This is an update of an article I wrote during the first year of the Trump presidency,. It’s even worse than I imagined.
In Franz Kafka’s short story Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, the traveling salesman, wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a giant insect. The rest of the story deals with his attempt to manage the transformation and explain it to his family.
In The Trial, another Kafka character, Joseph K, finds himself on trial for no discernable reason. “Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” Traduce is an arcane, seldom used verb, that means “to tell lies about someone so as to damage their reputation.” It should be in current usage. It’s so Trumpian.
The narrator goes on,
“Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling? He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened, to take no care for the morrow, even when the outlook was threatening.”
Since the 2016 presidential election, the American landscape has become even more Kafkaesque. We are living in an America that treats us either as insects (Gregor Samsa) or as pawns (Joseph K). We play by the rules, but the rules change. We ask for clarification but are ignored. We challenge the rules but are met with derision. If we are not white the government wants to crush and exclude us. What’s up? What’s down? How do we orient ourselves when the world seems upside down?
I never intended to write a political blog, but I’m tired of screaming at the TV. I still believe we have a responsibility to speak out when we find ourselves in a threatening, absurdist, Gregor Samsa/Joseph K. world. It’s hard to keep your head screwed on straight.
As a freelance writer, I try to be disciplined and keep things orderly, but it’s hard. I can ignore the lure of email and Facebook; they will always be there. The news cycle is harder to dismiss. When the spigot is on full blast – tweets, chopper talk, Executive Orders, hirings, firings, and ignorant angry outbursts – the pull is magnetic. I want to stay in my lane and avoid distractions but find myself lifting the flap and peeking inside the tent more than good sense tells me is advisable. I don’t want to miss the train wreck when it happens.
My wife and I had dinner with friends recently. Good friends. Smart, engaged, people from a variety of vocations and backgrounds. Two doctors. A journalist. A Gates Foundation operative. A non-profit CEO. A headhunter. A management consultant. All we could talk about was the chaos, chutzpah, and fuck-you quality of the tweets and edicts pouring out of the White House. In spite of poll numbers and public outrage nothing seems to deter this administration’s relentless assault on fairness, the media, and We the People.
Is it any wonder that George Orwell’s 1984 rose to #1 on the Amazon best seller list last year? In a “post-truth” world of “alternative facts,” it makes perfect sense that a dystopian novel in which the government states “whatever the Party says is truth is truth” has become required reading.
I want a “safe word,” a no-fly zone, an injunction, a cease-fire, to regain my balance, but two years into the Trump Regency it’s clear that he is bent on remaking America in his white supremacist image.
I yearn to return to my little bubble, where I rise in the morning, grind the beans for my latte, scan the NY Times, watch Morning Joe, go to my office to write about films or food, take a break to play the guitar, write some more, take another break to play tennis or ride my bike, write some more, and finish by making fresh pasta and a salad for dinner with M.
That’s inside the bubble, but “disruption” is the Trump rule and it’s on speed dial now. I have a hard time staying in my lane. There are too many things happening inside and outside. It’s hard to follow along.
It’s clear that the competing power centers in the White House have caved. It’s the one and only Trump Show now. Bannon is gone. The Generals are gone. It’s Lord of the Flies. The grown-ups have left the island. Kushner is busy trying to get Mohammed Bin Salman to shore up Kushner Inc. Ivanka is prancing around Europe in fancy dresses trying to break into conversations. Pompeo is keeping his head down so he’s next in line when Trump crashes. Bolton is trying to start WWIII in Iran, and Don Jr. is trying to fleece the world for the Trump Organization by doing deals with China in Indonesia. There is no power center outside the Oval Office.
And, how is the occupant feeling these days? Fearful? Unhinged? Emboldened? Manic? Under siege? God-like? He’s definitely, crazed – and very, very White.
I hadn’t made the connection until now, but in learning to play Eric Clapton’s song Tears in Heaven I’m hearing the excruciatingly sad words “Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees. Time can break your heart, have you begging please, begging please” in an entirely different way. I hope it’s not an omen. My knees are bent, and I am begging please…
“Deliver us from evil.” America deserves better.