Accept It, Like Hell!

America desperately needs a genius in the Oval Office, but a political mechanism clogged with dirty money and chained to the anachronism of the Electoral College has cracked its driveshaft, and presented us with a crazy clown


In the early evening of Nov. 9, when it had begun to sink in that something terrible and probably irreversible had happened to the United States of America, I was walking downtown to get something to eat and encountered a friend, a retired military officer, on his way to a meeting. “How are you, Tom?” I asked, without much enthusiasm, and he answered “This may be the worst day of my adult life.” I couldn’t match that, not quite, so I nodded glumly and patted him on the back. As the preposterous shadow of Donald Trump began to stretch itself across the heartland, there must have been thousands of exchanges like ours, people of good will and progressive tendencies sharing astonishment, dread and despair. We walked along in silence for a half a block — two old white men, moderate in our politics, modestly hopeful in our outlook, who never expected to live to see a day like this.

What are we supposed to do now, the losing half, the frustrated majority of the most hopelessly divided electorate that ever chose an American president? David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, stayed up all night after the election was decided and posted his reaction before sunrise. His essay, “An American Tragedy,” pulled no punches. The sleepless editor came out not only mourning but raging, calling Trump “a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right,” at the center of a “world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth and recklessness.” This election, Remnick declared, was “a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny and racism.”

That’s about the way I see it, now that the dust has settled. But Remnick also warned us that in the election’s aftermath most commentators, even those most opposed to Trump before his triumph, would begin to rationalize, begin to soften their tone to make nice, to make normal. Count on them, he said, to exhume every wretched cliché about the voice and wisdom of the people, political cycles, reaching out to the opposition, withholding judgment and giving the new man a chance. This has, of course, come to pass.

It makes me sick. There is nothing normal, nothing remotely acceptable about this president-elect, who has no more business leading America than I have conducting the New York Philharmonic or playing point guard for the Knicks. This is a repulsive creep who won 60 million votes with gross appeals to white America’s worst prejudices and unkeepable promises to its most frustrated underdogs. He was the first candidate since George Wallace to run for president as a racist demagogue, and the first since the 19th century to do it under the banner of a major party. His election threatens to roll back a half-century of painful racial progress in the United States of America.

There’s abundant evidence that Trump is ignorant, ample evidence that he is stupid, and disturbing evidence that he is mentally ill. Remember Glenn Beck, the rightwing wild man who was judged too far out for Fox News? After a brief encounter with Donald Trump, Beck (recently edging toward the center) shared his conviction that “This guy is dangerously unhinged.” “For all the things people have said about me over the years,” he added, “I should be able to spot Dangerously Unhinged.”

I never thought I’d be telling people to listen to Glenn Beck. As an aging man of Trump’s generation, who absorbed — as he never did — a more polite approach to public expression, I’m slightly uncomfortable when TV personality Samantha Bee calls the presumptive president a “crotch-fondling slab of rancid meatloaf.” No president ever deserved that level of rude contempt. Until now, maybe. In an office all Americans are supposed to respect, Trump will be a man no man, woman or child could ever respect — a man whose hand you wouldn’t shake, whose home you wouldn’t visit, whom you’d never leave alone with your wife or daughter or sister. He reminds me of a hard thing George Orwell wrote about another classic narcissist, Salvador Dali: “In his outlook, his character, the bedrock of decency of a human being does not exist.”

At a moment when America desperately needs a genius in the Oval Office, a political mechanism clogged with dirty money and chained to the anachronism of the Electoral College has finally cracked its driveshaft, and presented us with a crazy clown — a clown in a circus fright wig tweeting his tweets like Howdy Doody’s Clarabell honked his horn. A clown, whose personal pathology — narcissism and grandiosity are just the surface of his macabre psycho-structure — is now a national and international nightmare. Most of the civilized world is aghast; I’ve just come back from Spain and Portugal. Europe might laugh hysterically if such a creature came to power in Uruguay or Mozambique. But no one laughs with much conviction when a nuclear Goliath like the United States goes off its fragile rocker.

In an online essay for the New York Times titled “A Time for Refusal,” the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole deplores “unmistakable signs of normalization in progress,” including a People magazine photo spread on Ivanka Trump’s family captioned “Way too cute.” He evokes Ionesco’s anti-fascist fantasy “Rhinoceros” as a model for the horror that sinks deep roots when ordinary people begin to accept the unacceptable. Advocating all the resistance of which we’re individually capable, Cole writes, “Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else.”

Of all the clichés betraying passivity and masochistic normalization, the one I hate most, and now read repeatedly, is “America has spoken.” Which America, exactly? Forty-three percent of America’s registered voters failed to vote, and more than half of the ones who voted chose Hillary Clinton. Who has spoken? Three out of seven eligible voters were silent; of the other four, two spoke sensibly and two snarled savagely, and a broken system poisoned with ignorance and hostility produced a legal but lamentable result.

Two out of seven were enough to win the day for Trump. Why on earth did they vote for him? Any middle-schooler who failed to recognize such a transparent fraud would be assigned to remedial classes. Trump is so spooky, dogs must whine and howl when he enters a building. Once he was a joke, but now it’s not funny. In New York City, his home turf where they know him best, voters despise him — he polled below 10% in Manhattan and the Bronx, 22% in his native borough of Queens. Does that give you any nervous afterthoughts, Kansas, Idaho, Arkansas?

And yet 60 million adults found a reason to mark their ballots for Donald Trump. I’m sick of reading that his act touched the hearts of a white working class sorely neglected by the media, the Democrats and the various “elites.” Garrison Keillor, in his post-election screed for the Washington Post, dismissed this Silent Majority rhetoric as “patronizing B.S.” To the sages peddling it, he offered “’Feh’ — go put your heads under cold water. Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity.”

I’m with Keillor. The working man’s grievances may be real and painful, but this time his gullibility has wounded America mortally. Pigs will fly and Chris Christie will run the high hurdles before Donald Trump or the party he represents will lift a finger to help struggling families at the bottom of the economy. I wince when I hear the word “populism” applied to Trump’s charade. There’s a world of difference between exploiting the ignorance and prejudices of an underclass, and actually addressing its problems. Trump lied recklessly, promising jobs that will never again exist, not in this world. If you voted for him, you are either a chump or a bigot. You may well be both, but no way you’re neither. Trump likes to laugh at “losers.” Real losers are people who make poor choices and illogical decisions, and this angry half of America’s active electorate has just made its worst choice ever. White blight? The median net worth of a white family is still 13 times greater than the net worth of a black family, in lopsided America. When that gap has been closed, we can start talking about white blight. Until then, please shut up.

Trump’s election may trigger environmental calamity at home and incinerate decades of painstaking diplomacy abroad. Under some rock he found the last scientist in the world who denies climate change, and he plans to put this man in charge of dismantling the EPA. He’s in the pocket — the holster? — of the National Rifle Association, so we can expect assault rifles and concealed-carrying lunatics to decimate another generation of Americans. Name all America’s most urgent problems — gun control, global warming, income inequality and general racial mistrust would top my list — and it’s pitifully obvious that Donald Trump will be the last person to solve any of them. Add his unprecedented misogyny and fascist immigration proposals and you’re left with a slab of rancid meatloaf, sure enough. But it’s the racist regression that stings most of all.

A century-and-a-half after the 15th Amendment and a half-century after the Civil Rights Act, this country elects, to replace our first non-white president, a dog-whistling racist demagogue whose support was essentially all white. After two weeks of agonized, betrayed responses to the election by black writers like Teju Cole and Toni Morrison (“The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan,” she wrote, in a close approximation of shock), Trump gleefully rubbed salt in their wounds by choosing a notorious racial conservative, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to serve as his Attorney General. With a chance to extend an olive branch to black America, Trump chose to poke a sharp stick in its eye.

Today’s top headline in my Raleigh, N.C., newspaper announced a Ku Klux Klan “Victory Klavalcade” on Dec. 3. Maybe we’ll never be free of the race curse, of America’s original sin. The slaves were unchained in 1865, and in 2016 there are still white people who can’t break the shackles on their brains.

This is the worst of Trump time, but there is no best. Here’s the feral America, bristling with armed bigots, that our worst enemies and sharpest critics have always believed in. The “deplorables” Hillary Clinton decried are not only celebrating but dangerously energized, shedding whichever inhibitions held them back. Trump euphoria coincides with a sharp spike in harassment and violence against Mexicans, Muslims, homosexuals and most recently Jews, including 800 journalists, who were singled out for abuse on Twitter during the campaign. The New York Times covered the Washington victory rally of the “alt-right” National Policy Institute, a gathering which featured Nazi salutes, Nazi slogans in German and explicit diatribes against American Jews. Steve Bannon of Breitbart News, the alt-right’s most prominent spokesman, has been named counselor and chief strategist for the Trump White House.

This is dreadful, frightening beyond anything decent people could have imagined a year ago. Fifty-three percent of the white women who voted chose Donald Trump, and those clueless women should be ashamed forever. (As for white men …) “Normal” is nowhere within reach. If you think my pessimism’s extreme, try critic and biographer Neal Gabler (an old white man like me), grieving on Bill Moyers’ website:

“America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity.”

Amen. So what now, what next? One choice is obvious. If you know the bus driver is blind —i f you see him take out his glass eyes and put them in a sack, if his guide dog is sitting next to the driver’s seat, you don’t get on the bus, right? But where, when it’s the only bus running, do you catch a ride to a bearable future? I wish I could tell you. Civil war is gory and ugly. Yet even at my age, I’d risk anything short of jail or death to resist this blood tide rising, this dark thing that has broken our country in two.

How do I feel? The night of the election some car ran over a possum in front of the fire station. No one removed the carcass from Route 86, and after two days of heavy traffic the poor critter looked just like I feel.

Hal Crowther is a longtime journalist whose essays have been awarded the H.L. Mencken, Lillian Smith and American Association of Newsweeklies prizes for commentary and the 2014 Pushcart Prize for non-fiction. His latest book is An Infuriating American: The Incendiary Arts of H.L.Mencken (University of Iowa Press, 2014). Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2016

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