Is this what a mass-scale abusive relationship feels like?
Is America being led by a dictator absent an actual transfer of power?
I’ve got this great gray feeling weighing down on my mind. It’s been there since right around the second 2016 presidential debate. It’s kind of like the atmosphere in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy: Like the sky’s bloating downward, its seams at an urgent risk of tearing. Like leering maniacs cackle from dark corners, ready to emerge, teeth glaring.
I think it was the one-two punch of the leaked videotape wherein Donald Trump was bragging about raping women and the deeply unsettling debate follow-up, wherein, to Trump’s mind, the subtext seemed to be, “See what happens when you make me mad!”, as he spent 90 minutes stalking and bullying a (physically) small woman.
Is it just me? Or has election fatigue made way for election numbness? Election trauma?
Here we are in the umpteenth month of a sustained encounter with a mushroom cloud of orange hair underneath which resides a clueless man-child, the narcissism of whom is so perfectly constructed that one marvels at how it can sustain from day to day. Did he really just say that? Do that? Is this man really like this?
Do the bad traits on this guy never stop accumulating?
Are these the same questions that abuse victims live with? In my adult life, I can only lay claim to one personal sustained encounter with a bully. Beyond my bully’s ridiculousness, his Jupiter-sized ego, his rampant boundary violations, his casual cruelty, his unmasked envy, his barely concealed self-hatred, was this tedium that tightened my bones like super glue. Everything stopped flowing. The sun stopped shining. Reason, humility, grace, sanity, compassion, simplicity — all such things wilted like winter flowers.
I feel that very same tedium in week 19 million of the Trump campaign…
During Thursday night’s Al Smith charity dinner, Trump somehow managed to outdo himself again, ticking off yet another item on the list of classic Narcissistic traits:
He displayed a markedly absent sense of humor.
I’m not saying Trump doesn’t like to laugh, or make jokes, or enjoy the jokes of others. I’m saying he exhibited no sense of humor — not a shred of the rhythm, attitude, or nuanced understanding of the world required to land even a decent joke. As written, many of his jokes (namely the ones that weren’t generating boos) were funny: conventionally constructed spring traps, their setups in integral balance with their punchlines. At the level of logic, of substance, they worked well.
But he didn’t know how to say them.
Off the cuff, this man is an addictive speaker, like many of his kind. Which is to say he’s so addicted to the toxin of his own voice that it’s hard for many of us to resist also being drawn into its orbit. Tasked with delivering jokes, however — which calls for dropping a dam into his conscious stream — his ear for the basics of speech abandoned him. For jokes, when they work, are things of depth: they go inside, under, around. They crack the commonplace shell of bullshit, to unleash the soiled nut of truth.
Trump, however, has no depth. He has breadth, yes. He has volume, too. And scale. Yet he’s resisted depth, probably because when bullies look inward, they must first and foremost experience an encounter with themselves.
So this must not be a far cry from what having a dictator, or mass-abuser, feels like — an accomplishment for Trump since he’s yet to gain power. Yet he already has power, of the most crude and supremely obvious kind:
It’s the power to compel us with the spectacle of his image.
Yet spectacles, like bullies, exhibit flash without depth, noise without importance, implication without meaning.
And to the extent that spectacles have their place, it’s at the shallow end of the conscious pool. The place where idiots feel most at home. At a comforting remove from the potential traumas of reality.
Knowing, somewhere deep inside, that if they dare swim farther, they will drown.