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Existentialist Me and Donald Trump

If I were an existentialist I’d be sitting in a café asking myself: Who am I? What should I do? I say “if I were an existentialist”, but I’m quite sure somewhere along the way I was, or still am. I’ve embraced phenomenology, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstructionism, hermeneutics, and postmodernism. The who am I question seems worth pursuing and my flirtation with all the above intellectual paradigms was at least in part an attempt to answer that question. In fact, I wish I did know myself better because, let’s be brutally honest, time is running out for me. We only get so many trips around the sun.

However, the thing is, I don’t think I’m very good at it, that is the self-analysis necessary to get to the heart of the question, let alone the heart of the answer. I’ve always been uneasy about the search for true identity, suspicious of the motivations that drive the pursuit. In an essay I wrote in Notes from 39,000 Feet, called Theological Hospitality, I said:

[I]f you can't talk about things as they are, you might as well talk about yourself. Or, if you don't have the confidence to be honest about how complicated it is to know how things are, you might as well sound confident about knowing yourself. It is, of course, preposterous, since talking about one's self is not the primary point and there are no real grounds for believing we can know ourselves better than we know reality. Just look at the disciplines of neurobiology and evolutionary psychology. Besides, ideal sincerity can be distracting if not boring. Better left on the talk show couch.

I’ve always been and always will be a being who embraces, more than all the above philosophies, a hermeneutic of suspicion. (See Hermeneutics and the Half Empty Glass) And so, I tend to focus more on the existential question: What should I do? A present that question has one big fat “if” attached to it. What should I do if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States? I realize that almost no one believes that that will happen. Sanders and Clinton supporters when not yelling at each other, and not mocking Trump and labelling his supporters fascist racist buffoons, assume their respective candidates will crush Trump in the general elections. I do recall that when Trump announced he was going to run for the Republican Party nomination, we all laughed, hard.

Yes, I know the Electoral College is not on his side. I know he may have alienated Hispanic Americans, African Americans, women, daughters who don’t want their fathers to date them, sensible people, intelligent people, people who don’t like torture, people who don’t like walls, Republican Party leaders, various countries, and so on, but consider this. Regardless of how many millions of people go to Sanders’s rallies (and how thoroughly the media ignores them all), it does look like Clinton may get the Democratic Party nomination for president. At present she is the subject of two FBI investigations. In one she is being investigated for the possible mishandling of classified information while Secretary of State. So far the FBI has found no criminality, but the investigation goes on. In the other, Clinton is being investigated for accepting donations through the Clinton Foundation from corporations and governments who were at the time in discussions with her State Department for weapon contracts and policy benefits. The FBI has said that they cannot finish their investigations before the Democratic Party convention beginning on July 25th in Philadelphia.

Imagine what will happen if Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, is indicted for one or more crimes during the general election. Imagine what Trump and the GOP would do to her. “Criminal Clinton” has a certain ring to it. I’m aware that Clinton supporters claim, possibly correctly, that the FBI investigations are politically motivated. But if she is indicted during the election, that won’t make a damn bit of difference. And, yes, she is innocent until proven guilty, but who will care? One charge speaks of national security and the other corruption. Trump will devour her.  

Or imagine there is a terrorist attack in the United States a couple of days, or even weeks, before election day. I know George Clooney said Trump will never be president because Americans aren’t afraid of anything, but would you put your money on Trump losing under those circumstances? 

So indulge me. Clinton is indicted on one charge and a “minor” terrorist attack takes place before the election (tens killed instead of thousands). The next thing I know, I’m avoiding watching the inauguration of Donald Trump as the president of the United States of America. He quickly introduces, to his Republican Party Congress, legislation to curb the freedom of the media because he hates being criticized. He signs a contract to build a wall on the US Mexican border. He introduces a digital program to identify and locate all Muslims in the country. He introduces legislation denying travel visas to all Muslims “until he can straighten out the mess”. He signs an executive order allowing guns in schools. He reinstitutes torture. He begins conversations about the possible break-up of NATO. He invites Putin to lunch. He has an affair and brags about it. He puts a bust of Mussolini in the Oval Office. So, I ask myself: What should I do?

Well, as a good existentialist I know that my existence is predicated on the fact that I have the freedom to make decisions (existentialism is not just about staying up late, having a lot of sex, and drinking apricot cocktails). I believe, or at least hope, I can change the world. I ground my decisions, not in highfalutin detached ideas, but in the reality of my lived experiences. Because I am free, responsible, and authentic, I know I must continually invent my own path.

And so, I decide to stay home and shun all news, all conversation about politics, all TV shows, films, articles, essays, short stories, books, and poetry that touch on contemporary political themes. Or, I decide to get myself arrested. In Trump’s America I’m not sure there is much in-between decision.

Of course, “get myself arrested”, while a literal possibility, is also a metaphor here for acts of protest and resistance. However, given that Trump publically, vocally, enthusiastically tells his supports to use physical violence against those who oppose him, I need to be fully committed. We’ve already seen protestors at Trump rallies be surrounded, forcibly ejected, grabbed, pushed, sucker punched, slammed to the floor and kicked. Alma Gore, who painted a portrait of Trump with a small penis, was assaulted on a public street by a Trump supporter. It’s a beginning.

It should be noted that I have always been, am presently, and will forever be a coward. Also, one of my core beliefs, the kind of belief that helps you answer the question Who am I, is that I should be informed and engaged. So, the decision between hiding in my bedroom and possibly being beaten up and arrested is a difficult one. Perhaps it’s about time I earned my red badge of courage. It’s been a long time since Vietnam and South Africa. Will the day come when we old lefties, after winning the battle against America’s first truly fascist president, miss his presence because our virtue is only authentic when opposed to his vice? Will the answer to the question who am I be: I’m a political combatant? Time will tell. But in the meantime, apricot cocktails anyone?

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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