” Or, continuing, “that it was a Cyprian cosmologist who has propounded the idea that in the future all information will flee into outer space, resulting from the big bang of a single quantum smart phone?” And your guests will say, “No. You don’t say. Tell us more. Now.” And off you go.
Or you can propose a game, called QUESTIONS, ANSWERABLE OR NOT. You simply identify a question and then ask your fellow guests if the question could possibly be answered, and if so, how. For example: “How many ants were in London in 1612?” Could anyone even come close to an answer and if so, how? Or: “Can the thought entailed in the sentence, ‘I hate Aunt Martha’ ever be encoded into a particular brain pattern?” Or: “Did anyone hate Aunt Martha on the day that Stalin died in 1953?” As you can see, there is a great variety of fun questions revolving around Aunt Martha alone, including this one, “When Aunt Martha picnicked, how many ants tried to bite her out of sheer despite?”
Remember that the whole point is to steer the discussion away from Donald Trump. Thus do not ask whether or not Aunt Martha would have liked Donald Trump!
You may have your own ideas about how to take over a dinner party and, through either the dominance of fascination or boredom, make sure that it is a sparkling, 100 per cent Trump-free occasion. The sanity of your fellow liberals depends upon it. Everyone must try to remain calm until 2020, when we can all support Bernie or Elizabeth Warren or some other youthful leader. Joe Biden has refused to rule himself out.
Anyhow, you get the point. By the way, these methods of diversion also apply to dinner parties in which you are the host.
The liberal dinner party you save may well be your own.
I hope this previous step will be more to your liking in the event that the Starbucks wall seemed too ridiculous and the Moose move seemed too countrified. Dinner parties are probably your thing. Meanwhile, this next step will be the most proactive of them all so far. It’s also along the lines of prevention in this time of crisis. The best medicine is often preventative. As my dentist is fond of saying, “pay me now or pay me later.” He thinks I should pay him now—an ounce of prevention—mostly because he might not be around if I should need to pay him later, the greedy bastard (bet he voted for Trump). Anyhow, here’s the next step—and it’s an extremely well seasoned one.
Step 37: Start sprinkling pepper on the sidewalk.
As this is written, there has not been a nuclear exchange with North Korea or China. Abortion during the first trimester is still legal everywhere in the United States. People are still able to buy health insurance on government established exchanges. And no one has been jailed, yet, for saying that Donald Trump comes from a mixed marriage because one of his parents was human.
These are all dire eventualities. But they have not happened yet. And perhaps they never will happen.
Why? It’s because you, and perhaps others, are sprinkling pepper on the sidewalks daily. If you stop doing that, Roe v. Wade will become tragic history. Don’t miss a single pepper day. It’s a big responsibility you’ve been given, or maybe taken—and yes, a logical explanation for the pepper sprinkling will come if you’ll just take time to read on to the end of this step. Don’t you just love suspense?
I did say pepper, not rice. But there was a man once who sprinkled rice on the walks; and when asked why, he stated that this practice was a means of preventing elephant stampedes. (This may have happened in India, but it could also have been in Indiana or Indonesia.) Told that rice on sidewalks had no causal influence on elephant stampedes, the man responded that since he had begun the practice (daily), not a single elephant stampede had occurred. For him, there was no further appeal.
That’s the thing about these superstitious good luck practices. There is always some sort of logic to them. In the case of the rice-sidewalk-elephant syndrome, the logic is that no one can prove for sure that there isn’t a causal nexus between sidewalk rice and elephants afflicted with “must” or whatever they call the impulse that puts elephants on a rampage. (It is possible that today, however, elephants are a sufficiently endangered species that there aren’t enough of them to stampede anyhow—no rice is actually necessary. But that is another subject and beyond the ken of this chapter.)
Good luck—and we will need it during the Trump Era—is never divorced totally from logic. There is even a branch of proto-psychology called “lucky thinking,” by which you can attract good luck to yourself by thinking affirmative thoughts, visualizing positive outcomes, and so on. Even the fabled good luck charms are hardly devoid of some reasoning or other. Acorns, for instance, are thought lucky because they come from oak trees, which attract lightning. Acorns are ergo survivors of the bolts thrown by Norse gods and as such are icons of good fortune indeed. Best of all, they are easily found in a nearby park and can be stored in one’s purse right beside one’s smart phone and lipstick.
Rabbits’ feet are good luck charms, and once again the logic is well nigh impeccable. Rabbits live underground, where most of the gods also live. They commune with these gods, and their feet have absorbed the good karma emanating therefrom. The same is true of raccoon penis bones, though it’s unclear why a raccoon’s foot, which seems more civilized, wouldn’t do just as well. One can always buy crickets for the house. Put them in the basement or attic, and put their chirping next to a microphone—the sort you put in Baby’s room when you were an anxious parent. This too is logical because they will quit chirping in order to warn you in the event of a home invasion. Should Trump send his plug-ugly vampires to arrest you for going to a Meryl Streep movie, you’ll have some advanced notice and can get your garlic necklace out to ward them off.
Or you could just buy a plastic cricket on e-bay.
This seems a bit silly perhaps. Maybe you’re unconvinced. But what can it hurt to try? If nothing else it will bond you to your fellow Trump haters. “What are you doing with that raccoon penis bone around your neck, George?” And you will answer that it’s to prevent a Trump Tower from being named the Putin Palace; and you’ll all have a grim laugh about the thing.
There is one question left to answer. What is the logical connection between spreading pepper on the sidewalk in order to prevent Trump from arresting his domestic foes? But the answer is simple. If putting pepper on the sidewalks of America every day becomes a mass craze, the Trumpistas will be put on notice that millions of Americans are going mad. If they’re willing to put pepper down, who knows what they’ll do next? They might start throwing pepper in the faces of neo-Nazis, engendering dysfunctional sneezing fits among the Fascists. And there are so many of these pepper rebels that Trump can’t possibly lock up them all. Had anyone thought of pepper the French Revolution would have been much less violent and much more effective. Louis XVI would have died of snorting.
Sometimes the most positive actions are symbolic. They go viral in the public consciousness. They are like popular myths. For example, it is one thing to build a system of streets. It is another thing to promulgate the myth that a loud and sketchy businessman will make an excellent American president. But the latter is probably more effective. And so here is a suggestion that, if practiced in sufficient numbers, might well become a successful anti-Trump meme—and it’s a tad more practical than taking a wall to a coffee shop.
Step 38: Have a slice of multi-cultural apple pie.
Those who deplore Donald Trump are patriots who love the American landscape. But they worry that melting Arctic ice caps might someday soon trigger climatic danger to the oceans and the prairies, making the former rise, and turning the latter into the Sahara on a mild day. These patriots love their home sweet home of America but also know that is connected to many a foreign strand, of both peoples and climate. They accept that. Some are even sort of excited by it and welcome its challenge.
Trump patriots likewise love the American landscape, but for them it isn’t climate change but enemy aliens that threaten it. They worry not about rising temperatures or waters but about Mexicans and Asians overrunning the Nebraska prairies. They fear that even peaceable Muslim-Americans may try to put a giant turban on Teddy Roosevelt’s Mount Rushmore head. They reject the idea that America is linked, or at least they don’t like the idea. They lust for borders. They yearn for bans and walls.
Here are two sets of patriots, both sincere but sharing little in common. Both sets have their reasons—they have a history of how they got to where they are on the optimal state of the nation—but there is also a vague idea, especially among liberals, that because Trump voters have their reasons we should not be too hard on them (lest they keep voting for Trump and his ilk). This is OK as far as it goes, but no doubt Hitler’s supporters had their comprehensible rationales, too. They were also deadly wrong: xenophobic, paranoid, aching for revenge, and a ruinous of world decency and safety.
But let us not litigate this question other than to repeat: We anti-Trump voter are patriots, too. And in order to get through the Trump years, during which the President is going to try to make us feel shamefully and helplessly un-American, we need to reaffirm our patriotism.
And what better way to do that than to have regular slices of apple pie, for nothing is, as everyone not from Venus or Vulcan knows, as American as apple pie.
Actually, apple pie isn’t all that American. It hardly originated here. It may have been consumed as far back as ancient times in the Mediterranean (three hundred years before the birth of Christ) and was certainly eaten in Europe by the 1400s. Not until the pollenating honeysuckle bee was introduced into the American colonies were there even edible crab apples in the colonies, and it was only in the Pennsylvania Dutch areas that the dish was popular back then. It is true that one John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) went around planting apple trees in the nineteenth century, but these apples were for cider to be drunk. Johnny was not into pie. He was into the antithesis of sobriety. Today it is China—one of Trump’s bugbear countries—that produces about half the world’s supply of apples.
Still, around the turn of the century the patriotic link between America and apple pie became popular. It is not quite clear how or why, but one New York Times editor opined that eating the stuff just twice a week was not enough, for apple pie is “the foundation of our industrial supremacy” and “the American synonym of prosperity.” For good measure, he added that apple pie was a lovely sign of the changing seasons and “the food of the heroic.” One has a feeling that this guy was having us on. He probably wasn’t, as America was more earnest and dignified in those years, more than a hundred of them, before the ruinously farcical Age of Trump. But the phrase “as American as apple pie” stuck and is not yet gone, even in the more pluralistic America that Trump supporters despise.
Later in the 20th century another New York Times writer stated that “lynching” was, like apple pie, very American. By then “as American as apple pie” was even more popular and well known as the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
As a patriotic Trump opponent you should remind yourself of your love of country. But you should also remind yourself that you love this country because it is a place where many sorts of people, from all over the globe, can devote themselves to the great American ideals: the value of hard work and ingenuity; the authority of evolving law; the supremacy of majority rule and tranquil passage of power; the still unblemished forests and springs; the non-zero-sum premise that everyone does better if everyone does better. You are the sort of patriot that would give your life in protest on the day that Donald Trump decided it was time to blow up the Statue of Liberty and replace it with a bullying scowling statue of him saying, “GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM.”
And to affirm your patriotism you should also help yourself, as a true American, to a regular slice of apple pie. But make sure you also honor your American love for generosity and variety; your affection for a polychromatic America; your admiration for a nation of immigrants.
Hence, have a slice of multi-cultural apple pie. If you want to call it a slice of pluralistic apple pie that’s OK, too. This is still the United States, even if Trump is its ostensible leader.
This means securing some apple pie at the store or a restaurant and enjoying it with
*Dragon’s bread candy (spun sugar; a favorite of Chinese-Americans); or
*Fried ice cream (fried tortillas; vanilla ice cream; cinnamon; sugar; a favorite of Trump’s loathed Mexican-Americans); or
*Falude (a semi-frozen noodle desert with corn starch and syrup made from sugar and rose water; favorite of Trump’s to-be-watched-carefully Iranian-Americans); or
*Shuku Shuku (coconut, sugar, egg yolks, and dough, baked for a while; a favorite of Nigerian-Americans).
I am a poor judge of food and in fact depend on Marie Callender as my chef (her recipes are dated); but food experts assure me that all these desserts are tasty and attain a high degree of culinary decorum and pleasure when teamed with ancient and venerable American apple pie.
A slice of multi-cultural apple pie each week can become the substructure on which you build the kind of American patriotism to which you (also the voting majority in 2016) are dedicated.
By the way, don’t try to celebrate your generous American patriotism by eating Dutch Apple Pie. Pennsylvania after all voted for Donald Trump.
As these are weird times, dealing with them requires doing weird things. Ye must fight the bizarre (for instance, an American president who admires KGB thugs who lead big countries and murder journalists) with the bizarre. By these standards eating a slice of apple pie with Falude and Shuku Shuku on top seems comparatively normal. The next step will seem more insane. But in the Age of Trump what appears mad is oft the practice of the least crazy person in the room—or in, as you will see, the cemetery:
Step 39: Have a drink with a corpse.
A professor of linguistics at Columbia University has explained President Donald Trump’s language as perfectly normal behavior in today’s United States. While he concedes, this professor, that until recently presidents “spoke” (in a more elevated and formal way), President Trump “talks” (in a rambling, informal way that is now a commonplace conversational style in America). This is one of Trump’s appeals. He sounds like an angry relative talking, with not a little incoherence, about politics during the family Thanksgiving meal. The son of a wealthy New York family thus sounds both plausible and refreshing to someone out on the Plains. He “talks” (does not speak) the language of a pugnacious twelve year old, which they like and comprehend.
This academic explanation is disheartening to many opponents of Donald Trump. And here is an irony: Just as Trump evokes nostalgia in his supporters for a 1950s America, where the white male was king, so does he inspire in his detractors another sort of nostalgia: for an America where presidents “spoke”—where they used eloquence to call us to our better angels and not to our devilish ids.
America has not only been a land of beautifully spoken rhetoric but also one of beautifully transmitted myths. An anti-Trump nostalgia should hearken back to an almost ancient America—before there even was a United States. This was the land of the Native Americans and in particular the Kiowas of the Black Hills, who learned that once upon there were seven sisters and one brother playing when a strike of lightning turned the brother into a ferocious grizzly bear. It went after the seven sisters, who climbed a tree stump that kept on growing. It kept them just out of reach of the bear’s claws, and they kept climbing towards the heavens until they were translated into the seven stars of the Big Dipper.
Trump tells nasty stories of hollowed-out factories and porous borders, of good white men losing their jobs to brown-skinned rapists and murderers. The Kiowa told a different sort of story, one that unites rather than divides: one in which one’s ancestors are always there as long as the night is clear (and even when it isn’t). They are stars. They watch over their descendants. They are always there, and they never stop shining.
And in doing so these much older Americans suggest yet another way to survive Trump: by honoring our ancestors and letting them shine for us.
Put another way, this is a perfect time to have a drink with a corpse.
Indeed, all of us know someone (a friend or relative or both) whom we think is even lucky to have died before Trump came along, or, more positively, is someone who would have had lots to say about him were they still around. We are not Kiowa, most of us, so it will not do for us to translate them into the Milky Way. But we know where they are buried, or where their ashes were strewn, and we can go there, drink in hand, and have a chat with them. It doesn’t matter whether we are “speaking” or “talking.” What matters is that we are communing.
This seems strange, no doubt, and even morbid. It should not be either, for these people are still alive in us. As the philosopher Derek Parfit has shown, we are, all of us, bundles of memories. We overlap with one another. We remember others, and they remember us. When we die, others continue to remember us, may continue to be inspired by us (in all sorts of ways), and may even complete our tasks along their own route. Sometimes this is so powerfully subtle and indirect that no one may be aware it is happening. A teacher may say something that a student remembers and passes on, and it may keep on being useful wisdom for hundreds of years, even if no one recalls personally how it all began.
This is the real meaning of the Seven Sisters in the Big Dipper. They have not gone away. They will always be with their ancestors, in good times and bad. So fix yourself a drink and visit the grave of someone you cherish. Talk to them.
Have a little cocktail party around the marker. Suggest what they might have made of Trump. Or ask them and they, through your applied memories, will probably even tell you. Tell them what is going on. Inform them that they are still with you. Let them know that you are also passing their memory and perceptions and counsel on to others. Reassure them that, after both of you are gone, both of you shall remain, and that the good things cannot really be destroyed, even by a clownish and menacing demagogue, as long as folks shall breathe and stories can be told and tales written down and memorials can be held, whether in churches or synagogues or mosques or even amid the trees or on the plains.
These long-honored people—corpses in body but still alive in our refusal to forget—might ideally be people of kindness and modesty; persons devoted to the careful facing of facts, however unpleasant; those with a sense of life’s absurdities; and human beings with a sheer energy that takes on the bad times even if they cannot banish them. They might well be people who refrained from braggadocio and fantasies—and they would be people who did not make a career out of evading their own faults and avoiding self-knowledge.
They are still with you, and you with them. You and your memories of them will survive the bad times in which we find ourselves now, and in other bad times to come. Have a chat, then, with a corpse, whose dead body is the least important thing about them, and then take a sip and then remember:
You have only to look down to the earth, and remember, in order to see the Big Dipper for yourself in your own consoling and uplifting way. I recommend vodka tonics, but pleae prefer the potable that’s perfect for you.
Unfortunately not all the recommended affirmative steps in this section are simple to pull off. It is fairly easy to take your cardboard wall to Starbuck’s, even if it’s going to be a bit hard to explain at first. It is relatively simple to mix yourself a cocktail for the graveyard sit; or to have a slice of (non-Dutch) apple pie with Mexican fried ice cream. Actually moving to a smaller city in order to vote against Trump more strategically: well, that’s more of an undertaking. But no one promised that getting through these cataclysmic years would be easy. And so please consider pursuit of the following, as Iowa is indeed where grows the tall corn, out of which come long-dead baseball players, or so it is alleged.
Step 40: Move to Des Moines (yes, you heard that right).
The chattering and word processing political writers are now abuzz with the problems of the Democratic Party. When it looked as though Hillary Clinton would win, they were jabbering and writing on about the problems of the Republican Party and its overreliance on white males with no college. But seventy-seven thousand votes swung in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania tipped the electoral college triumph to the odious Trump, so now the focus is on how “inefficient” the Democratic votes are, concentrated as they are in major cities.
There is a lot to this. The American system rewards the party whose votes, even if a minority, are more spread out. At the same time there are bright patches for the Dems, since changing demographics in Georgia and Arizona suggest that they might be able to win these states in future presidential elections. Indeed, Clinton lost both these states by a smaller margin than she lost Iowa, which went heavily for Donald Trump.
Iowa has few large cities. This creates a problem for the Democrats. There is no reason to despair, as the state went twice for Obama. But as we contemplate how to get through the Trump years and come out alive at the other end, whenever that may be, some may be looking for ways to make themselves feel better because they are doing something constructive to prevent future Trumps.
And here is something eminently practical and effective: Move—relocate—to Des Moines.
The state desperately needs cosmopolitan liberal voters in order to turn it blue again. Isn’t blue such a lovely color? Won’t it go extremely well with the yellow towers of corn? Thus you, stranded in the Trump epoch, should move there. You owe it to your party. You owe it to your country.
If you are a coastal liberal you may resist moving to Des Moines, Iowa, located on the Des Moines River (“River of the Monks”). You are likely someone who likes to be able to walk—walk—to your nearest jazz club. You like taking the subway. You dislike driving cars and think they pollute. You are so green you might as well be a Martian. You enjoy living in an apartment with other people packed on each side of you, plus above and below.
Admittedly, Des Moines does not have much of that. There is an international airport, but it is international cargo only. There is talk of a light rail system, but it is light years away. There are no subways, and the main transportation hub is the Interstate, chock full of autos that exhaust the ionosphere. Houses are not attached. They are yards away from each other and have lawns to mow. You cannot walk to your nearest jazz club, although the city does have something called “Jazz in July.” But then winters are cold in Des Moines, so July is one of the few good months for outdoor jazz anyhow.
Nonetheless, there are skyscrapers, one of them 45 stories high. The new public library was designed by a famed London architect (I forget his name, but he’s famous). There are four miles of skywalks, very commodious during the endless, frigid winters. There is a botanical garden. Des Moines hosts lots of insurance companies, but there’s data processing there as well now—very hip in the digital age. There is an opera and a symphony. There’s hockey and basketball, both professional if, alas, minor league.
So you could do worse than move to Des Moines; to make a small sacrifice in order to Make America Blue Again. I would suggest, though, that you do not do so alone.
Twitter might be a good place to start. Try the hashtag #MovetoDesMoines in order to interest other liberals. You could, by the hundreds and thousands, buy up property close to each other near downtown. You can fill in the gaps between your homes wth inexpensive concrete. That way, you will feel you are living in the attached townhouses of New York or Chicago. You could pave over the grass. You could sit on the floors of the city buses in order to affect riding on a subway. You will of course vote Democratic, and soon enough Des Moines will begin to dominate Iowa voting the way Chicago dominates Illinois voting and the Twin Cities the franchise in The Land of Sky Blue Waters. (Again: Blue is the best color of them all.)
You can make Des Moines, now only about 600,000 in the metro area, a million- person place. This will be an excellent way to screw the bozos who live in places like Muscatine and McGregor and who voted for the egregious Don Trumpone.
Don’t just suffer. Do something! Iowa was the state where someone said, “Build it and they will come.” He was the ghost of an old disgraced baseball player, and he was talking about tearing down a cornfield and putting up a baseball diamond. The new motto is, “Move there, and the new Obama will come.”
Of course moving to Des Moines takes time. You must get a new job, find a place to live, hire a moving company, and so forth. If there are others in your life, you may have to persuade them of the wisdom, glamor, and/or sacrifice involved in such relocation. Meanwhile, you will of course continue to go to urbane parties. And you may well grow discouraged because, as we saw earlier, these parties have become dumping grounds for freaked-out lefties. What do you do on your s-l-o-w way to Des Moines? You find other parties of course. And here’s how to do it!
Step 41: Switch parties—no, not political parties.
Mark Twain once quipped as follows: “Suppose you were a member of Congress and suppose you were a liar. But I repeat myself.” If he were alive today, and in right-wing garb, he might have said, “Suppose you were a liberal. And suppose you were an elitist. But I repeat myself.”
Twain wouldn’t have said such a satirical thing about the left wing. He himself was radical, not reactionary, and deplored the over privileged stench of big money during the Gilded Age. But the terms “liberal” and “elite” do go together in some circles—this cannot be denied.
Last night I attended a cocktail party dominated by liberal elites. They were all opposed to Trump, who had just made news by stating that he planned to show off the American military in big parades and by being sued yet again for groping a woman. Liberal elites were aghast and could speak of nothing else. Perhaps it is time to define an elite. An elite might be someone who, when a pipe leaks, calls a plumber rather than the local big-mouthed deejay to fix it. An elite, asked to consider someone for a huge political job, actually thinks that someone with political experience and policy knowledge might be more qualified than a real estate mogul and reality TV star who has never held political or military office.
Anyhow, these elitists could not stop chattering about this same reality TV star and his latest malfeasances. So I left early, not because I disagreed but because I had become numb and then bored. You, if you plan to survive these wilderness years (whether you move to Des Moines or not), will need to limit strictly your ration of such parties as these. Previously we explored how you might take over these parties.
But sometimes retreat is better than valor. So:
It’s time, indeed, to switch parties—not political parties but parties.
Go to parties where Donald Trump’s name will not be heard—where even sobriquets for him (e.g., the Demon from the Orange Lagoon) will not be heard.
But here we have a problem, because “theme” parties, where everything is focused on a single (non-Trumpish) motif, seem stale. Any Internet search for “great party ideas” will reveal the most hackneyed of suggestions. There are, for instance, 1980s parties, where guests are encouraged to wear “Where’s the beef” buttons, put shoe polish on one’s hair to seem like John Travolta, and do disco steps; black and white parties, where guests are to wear nothing but white shirts and black ties or (slightly more original) black shirts and white ties; quiche parties, where guests are supposed to bring over dishes that constitute their wildest idea of what a quiche can consist of (e.g., chicken fired steak quiche or dandelion and rhino quiche); or gender bender parties, where men are to wear lipstick and women football helmets or wield a hockey stick. These are all pretty flat.
If you switch parties, and these sorts of parties are the alternative, you may have escaped Trump, but you will also find yourself swimming in a sea of ennui with terribly derivative people.
You might even long for Trump himself to show up and turn the whole thing into a Bad Hair Day Party. That sort of desire would be, at the very least, counterproductive.
Thus you, wildly creative elitist liberal that you are, will need to switch parties by throwing your own—which will not only be great diversions from Trump but also deliciously wild and wooly, and innovative.
What do I mean? I mean Luau Parties where guests must do much more than just wear leis and strum ukuleles and dress as Don Ho. I mean Luau Parties where people must come disguised as pineapples. I mean Toga Parties where people do much more than just come pretending to be Mark Antony or Julius Caesar. I mean Toga Parties where couples have to come pretending to be Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra and throw drinks in each other’s faces before chasing each other around your living room with (real) Roman swords in hand.
I don’t mean 3 items of clothing parties where people are permitted to show up wearing only a shirt, tie, and underwear (or tie, underwear, and trousers). I mean two items of clothing parties with the added proviso that underwear is disallowed.
We’re talking over the top here, folks. We’re talking chaos—the possibility of stabbings and orgies. Why not combine party themes for that matter—not only require guests to come disguised as pineapples but then, after they arrive, have a best-sliced pineapple contest. What a bloody good time that will be!
This all sounds a bit extreme. But it’s the only way to avoid going to dull liberal parties where no one does anything but prattle on about Donald Trump. Once the cops start to investigate all your sliced pineapple guests you’ll forget all about the 45th President of the United States.
These are desperate times, so it doesn’t get much better than that. I wish it could. Going to prison seems like an awfully high price to pay in order to ignore Donald Trump. Sorry.
It’s often said by their foes that the trouble with liberals is that they can no longer talk to common folks, the sort who still admire Andrew Jackson and John Wayne and Bad Cholesterol; that they’ve spent so much time in Modernist skyscrapers and Thai restaurants and Chinese operas that they wouldn’t know what to say to ordinary people in places like Cut n’ Shoot, Texas or Mud Cat, North Dakota. Well, one of the best things you can do in order to survive the Trump Age is to push back against this odious charge that you are a citizen of a city-state as opposed to a Real American. We have already discussed multi-cultural apple pie as an antidote to this “phony American” canard. Here’s another affirmative step you can take: Become a moral person—not just an ethical one—by becoming chums with Real People right in your own big city. [Note: If you are a good anti-Trumpista who lives in a small town (oh, you’re the one!), then you probably took this step years ago, so you might want to skip over it here.]
Step 42: Befriend cashiers and janitors.
Donald Trump’s fans love him for his indifference to ethics, while his detractors hate him for it. This very formula of love and hate screams out danger, as one can easily imagine someone saying, either now or in coming years, “Love him or hate him, he got stuff done.” This is the admiration of strength, the materials of which dictators are made. That “he was nonetheless very effective” can be said of Stalin. In fact, it was said of him. So what if he had to kill a few million with bullets in the back of the head? Quick death is the powerful engine of progress—no person, no problem.
Donald Trump does not advocate shooting his enemies—he only wants to tweet them to death. But he has said, when encountering the fact that Vlad Putin has murdered foes, that the U.S. kills people, too—and he didn’t seem too upset about it.
Still, so far Trump seems to turn a blind eye not so much to murder as to those pesky ethical rules. He’s been lax about deleting conflicts of economic interest between his presidency and his business. He wants his son-in-law to be a personal advisor, despite anti-nepotism ethical regulations that make the idea rather dicey (though he’s gotten around those rules).
But the real question concerns you: How are YOU going to adjust to a presidency that flaunts rules of ethics? This is especially difficult because you are probably a person who really believes in ethics. Chances are, you are an urban professional—one of those liberal elitists that Trump voters despise. And there is a good chance that you are a member of a profession with its own ethical rules. If you are a doctor, lawyer, accountant, executive, sales manager, journalist, personnel director, diplomat—then there are professional do’s and don’ts concerning monetary conflicts of interest, transparency, and harassment. They are likely listed in a booklet you got when you took the position. You probably had to sign an agreement to abide by these ethical rules. President Trump might even call you a sucker for doing so. Ethics are for losers.
This link between your being an elite pro and your abiding by ethical regulations may even help explain why Donald Trump is so popular among people who aren’t highly-educated professionals and who don’t have to worry about the ethics of professional organizations. Ethics are for squishy liberals. They mean nothing to “can do” billionaires who are going to bring all the coal mines and factory jobs back. The more Mr. Trump sticks his middle finger at ethics, the more his fantards adore him.
So what’s a crème de la crème left-winger in San Francisco or Seattle or Boston, squeamish about professional ethics, supposed to do?
Here’s the admittedly counter-intuitive answer: Downplay ethics—and start being moral instead.
In the film Election Matthew Broderick, playing a Nebraska high school teacher, asked his class, “What’s the difference between morals and ethics anyhow?” And in the film no one ever got around to giving a good answer. But there is a difference. Ethics are external rules; morals are internal principles. Morals aren’t written down. They’re those feelings of revulsion you have when you see someone being picked on, or the tears you feel starting when you see a one-legged man begging on the street corner. Meryl Streep decried Donald Trump not because he skirted ethics—not because he has business interests in Russia but wants to curry favor with the Russian leadership anyhow.
She called him out because he has no morals. What kind of man makes fun of a disabled reporter? What kind of man is gleeful about threatening to deport Mexican young people who through no fault of their own were brought here as illegals but who have now become contributing Americans?
Of course you can’t go around condemning Donald Trump all the time. But you can promote yourself as a moral person. Trump’s election is an opportunity for you to increase your own repute for morality. You can go around emphasizing kindness and compassion. If you’re a bleeding heart liberal you probably do some of this anyhow. But now you have the perfect climate for doubling down. And who knows? You might even become, really, more moral—nicer, sweeter, more caring.
This is something some “world citizen” liberals miss, anyhow. They prate on and on about the ethics of fighting climate change. They do less charity with the maid or the doorman or the janitor. They do less, often times, with acts of simple warmth and concern.
So this is your chance, you flaccid, professional, ethics-loving, urban liberals. This is your chance to be the un-Trump. This is your opportunity to become a person of simple morality. Start treating the cashier with the same kindness with which you treat your two thousand dollar poodle or pet iguana. Ask him, and the maid and janitor, how life is going. Make a friend. Exchange some personal news. Don’t be contented to be a citizen of the world. Become a citizen of the coffee shop and the apartment house, too.
If nothing else, think of how it will improve your reputation. And you will owe it all to Donald J. Trump.
This must be what is called a paradox.
One way to resuscitate political enlightenment is to move to Des Moines (Omaha, Oklahoma City, and Topeka are also open). This next step, however, is positive because it would prevent all future Trumps from ever becoming president again. It involves turning future Trumps (symbolically resonant, maybe, but utterly incompetent) into constitutional monarchs—to be called Chancellors. This has been done before. For instance, every so often a university in Scotland elects a Chancellor as a sort of iconic mascot. One year they seriously considered making a popular comedian Chancellor. A Chancellor has no real power other than to act symbolically (which, in Glasgow or Aberdeen, might have entailed just being funny in a dull academic setting). But let us not get ahead of ourselves, so here is what is perhaps the most ingenious and affirmative step in this section of the book! You should take it seriously. You should absolutely, completely, and totally one thousand percent think this is possible, perhaps.
Step 43: Make Donald John Trump the Chancellor of the United States.
Jonathan Raban has traced Donald’s Trump’s simple, declarative-sentence candor back to earlier American attacks on elitist phonies. Huck Finn, for instance, said simply that he’ll just go to Hell rather than turn in his slave friend Jim to his owners. The slave owners, the elitists of their day, had told Huck and others that if they helped slaves it would be a mortal sin, which would, literally, send them to Hell. Huck decided he’d rather go to the everlasting bonfire than betray his instinctive moral feelings. A half century later Holden Caufield, J.D. Salinger’s famous adolescent anti-hero in The Catcher in the Rye, called out all the “phonies” in New York City, who didn’t give a damn where the ducks went in winter but pretended to be caring people.
These sorts of bumper sticker protests against stuffed shirt fakery are an American tradition. It’s called “telling it like it is.” Jonathan Raban says that Trump can “tell it like it is” in spades. He may himself be a phony, but in his sixth grade locker room anger he seems to be an anti-phony.
(Brief time out: While Mr. Raban’s comparisons of Trump to Huck and Holden ar brilliant, we should add that neither Huck nor Holden would have ever tried to convince us they were suited to be president.)
You may have had experiences with this sort of confidence trick candor even before the odious Donald John came along. A neighbor once told me that she and her husband preferred Sarah Palin for president because “well, she seems like our sort of people.” Some of us suggested, with tact and care, that “our sort of people” (including those of us who didn’t like Palin) were, uh, not really qualified to be president. Didn’t our neighbors want someone qualified? She and her husband responded that if a person, such as Ms. Palin, shared their values then she was qualified to be president.
That settled it.
These same folks have now moved out to California, where, politically, they must be miserable, as they have bought a small home in L.A. in order to be near their relatives. They last I heard of them, they were proudly touting their support for Trump amidst foreign enemies, their neighbors, in Hillary Land.
Well, that leaves those of us who didn’t vote for him—who would rather have died than vote for him (almost)—in misery. But this little volume is about the various ways you can find relief. And the healing step now under discussion involves something active—a proactive political step you can take, a simple idea that you can support and petition for.
It’s an idea that will foreclose future Trumps yet help make people like my old neighbors feel better.
It’s an idea that comes from England, though because this is America it takes a very un-English form. We don’t want to rely on England too much—after all, with Brexit they have their own pathologies. But this simple if admittedly radical proposal can solve the nation’s Trump problem right away. Please read on.
In England there is a partition of personnel. There is a head of state and there is a head of government (currently Elizabeth II and someone named Theresa May, the prime minister). No one in England thinks that Elizabeth should be trying to run the government, and no one wants Theresa May to wear a crown. They have their division of labor. Elizabeth plays an interesting and perhaps vital role. Even when the government fails, the state goes on in the blissful and dignified demeanor of the Queen. (This is why royal misbehavior is so dangerous: Charles’s wishing he could be Camilla’s panty hose, and the Duchess of York’s sucking the toes of a Texas billionaire while the tabloid cameras rolled. This sort of thing just isn’t dignified and makes people turn against the very idea of even having a crowned monarch.)
In the United States we are obviously not ready to have a King. We fought a war against a king. But we could have, in addition to a head of government, a head of state (you could call this person, for example, the nation’s Chancellor; that sounds proper and important). And the Chancellor could embody the values of whatever majority elected him or her.
Why not make Donald Trump the Chancellor of the United States of America?
The Chancellor, like Queen Elizabeth, would not be qualified, or expected, to run the government—just as Donald Trump is not remotely qualified to be an actual United States president, with his lack of experience, his impulsivity, his petty vengeances, his openness to half-baked ideas. But he would be an excellent Chancellor if he were so elected as such. He could tweet to his heart’s content. He could express anti-elitist opinions on just about everything.
But what about the President of the United States? Ah, you see, that person does have to be an elitist. My former neighbors are wrong: the President really does need to know a lot about policy and government. Take Hillary Clinton. She’s obviously an elitist—an expert. She would be an excellent president. Well, she would have been.
Indeed, an ideal combination would be Hillary as President and Donald Trump as Chancellor.
She would know what she’s doing, while he could entertain all the anti-elitists who don’t like Hillary but are now more willing to accept her, an expert, as a necessary evil. They will possibly admit that she is qualified, but they just don’t like her because, well, because she is qualified. She knows more than they do. But that’s OK because they have Chancellor Trump to identify with. They will feel their voices are being heard—and then re-spoken. You could even give the Chancellor a weekly TV show, where he could offer his opinions on everything, just as an inebriated guy on a barstool does; or just as your old Uncle Harry used to do when he had too much Christmas cheer.
The genius behind this arrangement is that Chancellor Trump could say, every day, that we oughta just send these Mexican kids, all ten million of them, back to the dirty slums of Jaurez where they belong; while President Clinton could point out the logistical impossibility, and extreme cost, of such an impractical venture.
Queen Elizabeth is her nation’s superego. Chancellor Trump would be our nation’s id. That’s the difference between England and the United States.
Now admittedly it might be too late to put this plan into action now. But you should get behind it for future elections. Those who want the American leader to reflect their values (“someone like us”) can work towards the election of the Chancellor. Those who want the American president actually to know what he or she is doing can focus on the Presidential part of the election.
This idea might well prevent future Trumps while actually making room for those millions of Americans who like Trumps and Palins. It’s a way to have a Trump without being trumped by someone in the presidency who doesn’t know the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit. See? Already I’m talking the language of the “tell it like it is” crowd.
Maybe, if we can amend the Constitution, I’ll run for Chancellor myself!
Anyhow, you really should get behind this idea. Write a letter, now, to your local newspaper. You’ll feel ever so much better. Do it for your country. It’s also easier than moving to Des Moines (did I mention that Wichita and Bismarck—that’s in North Dakota—are also open?).
The anti-Trump coalition may not be utterly united. Before the 2016 election there was a split among Democrats between center-left and lefty-left. And then there are those Democrats who deplore a drift towards a soft authoritarianism on college campuses in the name of utopian justice. There are pragmatists versus idealists. Yet on the time-honored principle that the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend, these rather disparate groups have now united around their mutual allergy to Donald Trump. For those of you, however, who might be a little reluctant to let the bruises of past divisions heal, here is a positive step just for you:
Step 44: Suck three Altoids and kiss your frenemies.
Though an anti-Trump voter you may still dislike what goes by the now famous, if also notorious, name of Political Correctness. PC has been insinuating itself since the 1990s at least, when an instructor of an English class was trying to explain the power of metaphor. He mentioned that he and his wife were taking belly dancing and compared it to a wad of Jello on a metal tray with a switched-on vibrator underneath. This offended his students, but he got off, I think, with only a severe warning. Whew!
For a while PC seemed to recede, but lately it’s come back with demands for “safe spaces.” An Ivy League university sponsored a conference on women’s rights but supplied quiet rooms for the participants in case they felt threatened, by the discussion. This serene site included cookies and recurring videos of puppies. A conference in England has forbidden clapping because the noise might upset people, so the organizers would only permit jazzy gesticulations of the hands in lieu of noisy, and possibly noisome, applause. At Princeton students have demanded that buildings named after Woodrow Wilson, arguably the real founder of the bleeding heart United Nations, be renamed because of Wilson’s opposition to racial integration. Thomas Jefferson was opposed to it as well, but so far no one has gotten around to proposing that the Jefferson Memorial be renamed after Malcolm X, who, come to think of it, wasn’t much in favor of integration either.
Well, you may think this is all silly, and you may even go further and believe it’s a threat to free speech and open minds on our great campuses of higher learning. One university, Chicago, has abhorred safe spaces as an unwise refuge from dealing with controversial ideas. In other words, if you agree with the University of Chicago, you are probably a free speech liberal, or perhaps a center-left voter.
But now things have changed drastically. If you are an anti-PC person who is also an anti-Trumpite, then you and the PC crowd are on the same side. Trump has pushed you and them together into the same foxhole, from which, with your various peashooters, you spew the admirable doctrines of universal human rights. You must now take up arms beside the thought police and the diversity officers. You may not like the idea of “enforced diversity,” but now you are facing someone, an implacable presidential foe, who is anti-any kind of diversity, whether freely chosen or coerced. The only diversity he likes is between diamond or gold arches at some Trump Tower in Dubai.
And let’s face it: the PC cops were never really your enemies in the first place. You were on their side about the need for a rainbow coalition. You only disagreed with them about means, not ends. They were your frenemies, not your enemies. And now Trump has made it difficult for you to break ranks and criticize PC. You don’t want to break ranks and give comfort to the Great Orange Ogre, do you?
PC, though, was apparently one of the things that helped Trump get votes. Furious white folks in the Outland just despised stories of privileged, well-educated professionals advocating for transgender potties. They apparently thought that such problems were trivial compared to the loss of the widget factory to China, or maybe they just worried that ambivalent toilets were coming their way, to both Joe’s Diner down on Main Street and the one Conoco Station in town. Who knows for sure?
But the point is that you and the PC lovers are on the same side now. The foe of your foe is your ally. The safe spacers are antagonists of Donald John Trump. They are ergo your buddies now.
Well, maybe it’s not quite that extreme. Maybe they still are your frienemies at best, these campus censors with their crushing certainty. Even so, you must embrace them.
So suck three Altoids and give them a dispassionate kiss.
The Altoids will achieve two things. First, you won’t taste the sometimes smug liberal self-righteousness you’re smooching. Second, the Altoids, strong as smelling salts, will put your frenemies on notice that you’re not quite total friends yet, no matter who’s in the White Tower (make that Trump House). Still, before 2020 arrives we may all need safe spaces, even bomb shelters. May they come equipped with soothing cookies! My favorites are ginger snaps, but that’s just me—you aren’t required to like them if you find them upsetting. But if you do like them, please don’t clap. It makes me jittery, and I’m jittery enough as it is.
As with both the Diversion and Consolation sections, the steps suggested in this, the Activity section, range widely. They have gone from the practical to the outrageous; from the absurdist to the idealistic; from the Starbucks Wall to the Trump Chancellorship. The next step is firmly in this tradition of variety. I might even be tempted to celebrate by advising you to pile these various steps: build a wall, take it to Starbucks, find a table, and chat with a ghost crab; or make a ghost crab the American Chancellor; or donate ghost crabs to the Des Moines Zoo when you move there. Where are these ghost crabs coming from? Read on, dear reader; read on. You have nothing to lose but your angst.
Step 45: Have a chat with a ghost crab.
The nature writer Rachel Carson once investigated the different species that live on the seashore—on that “marginal” (her word) area of the globe that alternates between being ocean and land, depending on the tides. In that world she discovers legions of different living creatures, including such old standbys as gulls and lobsters, but also protozoa the size of pinpricks, garishly colored coral, and other creatures half animal and half plant, hanging like tentacles or upside down stalks from the ceilings of little caves.
She also finds, at one point, a solitary ghost crab.
These various beings, surely thousands in types, dwell in this marginal area despite the fact that when the tides get high enough they are going to be washed away. They take nourishment from the nearby watery mist and damp, but in time it also wipes them out.
When Shakespeare’s late teen Miranda, who has spent her whole life on an isolated island far from Rachel Carson’s shore, first sees good-looking young men she calls their presence a “brave new world.” It’s as though she’s just gotten born—like an infant—but can talk about what she sees. One wonders what today’s Shakespeare might have done with Rachel Carson’s isolated Ghost Crab if he had made it talk. I think Mr. or Ms. GC might have said this:
You may wonder—and wonder is the right word—why I live here. I feed on all the moisture around here, but I also know it’s only a matter of time until it deletes me. Life is waiting for death by that which feeds us. That’s OK. We must risk ourselves in order to save ourselves. Besides, I like it here.
This latter statement can apply to a lot of us. One might ask an Eskimo why he is still living in an igloo and conversing with seals when he could be taking in an off-Broadway show, and he might say, “Well, you’ve got a point. But I like it here.” For that matter, to be sure;, a lot of Trump voters way out in Wherever, South Dakota, might say the same thing. Good for them: they could get one of those better-paying citified jobs if they’d move to, say, Sioux Falls or the Twin Cities, but they like staying in Wherever. They’re like the ghost crab, which knows the downsides but chooses to stay anyhow.
Well, that’s fine for the citizens of Wherever, but don’t forget, cosmopolitan against-Trump voter, that it’s equally true and fine for you, too. Yes, you’re an urban ghost crab, but you’re also an American one. You live in a big U.S. city but now, since November 9, 2016, the winners of the election want you to live on the defensive. The prime minister of Britain, maybe thinking she needed to cozy up to Trump and certainly to her Leave-the-EU voters in the UK, has said, “If you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” Translation: “If you don’t eat lots of fish and chips and don’t have the hair stand up on the top of your head when you think of Windsor Castle, then you’re not a real Brit.”
But none of that political prattle is true. If you live in New York or Seattle or Chicago, you aren’t dwelling in some subversive city-state. You’re living in the good old US of A. Are you excited about new technologies, new gender possibilities, new ways of putting old stuff together? Well, that makes you as American as high-tech apple pie. What is America? It’s the NEW World, damn it. America was home to Edison and Lewis and Clark and John Muir and George Gershwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Betty Friedan. What did they have in common? They thought new things. They argued for bold change. They were explorers in light bulbs and the High Sierras and jazzy classical music and finally ending slavery once and for all and something beyond just washing the dishes in the kitchen. They were Americans—all of them. And all of them trace their American heritage to immigration.
So take your cue from the ghost crab. This is partly Trump’s America now. The sea is threatening to rush in on you. But you stay because you like it here. You like living in a country of innovation and looking forward. You’re at least as American than those folks in Wherever who want to go back to the good old days when men were men and the girls were glad of it.
Still, the tide is rising and it’s starting to roar. The authoritarian buffoonish captain of the oceans is ready to raise the waters and let them rush. “Release the seas,” he’s about to say, in good Mr. Burns fashion. It’s coming. But find yourself a ghost crab pendant and be brave. It probably won’t be that bad.
We must risk our souls in order to save them. Thus saith the Ghost Crab.
Besides, you wouldn’t want to head to Toronto. You like it here.
One cornerstone of positive action is facing reality. There is little point in taking steps if they are not going to be effective. Otherwise, one is just distracting oneself and is thus stuck in the first section of the book—not that there’s anything shameful in that. Of course there is that little problem of “how do I know that my affirmative movements will actually work, or count?” That’s a toughie, admittedly, but first you must eschew all fantasies. You must not engage in magical thinking. Trump’s supporters did that, and they’re still waiting for the factory jobs to return to Mayberry, RFD, and they will be waiting for a long time because nobody is going to murder a bunch of robots, which are now doing the work for free. (Robots have yet to organize a union, but if they do, Republicans will only try to outlaw it.) This next step, then, will be in the service of helping you rid yourself of all illusory thoughts. Doing so is itself an Affirming Activity!
Step 46: Exile yourself from Fantasy Island.
One reason Donald Trump won the presidency was his appeal to illusory cogitation. He would bring back the old factory jobs, replace the Affordable Care Act with “something terrific,” and get rid of ISIS by just bombing the Mohammed excrement out of them. He seemed to be a take-charge sort of guy. And Hillary Clinton? Well, it seems that a lot of rural voters resented a take-charge sort of woman, while others were disappointed that she promised nothing more than competence in a difficult world. The Donald took you out for ice cream. The Hill said you needed to do your homework first.
In sum, Donald Trump appealed to fantasy. We shall see how close it comes to matching reality—or what are called factual outcomes in a post-truth world where, presumably, physical pain (low wages, no health insurance) cannot be tweeted away. What’s an enlightened person like you (and me) to do in this malaise?
And one answer (among 49 others) is: Rid yourself of all fantasy. It’s put this way: Exile yourself from Fantasy Island.
One of the best ways to make it through the Trump years is to learn how to be totally unlike him. Remove yourself as much as you can from the Head Fantasist and his sadly conned followers. This is a forward motion. The best revenge is living real.
There are really two Fantasy Islands, and you need to leave them both during the Trump years. If you make it through them, you can always return to the islands, but it’s probably a good idea not to, even then. Ridding yourself of fantasy will not only help you get through the likely disappointing (at best) Trump years. It will also help you live better beyond them, should there be such a thing. The most recent thing we heard is that Trump is tweeting boastfully about nuclear weapons. Should we hope that the North Koreans have a good, or a bad, translator?
But what does it mean to exile oneself from Fantasy Island? The first Fantasy Island is generic. It’s just a symbolic expression for the typical fantasy that so many of us have: that our dreams will come true, or that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it once, that “good things are preparing for you” just because you’re renting property and get to charge a higher monthly fee. Emerson advised us never to believe that good things are preparing for us. But we get lucky just often enough to think that they are. When we do get lucky, we entertain all sorts of fantasies, even ones that we won’t admit even to ourselves, such as “wishing made it so,” or “this happened because I deserved this” or “well, this is what comes of working hard,” or “well, it’s bound to happen again at least once or twice more.” None of these things is true. We don’t wish luck into visiting us. Lots of people are deserving but have bad luck. Lots of people work hard and have no luck. Some people are lucky only once or not at all.
Moral: Be glad that you got lucky and got what you wanted. Don’t expect it to happen again. In fact, the election of Mr. Trump should be a warning to you about your propensity for not enjoying consistent good luck.
Have you ever noticed the plight of the poor major league batter? Every year you’ll find pitchers (though very few) that rack up enormously excellent records. They win over twenty games with losses in the low single digits. Meanwhile, the batter does well to hit safely 35 percent of the time. Very few can do it year-end and year out. Think of the pitcher as life and yourself as the batter. Even if you’re skilled at life, you will still be disappointed sixty-five percent of the time. Looked at this way, the election of Trump will not seem so fantastic after all. Once you leave Fantasy Island and migrate to—what—Reality Peninsula, you’ll come out of your post-electoral shock.
And then there’s that other Fantasy Island, though you have to be old to remember it. This was the one in a TV show of the same name that aired in the 1970s. People came to this specific island in the Pacific looking to have their ultimate wishes come true. One wanted to travel back to the time of Jack the Ripper so that she could study the period up close. Another wanted to go back to “the good old days.” Another wanted to meet the man of her dreams. Well, one of them almost became the latest victim of the Ripper. Another got caught up in the Salem witch trials. And the third almost became a white slave (yeah, white: this was the 70s). In short, there were terrible catches in all their fantasies.
They all forgot that praying for what you wish means that you just might get it.
You can wish and wish and wish that Donald Trump would go away. It could happen. Then you’d get Mike Pence. You might be better off in the Salem witch trials—after all, you might get to become one of the judges, along with Pence. You can both condemn folks who, born one gender, want to be another. They’re bound to be witches, right?
No doubt Mr Justice Pence would think so.
At this point it should be fairly clear that there are two broad categories of Affirming Activity during the Donald Trump era. One involves making political moves of resistance (moving to Des Moines, for example, or scattering pepper on the sidewalk or turning your Hawaiian parties into Slice-the-Aorta Festivals). The other involves making yourself a better person: becoming as much not like Him as possible. During the Hitler period in Germany millions of Germans subscribed to “growing towards the Fuhrer,” or emulating Hitler as much as possible in as many ways as possible (growing toothbrush mustaches, for instance, or ranting at underlings). Here you want to “grow away from the Donald.” And here’s a positive step you can make. It’s fairly cheap: vanity tables are to be had, no doubt, at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army furniture emporium.
Step 47: Purchase a vanity table and desecrate it once a week.
Right about now President Donald Trump is facing those men and women with the video cameras, the digital cameras, and the high-tech microphones. He is ready for his close-up. The picture and sound folks have their technique, but he has his vanity, propeller of his total ability to dominate, to manipulate, to be seen and paid attention to as he wishes. Beneath this scowl, of course, is a sense of reality and limits, but it is painful. He knows that there are millions he has not fooled, and that is why in his inaugural address he did not try to reach out to these people. He only spoke to his own adoring followers and gave them yet more reason to worship him. As for the others, they are vile. They do not count. They are not “the people” in whose name anything he wants can be done. This includes judges and journalists—everyone with the temerity to be in the way.
The best thing to be said about “the people” is that they are his people. Thus they can do no wrong. Together, he and they are infallible. They never lose. Should these people turn against him, they too will be losers. But that’s what he has suspected all along: that the only winner is himself. As Hitler put it, the German people, and not he, lost the Second World War.
All of us have a bit of Trump in us. The French term for our self-regard is amour-propre, a conviction of one’s own self-worth. This is often the basis of neurosis, as life constantly reminds us of how worthless we just might be, and so we work to defend ourselves with false claims, phony supremacy, and strong denials. We wish to say, to ourselves and to the world, that those who doubt us do not know what we know; that they might well be worthless anyhow; or that they are not really doubting us after all—in truth, they really love us. Thus we become well defended and mentally unwell. We have trouble facing the reality of our own unimportance and blemishes. We have difficulty listening to others and facing up to unpleasant truths.
We are all vain enough—this seems to be the human predicament—but almost none of us takes this neurosis with us into the Oval Office or the Trump Tower and tries to become the President of the United States of America. And yet someone with neurotic vanity in mega-tonnage has done just that.
So this will be a good time for us to take our cue from him and work on our own vanity; to resolve some of our own neuroses; to become more genuine and humble persons, unconvinced of our own grand significance. What better thing to do in the Age of Trump than to become as little like him as possible?
This is subtle business, though. We should not become overly proud of being the un-Trump. That would be to exercise the very same vanity that we are trying to cure. So here is a suggestion of how to proceed—one could always consult a psychiatrist, but this might be cheaper. Psychiatrists, whatever else they are, are not inexpensive.
Go on line or to a furniture store and buy a vanity table.
Many of these come with mirrors, but if they do not, you can always secure a separate mirror and place it atop the table. Don’t worry if the wood doesn’t match: you’re trying to get away from vainglory, remember—not embrace it.
Vanity tables are not always called vanity tables. Sometimes they are called “lowboys” in America or a “duchess” in Australia. Sometimes they are merely called side tables or dressing tables (fairly low with a few rows of drawers.) But they are also called vanities, especially when they are dressing tables with mirrors set upon them and propped against the wall. As lowboys, they are not tall boys, which are another type of furniture. For some reason, vanity is associated with a certain lack of height. This should be a cautionary word for Donald Trump, who prides himself on every one of his glorious seventy-two inches, as though a tall ugly man is less ugly merely because he is not short.
Anyhow, you buy this vanity table (mirror is optional though recommended); you set it up; and then you proceed, every week during the Trump Years, to desecrate it. This is a way of reminding yourself about the perils of your own excess vanity. As for Trump, he has a yuuuuuuuge vanity problem, but that’s his problem. We’re talking here about you (and me; don’t forget me).
Again, this will be a regular project: to grow as far away from Don Trumpone as you possibly can. You will be like a planet striving to escape the orbit of a menacing Sun Tyrant.
So you have this vanity table. Each week you mar it. You can paint a small section of the dark oak wood some shade of bright puke yellow. You might cut a little block out of one side. You could carve an X on one of the drawers. If you have a mirror, you might apply a little paint thinner to it every once in a while—it’s said in some quarters that that will lessen the mirror’s sheen. Thus as you watch yourself in the glass over the next four years you will see yourself getting duller and duller—which is a more realistic idea of where you are heading as opposed to the egotistical idea that you are getting brighter and younger all the time.
Or you can paint ugly black splotches on the mirror where your face appears—this way, you can see yourself with uncontrollable adult acne, which will be an excellent promotion of much-needed self-effacement.
With this exercise in de-vanitizing your vanity table you will remind yourself to face facts; to cease overestimating yourself; to accept the implacable process of time and decay.
You will help yourself become the un-Donald—the non-Don!
Vanity is associated with narcissism now, but before the Renaissance it was associated with futility and deterioration rather than with a spurious sense of glory. The two ideas are linked, for a failure to face inevitable decline leads to a false sense of one’s own station. The poet Shelley caught this linkage in a fine poem about the Donald of another era, a tyrant named Ozymandias, who, 1300 years before the birth of Christ, built great monuments (Donzymandias Towers?) to himself. But in the ruins wrought by time, “Nothing beside remains. Around the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
May that become your cue! On your ever more imperfect and disfigured vanity table–a reminder of yourself and your own fate as you seek to become a more modest, whole, and realistic person–you might place a “Make America Great Again” coffee mug. Make sure it’s deformed and discolored, though—because in time it will be.
These are maddening times, so we must be creative in the progressive steps we take in order both to survive them and to enhance our lives within them. The following step may seem even more wild and counter-intuitive than moving to Des Moines (Butte—pronounced Beaut, and in Montana, is also open). But remember: Trump the Tyrant has surprised us all. Thus we need to do unpredictable things in order to get through the woe he hath wrought. The Hebrews wandered for forty years in the wilderness. You can do four in Salt Lake City. And, as you’ll see, it’s not a bad idea as a step of Affirming Activity. Besides, the Mormons are sort of the New Hebrews. And there are plenty of Moose Lodges in Utah if you want to combine steps.
Step 48: Become a Mormon—or at least move to Utah.
One of Donald Trump’s most articulate opponents is David Evan McMullin, a Mormon and thus a member of the sect inspired and founded by Joseph Smith. So what’s up with Mormons and Donald J. Trump?
If you’re a typical anti-Trump voter you probably scoff at the idea that one Joseph Smith, in the late 1820s, received help from the angel Moroni in finding inscribed plates, with the resulting manuscript being what is today called The Book of Mormon. To you, the only reason to be glad for this book is that it inspired a terribly funny Broadway show, which you’ve quite possibly seen. It’s an affectionate but still satirical look at one of America’s few homegrown religions. It follows the travails of two Mormon missionaries who find that Ugandans, for some reason, are more concerned about famine than about, say, Moroni.
Moroni’s plates themselves have vanished, if ever they existed, and no one knows the language from which Smith, with divine guidance, translated them. It all sounds hocus-pocus to any good, red-blooded secular American. The Book of Mormon describes the struggles of ancient, evidently white, Americans (but not Native Americans) with God and Jesus Christ, so the idea is that in Moroni’s coming to Smith, these olden people were about to be restored to the Americas in the form of upper New York State evangelicals. There is even the proposition that the Garden of Eden (or the Hebrew 2.0 upgrade) was in Missouri. This seems to be a silly idea when everyone knows it was really in Santa Monica or the Hamptons.
The Mormons were an unconventional group. They read the Bible but also believed that a man could marry several wives (at the same time, that is). They thought that anyone who died was automatically a Mormon (this helps explain their brilliant pioneering role in the keeping and tracing of genealogical records: if you want to know if you’re a descendant of the Mona Lisa or Genghis Khan or Henny Youngman, ask the Mormons. They were persecuted. Joseph Smith was murdered in western Illinois. A decade after the angel Moroni helped Mr. Smith, the governor of Missouri wanted them exterminated and said so. He was probably a little like Donald Trump.
They were forced to settle in Utah, then not a a state of the American nation. In effect, they had had to go “outside America” in order to live in safety. If you’re part of a religion that claims to be the second coming of the First Real Americans, this is pretty galling and awfully sad.
And, as it turns out, Mormons were deeply skeptical of Trump. For a while it looked as though he might not carry Utah. Evan McMullin ran for president against him in Utah and won one fifth of the vote. Mormons disliked Trump’s boasting about his crotch grabbing and the size of his lower finger. But there was something else, and this something else suggests that another Trump survival technique is for estranged voters to become Mormons.
Mormons believe that the American Constitution is divinely inspired. They don’t like to talk about it, but it’s part of their system. The reason might also be obvious if you think about it: The Constitution guarantees civil liberties, including freedom of religion, and it imposes checks and balances on the concentration of power. Mormons have a long and bitter history with unchecked power and abridgement of civil liberties. They fear Trump’s autocracy and his anti-minority hatreds. They’ve been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt in the western desert. Even Glen Beck, himself a Mormon, has expressed fears about Donald Trump and wishes he hadn’t stirred up such hatred of Obama.
Now the Mormons will consider you one of them on the day you die, but you might want to check in with them early. To oppose Trump on the grounds that he is not only unconstitutional but also ungodly can be pretty powerful stuff, and comforting, too. Mormons no longer believe in polygamy (in general, anyhow), so you don’t have to worry, if you’re male, that someone is going to force you to start a harem, and if you’re female, you don’t have to worry that you’re going to be drafted as wife #11. You can probably be selective about what you believe regarding Mormon doctrine. Best of all, you will be able to enter Mormon Temples, including the sublime tabernacle in Salt Lake City, which is regarded as one of the great massive interiors of North America. Mormons are also admirably dutiful about looking after one another. If the Dow drops precipitously from its current high, which some think it will when Trump engenders massive Federal debt and economic inflation and trade wars with yellow-skinned peoples, and you lose your portfolio, your fellow Mormons will bring you some supper.
Even so, becoming Mormon might seem to be an extreme measure. You’re upset about Trump but maybe not that upset. Even so, think of relocating to Utah. It’s got the greatest, most starkly beautiful tabletop mountains in the world. The Sundance Film Institute isn’t far away. And there are very few minorities in Utah, so when the crackdown begins you probably won’t be in the middle of any of so-called President Trump’s storm troopers.
One adjustment that anti-Trump voters will need to make, if they haven’t already, is an emphasis on love of America. Trump supporters believe that anyone fond of Muslim, Asian, and Mexican immigration to the United States is either a scurrilous traitor that doesn’t love the country, or a naïve idiot who doesn’t realize that these yellowish brown people are enemies of the home of the brave. Those who deplore Trump must stress that they are patriots, too, and that they love the America of Ellis Island; the America of the Italian-American Hall of Fame; the America of Muslim congressmen and Mexican-American mayors; and the America of the Macedonian-American Sports Museum (I know; there isn’t one—but there will be). Still, those who break out into Trump Hives must not overdo this sort of pluralistic thing. And one element that is most suspicious about libtards who oppose Trump is their love for Swedish so-called chairs, Norwegian futons, and Danish divans, not to mention Finnish bassinets. Rural Americans are especially skeptical of liberals who love Scandinavia, with its sexual tolerance and lavish welfare transfers. Out in Greasy, Oklahoma, this seems squishy somehow. Even beyond image, however, anti-Trumpites should also eschew Scandinavian furniture for other reasons (detailed below). This too is a move in the right direction during this distressing time. So please consider
Step 49: Toughen up: don’t count on Scandinavian furniture to save you.
It seems pathetic but necessary to include in this series some steps that will not work to help you survive the Trump years, as well as some steps that will. Beware of the manic capitalist spirit of the United States. The election of Mr. Trump is an entrepreneurial opportunity for some conniving souls. They will try to sell you survival tools. I have scrupulously avoided this conflict of interest. None of the steps commended here have any personal profit motive whatever. I have no investments in ant farms or angel hair.
One step being suggested far and wide these days is the adoption of a Scandinavian (most likely Danish) décor known as hygge, pronounced “hoo-guh” and roughly meaning cozy. One writer likens it to a setting in which it becomes easy to imagine that Bernie Sanders is president and we are about to settle into a Nordic social democracy, in which General Electric has now become Danish Electric (you can have a breakfast of Danish warmed by Danish), or Government Electric. But let’s have enough of such political fantasies. What is hygge anyhow?
I must confess that, upon inspection, it does seem quite snug. Candles glow in regular rhythms. There’s muesli, with or without milk, as you prefer. Hand-knit scarves are said to abound. The tables are of solid wood, light in color but not garishly or unrealistically so. The table tint is what might pass for optimism, Scandinavian style, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. The idea is to nestle in. The earlier advice to build your own flowerpot house is similar to what is on offer here. This point is freely conceded. But that was a mere consolation—we are in the action section now! Let’s try to better ourselves here!
I cannot say that this procedure, this custom-ordered lifestyle, will not settle the nerves of some anti-Trump voters—indeed, doctors have reported a spike in insomnia cases since November 9, 2016. But hygge will only work for mild cases. It will not work for hard ones.
The flickering candles and fireplace will only remind hard cases of what Hitler did: burn the Reichstag and blame the Jews. Trump could burn the Capitol building, or even the White House (since he doesn’t plan to spend much time there) and blame it on the Muslims or on Harry Reid or even Megyn Kelley. Just a glimpse of this fire will not ease the burdens of the hard cases. It will only increase them.
Or take the lovely hand-knit scarves. Suppose they were knit in some country whose economy will be ruined by Trump’s trade war. That is hardly comforting. Yet every time a hard case looks at this cozy scarf that is what he or she will think. The muesli will remind a difficult case that Trump might in the name of alt-right nationalism forbid all such foreign origin foods and demand that we all eat either the peasant food of working class diners in Sweet Lips, West Virginia or whatever is on offer at Trump Tower restaurants. For that matter, the tempered optimism of the light-colored furniture will serve to remind the hard cases that Scandinavian optimism includes such plays as Hedda Gabler, by a Norwegian playwright named Ibsen, which ends with the gun shots of self-immolation. There’s Scandinavian optimism for you. We do not wish to give acute cases of Trumphobia an inspiration to ice themselves.
So do not expec that hygge will save you. It might just be a plot to sell you something. For that matter, do you know for certain that Trump is not invested in the companies that make this stuff? Without his tax returns, which we shall never see unless some bureaucrat imbued with love of country leaks them, you will never know. The man just might be trying to profit off his own scariness. This would not be out of character. Is the Pope pious? Are Danes depressed?
We are almost at the end of our journey of survival steps. I hope the trip has been helpful for you. We will get through this! Previous steps have been largely concrete, involving closet dwelling, French-toast consuming, Manson pen-paling, piano-enhancing (remember the mule you need to put there?), and Des Salt Lake Moines transporting. These are practical things you can do to resist, reassure yourself, change the topic, divert yourself, have homicidal parties, pretend, become obsessed, take chances, steal a scene, gag yourself in the morning—and so many other things you can do in order to survive Trump. As he himself might say, “This is so amazing.” Or I could say, paraphrasing him, “You’re going to survive so well that you’ll get tired of surviving!” Well, anyhow, this last step is more cosmic in nature. There is little point in ending this volume with yet another bit of practical advice, such as “Buy a dog and paint its tail and teach it to walk backwards.” No! We end here not with a dog whimper but with a biggish sort of bang.
Step 50: Embrace the race.
It is hard to admire Donald Trump, but if you can bring yourself to do so, in a perverse sort of way, then you will also find your way to surviving him and his time.
Trump is a vivid illustration of human ingenuity and urgency. He has been creative in his ability to get himself noticed, to connect with his resentful cohort, and to tell a simple story (“we’re gonna win again”) in sixth grade language. He sensed that as a celebrity he would not be graded the same way a politician was. He saw that with the media’s obsession with equivalence, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would be treated as suspiciously as he was. (Had the Washington media been around in 1934 in Germany: “Hitler’s gotten a lot of criticism for his anti-Semitism, and lots of Jews have just vanished; but the Rabbi, you know, seems to be hiding something when he burned all those personal letters he’s been keeping from us.”) Trump knew that in the media his myriad crooked business deals would be treated no more severely than suspicions about his opponent’s electronic messages. Trump understood that most American voters are low information. He knew that many Americans see the president as no more than a giver of orders, and no one can give orders (“you’re fired”) better than he can.
We could go on, but the point is that Trump was clever, obsessively so.
And that, paradoxically, is why you and nearly everyone else will survive his presidency. Just keep telling yourself that, and follow this more cosmic sort of logic. Here goes:
Trump’s urgent success is part of his humanity. He is a creatively mischievous and inventive human being, but then so are many other human beings. Think of where the human race has come and what it has done. It has found fire and used it to keep warm, cook beans, and burn martyrs in ancient Rome and innocent black men in the Old American South. It has domesticated agriculture and then watched as whole African tribes starve to death. It has tamed the atom, a brilliant move, and then proceeded to threaten other human beings with incinerations that, if they come, will be introduced by light much brighter than the sun. First will be the blinding flash, then the Day-Glo bodies and the omnipresent rubble. Human beings have made it possible to communicate between Montevideo and the Arctic in an instant, and then filled those same cyber-waves with abhorrently fake news and incitements to shoot black worshipers in South Carolina churches.
There seem to be no phenomena so bright and so wicked, so constructive and self-obliterating, so smart and so prone to screw up royally, than the human race. This is the big picture: the cosmic view Yet in the end the animal spirits of homo sapiens will survive, even get through the Donald Trump era, for all of us think that the future is now. We see the present second as something about to be lost, so we rush on to finish something or other before it’s too late, and then once that is done we get onto something else. Even if Trump blows us all up, he won’t really blow up quite all of us because we’re at least as clever as he is, and we’ll find a way to start over, from Nairobi to Nebraska, and from Buenos Aires to Butte. Someone will come along and inspire the remnant of humanity to “Make The Planet Great Again.” And we’ll get right to it, even if our new demagogue has glowing orange hair (all that nuclear fallout, you know).
In other words, in order to get through the Trump years, embrace the race: the human race. Force yourself to admire his maniacal discovery about the ignorance of the voters and the addictions of the news media, but then realize: he isn’t the only human being around. There are more than enough of us sharp, adroit, quick-witted, and shrewd rational animals to get by. Someone, perhaps soon, will come along and combine Trump’s demagoguery with appeals to racial tolerance. In time human economies will accept that high-tech robs untold millions of their jobs, and guaranteed annual incomes will emerge as the norm. Our educational systems will shift from training people in skills to helping them develop and enjoy their hobbies in a job-less world.
Along the way we will still find methods to make messes of things, but even then we’ll find a way: Think of all those people who will find work building sea walls in Miami to block the overheated ocean and gigantic greenhouses in North Dakota to shield folks in Fargo from the boiling sun.
So, yes, admire Mr. Trump. Wonder at him. He’s quite a guy—sublime in his own trashy way. But don’t think he’s the only astute sod around. There are plenty of others, and that’s why we’ll survive—well, we’ll at least recover.
Just keep telling yourself this. But if you find another universe, Trump-free, just around the corner, you might still consider going to it. The rumor is that androids are quite nice people.
Conclusion: A Little Better, Thank You
I’ve tried nearly all these steps. While it’s true that I didn’t put an actual mule on the piano, I did paste a post-it note on the cat (it said MULE in Magic Marker) and put him up there. I have become the world’s greatest living expert on my fingernails. I’ve sent off for “Welcome to Des Moines” brochures and read the “Book of Mormon for Dummies” book. I’ve had several stiff drinks at the columnbariums of late, devoted friends and asked them what they think of Trump. I’ve desecrated two whole vanity sets in order to work on my humility. I’ve saved several liberal dinner parties from obsessing over Trump by insisting that the entire conversation be confined to ships of the ancient Byzantine navy.
Now I’m sitting in my closet, typing this. I’m flying on Airline Earth, waiting for my “plane” to land (in darkness) so that I can emerge with new insights. Members of my family have pretended to be stewards and brought me French toast for my first-class snack. Still, I find myself emerging reluctantly, though I’m getting better. In fact, it’s past 9 PM and time for me to step out of the closet and face the night. My family is trying, even now, to coax me out. They’re saying, “Come on out, Tom. It’s OK. He’s resigned! Besides, you got another letter from Charlie Manson.”
I know HE has not resigned. I know they are lying to me about that, even if Charlie did send me a postcard inviting me to the “Jesus Room” (his cell). I’m scared to leave the closet, even after taking all those steps recommended in this book. But hey: I’m not as afraid as I once was. Hiding out in the living room and having a pep talk with a ghost crab, as suggested, really do help! People come to the house and stick their heads inside the wardrobe where I sit and ask how I’m getting on. “A little better, thank you.”
I hope you have as much good look with this advice as I have. We’ll all surmount Trump somehow!