A man w/ orange-tinged skin, side-combed dyed yellow hair and a mouth that looks like the “o”-shaped mouths in cartoons, has taken up near-permanent residence in my mind. I go to bed thinking of him and he pops into my head — the surreal and terrifying reality of him — first thing in the morning. I have given serious thought to leaving the country and worry that my daughter’s world will be unrecognizably changed for the worse because of his decisions. I resent the amount of mental space he takes up yet feel vigilant about keeping track of his every move. The man stalks my imagination, suggesting a coming darkness at noon, an anarchic beast slouching its way toward Bethlehem.
This obsession is not a private affair; almost everyone I know is equally taken up with this man and his doings. Sooner or later, whatever the conversation, whether it takes place online or at dinner parties and coffee shops, he enters and takes over, strewing notes of panic and resignation — and sometimes a kind of futile defiance — in his wake. This man has invaded my and my friends’ interior lives, speaking to our worst fears as surely as any childhood boogeyman, reminding us that we are not safe in our own beds.
Indeed, It has sometimes seemed to me, in the weeks that this man has been presiding over the country, that he is the political equivalent of an abusive parent — someone who is assaulting us under cover of protecting us. Like an abusive parent, he makes promises he doesn’t come through on and refuses to be held to his word. His viewpoint is the only one that counts and if our perspective differs from his, then we are in the wrong. It becomes difficult to hold on to a sense of our own rationale or logic because he is always pulling the ground out from under us, dismantling everything he has said the day before. As a result, we begin, like powerless children, to discount our experience of being mistreated and bamboozled, retreating into depression and bewilderment, wondering why no one is sounding the alarms on our behalf.
There are many things to point to about this man — from his habit of invective when he is crossed, to his paranoid outbursts about everyone from his immediate predecessor to the entire press corps — that go far to explain why many of us distrust or dislike him. What’s harder to figure out, especially for those of us who personally know no one who helped elect him, is what the nub of his allure is. An enormous amount has been said and written about his improbable victory, and yet those on the Democratic side of the fence remain stymied by his ability to deflect all the attacks on his character and still come out smelling if not quite like a rose, then like a seductive thorn, if you will — a tough-talking straight shooter who empathized with the working class and refused to kowtow to the elites. No matter that his administration is filled with mega-rich men who are used to bending the rules and curving their pitches, those who believe in him seem to cherish him as some sort of invincible leader among mere men.
In the meantime, is there anything to be done short of watching yet another late-night TV re-hash of his latest gaffes, missteps, or violations, or partaking in yet another discussion in which everyone vies with each another in denouncing him? I’m not referring to taking actual political steps, which are to be admired and emulated wherever possible, but to something more amorphous and perhaps even harder to do — i.e., protecting one’s state of mind, always a vulnerable place but even more so these vexed days.
What I’d like to suggest, based on my own experience of growing up with overbearing and authoritarian parents, is to try cultivating an aesthetic sensibility as a way out of — or a deliberate disaffiliation from — the traumatizing present. Instead of fixating compulsively on a person who is fascinating in his very tyrannical unaccountability, we would do better to call a periodic moratorium on following all things Trumpian. We should skip the high-strung, circumlocutory chatter of Rachel Maddow and Chris Mathews and use the time that we would give over to fuming and fulminating to finding refuge in something else. For myself, I find poetry works better than prose at moments like these, when one longs for clarity and concision — and, most of all, for depth of thought and feeling.
There are Yeats and Auden, just to mention two who captured their respective faltering ages, speaking of “things that fall apart” and how “this great society is going smash;” then there is Eliot, who believed that “humankind cannot bear very much reality.” (Not to overlook Wordsworth, for a spot of transcendence of the hustle and bustle.) These days, when reality often seems close to unbearable, it seems to me that we would do well to seek out imaginative, private worlds whenever we get the chance — not for the escapism of it but for an essential strengthening of our sanity — the better to tell him who sits in the High Castle, quoting Glinda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz: “Begone. You have no power here.” Here, meaning in our minds, where we are free to choose whom we want to spend our after-dinner hours with.