Handling the tricky stuff

Handling the tricky stuff

Thursday, January 12, 2017

We're All Not in It Together: Fantasy Trout Fishing in Delusional America -- 14

14: Night terrors

The Nightmare (1781), Henry Fuseli

I’m an anxiety-prone guy, and people have been telling me this about myself all my life. I say “people have been telling me this about myself” because I haven’t been particularly aware of my own nervousness until fairly recently, late in my life. Now that I am aware of it, I guess it was for me like soft static, a background noise that I took for granted and tuned out. I might have thought about all kinds of things more intently than a lot of people around me, but that didn’t mean I didn’t feel happy. In short, I wasn’t nervous about my nervousness.

But now, alas, I am. And, like many things, once felt, the feeling cannot be unfelt.

I started to be aware of my own persistent anxiety, I think, when I stopped sleeping soundly all night. I’m a guy, and all middle-aged guys have steadily enlarged prostate glands, and with that comes the need to get up and urinate at least once a night (yes, sorry, TMI). Women, particularly women who have had children, tend not to be very sympathetic about this little bit of urological reality, but for many of us guys who are otherwise sound sleepers, this is a real life changer. When you wake up in the early hours of the morning, especially when you are not accustomed to waking up in the early hours of the morning, you have trouble getting back to sleep. But while you lie there half awake, your brain, still largely disabled by sleep behaves a lot like a kid whose parent (the normal conscious brain) is bad at practicing discipline, and the mind does the darndest things. I don’t know about other people, but mine focuses on its anxieties – work, children, death, taxes… whatever. And that really keeps me from sleeping.

This started, I guess, about a decade ago, and at first it annoyed me but didn’t really bother me too much. As the things that I typically did obsessive worrying about tended to be boring and silly – deadlines I had to meet, house maintenance I needed to do, something stupid I’d recently said to someone and regretted – all I had to do to make the worries go away was get up, go to the sofa and read a book for five minutes until the silly worry went away.

That all works fine, when the worries are trivial, but when they are not… well the nighttime obsessions become far less trivial when there is actually something serious there that you can’t simply distract yourself from. My first experience of this was when my two younger children were in high school and having a hard time of it. Life has its familiar moments of trial, and having teenage children is one of those moments… For about four years, I had extended periods of middle-of-the-night worrying, really, really serious anxiety. Of course, because I love my children and because teenagerhood is a time of unmitigated hell in almost everyone’s life, there were actually real, not existential, things to worry about.

But, as wise people say, this too shall (and did) pass. Though I had occasional after-shocks of PTSD-like fear, I eventually lapsed back into a life of occasional, trivial sleeplessness with minor worries. I even learned, like Dr. Strangelove, to live with my prostate and kind of love being middle-aged and, well, um, quirky.

But when my youngest child moved home to live with us after college, things changed again. She came home for a year to work and save money before entering graduate school. She found, and we found, that life had inexplicably changed since high school – we were suddenly older people, somewhat set in our way of life, and she was… no longer a child. It was an adjustment: she was used to living the life of a twenty-something young adult; we were boring old people and liked living that way. She took a job working as a political operative for a campaign, a crazy, 24-hour a day life for crazy young professional people. We kept going to work, coming home, eating dinner, doing more work or watching an hour or two of TV and going to bed.

Different lives. So what was the problem? Well, none, really. Our youngest daughter is one of those kids who came to maturity pretty quickly, and by her early twenties was sensible, reliable and clearly responsible. I knew she could take care of herself… but she lived the life of a normal young adult on a political campaign – work until 1 or 2 am, go out to a bar with friends, have a beer or two and drive home, sleep a few hours, and get up and do it all again. I didn’t worry about her, much… until I woke up in the middle of the night. I would wake up at 3 in the morning, somehow be aware that I hadn’t heard her come home yet, and start to worry. Worry insanely. Had she had too much to drink? (In reality, she really was careful about this)? Was she in the process of being arrested for DWI? What would this do to her young career? Was she dead, having run into a tree? Had some other drunk, leaving the bar at 3 in the morning, run into her? Had she been attacked, raped and murdered, walking to her car on a dark street by the sexual predators that throng the night? My mind would go, on and on and on and on like that, my heart pounding, until I had to get up and read a book waiting for her to come home, which she always did, safely. Nonetheless, this went on three, four, five times a week. She thought I was nuts, and I was.

When I would examine myself during the daytime hours, this seemed crazy. She had been away in college for four years, a younger, stupider version of herself, and had clearly managed to stay alive then, not having any horrible tragedy occur. She could handle herself, and I knew it. My wife knew it, and she slept soundly all night. Why couldn’t I just tell myself to calm down?

Well, I know now that it was really a different thing from worrying about my daughter when she was in high school, when there really was something to worry about, though in both cases I was worrying because my imagination was out-of-control, uninhibited by my conscious, waking brain. This second period of middle-of-the-night-terrifying-child-worry was really existential – a fundamental fear about the hard and harsh realities of life, the uncertainty of existence, all that good stuff. The truth is that, though generally unlikely, something could have happened to her, as something could happen to any one of us at any moment. When I was twenty (when any of us were twenty) and on my own, staying out late, something could have happened to me. It may be stretching it a bit, but I now think that my fundamental fear was the fear of the dangers she faced (and would face) leading her life. It was a I life I had already lived and managed, somehow, unaccountably, to have survived. Essentially, having someone I really cared about in close proximity to me, in a stage of her life that I was no longer accustomed to, really shook up my hold on reality. When the vivid imagining of this took hold of my mind in the dark, dark middle of the night it was terrifying.

Yes, I’m crazy, but I’m not just saying all this to show you that. So here’s another story about night terrors:

A few nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and all the lights were out – the electricity was out. Sometimes here in the winter we get ice storms and this can be a serious thing – the lights can go out and stay out for a week or more… no heat, just dark and cold. But in this case, it was a warmish night – temperatures in the 50’s, and no snow or ice – nothing to worry about -- the lights were probably out because of a problem with a transformer someplace and would undoubtedly be off for only an hour or so. If I went back to sleep, they would be on when I woke up. But, as I’ve already explained, my mind doesn’t work like that in the middle of the night… I began wondering: why, when nothing is going on with the weather, are the lights out? Perhaps, just perhaps, Russian hackers have taken down the power grid!

Lights out!

Don’t laugh yet. I began thinking about what having the entire power grid down would mean. How long would it be down? I’d heard that the grid was a really complicated system, and if something happened to it things might never be completely restorable. How would we know, with cable, radio, phones, the internet down? How would local authorities know? How would society run, who would be in charge? (Not a trivial question in the age of Trump.) How would the authorities tell us? Would there be chaos and rioting? I have kids in two other big cities – would they be ok? How would I find out? And how would they find out if we were ok? Was this perhaps the end of civilization as we know it? ? This long, dark night could go on forever!

Ok, you can start laughing now. I really whipped myself up into really serious anxiety and then started trying to think how to calm myself down. How would I know, with all my electronics down, whether this was just a local outage or national Armageddon? My cell phone! If it was still showing bars, the cell towers were still working and the grid was still functioning… I debated for a few minutes whether I should give in to fear and get up, rummage for a flashlight (waking my wife up) to find my cell phone to check this out. But anxiety was in control, and yes, after a minute or two I got up and did this. I woke up my wife. “What’s going on?” she asked. I briefly explained that I was checking to see if the Russians had broken the power grid. Even in complete darkness, I could feel her giving me a huge eye-roll as she put her head back down to sleep. “Good grief, James!”

As it turned out, I woke us both up and neither one of us would fall back to sleep for a couple of hours – her (I’m guessing) because she was wondering why (and how) she had to live with a crazy person; me, because I was still worrying about the Russians just a little bit. After a while, the power came back on, and sometime after that I turned off the light and went to sleep.

Yes, #goodgriefJames. I’m almost 62, and one of the possibilities I consider here is that I am slowly losing my mind. I’ve thought about this a bit… but I’ve decided that’s not it. Like worrying about the risks implicit in my daughter’s young adult lifestyle, I think I again was experiencing a bit of (totally explicable) existential anxiety.

We’ve just been through a crazy presidential election, certainly the craziest in my lifetime, and we’ve elected someone to the most powerful position in the world that many of us think is absurdly and dangerously unfit for the job. That many others don’t think so is actually the opposite of re-assuring. Further, there is a lot of excellent evidence that the Russians helped him win, which, again to some of us (but not to others), seems insanely disturbing… and he totally denies all the evidence, which is, again, really strange and disconcerting. Nobody really knows anymore what is going to happen.

So, maybe being overcome by existential fear isn’t so strange after all. Am I crazy for letting extreme politics drive me over the edge, wake me up in the night in a hot sweat? If you think so… maybe you’re right… or maybe you’re the crazy person. I’m no person to judge, but I can (reasonably, I think) go either way on this one.

As I personally reel in the strangeness of this moment, one question that keeps going through my mind is how did we get into this? And how do we get out? Can we get out?

Critically part of these questions is the basic question why did the country elect Trump?? which I attempted to answer for myself in my last essay. We may be struggling with this one for a long time, but I think one basic answer is implicit in Trump’s (successful) campaign theme “Make America Great Again.” As huge numbers of commentators have already said, people voted for this because they are really uncomfortable with what America has become, where it currently is. They are upset with the death of American manufacturing and corporate global commerce that caused it. They mourn the steady (but now rapid) disappearance of triving small town, working class life. They are upset with the new acceptance of LGBT rights and gay marriage. They are upset (as has been a perennial theme in America) with immigrants and changing demographics. In short they feel… existential anxiety about rapid changes to our culture and they want to dial it back to a stable version that they imagine (because a stable past is a fiction) was here before – they want to see it again. Trump conjured their anxieties and promised an imaginary solution to the alarming changes of history and time.

It all doesn’t seem too different from the kind of anxieties I have in the middle of a broken night… in fact it’s all of a piece with those. If I wake and find myself in the throes of this kind of over-imaginative anguish, perhaps it’s because the entire country is having one version or another of the same fear hallucination.

So, to recap a bit. I’m delusional, and I kind of suspect that you are too. The entire country is pretty much delusional… which is making us all even crazier. A lot of this comes down to the basic fact that we live alone in our own heads, our own realities, and that inner reality has a hard time dealing with real reality out there, which goes its own way, inconsiderately, without us. We don’t like it, no, not one bit. Life shouldn’t change on us like this. As Robert Frost once wrote:
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
(“Reluctance” 1913)
This is an early poem of Frost’s though he was near middle age when he wrote it. He went on to see a lot more change – two world wars, the atomic bomb, the space age – and yet, somehow he kept it together and kept writing. Perhaps I – we – will somehow do the same.

I doubt much uninterrupted sleeping will be involved though. I’m still crazy after all these years.

We're All Not in It Together: Fantasy Trout Fishing in Delusional America -- 13

13: Trump, the exceptional common man

“I alone can fix it.”
-- Donald Trump

As you know if you have been reading this essay series, its unifying theme has been the linkage between narcissism in our society (which I think is rampant) and delusion (which I think has also become epidemic). Hence, what better way to end this journey to the “heart of darkness” (which started at the beginning of a crazy election cycle that is now concluding), than by talking about Trump?

It’s October and, though some people have been saying that Trump has been going “off the rails” since September, he now appears to be certifiably, publicly mad.

But to that in a minute. First, I want to bring back a quote I used in an earlier essay, from Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”:

As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich enough nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellow-creatures, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.
Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

As I did when I quoted this earlier, I’m italicizing the last sentence because I think this insight about American culture, written way back in the early 19th Century, encapsulates a common problem in the American psyche, and a critical issue in what we sometimes wryly call “the American Experiment” of governance. American democracy, because of our concept of the primacy of the individual and because of a natural egotism in human consciousness, tends to result in an atomized society.

It’s a uniquely American tendency, I think, to forget others; to forget the larger realities of our communities; to forget the social complexities implicit in our powerful and wealthy country; to forget the world and the global context; to forget history; and to forget obvious features of reality itself…  in favor of desire and despair-driven narratives of our own vain desires and specific individual needs, our own imaginations, our own disconnected selves. It’s easy in our culture to find ourselves “confin(ed) entirely within the solitude of (our) own heart(s).” The political question though is how do you run a country when so many are driven to delusion by their own solitude and narcissism?

Though this question sounds rhetorical, I’m actually not being polemical-- at the moment, we seem to be on the terrifying verge of actually trying to deal with just such a surreal situation.  Donald Trump himself has emerged as an almost “textbook example” of the kind of deluded narcissistic personality that I have been talking about… and I’m by no means alone in saying this.  His past public persona is almost a cartoon caricature – the spoiled, egoistic rich boy who is unashamed of following his own pure self-interest and succeeding by climbing over the ruins of other lives to greater wealth and personal gain – ex-wives, business associates, “little people,” minorities, women. It’s all in the tabloid press record. He played a public role of being the playboy and non-stop narcissist in the NY tabloids… which is obviously what got him the gig in reality TV on “The Apprentice,”  where he was cast as the generally cruel and demanding “monster boss,” who’s signature line is “you’re fired!.”

This penchant for raw narcissistic ruthlessness and pretty pure childish amorality is apparently what won him the Republican nomination, which I found kind of like watching a cage fight between Alien and Predator, with the idea being that the winner would be ideally suited to be “our” monster for the GOP in the general election.

I find this somewhat hysterical description of him by the political writer Andrew Sullivan in in his apocalyptic New York magazine article “America and the Abyss”,  to be, in fact, alarmingly true and accurate, despite its extreme tone:

This is what we now know. Donald Trump is the first candidate for president who seems to have little understanding of or reverence for constitutional democracy and presents himself as a future strongman. This begins with his character — if that word could possibly be ascribed to his disturbed, unstable, and uncontrollable psyche. He has revealed himself incapable of treating other people as anything but instruments to his will. He seems to have no close friends, because he can tolerate no equals. He never appears to laugh, because that would cede a recognition to another’s fleeting power over him. He treats his wives and his children as mere extensions of his power, and those who have resisted the patriarch have been exiled, humiliated, or bought off. 

His relationship to men — from his school days to the primary campaign — is rooted entirely in dominance and mastery, through bullying, intimidation, and, if necessary, humiliation. His relationship to women is entirely a function of his relationship to men: Women are solely a means to demonstrate his superiority in the alpha-male struggle. Women are to be pursued, captured, used, assaulted, or merely displayed to other men as an indication of his superiority. His response to any difficult relationship is to end it, usually by firing or humiliating or ruining someone. His core, motivating idea is the punishment or mockery of the weak and reverence for the strong. He cannot apologize or accept responsibility for failure. He has long treated the truth as entirely instrumental to his momentary personal interests. Setbacks of any kind can only be assuaged by vindictive, manic revenge.

He has no concept of a non-zero-sum engagement, in which a deal can be beneficial for both sides. A win-win scenario is intolerable to him, because mastery of others is the only moment when he is psychically at peace. (This is one reason why he cannot understand the entire idea of free trade or, indeed, NATO, or the separation of powers.) In any conflict, he cannot ever back down; he must continue to up the ante until the danger to everyone around him is so great as to demand their surrender. From his feckless business deals and billion-dollar debts to his utter indifference to the damage he has done to those institutions unfortunate enough to engage him, he has shown no concern for the interests of other human beings. Just ask the countless people he has casually fired, or the political party he has effectively destroyed. He has violated and eroded the core norms that make liberal democracy possible — because such norms were designed precisely to guard against the kind of tyrannical impulses and pathological narcissism he personifies.

On this, I more or less rest my case. Trump is presented as obvious an example of sick narcissism – whether you want to connect it to sociopathy, schizophrenia or some other form of psychological malfunction is up to you – but it’s all out there in vivid, cartoonish illustration. The state of his delusion is such, that he himself is probably oblivious to how insane he looks from the outside. Recently, he has been openly casting himself as The Messiah, which is generally a behavior that we only see in people who we have institutionalized, or who wander around on the streets, unwashed and unshaven, shouting and mumbling:
“It’s a global power structure,” he said. Trump went on to describe himself as a populist martyr — “I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you” — and posited: “This is not simply another four-year election. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.” (Washington Post, Oct. 16)
It’s a bizarre public spectacle for many of us, both fascinating and horrifying, but it also begs this really stark question: Why is he still a candidate for the highest office in the land, why, dear God, why are so many people still supporting him??

Initially,  much of the leadership in the GOP and a significant portion of the party faithful did openly reject Trump because of this startling, obvious, “disqualifying” bizarreness of character, yet  he retained a ferociously loyal base through the nomination and beyond. These people remained completely unfazed despite a daily string of nutty, counter-factual statements, despite antisocial talk, despite anti-American opinions and policy suggestions (pro-Russian, anti-NATO, anti-establishment, pro-apocalyptic…), despite unsavory evidence of criminal business and sexual behavior. They love Trump and he loves them back for it:  "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," Trump said proudly, publicly, with complete candor and accuracy… And, in the end, as we all now have seen, most of the conservatives who rejected him have said “oh, well” and come back to him, despite earlier claims that they had totally rejected all this evil. You and I all have friends that fall in this category. Dear readers, I strongly suspect some of you fall in this category.

And that, of course, really disturbs me and others like me and leaves us wondering endlessly whywhywhywhywhywhy… As a sane American, brought up in the fairly sane and decent traditions of this country, the common political assumptions on both sides of the political spectrum, this doesn’t seem possible to me now, and I know it would seem outlandish to almost all of us if we could go back, say, two years in time. How have we gotten here?

There has been no dearth of sensible explanations for what can only be described as an episode of mass public delusion, surreal and bordering on hallucination. By far, the most popular of these has been that a good chunk of the mainstream electorate is angry and aggrieved, feeling forgotten, under attack and abused by decades of social and economic change – in particular white, working class and/or rural, under-educated and economically displaced people. These people, the narrative goes, have watched their communities lose industries and jobs; have had their heartland towns plagued by poverty, hopelessness and rampant drug addiction; have watched in alarm as dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking, foreign-acting, Allah-worshipping people invade America, taking jobs and changing customs; have been betrayed and screwed by the political establishment, educated elites and urbanites who look down on them for their traditional prejudices and instead side with foreigners, minorities, gay people, atheists, giving everything to those people and nothing to them.

It’s hard to deny the validity of this explanation… except for a fair number of data points that don’t quite agree. Point one: the famous, “yugely” popular Trump rallies, packed with his most fervent supporters. Yes, the people showing up at these are overwhelmingly white, are certainly angry, and also certainly cite all the reasons given in the paragraph above for their extreme anger. But when they are interviewed – and the press loves to interview them – things don’t quite add up. There will be a white man or woman, wearing an “Make America Great Again” cap and/or wearing a “Hang the Bitch” tshirt, and they will talk effusively about Trump and how he “gets it” when he talks about bringing back jobs and building a wall… but when questioned about the veracity of this or that extreme claim that Trump has just made or some nutty idea about discriminating against Hispanics or Muslims, they will say, “well, I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says,” and when asked if their own circumstances are as bad as those he claims exist out there, they will admit that they are actually employed and doing quite well, and no, they don’t have a lot of Muslims or Mexicans living in their community. In other words, their reasons for why they like him don’t quite make sense, at least in terms of the actual world they live in. But they still love him.

A recently published article in Tablet Magazine notes the same thing:
the median household income of a Trump primary voter is a healthy $72,000 a year, well above the $62,000 national average and higher than the median incomes of those who supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, 44 percent of Trump voters have college degrees, far more than the 29 percent of the general adult population. According to a Gallup working paper based upon interviews with some 87,000 Trump supporters over the past year, the most exhaustive statistical analysis of the Trump phenomenon completed thus far, “There appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.” The same study also found “little clear evidence that economic hardship predicts support for Trump, in that higher household incomes tend to predict higher Trump support.”
What is also telling for me about Trump supporters is they really, really don’t care at all about the facts. Trump lies to them constantly and outrageously and they eat it up. The polls are rigged (unless they are good for him, in which case they are brilliant and honest), the media is corrupt and dishonest (ditto), and so are fact checkers. You might conclude from this that Trump supporters are just really ignorant and gullible, but interviews show that they aren’t. They understand that they are being lied to but they are not bothered by his lies. They like being lied to because they like his lies.

I think a really telling detail emerged at very early interviews at Trump rallies. When asked about how people felt while Trump was spewing what amounted to racist hate at Hispanics and Muslims, avid Trump supporters came back to interviewers that they liked Trump because he “is not PC.” They certainly acknowledge that the world around them may be against racism, and will insist mightily that “I am NOT a racist,” but they think it’s great to speak thoughts that are racist because they think the same thoughts. But they don’t call them racist, so they are not. People are too sensitive. Again and again, they appreciate that Trump “speaks his mind,” “tells it like it is” and nuts to anyone who wants to find fault in what comes out. These are just “elitist” others that look down on them, the “real” people. It does not occur to them that the people who they are insulting or attacking are “real” people too, with perhaps real reasons for feeling oppressed and insulted by them.

Telling it like it is. For him. And for them.

It’s clearly because this stuff goes on in their heads and they would like to be able to be “free” and say what they think too. And not get analyzed and labeled “racist,” because that is supposedly a bad thing and that’s not what they really feel like they are. So they’re not. Case closed.

Recognize this? People like Trump, not because he supports issues they care about and they really think he will fix things for them, but because he reminds them of themselves – self-serving narcissists who get to define reality their own way, just the way Frank Sinatra sang: “I did it my way.”

If you objectively look at the example of Trump as a leader, nothing else really makes sense. Trump is admired for his out-there tone, not his substance – he is not an objective example of an admirable leader, a “champion of the common man.” He argues that he’s a business genius, and, as such, is uniquely skilled to fix government. Never mind that government is not the hotel development business, not remotely, and never mind all his bankruptcies and business failures. He is honest, next to “crooked Hillary,” nevermind the daily string of baldfaced lies, nevermind the fraudulent business scams, nevermind the contractors he’s cheated, nevermind the obvious tax fraud. Trump is a “man of the people,” nevermind that he’s a billionaire, living in mansions and highrise palaces, born into wealth, educated at elite universities.

It would seem that Americans supporting Trump, particularly the less-educated white working class supporters, are all really gullible chumps… except it’s also clear that they are perfectly aware of all these disconnects. More than that, they are also aware that nonsense, a freewheeling batch of insincere lies. Day after day, he promises that he will “make America great again,” and that only he can (somehow magically, since he never offers details) do it. He says he will cancel trade deals and bring back industry to America, despite the fact that everyone in his audience understands that this would mean more expensive manufactured goods that would have no real market. He promises people in coal country that he will “bring back coal,” despite the fact that they all know coal can’t compete against cheaper natural gas. I guess it feels good to scream approval at hearing these claims, but it’s a lot like adults screaming approval at claims that Santa will bring them all a sleigh full of toys, when they know full well that there’s no such person.

The point is that they like the way he talks and yells – they don’t really care what he says so long as it humors their feelings, they don’t care what he really is, so long as he sounds in tune with them. After the election, much was made about the enormous slew of “fake news” that Trump supporters read, approved of and shared. A lot of it was wildly improbable, but a lot of otherwise discernable adults liked it and shared it anyway, while dismissing real news, produced by professional journalists as suspect, “biased” and “unreliable.” Interviews with some of the people who produced this propaganda (a lot of them in Russia or Eastern Europe) have again and again shown that the authors were simply writing the kind of stories that they knew their audience wanted to hear – kind of the way pornographers or romance writers write improbable things for audiences interested in those kinds of fantasies. Somewhere in this is the sense that the improbable stories are better than the real stories, because they tell you what you want to hear, and real information – truth – doesn’t really matter anymore. Leaders that sound good to you are better than leaders that will actually work with real issues and lead, because leaders don’t matter anymore.

Presidential -- not. But who cares?
This again is the essence of narcissism – your internal landscape, not the outside reality, is what really matters. And also, no one cares about whether their actions, acting on this internal reality, have real consequences. Gratifying the self is the only thing that has real significance.

After the election, there was a flood of admonition from the right that complaining about Trump supporters (including calling them racist or misinformed or misled or anything besides “right” or “victorious”) was wrong or “unfair,” despite all the beyond-obvious disconnects in their campaign behavior. Suddenly, they were the victims who had been slighted and mistreated… not the people they had been slandering, threatening, yelling at on the street. They feel “looked down on” by bullies on the left who comment on how stupid and misguided they are. How unpleasant to have reality thrown in your face by people who think that they are so smart. The unreality of it is striking. Having been admonished by friends, many of whom have dear friends and relatives who are Trump supporters, to be more kind and understanding to “the other side,” I’ve done a certain amount of soul-searching, but I’ve decided that there really isn’t another position to take here than to cry delusion. I mean, if you know someone who has a mental illness, you might be kind and understanding to them, but if they are hearing voices, you don’t say “OK, I hear them too” – that would enable the illness. You try to help them see that they have a problem and need treatment, though they certainly won’t like hearing that. This is not really that different, though we are all showing some symptoms.

… And so I’ll end this piece here, though it feels unfinished… because it is. I started it in the middle of the campaign, wrote more of it after the election, and right now it’s on the eve of Trump’s inauguration. God knows what’s going to happen.