What do I do with the anger? For me, this has been the question since November 9. I’ve ricocheted through the standard emotions of shock, fear, sadness, embarrassment, and grief, none of which seemed to last long or lead to anything constructive. Only the anger has managed to hang around, sometimes peripheral and sometimes right in my face.
Twitter is always good for any unfocused emotion. There are so many people out there and most of them seem to be so very wrong. You can always splash your rage around, trusting it to hit some target or another. As November gave way to December, and things just kept getting worse, I started wading into angry comment threads. On one particular Saturday afternoon I got into a spirited back and forth with a Trump supporter. As it came time to disengage, I did something I normally don’t do. Maybe it was because I’d put up my tree that day or I was headed out for my favorite annual holiday event. But for whatever reason, as I pulled out of the fight I wished him and his family a merry Christmas. He returned in kind, and I thought that was that.
But when I got back from my party that night I checked my phone and saw that, hours after our original conversation, he’d left me a final message. He said, “You’ve got to understand I would have burned down anything just to get somebody to listen to me.”
I had learned a little bit about this man during our exchange. He was Rust Belt born and raised, living in a county where he said the only growth industry for the last eight years had been meth labs. Had a major chip on his shoulder about people who made fun of his spelling or grammar or the fact he just went to high school. (The whole thread began when I was mocking Trump for that “unpresidented” tweet.) As we exchanged insults throughout the afternoon I first thought he was stupid, then later, just angry, but now, reading his tweet late at night, long after it was posted, I saw that he was desperate. I’m not convinced that in his heart of hearts he truly believes that Trump will do anything for him and his neighbors, or even that Trump intends to try. But he did believe that Trump gave him a voice. He felt ignored, abandoned, mocked, and left behind by the nation, especially by people like me.
I can’t tell him that he’s wrong.
After I’d signed off Twitter, I’d packed up a rum-spiced tiramisu that I’d learned how to make at a Whole Foods cooking class, loaded it into my Prius, and driven it across the pleasant suburbs of my rapidly growing Southern city to attend a party with friends I’d met through my hobby of ballroom dance. No, I am not making any of that up, and yes, I was dressed all in black. I’m just as much a stereotype as I think he is and while my job as a writer assures that I’ll never have any real money or financial stability—my interest in Obamacare goes beyond altruism—the truth is that I live a very comfortable life. I take a certain level of opportunity and pleasure for granted, which is why I have so much trouble understanding why there are Americans who rejected Clinton on the grounds that her policies were an extension of the Obama administration. Why would I want to flip over tables or burn the ship that’s brought me halfway across the ocean? The status quo has worked out pretty well for my friends and me.
For #TrumpOwnsAmerica, not so much.
But even knowing that, even having some understanding of what fuels his anger as much as my own, I still can’t quite think what comes next. Coal isn’t coming back as a viable industry, no matter who is in the White House. This man is furious at the thought of being retrained for a new type of work—he sees the very idea as proof that people like me think he’s so stupid he has to go back to school at the age of forty-seven. Maybe that’s arrogance; maybe that’s fear. Maybe he doesn’t want to change; maybe he doesn’t think he can. Hopelessness has made him easily conned and whether or not he knows this on some level or he’s riding for the ultimate fall when Trump takes office… whether or not we call him “deluded,” “desperate,” or “deplorable,” none of that solves the problem of what happens when the social programs are cut but job growth doesn’t happen. The problem of what becomes of both him and me in a government that is neither capitalistic nor socialistic, but rather simply doesn’t work at all.
He is seen now. I guess that’s a step, but I’m not sure what it’s a step towards.
So Merry Christmas Mr. #TrumpOwnsAmerica. 2017 is shaping up to be a shitstorm and, like it or not, you and I and 300 million other Americans are going to have to face it together. I can’t say I’m ready to sit down with you and other people who voted for Trump, to quietly hear you out, to respond with non-defensive “I” statements and earnestly search for the common ground. Not there yet, and not sure I want to get there. My anger is still too real and right now it’s all that is keeping me going; it’s the only thing standing between me and the more dangerous emotion of hopelessness. But I can wish you the joys of the season—time with family and friends, feasting and faith and music and the smell of pine.
You may be right about Trump owning America, at least for now, but I’ll be damned if he owns Christmas.
Image credit, for use via Creative Commons.