Waking Up in Trump’s America, Part 1
The first in a series of reactions from TNI contributors and friends on waking up after 11/9.
Before the election, among the white men I know, and among white men at large, Trump’s threats of mass violence circulated as points of humor and disaffection. Early Wednesday morning, when the results were frighteningly clear, a white man I used to date–who often likened the experiences of his mother, a French immigrant who owns three luxury condominiums (but who arrived in this country, he assured me emphatically, with only two wooden spoons), to those of my father, an Ethiopian refugee who owns his home but cannot afford to heat it–texted me from California: what’s the scene in gotham. A second white man, who I saw briefly after the first, began, earlier this fall, to send me recordings of his Trump impressions via Snapchat. He swapped Trump’s face with his own, made a joke, pressed send. It was supposed to be ephemeral, but the gimmick became routine, like a knock.
In Trump’s anticipated defeat, white men imagined a punchline. A Facebook event organized in early November and “attended” by four of my acquaintances, all of whom are white, instructed its participants to have a laugh: On November 9th, the day after Donald Trump has cemented himself forever in history as a Loser, let’s have Americans of all stripes and creeds gather at his office to point and laugh . . . What a fun day this will be!
The imperative to ironize violence necessarily relies on the presumption that hate originates from a point of distance. Let us laugh at the point of distance, let us swap faces with the point of distance, may we carve spoons from wood harvested by loggers in the point of distance. Because hate–and its attendant calls for security, sovereignty, and control–is cathected through the desire for isolation, it’s difficult to convince white people that their safety is an illusion. We live in the point of distance. My family was promised refuge and all we fucking got was this point of distance: a home without heat, no interior, all beams, whittled thin.
Sometimes, to fall asleep at night, I use this trick of imagining doors. I open the first onto a room I’ve been in at some point in my life, walk through it to another door, open it onto a different memory, and so forth. Sometimes the room will turn out to be empty, or details that had never been emerge, misremembered gestures, expressions. I start wandering through rooms I’m not sure I’ve been in before. Then my brain stops registering the familiar, which passes through my dream as fantasy, same as everything else.
I knew I wasn’t dreaming because I could see this newly warped reality reflected in the faces of those around me. We watched CNN men zoom in on maps until the screen was just red. Time and numbers seemed to run down apace of one another. Things had been bad before, but all I could do was think about how much worse they would become, and I began dissociating from the past, slamming doors. This thought obsessed me: Why had I bothered to develop a personality, or become a writer, or have any particular kind of life? Instincts hardened into halfway thoughts, feverish whimsy.
The night of the election sleep would not come, no matter how many doors I opened, so I imagined instead which life I would pick out for myself next, since the moment had shown me that nothing I had chosen to become so far had meant anything at all. I decided, between sobs and rants, to move to Brazil and work as a traveling cook. I would convince my family to join me as quickly as possible. At first I thought to leave right away, that very week. Then I reasoned I’d stay until Thanksgiving, to see more of my family, and leave shortly thereafter, thus ensuring I’d never have to attend another holiday party again. Good, I thought, tomorrow I will begin dedicating myself to putting this new life into place, and fell asleep. I was in shock.
Sometime the next day I had this thought: That it was, in great part, for moments like this–moments where you, my love, have been threatened again and might sink beneath your despair–that I had been becoming myself. And I decided I could not leave.
I had bought champagne; I was going to relish this. I had friends over, and so did my roommates. We set up a projector and rearranged the living room couches in rows, like a movie theater. We were certain it was going to be a celebration; we filled a cooler with Modelo. As the results came in I switched from beer to chamomile tea, because years ago it was what I would use to stave off panic attacks. The map kept turning red. There was a group of white men there, all in their late twenties, friends of my roommate. They were hysterically laughing, realizing that the worst would happen. They took turns cracking each other up, speculating which porn stars would be appointed to cabinet positions, whether the wall would be gilt. They were drunk, and they were still drinking. I watched them take tequila shots out of a penis-shaped shot glass–an old gag gift–as the women clutched each other and started to cry.
I spent the next day weeping, and when it got dark I went to an emergency panel at the Verso office in Dumbo. The panel had two men of color, two women of color, and one white dude, an older guy. The white man–I might as well say that it was John Nichols, of The Nation–would not let anyone speak for more than a few seconds before interrupting them, either to restate his own position or to claim credit for their point. He wouldn’t stop. The disrespect grated me; I could feel my face lose its calm. Eventually I walked out.
Here is what the last few days have reminded me: White men, even those on the left, are so safe, so insulated from the policies of a reactionary presidency, that many of them view politics as entertainment, a distraction without consequences in which they get to indulge their vanity by fantasizing that they are on the side of good. They will continue to talk over the voices of those with the most at risk, even though they themselves are the least threatened. The left will not be able to meaningfully organize without the willingness of white men to prioritize the vulnerabilities of those who are not like them, and therefore, I fear that the left will not be able to organize at all.
It is not a coincidence that white men are the demographic that was most likely to support this candidate before the election, and it is not a coincidence that they are an obstacle to our ability to act against him now. The morning after the election, I found the penis-shaped shot glass in my kitchen and threw it against the wall. I am not proud of this, but it felt good to destroy something a white man loved.
Have you read this open letter from Leslie Knope? Please don’t; if you did, grow the fuck up. The people I know who have shared this in earnest over the past 48 hours–and there are so many–were the same voices engaging in incessant, hollow cheerleading for a candidate who has orchestrated people’s deaths abroad. This has now paved the way for a leader who will do the same, more visibly and with more energy, on home turf. And yet my feeds are now saturated with dilweeds who seek refuge underneath missives from fictional characters and the man who created Will McAvoy. They can even placate themselves by deigning to speak to their bodega owners for the first time, gaining “unexpected” and “surprising” epiphanies along the way.
These puerile rhetorical gestures reveal the people for whom 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday was simply a glass ceiling left unbroken by a woman who launched a massive Yemeni bombing campaign. Perhaps as a mechanic of coping, it has become incredibly sexy for a certain class of liberals to dodge any responsibility for the lives they, too, have compromised. They aren’t the same ones who have to worry about who will be the first person to call them a terrorist faggot.
For the rest of us, the victory of this fascist is a confirmation of the biases we have known all along, no matter public liberal consciousness’s inabilities to wrangle them into submission. I have had unerring nightmares every night since getting profiled by a member of the NYPD the night before 9/11 this year. Now, I live not with fear but, rather, with the understanding that this will increase; the question is one of how soon my next brush will be. Yesterday, a dear friend of mine–older, white, straight, male, coronated with an Ivy League degree, etc.–texted me that we have now entered a “waking nightmare.” I don’t quite know how to respond to this, because I wonder what nightmares he’s known thus prior, and whether they look like mine; all I can say is “Welcome.”