About ten o’clock on election night, probably an hour or so after it had become apparent that Donald Trump was going to be elected President, I closed all the open windows in my internet browser and set my phone on the nightstand. A wave of shame washed over me: shame for all of the stolen seconds, added up to minutes and hours and probably—if I dared do the math—days I’d spent over the course of the previous six or seven months flipping to the news feed on my iPhone in hopes of finding there the headline announcing the discovery of something (such as, I don’t know, a recording of its candidate talking gleefully about sexually assaulting women) that would bury the Trump campaign once and for all; opening that stupid 538 website to check the running odds on a Trump victory, and if I found those odds not quite low enough heading to the New York Times or the Huffington Post to look at their more satisfying odds; sitting on the couch after I should probably have been in bed, reading articles published in what I consider the more respectable corners of the internet chatterbox mocking Trump’s orange face or blasting his misogynistic-racist-xenophobic-pathological attacks on globalization and assuring me, most importantly, of his inevitable election-day “beclowning,” as one writer put it. I felt shame but also I understood that in the end I’d simply been Prufrock saying “There will be time, there will be time,” in so doing wasting the little time he has left in a misguided attempt to convince himself that the terrible thing he already knows—that there will not be time—actually isn’t true. If I hadn’t known this was coming, I wouldn’t have needed to reassure myself, ten or twenty or fifty times a day.
And then, there it was.
Wednesday, the day after the election, I spent a lot of time on Facebook for the first time in a quite a while. My collection of Facebook “friends” is fairly haphazard, but still I doubt I have even one who was not at the very least deeply disturbed by Trump’s candidacy and election, no less terrified or distraught or despairing. Scrolling Facebook yesterday, consequently, was a bit like watching mourning porn. But as the day went on, and the number of poetic and impassioned calls to dust yourself off and get back to work, America, subsequently celebrated for their brilliance by commenters requesting permission to re-post accumulated, I felt comforted, as well: here, the event of Trump’s election looked like it was already being absorbed into the banality of the post-material marketplace.
But in all likelihood, it won’t be. Trump may be the outcome of neoliberalism but he’s not its embodiment, for what seems to matter to him are not the needs of capital but rather that he and his friends are rich and powerful and feared. And now that his wildly incoherent counter-neoliberal movement, grounded in 20th-century forms of evil, has thusly gone where no such progressive movements have been able, it should no longer be possible, even for we who have resided in neoliberalism’s metaphorical green zone, to continue believing that a world that is right and just might yet be constructed from the outside in. So we turn inward, begin creating that world right here, exactly where we are, in our households, and then perhaps in our buildings or on our blocks, and then our neighborhoods and towns and cities, for as long as those places have not yet been reduced to rubble. As for what this might look like in my own case, I honestly have no idea, but I do know that it must include turning my attention away from the industry of spectacle and endless chatter that was in no small measure responsible for bringing this outrage to pass.
And that’s all I really have to say, in part because I don’t think this is the time for the kinds of polemics or screeds or think pieces on which that industry survives, and in part because—for the first time in my life (which of course makes me very fortunate)—I’m afraid that if I say the wrong thing there might be a knock at my door in the middle of the night, and on the other side of it someone who won’t wait for me to say “come in.”