This is my first post in over a month on the unspeakable US president-elect. Not that I haven’t been following the election aftermath quasi obsessively and with much to say about it, but we’re all reading the same analyses and are in entire agreement that what is happening in the United States is, for us Americans at least, the biggest political catastrophe of our lifetimes, so what’s the point of little AWAV weighing in every other day with his 2¢? Also, thoughts I have one day seem dépassé the next. E.g. I had the idea in the week after the election that maybe the unspeakable president-elect would moderate somewhat—this after his meeting with Obama in the Oval Office—that he would possibly surprise us and that we should maybe wait and see. So much for that ephemeral fancy. The only thing one can say right now is that, yes, we are headed for the apocalypse, that it’s going to be worse than we could have ever imagined. As my friend Adam Shatz put it, “the president-elect has formed a cabinet so outlandishly right-wing that not even the Onion could have invented it.” And on that cabinet, one may add the most reactionary in American history and likely to be the most authoritarian.
The bottom line: all that stands between America descending into fascism—not precisely of the 1930s European variety but one specifically American and 21st century—is a handful of Republicans in the Senate who will, inshallah, decide not to go the full Vichy: who, for their own reasons, will align with the Democrats on given issues and to thwart the president of their party. I wanted to add that a robust civil society uncompromisingly hostile to the unspeakable president-elect will also be necessary—and that civil society is indeed there, comprised of the tens of millions of Americans who are outraged by the president-elect and his illegitimate victory—but don’t think the unspeakable one and those in his entourage will give a shit about that. These people are illiberal, do not believe in democracy or in the legitimacy of the opposition—of any opposition—and are in a pure rapport de force. They will seek no compromises and will not hesitate to use the considerable institutional means at their disposal to crush anyone who stands in their way. Which does not mean that we should not stand in their way and on everything. Americans on the center and left side of the political spectrum, plus lingering #NeverTrump Republicans, will feel what it’s like to be a secularist in Erdoğan’s Turkey, or a liberal in Putin’s Russia. Or to live in any one of the illiberal regimes sprouting up in countries that are supposed to be democracies (e.g. Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, take your pick). Hell, the Trump regime could even end up resembling the pouvoir in Algeria.
I will come back to this subject later—there will be many occasions to do so—but in the meantime want to post a personal story by my friend Adria Zeldin, an attorney in Washington, whom I’ve known for some forty years, and who sent it to me this week:
At 61 years old, life has told me it is time to deal with a trauma that occurred to me 42 years ago when I was 19 and in college. I was raped on campus one night in 1974. A man raped me, a townie, who knew he could wander onto campus, find his victim, and be fairly sure that nothing would ever happen to him. The culture of women’s politics in the 1970s was such that we did a lot of consciousness raising among ourselves and at the women’s center on campus, but had very little support or understanding from the college administration, the police, or hospitals. I was not treated well by any of these institutions and instead I was left to deal with the trauma in my own personal way, the best a 19-year-old young woman could. I was young and politically idealistic and felt I had my whole life ahead of me.
Over the many years since, however, news stories of sexual assaults on college campuses, and depictions of rape in movies and books, all caused me trauma and have been difficult for me to handle. But not until recent years have I truly felt retraumatized and revictimized. First it was the stories of so many women who accused Bill Cosby of rape. Then the trial of Brock Turner in California and Judge Persky’s shamefully lenient sentence. The moving statement of the rape survivor in that case, read to the courtroom and circulated online, brought so many tears to my eyes. I read her powerful statement over and over and cried so hard. Certainly this would help me heal and be cathartic. But then the 2016 presidential campaign took an ugly turn with statements about women and their bodies, about women being abused and ridiculed by a male candidate. The revelation of his statements bragging about sexual assault made me angry but also traumatized me once again.
When I woke up on November 9, 2016, to learn that this man, who bragged to the nation about sexual assault, was going to be our president, I cried on and off for days. How could this happen? I felt like I was in a nightmare and that I would soon wake up and it would all have been a bad dream.
So how do I go on living? The inauguration of the President-elect is only weeks away and as it gets closer, the more scared I become. I live in the Washington DC area and work only a few blocks from the White House where this misogynist will be living the next four years. I am back in therapy, trying once again to deal with my personal trauma of 42 years ago. I practice meditation and engage in other activities that I have found are good for my soul. And I go on living because I must. For all the survivors of sexual assault I go on living. For all the young women in college and older women who have survived, I go on living. But I want to do more. I want to effect some change and awareness of how our society and legal system disrespects women. Why are judges like Persky still on the bench? How do they get on the bench to begin with and remain there so long? Why are felony rapists given shorter sentences than other felons? Why is a female victim of sexual assault treated as the criminal, rather than given the comfort and respect a rape victim deserves? And what will the next four years mean for women and all the gains we have made over the past 42 years, since I was that young idealistic 19-year-old college student?
Also see the essay (Nov. 27th) by a citizen named N Ziehl, “Coping with chaos in the White House,” published on Medium.com, in which he discusses his decades-long experience dealing with narcissistic personality disorder and how this helps understand the man who will soon be working out of the Oval Office (what a hideous image).
On the psychology of the president-elect—but also of his supporters—the Financial Times has a fascinating discussion (Dec. 9th) with the writer Michael Lewis, on the “American psyche” and “the triumph of irrational thinking.”
For yet more on the workings of the president-elect’s addled brain, Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio has an op-ed (Dec. 9th) in the NY Daily News, “Critics of Trump’s nasty Twitter attacks miss the point: He simply cannot stop even if he wanted to.”
And here’s a great essay (Dec. 13th) by Jacob T. Levy, a savant at McGill University, “The defense of liberty can’t do without identity politics,” published on the Niskanen Center website. There have been several good responses to the insufferable attacks on the “identity politics” practiced by the Democratic Party—e.g. by Michelle Goldberg and Matthew Yglesias, and as if the Republicans don’t practice such politics as well and with their own version of “political correctness” to boot—but Levy’s may be the best.