An increasingly prominent part of my life in 2018 is the urge to grab and cling onto anything that seems, even a little bit, like it might be the thing that Finally Defeats Donald Trump. No small portion of my day is spent managing my relationship to that urge, struggling against its downward pull, reminding myself that the horror of Trump has not actually upended basic truths about what’s poisonous and dangerous in the world, and where and where not to vest whatever faltering conviction I have that things can be different and better, but only reiterated them in a newer, more explicit, more grotesque form. Maybe this seems familiar to you.
Ultimately, I think this is what the obnoxious #Resistance is about, right? Not fighting that urge to grasp for whatever seems like it might portend some great, glorious, imminent comeuppance, but feeding it, wallowing in it, cultivating it to a frenzy (and then, for some, selling quickie books to credulous suckers). Robert Mueller might save the republic. The FBI might save the republic. Bob Corker calling the White House an “adult day-care center” is a bodyslam from which no one could recover. If we call him “Drumpf,” surely that will do it. Welcome to the Resistance, James Comey. My sources say the death penalty, for espionage, is being considered for Steve Bannon.
I get it. I credit myself with the bare-minimal life accomplishment of having recognized that shit sucked long before Donald Trump became the president, that America was already a deeply unjust, corrupt, racist, capitalism-poisoned place, that that’s how Donald Trump got to be Donald Trump in the first place, and that the systems and structures that made America that way and have kept it that way for hundreds of years cannot be what any sane person believes will change it for the better, but that doesn’t stop me from longing, desperately, every single day, for, uh, what it was like in 2015. What it was like in 2016! What it was like on the morning of November 8th, 2016, when I made tea in my kitchen and allowed, privately, the consolation that dismal neoliberal continuity would suck for lots of reasons but would almost certainly be better than handing Donald Trump the power to destroy the earth! Anything—anything—that seems to offer, even fleetingly, the possibility that things might ever be like that again, that either society at large or karmic or cosmic forces share my feverish wish to whip shit back, even if just to what the fuck it was like literally the day before white America decided to make a pussy-grabbing mail-order steak pitchman the most powerful person in the world, delivers a fucking powerful dose of narcotic hope.
That hope is an incredibly dangerous pathogen, in 2018. It produces a condition I call Resistance Brain. And my God, my God, it can get pretty bad:
In death, Sen. John McCain is about to exact revenge on President Trump.
So begins a truly bonkers Washington Post opinion piece, by former Al Gore campaign dude Carter Eskew. I urge you to read it, if only as a sobering cautionary tale about the ravages of virulent hope. The thesis, as best I can tell, is: By dying of glioblastoma, Senator John McCain has dealt a devastating and perhaps decisive blow to Donald Trump—who hated him—because now people will be sad about McCain’s death and moved to say many kind things about him.
Here is the very next sentence.
As McCain (R-Ariz.) ascends to heaven on an updraft of praise, Trump’s political hell on Earth will burn hotter.
To recap, that political hell consists of: Party control of all three branches of the federal government, an executive branch stuffed with nakedly corrupt cronies, a White House full of sycophants and family members, many millions of dollars of wealth, the full and rapt attention at pretty much all times of like half the people on the planet, and the power to arrange the quick death of pretty much any of them for any reason. And also the searing flames of people having the thought, “John McCain, now there was a man of honor and decency.”
I’m adding emphasis to this next part.
Through the wall-to-wall coverage of McCain’s life, and his memorial and burial that will take place over the next few days, Trump will become a bystander as our nation is given a reminder of the best of what it stands for, and the best of what it can be. The president and the rest of America are about to look in the mirror and see Trump’s opposite.
Okay. I do not know what to do with this metaphor. Like, yes, Donald Trump will see his opposite when he looks in the mirror, because that’s how mirrors work. I guess I don’t know why the rest of America would see Trump’s opposite in the mirror. Are we meant to take from this that Trump and America will see John McCain when they look in the mirror? Why would John McCain be in the mirror? Is that... is that the afterlife? The mirror dimension? Is John McCain haunting Donald Trump by standing behind him in the mirror?
McCain lived a life of service to country; Trump lives in service of self. McCain exemplified sacrifice; Trump, indulgence. McCain played down his heroism; Trump boasts of imagined rescues into school buildings to save children from gunfire. McCain sought reconciliation with his enemies; Trump thrives on creating new ones. McCain was, in the words of his longtime aide and collaborator Mark Salter, a “romantic about his causes and a cynic about the world.” Trump is a cynic about both.
I am not here to evaluate the truth of these claims. They certainly conform to the popular narratives of both men, and I suppose that’s okay. These two men were different from each other. Yes. I guess this part is okay.
Perhaps McCain (and Salter, his co-writer) stated the contrast best in 2002, long before the age of Trump: “Success, wealth, [and] celebrity, gained and kept for private interest, are small things. … But sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause, [and] your self-respect is assured.” Once McCain was asked what he wanted on his tombstone; he replied, “He served his country.” One imagines that Trump’s desired epitaph might be, “I did it my way.”
Hey, I like imagining Trump’s death as much as the next guy. In my imagining, his puny, speed-addled, grease-choked heart explodes while he’s fighting to expel a brick-sized bolus of well-done steak on the toilet. Also, I imagine that his tombstone has the n-word on it, so that then I can compare him even more unfavorably to John McCain, whose as-yet-nonexistent tombstone, in my imagination, dispenses voter registration forms to immigrants. What a man he was! What an American.
I want to pause, here, to note that one of McCain’s last official acts as a Senator was his refusal to resign once it became clear that he would not live to the end of his term. As a practical matter this would have made pretty much no difference in his life, but it would have given voters in Arizona a chance to select his replacement in a special election. Instead, Arizona’s Trump-loving governor, Doug Ducey, will get to appoint a replacement, leaving very little doubt that he will select someone more favorable to Trump and his administration than McCain himself was. I’m sure this seems like an incredibly valuable opportunity to further Trump’s interests and the white-supremacist program he represents! Fortunately, it is not, because Trump has already been defeated for all times by uh the fact that John McCain died over the weekend.
McCain’s death will serve as a distraction from Trump’s deepening legal and political jeopardy, but not in a way that will give him respite — although it could give him insight. Christmas is still months away, but Trump is about to be visited, not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, by disturbing spirits who will use the example of McCain’s life to warn him of his own mortality.
Yeah, this definitely describes reality, that place where Donald Trump for sure is capable of insight.
Like Scrooge, who had to see his own callousness toward people, Trump will be forced to see his cynical and bitter comment about McCain again: “He is not a war hero.” But now that comment will be placed directly in the context of vivid memories from McCain’s past where he endured torture and refused early release from a Hanoi prison simply because he was an admiral’s son.
Raise your hand if you think Donald Trump has ever been “forced” to see or do anything in his entire life. Orderlies will be around to collect the hand-raisers and return them to their rooms.
Like Scrooge, Trump will see other vivid contrasts between his narrow, selfish life and the expansive joy of a life lived in service. At McCain’s funeral, Trump will see Democrats and Republicans; most, if not all, former living presidents; and hundreds of lifelong friends sitting together in unity and celebration of a man, his service and ideals. Grown men and women will cry, because they loved McCain and what he stood for.
This is fan fiction. Therefore I am going to blame it on Bill Simmons.
No but seriously: The Washington Post is the country’s premier source of politics and federal government coverage. And yet somehow in its opinion section you can be clueless enough to believe Donald goddamn Trump is the sort of person who is capable of “see[ing] other vivid contrasts between his narrow, selfish life and the expansive joy of a life lived in service.” Donald Trump literally cannot comprehend other lives. He cannot “see” the first thing about them, which is that they exist simultaneous to and distinct from his own. Expecting him to experience a moment of uncomfortable self-recognition amid hosannas to a life lived less monstrously than his own is in no meaningful way less insane than expecting a moral awakening from a fucking slot machine.
Can any man, even one as obtuse and self-involved as Trump, fail to see the meaning of McCain’s death for his own life?
Insofar as we’re meant to agree that the meaning of McCain’s death for Trump’s life is “Your life is bad,” the answer to this question is: “Carter, are you okay.”
Scrooge himself finally gained insight from seeing his future laid bare: “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
Another fun fact about Ebenezer Scrooge is that he never existed and is a character in a work of fiction. Much like the version of Donald Trump described by this op-ed!
In the days ahead, one hopes Trump pays close attention to McCain’s course for clues about how to better live his own, for himself and his country.
See? Hope is the problem. You were supposed to abandon all of that when you entered here. It says so right above the door.