Over the years, I have written extensively on this blog about a wide variety of subjects: Politics, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Theory, History, Religion, Literary Criticism, and Psychology among others. I have on occasion tried my hand at whimsy, and I have told endless stories like a garrulous old man seated by the fire in a wayside inn. Today, I should like to speak personally, privately, even perhaps confessionally about the difficulty I am having coping with the election of Trump. These past few days, I have not merely been disappointed, dismayed, angry, fearful for so much that I hold dear. I have also been deeply unsettled, unable to sleep easily, to do my daily chores comfortably. My thoughts are disorganized, my morning walks devoid of pleasing daydreams or ambitious plans. I do not know how to come to terms with what we face these next years, an inability that is made all the more difficult for me in light of my age.
It is not as though America has ever been for me a comfortable or satisfying home. I am old enough, after all, to have lived through Kennedy’s terrifying brinksmanship over Cuban missiles, Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan’s gutting of labor unions, Clinton’s triangulation, and Bush’s war. I can even remember when “socialist” was something more than a daring in-your-face euphemism for FDR New Deal Liberal.
Let me begin, as is my wont, with two very personal stories, whose meaning, if I can discern it, may help me to understand my present distress. The first is a very old story. When I was a boy of fourteen or so, I developed obsessive, terrifying fears of death. The fears were not of pain, or injury, or disability, but simply of non-being, of ceasing to be conscious. One of the oddities of the fears, which would beset me without warning, was that they could be allayed, at least for a bit, by the comforting thought “perhaps I will die before it happens.” I suppose it does not take Sigmund Freud to figure out that the fear of death was a cover for some other quite specific fear too terrible even to put a name to. My parents wisely found a psychoanalyst who agreed to treat me [not a common thing at all in 1947], and the therapy helped. The fears subsided, although I never did find out what I was really afraid of.
The second story is quite recent, and some readers may recall my contemporary account of it. In January of 2012, upon returning from Paris, I came down with a fever and some sort of bad ailment. The initial diagnosis was fourth stage terminal lung cancer. Needless to say, I was devastated, at least for the five days it took the doctors to decide that I did not have lung cancer. [They never did diagnose the problem, and eventually I got better. Nobody wanted to prescribe any medication until there was a diagnosis, but one of the countless doctors I saw did suggest some Ibuprofen, which seemed to help.]
The contrast between these two experiences is, at least for me, instructive. The boyhood fears were inchoate, indeterminate, and global, as it were. There was nothing I could do about them. The cancer diagnosis was specific, real, and genuinely threatening, and my response was to compel the doctors to schedule tests much more rapidly than they were inclined to do, and to start making quite concrete practical plans to ensure that my wife would be looked after should I die. The diagnosis was deeply disturbing, but it was not frightening, and it did not in the slightest trigger those adolescent fears of death, which have never entirely disappeared.
How, if at all, do these two stories throw light on my reaction to the election of Trump? Well, odd though this may sound, my response has been more akin to the long past fears of death than to the diagnosis of terminal cancer. There does not seem to be anything I can do about the election of Trump. It has globally unsettled me, but not in a way that points me toward useful action. Oh, I gave some money to OurRevolution, but that took only a few moments and left me as unsettled as before.
Now, to be sure, nothing has yet happened. At this moment, Trump is merely President-elect [assuming there are not several dozen or more conscientious members of the Electoral College who put country before party loyalty]. We are all speculating anxiously about what he may do come January, but none of those things have yet been done. I find myself thinking that I do not want to live in an America that would elect Donald Trump President, but there is really nowhere I can go, realistically. What is more, all the people who elected Trump were here on Monday as well, and I did not feel that way then.
How am I going to bear the next four years and perhaps more? I honestly do not know. It is as though the fears of death have returned from my youth, global, inchoate, unfocused, and terrifying.
If I may close these very personal reflections with a rather plaintive observation, all that can sustain me now is the fellowship of comrades, and to an extent that may not be apparent, you who read this blog are my comrades. We shall get through this together.