May you live in interesting times

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Image from Mic.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Donald Trump is now the president of the United States. If his win wasn’t a landslide, it was solid, apparently including Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

I’m still in a state of shock.

When I lived in New York in the late ’80s, Donald Trump was a figure of fun — a caricature of a rich developer. He’d shown some talent in putting together projects and rebuilding Central Park’s Wollman Rink, but in general he was tabloid fodder: a blowhard who lived for the front page of the tabloids and painting his name on buildings, planes and casinos. The real New York builders were quieter and less ostentatious, even in an ostentatious age.

In the almost 30 years since, Trump had barely changed at all. He was nimble, certainly — you have to be to escape the jaws of bankruptcy and still maintain the illusion of incredible  (liquid) wealth — and an amazing marketer. But his essential personality remained all about him. I was genuinely stunned when his supporters said they believed he would fight for the little guy, that he would name the best people to his administration, that he would Make America Great Again.

Hadn’t they read the papers?

Probably not. They had watched television, though, where image trumps (sorry) substance, and that was enough. And many of them were angry at the changes in the world — a world where manufacturing had been exported to the lowest bidder, once-scorned groups had gotten a place at the power table and the rich simply got richer and never, ever got punished.

It was a world where unicorns were real.

So now Donald Trump is president of the United States. He says he’ll appoint the best people to his administration, though right now “best people” looks like the gang who carried his shoes — Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie — with the aces of media, Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes, ready to shine up those brogans.

But it’s not like Trump listens to many advisers. Frankly, I don’t even know what he stands for. Not so long ago, he was a New York populist — OK with many liberal stances on social issues as long as there was money in the bank. Now he’ll probably let Paul Ryan try all the free-market ideas that have been sitting in his notebook for eight years. So much for the safety net — like the one that kept Paul Ryan alive after a family tragedy.

I’ve tried to make a focus of this blog the idea of community, that people are more important than money. I don’t think I’ve succeeded much and it’s not necessarily an idea I’ve lived up to myself, but it’s one that I believe in. I think we’ve failed that idea in recent years. Sure, it’s always been about money, but if it’s one thing that social media has taught us, it’s that fame and attention are just as much commodities as flat-screen televisions. And that’s the world we live in now — one in which we have segregated ourselves in socioeconomic groups at the expense of real, across-the-spectrum community. Maybe it’s kumbaya of me to actually believe the latter’s possible, but it was a nice fantasy.

As Trump no doubt knows, it’s hard to build something but easy to tear it down. Set off a few well-placed detonators and a structure that took years to make will come down in seconds. Sometimes that structure needs to come down, and I know many of his supporters — so fervent about “draining the swamp” and taking a broom to the system — believe that firmly. But there are often many things to be retained that shouldn’t be so easily swept away.

That’s his challenge, and ours, now.

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2 thoughts on “May you live in interesting times

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