This Grievous Wound

What it is, I think, is this: Donald Trump has lost the presidency, and is fighting that obvious, irrefutable result because it is useful to him to do so. Yes, perhaps there is some buried splinter of certainty inside him that he is the president, or that he deserves to be president, and we have seen that this is a man who has long demonstrated the emotional security of a hangry, sleepless toddler. (No disrespect to toddlers.) But it is also very, very useful for him not to let go of the presidency in idea, if not in practice. He is a man on the verge of various investigations. He has a debt column longer than the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the script for Hamilton combined. And he has mounting legal debts. Further, he’s a man whose unnatural orange tan seems the result of a steady application of Fryolator grease, but it could very well be burned onto his flesh from the warm glow of himself — he is, in his mind, a self-illuminating creature, the center of a galaxy whose glow is all, and who thrives on the adoration of the planets he provides warmth to — or in vengeance, cold.

That’s part of the trick with him — it’s hard to know where his narcissism ends and where his grift begins, because a grift is more self-aware than the kind of bloated ego-fed solipsism that narcissism requires. A grift demands manipulation, and a manipulation suggests that while you may be the smartest guy in the room, you’re also not naturally so, and anything you get is something not given and earned but rather, taken and stolen from the rubes. He sees us as rubes, that much is clear, but he also sees himself as god, and a god doesn’t need to trick the rubes, does he? A god simply has command of them, because that is the nature of divinity. And therein lurks the a blurry, foggy landscape between how much of this is because of a cunning intelligence and how much of this is simply a reptilian mind mashing buttons in his brain in order for him to brute force attack every institution, every relationship, every norm around him.

But the reality is, it doesn’t matter.

Trump gains from chaos. Whether his understanding of this is granular and keen or whether it is in a hazy, almost feral way, matters little. What matters is, he doesn’t care about being president, because being president is work. He doesn’t care about you, because you aren’t he, and he is all that matters to him. He doesn’t care about his country because to him this country is just another company he can buy, bleed, gut, live in its carcass for a while, and then sell to the next asshole. For him, this is all transactional, and his refusal to not only concede the election (which we knew would happen) but to stop fighting the electoral outcome, is just another one of those transactions. He understands, again implicitly or explicitly, the buy-in, here: he can (and will) keep this going for the next four years. He will push the constant narrative that he is an aggrieved party, a strongman kept from his circus by the mean ol’ ringleader. He will say they cheated, you cheated, everyone cheated. He will demand now, and in six months, and in two years, that we hashtag OVERTURN this election.

And this is useful to him to do so.

It is useful because he can continue to fundraise. Never stop fundraising.

It is useful because he can try to grab the media spotlight by its privates, dragging it around with him wherever he walks on the stage because who doesn’t want to watch the big man making a racket over there? The media has only barely learned this, and it remains to be seen how long they will hold the lesson, and how soon they will return to covering every mouth-sound he makes.

It is useful because he can keep doing rallies, and a despot loves his rallies.

It is useful because he can bring people into his gaudy Trump properties, his hotels, his golf courses, because who wouldn’t want an audience with the Rogue King, the True Heir to the Red, White and Blue Throne? The man has his debts, after all, and he’s not going to pay them. You are.

And finally, it is useful because if he is less The Last President and more The Next President, it will be harder to investigate him, because investigating a political opponent is corruption, or so they’ll say — corruption he supports when it’s him doing it, but that’s true for everything. (We like to imagine that the Republicans are trapped by our identification of their myriad hypocrisies, but they are freed by that expectation — they know we think we’ve called GOTCHA on this, but haven’t got ’em. Their hypocrisies are part of the package, a feature and not a bug, and they will happily do all the things they said we couldn’t do and they’ll do it with a shit-eating grin on their faces.)

Trump has no moral center, here. He has no guiding principle. He is not a man holding onto power because he genuinely feels something, anything, about our democracy. He is not a man who grips the wheel of the vehicle because he thinks he’s the most responsible driver. He doesn’t care who the best driver is. He doesn’t care about the truck, or the road, he only cares that he likes the way this feels, and that he can drag us to wherever he wants to fucking go. He’s not here out of some devotion to democracy, to America, to us or even to his people. He doesn’t care about them, either. He just wants what he wants because — well, either because that’s enough, or because he can make hay from it.

Of course, it’s almost not his fault. Dracula is Dracula, of course, but one who is enabled by a world of Renfields — blood-bags, body-buriers, victim-procurers, glad-handing yes-men gleefully eating spiders and cockroaches to Please Their Master. And Trump, our rubbery American Vampire, is held aloft on a palanquin of bones by an unholy host of enablers, admirers, users, and cowards. Some, like Texas AG Ken Paxton, are like Trump — Paxton is currently under investigation by the FBI and likely angling for a pardon. Some are like Ted Cruz, humilation-kink aficionados who are happy to tongue-bathe the boot of the man who said his father killed JFK, who called his wife ugly, who suggested that any vote for Cruz in the primary was (here, a familiar refrain) voter fraud. Some are Mitch McConnell, the ur-vampire pretending to be a Renfield, using Trump as the battering ram to knock down the doors of democracy so that he could let slip the hounds who would eagerly fill all the roles he belligerently, shamelessly stopped Obama from filling. (Remember how the USPS is fucked right now? McConnell — with a little inadvertent help from Sanders, sadly — blocked Obama’s appointees to the USPS Board of Governors, which left the entire thing empty, which further let  the Trump Administration fill those roles from snout to tail. That board then chose LeJoy, and here we are.)

Trump is enabled by a world of dipshits and abusers, some who just want to be in his glow, some who want to avoid his ire, and others who happily crowd their hands up his asses, trying to puppet him around. And all of whom would, at the slightest provocation, be thrown under the wheels of the truck that Trump is driving, because Trump has all the loyalty of a rabid wolverine.

None of these people are acting on principle.

Not one of them.

They seek power both personal and political. They seek money. They seek escape from prosecution and consequence. They all want something, this Circle of Skeksis, from Trump, from us, from our democracy. But they don’t care about it.

And yet, their followers believe the opposite. They are told, by Fox, by Newsmax, by Breitbart and OANN and a thousand sock-puppet chodes on Twitter and Parler and Facebook, that these people are standing up for AMERICA, for YOU and ME, for our REPUBLIC (they’re hesitant to call it a democracy anymore). These people are heroes, painted into shirt-ripping beefcake Founding Fathers — if the Founding Fathers were John Rambo, a pack of flag-fucking warriors with a pair of AR-22s and a surfboard under their boots as they cross the Delaware River. And they are told again and again that these people deserve to be president. The votes against them are somehow both Real and also a Fraud, legitimate and yet, illegitimate because anything that insults these Hero Men must be the result of a grave unfairness — and if democracy allows this unfairness to occur, then it is perhaps democracy itself that is the enemy.

Because if democracy stops Trump from being president —


Then it is perhaps time to stop democracy.

We have long been deafened by this dueling banjo song of American Exceptionalism and Individual Liberty, where we are somehow both The Greatest Country on Earth and also a country full of Individuals Whose Personal Liberties Shall Not Be Infringed. Becoming only a country of disentangled individuals, we are no longer a nation of communities, of people, but rather, a series of one-person islands, and how dare you steal my fucking coconuts, and you better not cross these waters to even say hi or I’ll rap you on the head with a fucking rock, and what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is also mine because I fucking said so, that’s why. You’re not an individual, I’m an individual. I get what I want, and you get what I don’t. Communal responsibility? Community power? Fuck that. Me, me, me, oh say can you see.

But if we aren’t a place of communities, if all that matters is what I want, wah, then democracy doesn’t even matter. Because votes are a mechanism of community will, and if we have ceased to care about the will of the community and instead only care about the will of what we want personally to occur, then where do we go from there?

We are already a troubled, divided nation. Have we been more divided before? Perhaps. Probably. There was a Civil War, after all, and the Civil Rights era, and all the racist horror between those two periods (and after) (notice a pattern?). But this division feels strange, a shared cultic delusion, a Stockholm Syndrome as COVID-19 swirls around us.

Trump’s election in 2016 was already an injury to our norms — he stepped onto the national stage buoyed by lies. I said then it was an act of small petty men hacking at the roots of our democracy, hoping to fell the tree in order to sell its lumber, and they have continued to do so, and have nearly succeeded. Because now, these small petty men — selfish and without principle — have widened this chasm between us by what feels like an uncrossable distance.

That chasm is an injury.

And it may be a grievous, even fatal, one.

It’s not enough that Trump won’t be successful. And it’s likely he won’t be (though this is 2020, so who the fuck knows what hellshow could happen in the next three weeks). It’s that he’s convinced a not inconsiderable portion of this country that he’s right. He probably knows he won’t get back in the White House, at least in 2021. But they don’t know that. He probably knows he didn’t win. But they don’t. They’ve bought the lie. They’ve embraced their cognitive dissonance so hard it’s become a part of them — the only good way out of a hole is to quite digging and start climbing, but then you have to admit, oops, I fell into a hole of my own making, and that’s not something people like to admit. Easier instead to dig down, down, down, to make it look like, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this all along, this is alllllll part of the plan, see you later, Surface-Dwellers, I’m King of the Hole, fuck you. 

So utterly complete is this violent attack on information, on truth, on fact, on process and democracy and science, on education and expertise that… some people are going to be really hard to bring back. They may not come back. We don’t have a National Deprogrammer. We don’t have fairness in media. We don’t have the gall or gumption to fight mis/disinformation the way the other side has fought actual information.

As it turns out, our democracy is held together by one thing, and one thing only:

A loose, flexible agreement of ideas.

In the air, it’s a tangle, and we fight over everything. But all the way down, below us, we always knew that there was a safety net of a few key principles that were braided together and that was strong enough to catch us if we fell. At the end of the day, we were a democracy, we thought. A nation of states, of communities, of a few shared principles and notions. We agreed on that.

Thing is, it was an illusion. A comforting one, as many illusions are, and maybe not useless. And hey, once upon a time there were some very real threads that held us together — the Voting Rights Act, the Fairness Doctrine, and their like. Laws and regulations which agreed that democracy was sacrosanct, and that truth mattered, even if everything else was debatable. But we cut those ropes. And now we’re in freefall, and there is no safety net. Because, oops, laws and regulations are just things we made up. They’re only there if we uphold them and keep signing our agreement to them. The garden needs tending. The fire needs tending. Vigilance was required. But now? Oof. Those laws and regulations have left us reaching for handholds that aren’t there, hoping for a safety net that has been cut to ribbons. And it’s not just the election. We’re mired in a pandemic with three thousand people dying every day, and yet there are still people who think it’s fake, who won’t wear a mask, who even in the hospital with the disease they cry it’s a hoax. And instead of a firm federal response — or any federal response — we have a piss-pants “president” whose only fight is the one to be coddled, bottle-fed, and glorified. He golfs, we go poor. He tweets, we get sick. He rallies, we die.

He doesn’t care about the injury he’s caused.

But the injury has hobbled us. And I don’t know how we heal it. It’s a sucking chest wound — it’s a compound fracture. Maybe it won’t kill us, but you don’t just heal that sort of wound the way you do a thorn-scratch or a bruise. It will take so much to heal it, so much. And we don’t know if the sepsis of fascism will settle in for good — a blood infection of autocracy, a poisoning of viral narcissism to compliment the global pandemic running through us like a chainsaw. And every GOP who signs on, every media member who trumpets this shit, they’re codifying it, they’re legitimizing it, and whatever results — whatever suffering, or starvation, or bigotry, or violence — becomes legitimate in the face of it. It becomes an act of lauding the infection, of pretending that the sickness in our political body is a natural part of us, rather than something forced into us. We accept and embrace the tick, the tapeworm, we name it and give it power. I’m King of the Hole, the tapeworm cries. Fuck you.

Trump doesn’t care. His enablers don’t care. They’ll kill the body and leap to the next one — parasites and scavengers, they hold no allegiance to you, me, or even the flag they claim to love so much. Their allegiance isn’t even to each other, though they put on a good show. Their allegiance is to them, to their own individual liberties, and that’s the ultimate liberty to stick you, bleed you, and leave you and our democracy for dead.

* * *

I don’t know what we do about it.

But if you can, donate to Jon Ossoff, Reverend Warnock, and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight. Our democracy may very well count on it. And while you’re at it, find a food bank, local or otherwise, and donate, okay? The way we push back on this is by being a community, as good to each other as we can. We must refuse to let the injury define us. We must hobble on in the hopes of healing.

25 responses to “This Grievous Wound”

  1. Chuck, in reading this, I almost get a Hunter Thompson vibe, similar to how he talked about the shitshow of early ’70s politics. Entertaining, but also true. Thanks for those words. They’re words people need to hear.

  2. I was wondering why Trump doesn’t take a paycheck if he is in so much debt. I’m sure it would help if he had that much debt

  3. the king of the hole is an apt metaphor
    i still don’t get what they’re going to do with all their power and money, given they’re rotting inside, like a binging drug addict having to consume more and more to keep from hitting rock bottom until death or redemption

  4. I think you may be overlooking the historical importance of 70 million dissatisfied people who have conditioned themselves to leave reality behind and follow a man who would be king. Hitler was elected, remember. But before Adolph was Hitler he’d been an elected leader, then was in prison where he refined his schtick, his grift, writing Mein Kampf and coming to the conclusion that the established political processes wouldn’t work. He;d tapped into the dissatisfaction of Germans and manipulated them, just as 45 has done.But Hitler knew violence wouldwork, and Trump has amply demonstrated his instinctive “dominate” impulse.
    Sadly for America, he had many willing helpers, starting with Mitch McConnell, the most dangerous man in America, a vile ideologue who has stymied democratic process for over a decade. I believe we are seeing the formation, through gerrymadering and voter suppression as well as anything-goes “lawmaking” on the local lever plus do-nothing in the Senate and a crass rewriting of history via “alterntaive facts”, wild conspiracy theories, and a drumbeat of lies, the rise of the American Nazi party, formerly known as the Republican party. Power at any cost, nothing matters but power. How they handle power is evident by how they’ve handled their reaction to the ACA and how they’d replace it: with nothing, a monumental ineptness that they continue to pretend they have a solution for.
    Lying on every level is essential to today’s Republican party as led by the liar-in-chief Donald Trump.. It’s a long slow process to wreck a country, but it is not an invisible process if you read your history. “It can;t happen in America!” Think again. That is what we are living now.

    • Hitler was not elected. He lost to President Hindenburg in the 1933 election. Members of Hindenburg’s cabinet convinced him to appoint Hitler Chancellor to mollify the Nazis and the far right. Hitler succeeded Hindenburg when he died. He abolished the office of the President and declare himself Fuhrer.

  5. Eloquent, accurate, and somehow still hopeful. Everything the GOP slimeturds are not.

    Could you publish this in, say, every single media outlet in the world? I want this to be the record of our time that gets sifted out of the ash by our post-apocalyptic great-great-great grandchildren, or read to them by a flickering holographic tour guide in the ruins of D.C. Maybe they will learn from it and avoid our mistakes.

  6. I agree with every word, and thank you for writing them.

    I can’t comprehend the delusion over 74 million Americans are under right now, and, if someone is experiencing a completely different reality than you are, how can the two of you agree on what reality is? Occasionally, I wonder if its my reality that is wrong. I’m fairly certain they never ponder that question; however, most days my reality seems very clear to me. If their reality seems just as clear to them (George Soros is Satan, anything and everything QANON, Bill Gates created the virus, vaccines contain microchips, wearing a mask makes you weak because it is blocking the breath God gave you, faith over fear, landscaping press conferences are on purpose, financially poor Americans donating to pay Trump’s legal fees is acceptable, etc.), that’s a wall that can’t be climbed, blown up, or tore down. If anything, if you try to remove a brick, they replace it with two. Since I can’t suddenly decide that the My Pillow Guy makes sense when I hear him speak, believe that the evil democrats are behind my shower’s very low water pressure, or agree that the economy is more important than protecting an endangered animal’s habitat, I don’t know where we go from here.

  7. Excellent. You have certainly laid out the situation clearly.

    To me, over the past four years, the one good thing that has happened is that a fair number of us woke up and crawled out of the “frog pot” before we were boiled to death – particularly people I would term Actual Conservatives. People have discovered that the arguments were over policy, but what’s important is the system that allows the arguments without the losing party risking imprisonment or worse.

    The people we are dealing with, the enablers and the supporters, are not Conservatives, actual or otherwise. They’re “Pseudo-Conservatives.” Richard Hofstadter described them 65 years ago:

    The new dissent is certainly not radical — there are hardly any radicals of any sort left — nor is it precisely conservative. Unlike most of the liberal dissent of the past, the new dissent not only has no respect for non-conformism, but is based upon a relentless demand for conformity. It can most accurately be called pseudo-conservative — I borrow the term from the study of The Authoritarian Personality published five years ago by Theodore W. Adorno and his associates — because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower Administration. Their political reactions express rather a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways — a hatred which one would hesitate to impute to them if one did not have suggestive clinical evidence.

    From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative. The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere. . . . The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

    If you’ve never read “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt,” which demonstrates we are NOT dealing with some new phenomenon, but rather something that has been “slouching toward Bethlehem” for a long, long time, go read it here:

  8. I think the American empire is toppling in the same ponderous, awe-inspiring, slow-motion way a Redwood falls. You think it should take less time, rip the bandaid off, but there’s just so much of it, so high in the air.

    It’s taking so long that people with their eyes down, or even forward, don’t really believe it’s happening. They don’t think something so mighty could ever fall, anyway, so why even look? And the other people, the ones who can see it, don’t want to–it’s not like they can catch it, can save it, so why worry yourself? Why stress over what you can do fuck-all to stop?

    Both of these groups might be able to prop the Redwood up, if they worked together. Neither of them will. So the rest of us can only keep an eye on it, reading the wind, trying to predict the way it might fall and trying to get out from under it, and maybe pulling a few idiots out of the way if we can. Trying to imagine life out of its shade.

  9. “We have long been deafened by this dueling banjo song of American Exceptionalism and Individual Liberty, where we are somehow both The Greatest Country on Earth and also a country full of Individuals Whose Personal Liberties Shall Not Be Infringed.”

    Counterpoint: anyone still buying into any of that nonsense after the Dubya election of 2000 (and ensuing disaster both home and abroad) is either naïve, or a couple beers short of a sixpack.

    It has been painfully obvious for years that we are a nation of low-IQ know-nothings, with a considerable chunk of said know-nothings also being vulgar, rabid, clero-fascist scum. Trump has simply made it impossible to ignore this reality. He’s the truest face America has ever shown to itself, and the world.

  10. From Far Away Sweden, let me just say: Hang in there. You have our support and deepest sympathy, unfortunately we can’t really do anything to help, this is the sort of mess you’re gonna have to sort out yourselves. But know that the rest of the world is watching, and hoping for the best. Well at least the reasonable parts of the world are. x)

  11. This essay is so well written even I understood the trouble we’re in. Having read Madeleine Albright’s Fascism A Warning, I knew to be aware, but this piece is nearly as concise and appreciated as hers.
    Thank you.
    Eleanor Tatum

  12. Thank you for this. I know some fervent Trump supporters. Sadly, some of them are in-laws. During attempts to talk to them and try to understand where they’re coming from, I’ve discovered they live in an alternate upside-down universe in which things I take to be fact are fiction and vice versa. It’s a maddening experience even trying to reason with them. The problem is the news they consume and believe is Right-wing propaganda perpetrated by American oligarchs to keep folks riled up about the “other” coming for things they care about. This keeps the peasants kicking down, instead of collectively realizing that we are all being robbed blind and uniting to do something about it. Fortunately, I believe many in the younger generations, i.e. the ones who will inherit this mess, are becoming aware and working with other similarly horrified oldsters to change things. As screwed up as the post-elections machinations have been, they haven’t worked. The courts have upheld reason; journalists keep digging and exposing corruption; Biden/Harris were elected. As the saying goes, it’s a long worm with no turning.

  13. I agree completely with you.Trump is the nightmare you don’t wake from, so is Boris.
    I don’t know what we can do about Boris here in the UK. As I write this he is posturing with warships in the waters around the UK.

    I agree that Democracy isn’t working either in your country or mine. We must have made some bad decisions sometime that set this whole avalanche of shite moving downhill. The survivors of this mess will hopefully find a clearer path to freedom and justice. For now we can either hunker down and hope we personally won’t get hit OR we can keep fighting in every small way within our power.

    This too shall pass. I hope I get to see it.

  14. Much and many, for this work, for you being you.

    Last week I had the TV on but was in another room when it went to commercial. I heard a woman’s voice but before I understood her words, I heard her accent, maybe Texan, definitely Southern, and I felt an instant physiological loathing. I ran to the TV and saw a white woman selling Subarus. I was shocked. I’m still shocked at my reaction. I voted Dem all the way, was can’t understand why a bit less than half of voters chose to vote the way the way they did, but it feels horrible to actively dislike them. And too, I now even more clearly understand how advertising and the media have kept ignorance, racism and bigotry alive and well with their overt, covert, and subliminal messaging.

    I don’t know the answer to healing the wound, the gash, either, but you certainly nailed how we got here.

  15. As a Brit looking in from outside, I’ve had to stop watching anything to do with Trump on Youtube since the election results came in, because it was messing me up too much; even though I’m in another continent thousands of miles away, what starts in America has a tendency to bleed out eventually, and I don’t need my PTSD triggered any more, thanks. So your post is the first I’ve allowed myself to see on this subject for a long time, Chuck – thank you for making it so rational and balanced.
    I’m a little surprised you guys in America have to ‘find out’ where your food banks are though. Here in the UK, most major supermarkets have partnered up with their local food banks for donations. There’s a collection point for customers to donate food items that they then pass on to their local food banks. It’s easy for customers, because they can just buy a little extra stuff along with the food shopping they’re already doing and then drop it in the collection box before they leave – and of course it benefits the supermarkets too, because those food donations are being bought directly from their store. Might it be worth suggesting a similar scheme to stores in the US – if not the major supermarkets, perhaps some of the smaller, independent stores?

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