Last night I dreamed I was on trial for attempted murder. I didn’t do it. The man I was accused of trying to kill said that I didn’t do it. I only stood next to him when he was shot, and it was all a big misunderstanding. He was friendly and sad, an old drinker who kept telling me how ready he was to testify on my behalf. My lawyer was ready, too. She thought we stood a good chance of winning this thing. I was innocent, and that helped, although obviously anything could happen. “It’s a jury trial,” she said. My heart sank.
For months I planned the post that I would write today. It was going to be about how I decided to stop writing about politics in Combat! blog. I would still write about it indirectly, sometimes, through close readings of political rhetoric or analogs to history, but I would be done with the horse race, the daily news. That’s not where my talents lie. It’s not what has advanced my career. But more importantly, it’s not where the kind of nuance I care about abides. Political arguments converge on answers so firm and binary they cannot be the truth. When your inquiry can only reach a handful of conclusions, you’re not doing inquiry. You’re doing propaganda.
I stand by my plan to stop writing about horse-race politics, but the post with which I planned to announce it is useless now. It only read in the context of Hillary Clinton winning. I expected to turn away from politics today smug and disappointed. She was a flawed candidate, exciting as a woman but depressing as a woman who responded to our contemporary crisis by promising more of the same. Her campaign drifted into a bland centrism that seemed to synthesize all of American politics: trans rights and war in Syria, a friend of Wall Street who would tax the rich, endorsed by Henry Kissinger and Bernie Sanders. She seemed to represent the dingy underperformance of our entire system— a form of government that, to paraphrase Churchill, was the second worst after all other forms of government.
I guess she represented that to a lot of other voters, too. Her stunning loss, which contradicted months of polling that continuously put her lead between a few points and a landslide, suggests a whole American democracy out there we don’t know about. It takes a frightening shape. The prospect of President Donald Trump scares me, but more worrying are the people who elected him.
To me, and to everyone I know or read, he was a recognizable type of huckster. His presentation was so phony and self-aggrandizing that he was funny. Remember when Trump was funny? Remember when he was an exaggeration of what a lying egomaniac might be? That is what the American people chose this year, not as a comedy sketch, but as our president. They heard him say only that he would be great, and they believed it. To watch this person rise to the nomination was alarming, even awful. But to watch him win, when no one we trusted thought he could, is to suddenly learn our mounting worries where actually a pleasing fantasy.
America did not get to the point where a game show host could almost be elected. It got to the point where he won. What Trump did worked. It worked on a numerical majority of voters.1 Those are the people who took charge of the nation’s future yesterday, and they are the people we live with now.
It is tempting to turn against them, or at least away from them. It would probably feel good to say enjoy your president, assholes and retire to some perch. Back when President Trump was an absurd daydream, I thought that if he were elected, it might be my excuse to give in to my natural misanthropy. But that would be only another capitulation. When people disappoint us this badly, in a way that leaves us feeling this bereft and powerless, loving them is all we have.
So. Now Donald Trump will be the president, and he will lie to us about what he did instead of what he is going to do. Today beings a period of transition for the country, probably, and definitely for Combat! blog. I planned this. These are not the circumstances I planned for, but they will not change what we do here going forward. We will only have to ignore a politics that demands our attention a little more insistently, and when we look at it out of the corner of our eye, it will be a little uglier. But our gaze does not change with what we look upon. It changes with what we look for, and on what we choose to focus, and how.
Over the next few days, I would like us to have a conversation. If you can think about anything but what happened yesterday, I encourage you to use the comments section. What do you like to see in this blog? What disappoints you? When have we been at our best here, and when have we gotten bored? I have my own ideas, obviously, but I would like to hear from you. Combat! blog has been a practice for me. It has also been a community, and in moments like this I value your readership especially. Welcome back, friend. So much has changed since last we spoke. Thank goodness we are here together, again.