I tell myself I am not afraid Of being consumed By the thing Eating me But I am afraid Of losing my soul And forgetting Who I was Who I am And so I run Not to run away Not to run toward But to run To be To remain.
I think that history will look back on Donald Trump’s presidency and smile.
That presumes, of course, that we survive Trump’s presidency, which I think we’ll manage; those who think we won’t are betraying a fundamental distrust of our resiliency as a society, and that distrust itself is a result of that very resiliency.
But I do think that we’ll be able to look at this presidential term and say some positive things, even though I don’t have any confidence that Trump’s presidency will be “successful” by most metrics.
Trump is us. He’s our guy – whether we’re willing to claim him or not, he is our President. If you’re American, he’s yours, like it or not. That’s the way it is.
He won the election by the rules agreed to by every candidate; he lost the majority vote, yes, but that’s the way the system is designed: it balances geography with population. If people wanted the rules changed, all they have to do is follow the process — but the election went by the rules in place and everyone knew the rules.
If you voted for him, well, he’s your President; I don’t know why you voted for him – I know of a few different reasons that I could intellectually accept and a lot of reasons that sound absolutely absurd but apparently people thought they were valid anyway. But if you voted for him, well, you asserted certain ideas about the Presidency and who you wanted in it, and who you wanted representing us on the global stage, in competition with the other candidates.
If you voted against him, well, he’s your President; I sympathize, but watching from the fence, I think you primarily failed in your mode of communication. Trump succeeded by arguing like a five-year-old, as one comedian pointed out, and that somehow resonated with voters. You failed because you didn’t rebut that very well; what I saw was condescension and arrogance, and that probably caused more people to swing Trump’s way than I think any of us would have liked.
(That’s not just an indictment of Democrats; it’s an indictment of Republicans, too. Trump won the Republican candidacy the same way he won the Presidency, and the Republican establishment did the same thing that the Democrat establishment did… and lost the same way, too.)
The failure to beat Trump was not only a failure in 2016; it was a failure in 2014, 2012, 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2000, 1996, 1992… it goes back decades, because we haven’t done a good job of teaching our own people what values to, well, value. We’ve taught our kids to value spectacle, and what Trump gives us is, indeed, spectacle.
Thus, he’s like Bill Clinton, another presidency that history will smile upon; Clinton showed us (among other things) a model of ourselves in how we treat women as a culture (and laid the groundwork for Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump, too.)
I don’t think we liked that model of ourselves- we definitely shouldn’t have. We elected someone who used his power for his own gratification. That’s our mirror from 1992 to 2000.
Hopefully we came away thinking to ourselves, “wait a minute… women are people, too.” (Was that ever a question? … unfortunately, yes. It was a question. We’ve gotten better about that, I think. We’re not Saudi Arabia, nor have we ever been, I hope.)
But as I write this, maybe Trump’s evidence that Clinton’s presidency showed us less about ourselves than I might have liked… or maybe we just refused to see it. Maybe Trump is the American people doubling down on the idea that character doesn’t matter…
And yes, being ever hopeful, I will say that I pray that we, as a people, look at what we’ve done, at what we’ve identified as a primary and central representative of ourselves, and say “… ew. We can do better than this.”
I don’t know what I might have said
If I had had the room
I was thinking of my epitaph this morning, after reading the colophon of a book I love. It struck me how different my epitaph would be, if it said “He died,” with the addition of one word: “And.”
Both are good epitaphs, I suppose; they communicate the essential information.
When I die, I will be dead: “He died” is appropriate, final, and enough.
But how much greater would it be, for the me who will no longer exist, for my epitaph to be “And he died”? It implies that there was more: I lived, perhaps I loved, perhaps I did… such that my death will have been the period at the end of a life’s sentence.
I don’t think I’m afraid of death. I’ve seen it too much to appreciate its rarity for each life. My own recent brush with death was amusing in how nearly trivial it was, and the primary anecdote from it was from deep within a morphine fugue; no profound utterances from the World to Come from me… just something humorous about a whale.
But what I am afraid of is having something ungiven. I want my cup to be empty when I die. I want to be able to say “It is complete.” I want the choice to add or ignore the “and” to my epitaph to be deliberate.