I picture Donald Trump in a hotel room somewhere in Eastern Europe. The lighting is dim, and smoke burns from the tip of a lit cigarette, filling the room. One man sits at a skinny, wooden desk, the cigarette resting on the lip of the thin, glass ashtray sitting in front of him. Two other men, and Donald, stand near the center of the room. Donald has just arrived, and he flashes a smile that is both confident and cordial, but behind his eyes, the men see a scared tiger. There’s a lot of money in a bag on the bed.
I’ve never been in that room, and I’m guessing neither have you. It takes balls to be in that room. The kind of balls it takes to do business with thugs.
I picture Donald Trump under a bridge in New Jersey. Two men, both of whom he pays in return for their loyalty, stand strong and nearby. Three other men, only one of whom talks, stand opposite Donald. Together, they discuss building contracts and union dues, and at all times they both underline their words with a variety of subtle (and not so subtle) threats. Four of the men present carry a gun. There’s another man concealed but not doubted, seated in the passenger seat of Donald’s car.
This is the man we’ve watched for the past 100+ days. A man who engages in handshake competitions with rival strangers who aspire to be his equal or his better. A man who shoves aside anyone he deems lower than himself in importance. A man who can drive once mortal enemies into each others’ arms (note the handshake, by the way) and force a century’s worth of alliances into disarray.
I’m reading Paris 1919, a book about the personalities and politics of the Treaty of Versailles. For those who don’t know, the Treaty of Versailles is the peace treaty from World War I, where Great Britain, France, the United States, and (to a more limited extent) Italy and Japan created the conditions whereby many of the horrors of the 20th and 21st century found purchase. The book lays out in incredible detail the singular reality that governs our entire world, namely, that our biggest issues rarely exceed the infantile drives of adult male primates meeting in small spaces. Many of these primates desire, more than anything else, more power than their competitors — sometimes for defensive reasons, sometimes for offensive ones, but always and only for more power.
Us liberals like to think the civilized world has moved beyond power politics, but it drives everything that distracts us from our self-fulfillment as a species. It belittles our drive for equality; it impugns our desire for a healthy habitat; and it reacts violently to our calls for mercy.
Donald Trump is the man in our White House. He is not an idiot. He is not a dupe. He is a thug. He rose to power not because he inherited millions of dollars (millions of people inherit millions of dollars), but because he knows how to stand in a dimly lit room or under a rainy night bridge and wield actual and real power.
He stands as a challenge to all civilized people. How will we respond? As Democrats with a capital D? Or as small-d democrats, the inheritors of an idea that too was formed in a small and dimly lit smoke-filled room, an idea of rebellion and resistance, not in the dark shadows of assassins or the cowering masks of terrorists, but en masse and in the streets, on the pulpit and in the press, in our businesses and in our homes, resistance, rebellion, resistance. Resistance, rebellion, resistance. Resistance, rebellion, resist…
I picture Donald Trump sitting in a tall chair in the Oval Office. A young black woman arrives dressed in a blue pantsuit and wearing dark glasses. Her pants are almost too short for her chubby legs, revealing — more than they’re supposed to — her feet in blue flats. There is nothing pretty about her, nothing powerful. She walks from the door to the desk, where Donald Trump sits alone. He makes eye contact with her as she crosses the room, but she knows he doesn’t see her, his mind still trying to ferret out some small hole he can slip through. She reaches the desk, and instantly, she knows it: he sees her now, sees the light and the person in her eyes. With everything she can muster, she projects with her mind’s eye a vision of millions of Americans standing strong in a nighttime rainstorm, quiet and dignified, solemn and righteous. She wants him to see it in her eyes, to see them, the people whose power she now represents, a power whose like he has never faced, the power of the demos.
She reaches across the desk. He reaches up, and she places the paper in his visibly shaken hand. She stands and waits. It is he, not she, who has been dismissed.