Fear and Loathing in Trump Land

05/17/2017 06:04 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

Referring to the Trump presidency, last month one of my sons-in-law plaintively, and perhaps rhetorically, asked “How did we get here?” I do not recall what bizarre Trumpism triggered the question. How could I? Hardly a day goes by without one or many head-spinners emanating from Trump and his cohorts. It is impossible to keep up with them unless you are a professional journalist or editorial writer, and not necessarily if you are. A friend who is another kind of professional writer, but who blogs about the Trump presidency, recently wrote me: “I’ve given up trying to keep up with the news.” One sympathizes!

Like many others, I have been living with election-related stress for over a year now. I cannot say that I foresaw the outcome of the presidential election, but I did see signs that knotted my stomach at the possibility of Trump’s victory. They included my perception, shared in retrospect by many, that Hillary was running a campaign that lacked game. There were many other signs.

Early in the Republican primaries and debates, David Brooks, who is generally astute, repeatedly said that Trump would soon fade away. I winced every time he said that. To his credit, after the election, Brooks publicly apologized for his misreading of the American pulse.

Soon after Trump’s nomination, my sister, who lives in South Florida, told me that many of her card game buddies were voting for him. My stomach knotted.

Not long after that, I got rides with two women of color driving for Lyft or Uber, in San Francisco of all places, who told me they were for Trump. I asked the first one: “Why?” She responded: “Change!” Then she told me that there are a lot of sub rosa Trump supporters out there—and there were. The other woman volunteered that she was for Trump because she had seen him perform at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, and thought he was funny. She was so disconnected from her own interests that she did not put together the Trump University fraud with her recent experience being been scammed by ITT Tech, which had cratered just days after she paid her tuition and matriculated. My stomach knotted both times.

Months before the election, Michael Moore presciently wrote that Trump would win by focusing on Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Closer to Election Day Nate Silver said that Trump could win. He was called out by other number crunchers for being a pundit rather than a pure statistician. My stomach knotted.

In October I spoke with a friend who has a house in an upstate New York town which he reported was forested with Trump signs. That same week I traveled through Philadelphia suburbs that were similarly forested with Trump lawn signs. I attended a wedding in those burbs, at which a well-educated engineer from Michigan declared that he was for Trump. My stomach knotted.

A week before the election, FBI Director James Comey issued his ill-advised letter about Hillary’s emails fiasco. A couple of days later, my son reminded me of the unexpected result of the Brexit vote, exiting the United Kingdom from the European Union. My stomach knotted.

Friends and family frequently shared their fears with me. So, I came on to Election Day with a sense of dread, having become increasingly short-tempered and snappish. This continued for months after the election. Like so many others, until recently I could barely read, listen to or watch the news. I had to severely budget the time I would spend with friends and loved ones listening to or talking about the election, the news or politics. Venting was not helping me. Even though I take a long view of history and know that this too will pass, like so many others I had fallen into a funk.

Between April and August 2016 I published several articles about the election, Trump and Trumpism. After the last of those articles, I lost my public writing voice, as concern, fear and shock overwhelmed me. For the first time in my life fear of retaliation for speaking out invaded my thoughts. I had never experienced that before.

It seems that my muse has returned, propelled by the passage of time and possibly by successful renewal of my passport. It certainly has helped to know that judges, lawyers, journalists and other folk around the country were standing up against Trumpism. And finally, the events of the last week have given me stuff to think and write about that is not just venting.

Before the election, a friend who is an eminent semi-retired political scientist told me that: “Trump will not be nominated; if he is nominated, he will not be elected; if elected he will be impeached.” When he said it I just shrugged. I should have taken him more seriously. I do now, after Trump’s incredible misstep in peremptorily firing FBI Director Comey for made up reasons, followed by Trump’s apparently off-handed publication of sensitive intelligence information to Russia’s Foreign Minister and Ambassador, and the revelations that Trump tried to interfere directly with the FBI investigation of his campaign’s and cohorts’ dealings with Russia.

The stench of cover-up patent in the Comey affair is combining with the odor of actual “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and pressing us toward the likelihood of a shortened Trump Administration.

At long last thoughtful members of his base and of the Republican establishment, including increasing numbers of Republican members of the Congress, are voicing their doubts and concerns and distancing themselves from Trump. At least one Republican member of Congress has spoken publicly of impeachment, and at least another has analogized Trumpgate to Watergate. The Justice Department’s designation of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation is a great step in the right direction. Like Comey, Mueller has a reputation and track record of solid integrity. Before he fired Comey, I thought the odds that Trump would not serve a full term were about 30%. Even though the Republican congressional leaders remain unconscionably supine, remembering Nixon and Watergate, I now believe the odds are now north of 50% and rising almost daily.

I should rejoice without reservation at that thought of Trump’s early departure, but I am still worried. I worry about what will happen after Trump leaves the White House early, under a President Pence, who is a true ideologue.

Trumpism’s harm to the Republic is palpable. Even if he leaves office early, it will take great effort to deal with the harm he has done. Whenever Trump leaves office we still will have to contend with the ever present forces of the dark money, biased and ideological cable news, and the Breitbart reactionaries and Know Nothings. As many have said, progressives must rethink and reorient their messages and priorities; they must figure out how to communicate with and be heard by the disaffected people who supported Trump, against their own interests, and who could support other demagogues. We have to stop talking just with ourselves! Only then can we move on.

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