Donald Trump and his minions send me emails every day. I feel like they're stalking me. I know many other Americans feel the same way.
Some of these emails ask for money "to save America" from the "socialist Democrats" and "woke mobs" who want to impose "critical race theory" on the American people. There may be another designated enemy on any given day. According to these emails only Donald Trump — with the help of my money — can save the country.
Donald Trump and his minions also send emails asking me how much I love him, or seeking confirmation that he was (and according to him, still is) the greatest president of all time. Those emails are actually pathetic, the stuff of a malignant narcissist, an empty and insecure person desperately seeking the approval of others.
Other emails promise prizes and special opportunities — just for me! — if I send Trump and his people money. Some of these emails promise "double-entry," which sounds disturbingly like the title of an X-rated movie that would have played in Times Square in the 1970s, when a much younger Donald Trump was out carousing in New York's hottest nightclubs.
Trump and his minions have even sent emails offering a sneak preview of some special private movie — presumably not entitled "Double Entry" — if I just give them money. I don't want to see that movie.
When you ignore these emails, the tone changes. The disembodied voice of Trump gets angry, and emails start arriving that read like collection notices for unpaid bills. Trump and his people want to know why the money is late and insist that matters are "urgent!"
One day last week, I felt unusually annoyed by Trump's emails. (Which I signed up for, after all. I genuinely have no one else to blame.) I took that as a signal that I should go for a long walk and enjoy the "nice" weather. In Chicago, where I live, that means a few hours when it's not cloudy and cold.
Twenty or so minutes into my walk here in downtown Chicago, I saw a man who lives outside. He was dancing, spinning around on the sidewalk outside an upscale department store, doing his own version of a pirouette. His shirt, jacket and shoes looked relatively new, but his pants were tattered. He was balancing himself on one leg and I abruptly realized that he was relieving himself without soiling his pants or legs. On a busy street during the middle of the day, I was witnessing a grotesque and carnivalesque spectacle like something Mikhail Bakhtin would have written about in "Rabelais and His World." As the man spun around, he roared in joyous laughter. Who was he laughing at? Himself? The rest of the world? Everyone?
What was most obscene to me was not the fact that a man was using a public sidewalk as a toilet but the way so many people simply walked around him. He was not exactly quite invisible to them, but did not quite exist as something real to them either. They hurried past him, self-medicating by staring at their phones, insulated from the world.
We truly are a sick society, I told myself, to have become so numb and self-obsessed and atomized as to ignore one another while still occupying the same space. What type of society is this?
Several blocks later I saw a man sitting on the corner. He was camped out at his usual spot, with a sign asking for money for food and shelter. I see him all the time; he is a human landmark of the neighborhood. I assume he is around 40, but you can't really tell: His face is so weathered that he could be much older or much younger than that. The man is just tired.
One of his hands is as large as a frying pan, and that arm is swollen to similar proportions all the way to his shoulder. I have tried to help him, as have other people. He refuses all assistance. Some months ago I saw a middle-aged black woman, who was walking by with her young son, sit down next to the man. The son stood next to his mother, eye level with the man. She told him that she was a nurse and wanted to get him help. The man politely declined. The woman's son was trying not to cry. She stayed with the man for some time, speaking with him. She rubbed the man's good shoulder in an act of human compassion and reassurance and then gave him money and said goodbye.
It was all such good parenting: Children watch everything that their parents and other caregivers do.
On a different occasion, I called 911 and asked them to come take the man to a hospital. I said I didn't think he was in his right mind and was likely to die on the street. The ambulance arrived quickly, but the paramedics left again within five minutes. They told me he had refused help and did not pose a danger to anyone; you can't force a person to accept help if they don't want it.
It was my turn to guffaw. Each in their own way, the spinning man relieving himself on the sidewalk and the man with the skillet hand who refuses all help are powerful metaphors for the condition of America during this worsening democracy crisis. I walked home to read more emails from Donald Trump and his minions demanding money from me.
Trump and his operatives wrote to say they were "concerned about me." That was when I began talking to the computer, alone and cold sober in the middle of the day.
One email actually asked whether I was OK. Trump and his operatives were "concerned about me." I then heard myself, alone and stone-cold sober in the middle of the day, talking aloud in response to a fundraising email from "Donald Trump" (since the real Donald Trump certainly did not send it and probably never saw it).
"No, we are not fucking OK," I said out loud.
The American people are not OK. None of us. Those Americans who actually care about democracy and a humane society, and who truly love this country in a mature way and want it to be better — they are especially not OK.
There are so many things wrong in American society and the world right now that it's too much to list. Writing about it, I suppose, will be healthier and more productive than talking back to the computer screen.
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As revealed by the draft majority opinion recently obtained by Politico, the Supreme Court is likely to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision within the next few weeks. This ruling will take away a woman's inherent right to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy in the United States. The effects on the lives of millions of American women will be profound and permanent.
The American Taliban and the other Republican-fascists have become so depraved and cruel in their pursuit of a right-wing "Handmaid's Tale" fantasy that in many states, women and girls who are victims of rape and incest will not be allowed to terminate their pregnancies — and rapists may even have "parental rights" and other legal claims on the victims and their children. In Louisiana, the Republicans are attempting to pass a law that could imprison women for homicide if they have an abortion.
The ultimate goal of the Republican-fascists and the larger "conservative" movement is to create a 21st century apartheid theocracy. Reversing Roe v. Wade is but one more step in that direction. I warned about this in a previous Salon essay:
Fascism thrives on oppressing others. The power to hurt or subjugate other people — what social psychologists describe as "social dominance behavior" — is a principal reason why certain people are attracted to fascism and other anti-human and antisocial political movements and beliefs.
In the Republican-fascist-conservative-authoritarian imaginary, women are deemed to be a type of chattel and the property of men. The yearning for "tradition," a return to a "golden age" and the "traditional family" translates in a quotidian way into women (along with LGBTQ people, nonwhites and other marginalized groups) "knowing their place."
In this cosmology, women's bodies are viewed as walking wombs and human pleasure robots. The basic premise of a humane and truly democratic and pluralistic society — that women should be equal to men in all political, social and economic realms of life and society — is anathema to the fascist project, and to many "conservatives" and "traditionalists" more broadly.
Women's reproductive rights and freedoms are not an abstraction to be debated by policy wonks, jurists and legislators. These questions illustrate how political power can shape our lives in intimate and fundamental ways. The Republican-fascists and their propagandists and followers want us to ignore the horror and pain they will inflict on real women in overturning Roe v. Wade.
A recent report in the Independent communicates the horrible things seen by medical practitioners in the years before Roe v. Wade:
Carole Joffe still remembers the despair in the doctors' voices and faces when they talked about the women.
The women — or often, girls — were patients, all rushed to emergency rooms in different parts of the country, some claiming to be miscarrying, others concocting back stories — but many severely, sometimes fatally, injured by illegal or self-administered abortion attempts in the years before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.
The horrific experiences of women pre-Roe have returned to the fore after the revelation this week that the Supreme Court is considering striking down the decision that had protected Americans' right to seek terminations for nearly 50 years — and raised the question of whether women and girls are set to return to the dark days of secret, dangerous and often fatal procedures.
One doctor saw a woman who'd inserted a catheter into her cervix, poured gasoline into it and "literally cooked the lining of her uterus." Another treated a woman brought into the ER for a "strangulated hernia," which turned out to be "a loop of bowel hanging out of her vagina wrapped in newspaper," the doctor told Prof Joffe, who was researching her 1995 book "Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe v Wade."
The illegal abortionist had perforated the woman's uterus "and pulled out the bowel with his aborting instruments and he thought it was fetal bowel. She had literally over thirty inches of bowel hanging out of her vagina," the rescuing doctor told Prof Joffe; against all odds, the patient lived.
Such stories and images do not move the Republican-fascists and the American Taliban. Many of them believe women who seek abortions are immoral, and deserve punishment for their "sins." In all likelihood of course, the leaders of the Republican-fascist movement and the American Taliban will make sure that their wives, mistresses and daughters can quietly receive abortions on demand.
We are not OK.
Last week, we learned that at least a million Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic, and that estimate is likely an undercount. Many more millions will experience diminished health decades into the future from "long COVID" and other lasting effects. The pandemic has also meant economic ruin for millions of Americans, and countless families have been shattered emotionally by its destruction.
Donald Trump and his regime were willfully negligent, if not criminal, in their response to the pandemic. As we already know, Trump and his cabal will not face significant punishments for their crimes. In the U.S. and around the world, the plutocrat class has enriched themselves even more through the human misery and desperation caused by the pandemic.
In a series of powerful articles for the Atlantic, Ed Yong has been chronicling the coronavirus pandemic and its tales of human loss and reckoning. In March, he wrote this:
Many aspects of the pandemic work against a social reckoning. The threat — a virus — is invisible, and the damage it inflicts is hidden from public view. With no lapping floodwaters or smoking buildings, the tragedy becomes contestable to a degree that a natural disaster or terrorist attack cannot be.
And though 3 percent of Americans have lost a close family member to COVID, that means 97 percent have not. The two years that were shaved off of the average life span undid two decades of progress in health, but in 2000, "it didn't feel like we were living under a horrible mortality regime," Andrew Noymer, a demographer at UC Irvine, told me. "It felt normal."
To grapple with the aftermath of a disaster, there must first be an aftermath. But the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing, and "feels so big that we can't put our arms around it anymore," Peek told me. Thinking about it is like staring into the sun, and after two years, it is no wonder people are looking away. As tragedy becomes routine, excess deaths feel less excessive. Levels of suffering that once felt like thunderclaps now resemble a metronome's clicks — the background noise against which everyday life plays.
In an essay for Esquire in March 2021, Jeff Sharlet reflected on this lack of closure, reflecting on what then seemed like an unimaginable number of deaths — about 1.7 million around the world, a number we have now left far behind:
Two days after the New York Times ran the names of the dead in May, a photograph made the rounds of social media indignation, a herd of mostly white Missourians milling in a shallow pool, their sun-reddened torsos sweat-slick as they gathered with drinks at built-in bars.
I stared, stunned by the sorrow of it. Not the lack of care but the heartbreak. That pool full of light beer and denial seemed to me another kind of grief: a refusal to reckon with loss. Loss is never nothing. Not the loss of a parent or a child, not the loss of a living, not the loss of pleasures, small and profound — haircuts, parties, bars, the hookups that might have followed. How trivial! How devastating. Friendship and sex are no small affairs. Nor is the sense of our selves we sometimes dismiss as vanity. The sense of ourselves this plague has worn away.
My seven-year-old has lately been obsessed with natural disasters, and the word tsunami fascinates him. I explained that it's not actually the singular wave towering in his imagination but a series, the wavelengths of which are long. "Like a tide," I told him.
We are standing in the tide. A few weeks ago, when the U.S. death toll passed 250,000, I began looking beyond the obituaries. I began writing to the left behind. Mostly those who had lost somebody but also those who had lost something. A job, a relationship, a big break, a last chance, a final goodbye. It's too soon to explain all the whys of our losses. We still need to name the what, and the what is vast.
In his Atlantic essay this April, Yong explored the loneliness and isolation experienced by people who lost loved ones to the pandemic. What do closure and healing look like in a country with such a short collective memory, where national forgetting (for White America especially) is part of the cultural DNA?
Some of the people I interviewed felt relieved when Biden presided over a lighting ceremony in February 2021, when the COVID death toll was just half what it currently is. But Kristin Urquiza told me that such gestures are "insignificant in comparison to the massive amount of death and suffering that we've had." The nonprofit that she co-founded, Marked by COVID, is pushing the U.S. toward actions more fitting in scale. It wants the first Monday of March to be marked as a national COVID Memorial Day, and for permanent memorials to be erected around the country. "Putting my grief into a physical thing would take off some of the emotional heaviness," Keyerra Snype told me. And having a solid, lasting memorial would go some way to assuring grievers that their loss is real, and that their loved ones mattered. Urquiza said that she's striving for the country not just to remember her dad but to remember everything that cost him his life. "We can't just put this in a memory hole, or we'll forget," she said. "I don't want anyone to ever feel what I've had to feel."
No, America is not OK, in so many ways.
Donald Trump and the Republican fascists are escalating their assaults on American democracy; extreme wealth and income inequality continues to grow; there is a global climate disaster; we face mass shootings, police thuggery and a culture of cruelty; gangster capitalists continue to reign largely unchallenged; loneliness, social atomization and a loss of meaningful interconnectedness are a type of public health emergency.
If we choose to pay attention, the symptoms of an American society that is experiencing deep pain and loss, and on the verge of a collective breakdown, are all around us. We can see this in ways both quotidian and small as well as large and obvious -- but we must first choose to see it and while doing so look deeply and with feeling and brave vulnerability. Ultimately, to truly feel the pain of the world takes courage.
Several days ago, I was walking down the street on a sunny spring day. The air was filled with ecstatic birdsong. The birds were so happy. My lollygagging felt highly therapeutic, for a moment. Then I encountered two teenage girls, blocking the entire sidewalk. They, like many teenagers, were loud, stuck in the self-importance and narcissism of that (usually) indulgent time between being a child and an adult, wanting attention while pretending not to.
One said to the other, matter-of-factly, that the birds were being "too damn loud — I hate all that noise." Her friend agreed: "Damn birds need to shut up. I hate them."
That moment of pettiness and meanness, and that inability to appreciate something so simple and beautiful hurt my soul. What had they experienced in their lives, to make them so harsh and hard and unfeeling?
There are larger acts as well. Two weeks ago on Earth Day, a climate scientist named Wynn Bruce burned himself alive outside the U.S. Supreme Court building. His friend, Kritee Kanko, a climate scientist and a Zen priest, explained Bruce's motivations on Twitter, writing: "This act is not suicide. This is a deeply fearless act of compassion to bring attention to climate crisis."
Again, we are not OK.
Donald Trump and his minions constantly say they "love" America. Is that meant to be sarcastic? Because their actions suggest the opposite.
You cannot hear another person's tone of voice in an email. But it is tone of voice, modulation and context which communicate the full intent and meaning of words. When Donald Trump and his minions repeatedly say that they "love" America and "care" about the country and its people, their actions suggest that their true meaning is the opposite. In reality, the Trump-fascists and the larger "conservative" movement are profoundly sadistic. Their power comes from inflicting pain on the American people — including their own followers and believers.
The mainstream news media, the hope-peddlers, naïve optimists and professional centrists, the Democratic Party establishment types, the horserace journalists and others invested in "the system" and "democratic institutions" who remain addicted to the fiction of "normalcy" — all of them consistently refuse to clearly communicate this fact to the American people.
If the American people want to save their democracy from the fascist nightmare that is gaining momentum — the end of Roe v. Wade is just an early stop towards that hellish destination — they first need to stare into the darkness and take its full measure, and then act with more strength and determination than most imagine themselves capable of.
We Americans are not OK. Healing cannot even begin until we embrace that reality and come up with a plan to address it. Are we capable of such maturity, insight and commitment? The future of American democracy depends on the answer.
Read more on our 45th president and his ongoing struggle against reality: