Despite late-2016 blather about the “forgotten white people,” those of us comfortable with reality have agreed about what led to the rise of Donald Trump: seething racism, toxic masculinity, nihilism and greed. Some also say it was the news breaking shortly before the election that there had been a BET party at the White House where Bell Biv DeVoe reunited to perform “Poison.” Admittedly, I am the only person I’ve heard express this theory, but as sure as the FBI shot down Otis Redding’s plane to break the spirit of black people in 1967, history will bear me out.
One year and some change after the Election, as the nation is on the brink of being engulfed by fascism and obliterated by nuclear war, we might consider other factors that led us here. In The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz’s magnum opus of Dominican history, a character opines that the cruelty that Dominicans show one another is the aftermath of having been under the rule of a murderous, racist dictator for 31 years. “Ten million Trujillos is all we are,” she says.
In the matter of Donald Trump, I am suggesting the reverse. Maybe each of us brought this fate on ourselves by being too much like Trump. Not specifically the pathological-liar, rich, white developer person from Queens, N.Y., whose father attended a Ku Klux Klan rally, but Donald Trump, a transhistorical spirit of Absolute Wrongness. And we need to extract whatever’s inside us that could possibly resemble that.
1. Don’t surround yourself exclusively with the same type of person.
Almost any picture of Donald Trump in President Barack Obama’s old office looks the same: a crowd of shockingly unattractive elderly white men, from King White Walker Pence to Paul Mush-My-Face Ryan, celebrating a lunch of the bones of your child. Sometimes there’s a wraithlike white woman in there. This is not just judging a book by its cover; read about Rex Tillerson and Steven Mnuchin, for example. These guys (and one or two ladies) are really the same: grotesquely wealthy, vitamin D-deficient, cruel, thoughtless and incompetent except in the game of fleecing other humans and raping the earth.
Then there’s you. Perhaps you feel your friends and acquaintances are a rich, diverse stew of politically progressive strivers, primarily black and middle-class, a couple of nice whites, but also those two Asian-American friends, one Korean, the other Chinese. But how does your group look to those two friends, the two nonblack ones whose names your other friends keep confusing?
The un-Trump move here is to expand your horizons. Get to know a straight-up Marxist who can tell you what the U.S. did to Chile in the 1980s. Familiarize yourself with the worldview of black lesbian anarchists. Get to know your local purveyor of halal treats or one of the exceedingly dapper elderly Ethiopian gentlemen who convene outside your local coffee shop. Imagine yourself in the Oval Office surrounded by something like America—not majority white, but a full range of different skin colors and hairstyles and different religious head coverings. And the next time one of your black friends confuses Jen with Kimberly, tell them that shit is racist.
2. Familiarize yourself with the Constitution.
Since it seems doubtful that your president has not read this particular law of the land, you seriously need to brush up. For example, did you know that our Constitution gives the executive branch the right to “put sulky and unpatriotic blackes [sic] in the stocks on a public square of his choice”?
Well, it doesn’t.
But since Donald Trump seems largely unaware of his job description and is employing a just-do–it-and-let-the-American Civil Liberties Union-come-after-me approach, it would behoove you to know the articles and certainly the amendments—the First, 13th and 14th being of particular interest. And, oh yes, the 25th.
3. Re-evaluate your relationship with reality television.
It is indisputable that reality television, the utterly mediocre The Apprentice, elevated Trump to the highest post in the most powerful country in the world. This must be addressed.
Can you at least level-down your watching? Yes, I know, Cardi B, but thanks to reality television, the United States is flirting with the idea of nuclear war. Or, I don’t know, maybe “Bodak Yellow” can be the soundtrack to the postnuclear ashes of our society.
And you might think about that while re-evaluating your relationship to Twitter, as well, since those digital screens are DT’s direct line to your soul. The words of a revolutionary (if sexist) bard come to mind: “Yo, why don’t you just back up from the Twitter, read a book or something? Read about yourself, learn your culture; you know what I’m saying?”
4. Stop eating burned steak.
Perhaps the only thing that Donald Trump has in common with a noncrazy black person is that he does not enjoy a bloody steak. Intriguingly, eating charred-crisp steak is a key cultural practice among roughly the same group of Americans once likeliest to eat boiled pig intestines. Who can say why?
I would hazard that as marginalized people, we did not want to be reminded of the proximity of meat (edible) to cow (animated, brown-eyed). Also, while chitlins have fallen from favor in my generation (leaving los boricuas y los mexicanos to take up the charge with tripe), it bears mentioning that chitlins are, in fact, very well cooked.
At any rate, the black community can be seen anywhere from fancy French bistros to Outback insisting on filet mignon the consistency and color of hockey pucks. But if that’s Trump’s preference, it must not be ours. If this is a problem, give up steak. That meat actually is a mammal with soulful eyes, and the American appetite for consuming cow is helping to heat up the climate and destroy human life. Wait, maybe I should have started there. We’re in a climate crisis. Give up the steak already, damn.
5. Don’t be a bragging pussy grabber.
Mentioned if there is something you do analogous to grabbing women’s private parts and bragging about it on the Access Hollywood bus. For example, the other day at the library with my sons, I overheard a security guard complaining to another about having to pay child support. The second guard (here I’m paraphrasing but absolutely not lying) said, “Man, I got so many women pregnant, but none of them ever came to me looking for anything like that. None of them!”
Now, you may want to point a long, Obama-like finger at that admittedly African-American man and mutter a racist platitude about broken family values. Or you might want to give a sociological lecture about the aftermath of slave-family structure and contemporary assaults on black male masculinity. But that was this guy’s grabbing of women’s private parts and bragging about it to Billy Bush. Everyone has their version. Don’t do yours.
6. Prepare for public speaking engagements.
Remember when Charlie Sheen had a public breakdown that got him fired from his multimillion-dollar job and decided to go on a 20-city tour titled, “My Violent Torpedo of Truth: Defeat Is Not an Option”? He launched in Detroit, primarily yelling a nonsensical string of catchphrases, including “tiger blood” and “winning.” I would bet my next check that many people who paid for those tickets went on to enjoy the live performances of Candidate Cheeto. But unlike Candidate Cheeto, who became president, Sheen was rightfully booed off the stage.
Sheen’s “tour” was the rehearsal for this hot hell right here. Trump rambles off the top belligerently at press conferences, when some poor overworked Nazi aide probably poured hours into a teleprompter script; he does it in front of the U.N.; he does it at
white power campaign rallies (why is this orange individual having campaign rallies? I mean, Pence I could see ... ); he does it in front of piles of manila folders; he gets up in front of cameras feeding satellites throughout the galaxy. He says whatever ignorant shit occurs to him, and when members of his death cult cheer, he says more of it. He improvises; he scats. It’s not jazz, though; it’s acid for the eyes, ears and soul.
And it is why you and I must prepare. Maybe not to speak to millions about the fate of their health care or jobs or very existence, but to give a presentation to our co-workers, to a speech at our houses of worship or for an oral presentation for class (as a professor, I really beseech you on this one; I’ve died during countless oral presentations). Maybe don’t do what I’ve seen every person who “wrote their own” wedding vows do, which was very obviously make up some shit right there at the altar. Let’s prepare, and rehearse and say it because Trump wouldn’t do it, and because it’s classy and it’s right.
7. Let President Obama go.
I have actually found it surprising the degree to which Donald Trump’s agenda consists of pinpointing actions taken by the previous president, poking at them with his tiny, graceless hands and leaving orange, dusty smears. This appears to be his only vision beyond looting the treasury and whipping up frenzied crowds of the very people who will be crushed to dust by his policies.
My counsel here is for those of us who can’t get our mind off Obama for different reasons. Maybe you spent the last eight years saying, “Nigga didn’t do nuthin but drone, deport and talk down to black men,” and somehow the rise of Trump makes you even angrier about Obama’s failings. Or maybe when things seem apocalyptic, you go to a special place in your mind where Barack and Michelle invite you to dinner and then put on Anita Baker’s greatest hits, offer you a cordial and ask if you want to slip into something more comfortable.
But, most likely, you’re hoping that man will save you. I know I am. You can keep crying neoliberalism and calling him a good Republican, but Obama is undeniable. He got elected with an African name and a black Chicago wife, and he managed to keep all those black people safe in the White House for eight years. Do you know how many people tried to jump that fence and make him stop inviting rappers up in there?
Though I partake in many of the left’s critiques of him, I can’t help respecting him more since learning that his lean shoulder was all that was holding the door against the Purge we are living now. It makes me want him to full-on lead the opposition in Candidate Obama ’08 mode, but more like a cross between Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Shirley Chisholm and Harriet Tubman’s shotgun.
But he’s done.
He’s gone to a beautiful house in Kalorama, a Washington, D.C., neighborhood that is also home to Jared and Ivanka. He emerges every now and then to spit a few bars about health care, but mainly he saves his hot 16s for million-dollar speaking engagements with billion-dollar white people all around the world.
This is not a dis. He’s commissioning the first black painters ever to do the presidential portraits, one of them the relatively unknown Amy Sherald. I know he loves us, but we’re running on fumes here. Gil Scott-Heron once said there’s no such thing as a superman. We have to save ourselves.
Nothing makes us more like Donald Trump than being obsessed with Donald Trump, passing his name back and forth like a virus. Even if it feels like he is personally torturing you, you cannot let him continue to enjoy having achieved his lifelong goal of being this country’s, and maybe the world’s, most mesmerizing spectacle. This is a piss-poor show, and he’s watching us watching it while doing a lot of diddling with little appendages.
More importantly, watching, clicking, losing sleep and fuming about this individual is not what will stop him (or the congressional Republicans goodlordamighty, whom I haven’t even addressed here) from disastrously altering human history. But do you know what will stop him (and them)—I mean, besides being less like Trump? Great. Inbox me directly.