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Year One: My Anger Management

Katha Pollitt
I sometimes feel like I’m a different person now. I’m fidgety and irritable and have trouble concentrating. For months after the election, I could hardly read, except for books about Roman history, which turns out to be full of Trumps: fantastically rich sociopaths obsessed with crushing their enemies.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Juli Briskman gesturing at President Donald Trump’s motorcade, Sterling, Virginia, October 28, 2017. Briskman was subsequently fired by her employer over the incident but expressed no regret: “I’m angry about where our country is right now.… This was an opportunity for me to say something.”

The other day, a friend of mine, a liberal Democrat, said that he had to admit his life hadn’t changed since Trump was elected. Well, I said, It’s only been eight months. Give him time! 

What I wanted to say was, How nice for you. Tell it to that undocumented teenage girl who was blocked for a month from getting an abortion while held in a Texas detention center. Tell it to the Muslim family that a Connecticut neighbor of mine saw a white guy shouting at in the Big Y supermarket parking lot: Go back to your own country! Tell it to my daughter-in-law who got the hairy eyeball from a passerby for speaking Spanish on the street to her little girl. (And this was in Bloomington, Indiana, a large and pleasant university town.) Tell it to Myeshia Johnson, widow of one of the soldiers killed in Niger, who was dragged through the mud because Trump couldn’t make a sympathy call sound sympathetic. Tell it to the Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders still waiting for power and clean water more than a month after Hurricane Maria. 

I didn’t say any of that, of course. I’m working on suppressing my rage.

Unlike my friend’s, my life has changed a lot in the year since Trump was elected. Not materially, except for the fact that my stepson and daughter-in-law moved to Canada partly because, as non-citizens, they worried for their futures here in the US. I mean psychologically. I sometimes feel like I’m a different person now. I’m fidgety and irritable and have trouble concentrating. For months after the election, I could hardly read, except for books about Roman history, which turns out to be full of Trumps: fantastically rich sociopaths obsessed with crushing their enemies.

My work seems trivial: Given what we are facing, what difference does one more Nation column make? I might as well be an ancient Egyptian scribe logging production figures for cat mummies. In the old days, the days before Trump, it bothered me that so many people loved things I thought were stupid. Now I just think, Go ahead, enjoy yourself. Maybe your Batman DVDs will comfort you when we’re wandering around in the ashen hellscape of whatever apocalypse Trump will bring down upon us.

But the main difference is that I hate people now. Well, not all people, of course. Just people who voted for Trump. People who do their own “research” on the Internet and discover there that President Obama is a Muslim and Michelle Obama is a man. People who use the n-word and can’t even spell it right, because—have you noticed?—Trump supporters can’t spell. Well-off people who only care about lowering their taxes. People who said they couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her emails. Excuse me, sir or madam, can you explain to me what an email server even is? People who didn’t believe Trump would bring back coal or build the wall or Make America Great Again, but just wanted to blow things up. Congratulations! We are all living in the minefield you have made.

I know what you’re thinking: you are the problem, Katha, alienating Trump voters with your snobbish liberal elitism and addiction to “identity politics.” Yes, I wanted them to have health care and child care and good schools and affordable college and real sex education and access to abortion and a much higher minimum wage. And yes, I wanted the wealthy to pay more taxes to provide for it all. Obviously, this offended the pride of the stalwart, mostly white citizens of Trumplandia, possibly because a good proportion of white people would rather not have something if black people get to have it, too. As for pussy-grabbing, sheesh! Men will be men, get over yourselves, ladies. None of that is “identity politics,” though. It is just America.

Actually, Trump voters are not the only people I hate. I also hate Jill Stein voters and Gary Johnson voters and Bernie deadenders with their ridiculous delegates math and people with consciences so delicate they could not bring themselves to pull the lever for Hillary so they didn’t vote at all. I hate everyone who thought there was no “real” difference between the candidates because Hillary was a neoliberal and a faux feminist and Trump was not so bad. I hate people who spent the whole election season bashing Hillary in books and articles and Facebook posts and tweets, and then painfully, reluctantly dragged themselves out to vote for her, as if their one little, last-minute ballot cancelled out all the discouraging and dissuading they’d spent six months inflicting on people. I especially hate everyone who thought that electing a reactionary monster would be okay because it would—or could, or might, who can tell?—bring on the revolution. Looking at you, Susan Sarandon and Slavoj Zizek! You are idiots and my heart seethes with wrath against you. 


And of course, I hate myself, too. That’s how hate works. I didn’t do enough. I donated the max but I could have given more, I could have written more and better, I could have gone to Pennsylvania as I did for Kerry and Obama. What was I doing instead that was so important? I don’t even remember. I suppose, like almost everyone else, I thought she would win. So really, Trump’s victory is my fault, too. And so is the fact that every day my mind is full of him with his absurd tweets, his jibes and jeers and boasts and lies, tromping through my brain in his lumpish, lumbering way. TRUMP trump trump trump, TRUMP trump trump trump. 

In the year since the election, I’ve worn a pink hat and demonstrated more than I did in the whole previous decade. I joined a lot of online groups and a real-life one, too. I called my congresspeople every day for weeks and still do so whenever my online leaders tell me to. I sent sarcastic postcards to Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon, and the president. I gave money to long-shot candidates all over the country, some of whom actually won. I wrote more columns.

You could say I am putting my rage to good use, but it never feels like much of anything. It feels as if the world has taken a bad turn on its axis and we are now in a different, awful era that will go on for the rest of my life, and maybe my daughter’s life as well. Things are happening that cannot be so easily undone: the parade of arch-conservative federal judges about to be appointed, for starters, because Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was only the beginning; climate change; environmental damage; the mobilization of a confident proto-fascist movement. How can I not rage at the people who are bringing all that about? Away with them! Away with us. Our minds have been hijacked and colonized by a ridiculous con artist and reality TV showman, and we are of no real use to anyone anymore.

My husband and I visited the Art Institute of Chicago a few weeks ago. We only had time for a few things and wound up in the ancient Greek and Roman collection. How beautiful the Roman artifacts look now that the horrible Romans are gone. The mosaic pictures of daily life: fish on a plate, flowers, a pretty girl. Profiled on silver coins, the famous sociopaths look harmless and small, their features worn smooth by many hands and many centuries. Look, there’s Julius Caesar, and Augustus; here’s one with Cleopatra on one side and Mark Antony on the other, and who’s on this little one? Oh right, Vespasian, who sent his son to destroy Jerusalem and who built the Colosseum, where people of every class could sit in comfort and watch wild animals tear prisoners to pieces.

Lines from Wordsworth popped into my head: “Old, unhappy, far-off things, / And battles long ago.” As we came out of the museum, we realized that the hours we’d spent absorbed in these objects was the longest time since Trump won the election that we hadn’t thought of him.

This essay is part of a series reflecting on the first year since Donald Trump’s election as president. 

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