This was written while on vacation in Mexico March 5-12, completely disconnected from Google or any other internet and almost completely disconnected from any TV or other news.
I am writing this from a cabana by a pool at a resort on the Mexican Caribbean. Tomorrow we (my wife and I) return to the reality of New Jersey, and the U.S. under President Donald Trump. Early in the week I made the conscious choice to disconnect from news as much as possible during this vacation, and so I did not pay the ridiculous roaming Wi-Fi fees. Mostly because I’m cheap, actually.
Besides it being the Best. Vacation. Ever. it’s also been quite joyful to #TrumpDisconnect. I could have watched CNN on resort cable TV anytime, which I briefly did once, and I did catch a glimpse at the gym. I’m writing this without benefit of Google or any internet at all, so I forgive myself in advance for #alternativeFacts, though I will try to stick to mostly opinion. (I plan to post this without post-facto corrections.)
From what I did gather, it seemed as if Trump was having a relatively good week, especially considering his horrid start. Hours of debate over the ACA repeal-and-replace was coming up, a new-and-improved #MuslimTravelBan (yep, I called it that) was issued, and a North Korean ballistic missile was shot close to Japanese waters. Despite a lot of Democratic huffing and puffing, he was mostly going to get his way.
Though the North Korean thing and my imaginings of the Trumpian response was scary, this was quite a change from prevacation news and offered no opportunities for what I’ve come to call progressive schadenfreude (let’s hashtag that #progressiveSchadenfreude, and call it PS going forward). Schadenfreude, unless I’m wrong, is a German term that I understand means, roughly, “I take perverse pleasure in the failure of others.”
After about 24 hours of painful mourning postelection, I—and I suspect many other progressives—have been able to survive both this country’s worst transition and then worst presidential opening innings only through the benefit of PS.
Starting in the morning, I obsessively checked my favorite news sites (all admittedly within my flavor of bubble) for juicy bits of #TrumpFail. With occasional breaks from my work duties I would peruse again. And then in the evening, there was the MSNBC PS festival (though Greta is just not doing her part) from loudmouth Chris (love his politics, hate his obnoxiousness) all the way through to our heroine Rachel Maddow.
What does PS feel like? As if you don’t know . . . I am not alone in this. It feels like a strange, warped version of hope. It’s: He is not going to get his way, scot-free. He is screwing up so much, we can realistically fantasize about a congressional overthrow in 2018 and a one-term presidency. If this keeps happening, his approval ratings will fall to Nixonian, Carter or post-Katrina W levels. (Though he seems to have a floor in the 30s—he’s metaphorically committed so many 5th Avenue murders, and still Republicans love love love him.)
PS is a warped joy at a rival’s defeats, countering the deep sadness of the most shocking defeat ever. #WinningMuchTrump? It’s an ecstatic “I told you so,” aimed not necessarily at his unmoved deep supporters, but at all those poor souls who voted for Trump thinking the best of him will win out over the obvious worst—and maybe even more so at the millions who betrayed Hillary by having the nerve to not be motivated enough to vote for her. I fully admit at muttering, “See what we have now, you dumb asses? . . . THANK YOU” during many a PS moment.
There are many deeper feelings behind PS, some of them pretty ugly. Feelings of superiority. Judgment of others. Fear and sadness and anxiety. Shock. Most of all, a deep disconnect with the winning side, a gaping inability to understand what motivated them and despair at ever being able to build any kind of bridge to them.
If the GOP and any Trump supporters feel like they hold some kind of moral high ground because of PS, how soon we forget the last eight years. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote the book on the flip version, conservative schadenfreude (CS). His call to reject any and all initiatives by President Barack Obama set up the coming intransigence, and encouraged a viciousness, so often tinged with racism, not just toward the administration’s policies, but the president himself—which also spread toward the First Lady. Well before the hashtag, alternative facts erasing all Obama accomplishments and telling so many lies about him personally invited CS to our friends across the aisle.
And don’t bother with the usual conservative trope of questioning our patriotism. Love of country has nothing to do with it. I would wish Trump success if it was good for the country. But almost without exception everything he supports, both in policy and cultural terms, will only bring greater harm to the country as a whole, even as it helps his rich brethren. #TrumpFail is the country’s gain, the only thing that will Keep America Great.
There was definitely enough juicy #TrumpFail to feed on from the very beginning. The big ones I can remember without internet help: flawed nominees (though in the end that mattered naught to the Senate), lack of nominees, ridiculous calls to foreign leaders, the total #TravelBanFail, the Bowling Green Massacre/Kellyanne Conway/#AlternativeFacts fiasco, the #BigFlynnFail, the #RusskieDossier, #Rosfnet, more Russkie stuff, Sessions’s recusal, appointment of a special prosecutor by the new deputy AG after the recusal . . . ooops, sorry, that last was just a deep fantasy Fail.
The constant tap, tap, tap on the phone in search of the latest #TrumpFail has not been something to be proud of, to be sure. The joy is weak, stinking of despair. Trump, like any president, will win some and lose some. With a packed Congress and soon enough a packed Supreme Court, he may very well win more than he loses, unless there’s a 2018 miracle. Progressives feel powerless and so PS is just a little bit of solace we can share.
If the ACA repeal passed while I was in my resort cave (we actually did explore a cave), that especially shows just how impotent the progressive movement is for now, in terms at least of raw power. PS is only an ephemeral game up against a conservative steamroller in control of just about all the levers and levels of governance.
So this week has felt rather free and easy. Not just because we basically lay in bed all day on our cabana mattresses, under palm trees and sunshine, with Happy Hour (12-2p) Mexican mudslides and Pina Coladas. That helped, yes. But also because there was no PS, or the Trump news that oxygenates it. We had a “safe word” among our Gang of Four, for whenever we started talking too much about 45: 46, the hope that will come.
Before leaving on vacation, my wife came across a woman walking her dog, crossing the street with her head down into her phone, who looked in danger of getting run over. My wife gently admonished her to be more careful, and the woman anxiously explained she just could not stop looking at her phone news for the latest #TrumpDisaster.
Is this what we’ve become, what we’re doomed to? Four years (God forbid, let’s not even think more) of constant anxiety, relieved only by the hope for more PS? Sad!, the man would say.
And, admittedly, PS is not the least helpful in trying to build that bridge to those of his followers who may come to be dissatisfied. If we’re too obvious with our PS, it will come to be seen as sabotage, and only breed resentment, waiting there for the next demagogue. So maybe we ought not, at least too publicly, dance on any graves so much.
Addendum: Of course, at publication, this is the biggest weekend yet of #progressiveSchadenfreude yet, with the big #TrumpFail of #TrumpcareDisaster. Just so hard to resist!