I am Donald Trump30 January 2017
To paraphrase the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his poem, Please Call Me By My True Names:
I am Donald Trump.
I fundamentally disagree with the new American president, let that be clear. But he is not a different species, neither biologically, nor more importantly culturally. I have leftist politics, have studied religion at university and meditate every day – superficially it would appear I am as far from Trump’s worldview as is possible. But I am also a white Western man. I reside within the top 5% of wealth in the world. I have a British passport and can (and do) travel to most of the countries of our beautiful planet. I, like Trump, am extraordinarily privileged. And what’s more, it requires conscious effort for me to realise that privilege – if I’m honest, most of the time I work on the assumption all humans have the same living conditions as me.
“If you’re white and you don’t admit that it’s great, you’re an asshole.”
He is of course a comedian, speaking for comedic affect. But the impact of his point relies on the uncomfortable taboo it implies. Most of the time I am an asshole. I am educated enough to understand the realities of the African mines and Chinese factories essential in creating my smartphone – a device I judge Internet strangers on from the comfort of a Nepalese hotel toilet. And yet amongst all this opulence, I find myself unhappy. I literally had the thought, “I don’t want to work for $500 a day doing easy programming, it’s so unsatisfying”. Oh poor me!
Please call me by my true names: I am an asshole.
The very conditions that make my privileges possible are the exact same that forge the Trumps of this world; democracy and free market capitalism. Trump is not an exceptional anomaly (Obama was closer to that), indeed, he is the everyman. Again, being brutally honest, there is something about his first clumsy and naive week in office that reminds me of myself. I so easily spout righteous political opinions from the comfort of my digital devices, but come the reality of power, I have the grace of a child. Trump is as natural and inevitable a result of first world privilege as affordable, 24 hour, coal-powered electricity powering the global network of machines delivering these words into your brain.
Therefore the further I distance myself from Trump, the further I entrench myself in denial. The end of Trump’s reign will in no way represent any kind of fundamental change in the centre of gravity for the quality of life for most people in the world. Trump is just a sobering and uncomfortable mirror of the bed we have made for ourselves. Real change is a long, long way away. As with any long journey, stamina and patience will be greater than strength and the desire for immediate results. Strongly held political opinions aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for life.
I am but 35 years of age. My mother, who’s 30 years my senior, said something striking not long after Trump was elected. She’s been a left-leaning political activist her whole life,
“Democracy needs to be constantly fought for.”
The signing of constitutions and legal frameworks isn’t enough. Like a plant, it needs daily attention. Mere belief in our right to democracy betrays a certain unappreciated entitlement – rather democracy exists only through the specific manifestation of consistent and intentional acts from the personal and trivial to the global and newsworthy.
Reactionary outrage is reactionary outrage, whether from Trump or not. It leads to the same endless high and low cycles known all too well by drug addicts. ‘Fixing Trump’ is just our next ‘drug fix’. If we really want change, real change, lasting change, fundamental change then there is a far, far greater monster for us to do battle with: boredom. In his poem, To The Reader, Baudelaire colourfully ascends the league of ever increasing monstrosity to this uncomfortable climax of indifference. But boredom is, well, boring. I want a battle! A worthy foe! But this is the ennui monster’s greatest armour, it evades attack by not reaching the headlines with hate-baiting Executive Orders.
Yes we have a fight. Yes there is a huge amount of work to be done and sacrifices to be made. But call the fight by its true name.
To the Reader
Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body’s force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores or beggars nourishing their lice.
Our sins are mulish, our confessions lies;
we play to the grandstand with our promises,
we pray for tears to wash our filthiness;
importantly pissing hogwash through our styes.
The devil, watching by our sickbeds, hissed
old smut and folk-songs to our soul, until
the soft and precious metal of our will
boiled off in vapor for this scientist.
Each day his flattery makes us eat a toad,
and each step forward is a step to hell,
unmoved, through previous corpses and their smell
asphyxiate our progress on this road.
Like the poor lush who cannot satisfy,
we try to force our sex with counterfeits,
die drooling on the deliquescent tits,
mouthing the rotten orange we suck dry.
Gangs of demons are boozing in our brain —
ranked, swarming, like a million warrior-ants,
they drown and choke the cistern of our wants;
each time we breathe, we tear our lungs with pain.
If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, knives
have not yet ruined us and stitched their quick,
loud patterns on the canvas of our lives,
it is because our souls are still too sick.
Among the vermin, jackals, panthers, lice,
gorillas and tarantulas that suck
and snatch and scratch and defecate and fuck
in the disorderly circus of our vice,
there’s one more ugly and abortive birth.
It makes no gestures, never beats its breast,
yet it would murder for a moment’s rest,
and willingly annihilate the earth.
It’s BOREDOM. Tears have glued its eyes together.
You know it well, my Reader. This obscene
beast chain-smokes yawning for the guillotine —
you — hypocrite Reader — my double — my brother!
— Translated by Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (NY: New Directions, 1963)