Moment of Madness
Americans seem to be losing their minds. “Crazy” is the word of the week. Crazy Donald Trump just called Hillary Clinton crazy, which is actually kinda funny, like the Mad Hatter questioning Alice’s sanity. But I think we’re all going a little crazy right now – and it’s Trump who’s taking us down the rabbit hole.
Whether he’s a mad genius or just plain mad, it’s hard to know. He’s certainly tapped into America’s nuttiest Republican constituencies, building his campaign by feeding their anxieties, resentments, and beliefs in the craziest of conspiracy theories, people like the Trump voter the Washington Post just profiled in “Finally. Someone who thinks like me.”
That’s the part that is driving me crazy. Trump says all these wildly ridiculous things, claim after claim with no support, from unlikely boasts to basic errors about knowable facts, and they get dutifully reported by the media and accepted by almost half the country, reinforcing their racism, xenophobia, and distorted, Fox-informed worldviews.
Mexico is going to pay for his huge border wall as he deports 11 million people; he’ll quickly negotiate better trade deals with all U.S. trading partners; Trump has secret plans to destroy ISIS and bring back U.S. manufacturing jobs; and building a heavily indebted business empire with daddy’s money, connections, and tax accountants qualifies someone to be president of the United States, “ believe me.”
But those on my side of the ideological fence, fellow progressives, can sound just as crazy these days. Rather than reveling in the opportunity to elect the major party nominee with the most progressive platform in U.S. presidential history – by far, and she’s a woman to boot! – many on the left sound just as crazy as Trump.
In fact, I’ve been struck by how many Hillary-haters on the left have adopted many of Trump’s signature traits: deep cynicism about our political and economic systems, total certainty in their predictive and analytical abilities, simplistic views of complex systems, and use of insults and demeaning comments on those who disagree with them.
All year, I’ve been having maddening political arguments with friends and acquaintances who had seemed pretty sane to me. First it was the die-hard Hillary backers who said my support for Bernie Sanders in the primaries was driven by sexism and/or ignorance. Then it was the Bernie-or-busters who challenged my calls to support Hillary as being driven by fear or selling out.
In each case, I calmly explained the rational reasoning behind my vote. Bernie was the best for the transformational political moment we need in this country, the embrace of collective action and responsibility that I’ve been pushing for my whole adult life, someone with consistent progressive values who is willing to take on greedy assholes like Trump and his ilk. And Hillary was the second best person in the race to do that – plus, she’s not Trump, and I think Trump is truly dangerous.
Yet there was an exasperation and desperation to my various political sparring partners, and I began to feel it myself. To many, the choice between Clinton and Trump feels like the mainstream political culture bottoming out. I understand their argument that maybe we need to crash before we can rebuild the kind of society we need – and I’ve harbored that belief myself at times – but I no longer believe it. The world has become too dangerous for that kind of destabilization, particularly with Trump openly courting fascist solutions.
Now, it just feels like we’re all going mad together. Cops keep killing black men on video, over and over again, and nothing changes. Climate change threatens to destabilize the world and saddle future generations with enormous burdens, but people still fill their SUVs with cheap gas and casually deny this undeniable new reality. Our insanity will seem crystal clear with historical hindsight, but for now, madness reigns.
The rich keep getting richer -- a consolidation of wealth that history shows to be precursor to social unrest and failing empires -- because they write their own tax laws and can rig most economic games they play. And when the media finally proves that Trump has been avoiding paying the federal income taxes that most of us pay, and he boastfully declares “It’s because I’m smart,” his supporters fail to connect the dots to their own tax burdens, diminished government services, and lack of a social safety net to help them when they need it.
Trump speaks in ignorant hyperbole when describing our cities as war zones, but it is true that many people have become desperate and see no clear way to lift themselves up to something approaching stability – let alone our loftier standard of being able to pursue their happiness – and that certainly isn’t good for anyone’s mental state.
There’s madness right outside my front door, every day. Mission Street in San Francisco is home to too many desperate street souls haunted by demons real and imagined. And the new luxury condos overhead are populated by many who believe their tech jobs are changing the world for the better – so there’s no reason to do the hard work of being informed and engaged citizens in a struggling democracy.
Yes, there are many forces and factors driving Americans crazy right now, but I blame Trump for our collective mania hitting new heights. It’s almost like he’s gaslighting an entire country – that is, making us feel like we’re losing our minds by using manipulative tricks – opening us up to the idea that the Mad Hatter could actually become president.
First, Trump and his fellow right-wingers normalized ignorance, making it acceptable to believe that climate change is a Chinese hoax or that the country can be run on the gut instinct of businessman who is proudly ignorant of basic principles of governance and international relations.
Then, after normalizing and celebrating ignorance, they started to normalize insanity, and huge parts of the country decided to come along for the ride to Wonderland. So it seems appropriate to give the final words to Lewis Carroll, conjurer of the insane world beyond the rabbit hole:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Yes, and here we are.