Like many/most Americans, I loathe Donald Trump. I loathe him on his worst day, and I loathe him on his best. He is a bad person and the people who surround him and support him – in his family, in the White House, in the Republican Party, in the right-wing think tanks and political action committees – are also bad people. I loathe Trump and believe he is bad, not because of anything he has done or said in his private life, but because he brought these private qualities into public life and insinuated them into the fabric of our being as a nation, diminishing and endangering all of us. That is his ultimate abuse of power.
Michael Moore calls Trump an “evil genius” and warns us not to underestimate him. And we shouldn’t. Trump is an insane clown, a gaslighting pathological liar, and a world-destroying narcissist. He is the opposite in every way of what we need and must ask for from our leaders. He has created a cult of personality for freaks and geeks with too many nuts and bolts rattling through their hollow brains. He is a weapon of mass destruction for a crypto-fascist alliance of business and religious extremists whose hubris and arrogance is only exceeded by their will to power. He has tucked the Republican Party establishment in his pocket, from where its members cower and fawn like sniveling royal court parasites.
But I’m also mindful that hating Trump only takes us so far. And in reality probably keeps us “too near,” by which I mean the shock and awe of his presidency (and of his own, entirely effable and malodorous, personal presence) leave us circling our tails with a misbegotten fear-rage that allows its target, who is cunning but not wise, to consistently and easily elude us.
I guess the point is that if Michelle Obama asks us to “go high” when Trump and his supporters “go low,” and if Eric Holder, Jemelle Hill, Ibram X. Kendi, and Peter Beinart say otherwise, the truth is the far more difficult but powerful answer that we must contain within ourselves and act on both impulses – the high and the low – as if each were equally valid and mutually reinforcing imperatives. We must answer fire with fire, and more, but also acknowledge, as we hurl ourselves into the trenches, that the battle will be ultimately be won on higher ground (perhaps the ground of love for everything Donald Trump himself hates).Here’s what I mean. Trump and his minions want us to go low with them. Steve Bannon speaks for a vast swath of Trump’s battalions. They hate us perhaps even more than we hate them, in the sense that most of us would prefer not to feel this hate because hate is not in our nature and hating against one’s nature is a gut punch to one’s soul.
But hate, suspicion, paranoia, melodrama are in Trump’s nature and, apparently in the natures of those who identify with and work for him. No self-contradiction accompanies their dark impulses. They yearn for the street fight and will happily unleash Gangs of New York brass knuckles mayhem where they can. And so tempting as it may be to respond in kind and descend into the chaos with a kind of willful glee and exaltation, the outcome is self-consuming and ultimately self-annihilating.
Philosophically speaking, we also should certainly consider what it is that makes our hatred of Trump and his people any more valid than the hatred he and his people feel for us. Are we privy to truth claims deep and universal – which bestow on us this right or freedom to hate – that elude Trump and his Republican acolytes, enablers, whisperers, and supporters? What makes us so sure that we are right, and they are wrong, when they are equally sure that they are right, and we are wrong? If the truth is that clear, how can it be so divisive? Can we really, or simply, reduce the difference to matters of white supremacy or misogyny or greed, prevalent as though forces may be? What must we also look to in ourselves to parse these fault lines in our nation?
The experience of loathing Donald Trump, legitimate and important though it may be, does not resolve these conundrums and so gives us no path forward. Indeed, this experience strips the ground from our feet by ignoring the objective realities of our times, and of all times. In other words, beneath the “Trump is fill in your most heinous adjective,” there are the “but why’s,” and the “but how’s,” the conditioning circumstances that root his rise and influence to forces deeper and more sustaining than a quivering malevolence. There are many ways to think about these why’s and how’s. Probably the simplest way is to step back and consider if Trump appears to us as a uniquely disturbing and frightening and loathsome human merely being because of who he is. Or is it also because of what he tells us, each of us, about ourselves, about the times in which we live, and about how power discloses and arranges itself in moments of heightened social and environmental stress.