“Please raise your right hand and repeat after me: ‘I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear…’”
Four years ago, I was in Washington, D.C., to watch Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office for a second time. The day was cold, the National Mall was packed and, as usual and as always, Beyoncé stole the show. I was wedged in between a Marine in dress uniform perched precariously on crutches because he lost both of his legs in Iraq and a black family from North Carolina, whose matriarch praised Michelle’s new fringe and demanded I get a good picture of her president for her.
After the inauguration, I had Italian food and spend the day at the National Gallery and the National Archives. I saw the David-Apollo and the Declaration of Independence, I bought a book about Harry Truman, then I went back to the hotel exhausted and invigorated and hopeful.
The first episode of The Good Fight opens with the sounds of Trump’s inauguration. Slowly, lead character Diane Lockhart (pictured above) fades into view, staring at her television with mounting, unrestrained horror. The actress, Christine Baranski, has been open about how that scene required no acting on her part whatsoever.
Diane watches, disgusted, then stands up, switches off the TV, throws her remote aside and gets back to work.
After the 2016 election, I’m ashamed to say I did the opposite.
I got disgustingly drunk on election night. I spent the next day, and most of the rest of the week, in bed. On Monday I got up and went to work but I did so under a cloud.
I spent months switched off from the news. As part of my job, I read five Australian newspapers a day (the Newcastle Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Financial Review, the Australian and the Daily Telegraph, for anyone following along at home) and, before the election, I regularly perused the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, vox.com, cnn.com, the Intercept, Wired and even, occasionally, that warren of middle-class progressive sensibility and stupidity called The Guardian. I watched Rachel Maddow religiously.
I don’t say this to brag about my news literacy, just to point how much time and energy I invested before 9 November in reading, watching and thinking about the news. Disengaging from that was difficult. It was necessary for me.
The day after Trump was sworn in, millions of people massed in the streets of Washington, D.C., and in cities all over the United States and the world. That’s when I decided to switch the TV off, throw the remote away and, ironically, switch back on.
As disappointing in as many ways as the Obama presidency was, I never imagined it would lead to this. I haven’t watched President Trump take that same oath. I can’t bring myself to. It feels like it happened twenty years ago, even though it’s been a little over a month.
To be fair, that month has been action-packed: the Women’s March and its companion actions all over the world; Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts”; inexplicable obsessions with how many people came to the inauguration and the size of Trump’s negligible win; the travel ban and its abject failure; anti-fascist rioting in Berkeley; the rise and fall of a National Security Advisor; an under-staffed, infighting-riven administration plagued by more disastrous leaks than the Titanic; the long-awaited end of a bottle blond sociopath named Milo; Trump’s truly insane, Downfall-rant of a press conference… and, of course, mounting evidence that some in the president’s inner circle may have had contacts with Russian intelligence both before and after the election.
I’ll say that again: some in the president’s inner circle may have had contacts with Russian fucking intelligence.
Needless to say, my news addiction has returned; once again, I am exhausted and invigorated and hopeful.
Trump is part of a right wing, populist resurgence as terrifying to mainstream conservatives as it is to just about every progressive. He is part and parcel of the fact-free, fear-driven alienation that fuelled the monumentally self-destructive yes vote on Brexit, the rise of One Nation here in Australia and the elevation of neo-fascists in Austria, Germany and France, where hard-right nationalist Marine Le Pen is in pole position to become the president.
Acres of newsprint have been written about the need to take Trump’s supporters and their concerns seriously. The collapse of manufacturing in developed economies is a serious issue, as is the evaporation of social services and the transformation of citizens into consumers. According to this narrative, these people were feeling left behind and Trump spoke to them and so they voted for him and he won.
I say “spoke to them” because how could a man born to money, whose business “success” was kicked off with a “small loan” of a million dollars from daddy, speak for them while sipping champagne in an elevator made of gold? An actual elevator made of gold.
Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate and is a deeply flawed human being—like any politician, including Bernie Sanders—but she is an experienced operator who knows how government works and believes that it can work and would have made, at the very least, an administratively and politically competent president. Donald Trump is a thin-skinned narcissist driven by his insecurities, a man who in the words of his allies “doesn’t read”, whose agenda is driven by whatever shit he caught on Fox News during his many, many hours of cable news a day.
Trump’s rise—along with Brexit, Hanson and Le Pen—can’t be explained away solely by economic alienation, as desperately as even many on the left would like to believe that.
“If we could only communicate the benefits of the left,” they suggest, “accessible education and healthcare, unionism which protects and supports workers, and so on and so forth, these alienated voters will come flocking to us! We can win them back by going further to the left, by embracing the tenets that drove sweeping reforms in the early twentieth century!”
That narrative, as desperately as I and other progressives and leftists of various stripes might want to believe it, ignores the underlying and ugly strain of bigotry that has informed, empowered and sustained Trump, Hanson, Le Pen et al.
Not all Trump supporters are racists, to be sure, but a lot of them are. Still others are homophobes and transphobes, angry that the queers are being open and proud and winning rights. Many more are misogynists, railing against an increasingly vocal and organised feminist movement. There are rabid Islamophobes and anti-Semites, freshly empowered white supremacists who have learned how to rebrand their unabashed and largely unreconstructed Nazism as “identism” or some other down-the-rabbit-hole term.
The onus is on me, on all of us, to not let them get away with it.
The onus is on me, on all of us, to not let the inevitable victories of the hard right to get us down for long. I say these victories are inevitable because, in the twists and turns of history, eventually even the most repugnant ideology scores a win now and again.
The onus is on me, on all of us, to be a savvy media consumer without succumbing to cynicism. It is foolish to believe that everyone is lying to us all of the time, just as it is foolish to believe everything we read. Be critical of media but not cynical about it.
The onus is on me, on all of us, to lend support and effort to the causes we believe in, whenever and however we can. Love doesn’t always trump hate and the moral arc of the universe does not curve towards justice. Not without us, all of us, putting in the hard yards.
In the meantime, I’m going to take solace in this: the world right now is terrifying, but if it’s going to burn at least we can watch it with a cheap bottle of wine and some microwave popcorn. Then I’m going to switch the TV off, throw the remote aside and get back to work, even if that work is just making sure that fear and hopelessness doesn’t paralyse me.
I’m not confident that Trump and his ilk will be defeated. I am confident that countless people will fight the good fight to make sure that, if they do win, they don’t win easy.
Story image: ‘Inauguration’, The Good Fight (2017) dir. Brooke Kennedy