I owe it to my own integrity to waste no time being as public with my confession of wildly self-satisfied crowing about Donald Trump’s inevitable failure as I had been in forecasting it yesterday while votes were still being cast across America. And while it’s way too soon to have any really sensible understanding of why I was so completely blindsided by the result, I do feel the urge to share a couple of thoughts:
First, this is a moment of truth for all of us. As the brilliant holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, even when individuals in hideous circumstances have lost every conceivable freedom (as was the case for him when in Auschwitz) they still have one decision they can always make: what attitude to take toward their situation. That one freedom can never be confiscated or denied.
And so I realized this morning that I must deliberately choose the attitude I will take toward the unwelcome election of President-elect Donald Trump. And I have decided that I will do exactly the opposite of what the Republican leaders did when Barack Obama horrified them with his victory in 2008, prompting them to publicly and explicitly devote themselves to denying him any success whatsoever during his tenure. Instead, I will be part of the “loyal opposition” (a quaint but honorable term seemingly unknown–certainly unpracticed–by recent Republican leadership).
This means I will do everything I possibly can to make President Trump a rousing success at whatever initiatives he might propose that accord with my own values. And I will work diligently to defeat any initiatives that do violence to my own or America’s core values. This man will need all the help he can get to do right by our country, and I mean to stand by him as he tries to understand what that might be and how to do it. (I wish I had some solid suggestions to offer myself and you about becoming effective in this role, but I don’t–yet. Too soon, too confusing, too murky at the moment. But I promise to work on it.)
Second, I realize that my sincere and persistent efforts not to be trapped inside the worldview that suffuses our wildly overprivileged community of Princeton, New Jersey, have been woefully ineffectual. It is clear that Donald Trump won because he had an instinct and an insight about the breadth and depth of intense frustration among our fellow citizens who have been left behind. He understood it so well that he deliberately eschewed creating even a nominal “ground game”, to the derision and delight of all us Hillary Clinton supporters who blithely believed that this decision would bring him to grief, not earth-shaking victory.
When Donald Trump bellowed, “I will be your voice”, he understood that he represented a middle-finger gesture his supporters could shove in the face of the establishment. He wasn’t kidding when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single supporter. Consider this: A sizable proportion of those who voted for him feely acknowledged that they felt he was unfit to be President by dint of unstable temperament and/or inexperience. Surely they knew (and he knew) his wild promises to make everything wonderful were fanciful. He knew it was enough for them to fling him into Washington, D.C., as a human Molotov cocktail and see what might happen. Late in the campaign, in a delayed echo of his promise to the disaffected white community, Trump taunted the black community, “What do you have to lose?”
Third, I learned that I have to listen more responsively to my own evanescent instincts and intuitions. Last spring, I couldn’t find any bumper stickers to proclaim my preference for Hillary Clinton. Hmm. And so I had some made up for myself and family members. But it puzzled me. Later, as the primaries were over and the campaign heated up, I noticed and repeatedly commented to others on how few bumper stickers I saw for either candidate–and how few yard signs I saw anywhere. This wasn’t just true in so-very-proper Princeton where passions are muted; we spend a lot of time in Maine, and it was true there, too. This should have told me that in 2016, people had gone underground with their true feelings about the candidates and that a clandestine tsunami might be building just over the horizon. Sure enough, there was (just as Donald Trump predicted), and I hope I’ll be a bit less dismissive of such fleeting hunches in the future.
That’s it. I just heard the timer on my oven go “ding”, and that means my roast crow is ready for dinner. I may not choke it all down, but you may be sure there’ll be nothing left of that bottle of Cakebread Cellars 2014 chardonnay when the meal is finished.