Diary

Jonathan Lethem

I write out of disarray, from a field of compatriots in disarray. We’re drifting like astronauts, distantly tethered by emails like the one I just got from a friend: ‘i feel like he is making everyone sick, and bipolar./i feel like I am so incredibly ill-equipped to deal with any of this./i’m taking blind advice from all comers without feeling like anything is remotely adequate./ i feel nostalgic for all of life before Nov 8, 2016.’ Music helps and hurts. In a college classroom I played Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Winter in America’, stirring up my old Nixon-era sense of abjection, and cried in front of my students. Of course, such behaviour makes us eligible for the web-scorn of alt-right triumphalists (‘Anguished by Trump, Lena Dunham Flees to Posh Arizona Resort, Asks Rocks for “Guidance”’). At these moments we’re the special snowflakes we were wishing to see in the world, the canaries in our own dystopian coal mines. But we’ll brandish our sensitivities proudly (if not our safety pins, which may be too smug and lame a gesture), since they’re what we’ve got, and are anyway better than robotic numbness, better than ‘normalisation’.

Yet figuring exactly which pretzel-shape to twist our sensitivities into – I’ll pity those who revile me, for not knowing they ought to be pitying themselves? – is a brain-stumping exercise. Are we to reach out to the Trump voter in tender empathy for their fear and pain, which is surely experienced as real, yet was partly cultivated by lies? Or should we do so out of cynical realpolitik (we need those states)? They’ve smashed themselves in the face again, electing this craven, gold-plated Ponzi-capitalist. But they’ve smashed us in the face too. Perhaps all empathy should be nipped in the bud, in righteous condemnation of the racist and sexist complicity – the betrayal of American idealism! of American exceptionalism! – reflected in a Trump vote. Anyhow we’re pretty sure that, taking account of lynchings, internments, black ops, waterboarding, drones, inequities, America was never great to begin with. The clearest evidence is also the nearest to hand: all the intolerant voters in the woodwork. This is our Naked Lunch, then – in William Burroughs’s words, ‘a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork’. Like the Trump voter, perhaps, we can only yearn to go back to a never-was.

Yet we’re galvanised. Like all good citizens – though few of us have been these particular good citizens until last week – we’re phoning our representatives on a daily basis, beckoning investigations and hearings, making strong statements in favour of strong statements of opposition. We’re demanding they demand! If we can afford it, we’ve just joined the ACLU, and donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for Biological Diversity. Good for us. Internet petitions fly, in favour of unmistakable righteous outcomes like the end of the Electoral College and of racistly gerrymandered districts, but also, schizophrenically, calling for a recount of three crucial states – don’t stop believing! – and repayment to New York City of the million dollars a day it will cost to secure Trump Tower for (at least) four years: cash on the barrelhead for the screwing we’re about to take! We’ve also got stealth plans. When the time comes, we’ll all report ourselves to the registry as Muslim: since we’re all Spartacus around here, that’s the way we roll. Sanctuaries for the persecuted are being readied, as well as vibrant protests; we’re scheming from within our own woodwork, from under the floorboards, and trust me, we’ll be heard from. I could tell you more, but then I’d have to – you know – empathise with you.

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