Humans naturally have an aversion to pain. Sometimes this is helpful. A child learns that sticking their finger in the dog’s food bowl results in a nip. A teenager tries to weasel out of a missed curfew only to learn that their parents have many years more experience lying than they do. An adult learns that spending a day shopping for Ikea furniture with a new lover will result in strife.
Other avoidant behavior isn’t as useful. Not checking one’s bank account balance after a blockbuster weekend, for example, could result in an embarrassing surprise when one’s card is declined. Not visiting your nursing home-bound grandfather out of fear that facing his failing health will shake you could lead to the sort of regret that eats you alive on the inside. Not paying attention to the exact way a creepy used car dealer is trying to screw you over could lead to a whole universe of stress headaches.
On Friday, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. He’ll make history in a number of ways—he has no public service experience, he lost the popular vote by 3 million, and he’s got the lowest approval rating of any president-elect ever. And, while I don’t have the official stats on this, I’m pretty sure he’ll be the first president with a piss-related sexual scandal before he even takes office. At least in my lifetime.
Donald Trump rose to fame on a reputation as being a guy who screws, in the literal and figurative sense. He screwed his way through Manhattan, if the New York City tabloids of the 1980’s are to be believed. He screwed his first wife, figuratively, by screwing his second wife, literally. He would go on to screw his second wife, figuratively, and the child they had together, whom he seems to forget exists from time to time. In the meantime, he was screwing his casino employees, his contractors, his business partners. He was bragging about how adept a screwer he was to Howard Stern, to Billy Bush, to the cast and crew of The Apprentice. Nothing he’s done since declaring himself a candidate for president, save for the face he made when he walked onstage at Trump Tower after election night, hasn’t been screwy.
Trump’s managed to offend or upset nearly every non-fat-white-guy demographic during his nascent political career. Mexicans, the press, Muslims, women, Meryl Streep, black people, Buzzfeed employees, Megyn Kelly, deaf people, Nevadans. His brand of nationalist barking is both noisy and intellectually incoherent, offensive to the ears and brain. It makes sense that people who prefer to surround themselves with that which is beautiful and joyful would turn away from Trump. It makes sense that a person would reach for the remote when he appears on the nightly news. It’s perfectly normal to want to flip past the front page of the paper or scroll past a news story about what the new President is up to.
Turns out, liberals and progressives have been changing the channel when political unpleasantness reared its head for years. While this country’s liberals were busy .gif’ing the POTUS pretending to brush his shoulders off, an alarming number of statehouses and governor’s mansions went to Republicans. A Republican congress gerrymandered the House out of contention until at least 2020, maybe longer. Democrats lost the Senate. While some were rolling their eyes at Trump tweets, smugly confident that Hillary would glide into the Oval Office, Trump voters were sharing bogus news stories and viral talking-head Facebook rants and heading to the polls, riled up.
It seems that liberals didn’t grasp until it was too late that being funnier, or cooler, or smarter, or having more famous friends isn’t taken into account in tabulating the electoral college totals. Votes don’t count more or less depending on whether or not the person casting it did so for a terrible reason. A woman in Michigan who dutifully learned the positions of both candidates and cast her ballot carefully can have her vote canceled out by a man who just doesn’t like Hillary Clinton’s face. An acrid comeback on Twitter doesn’t cancel any votes. Lena Dunham doesn’t need to star in any more outreach videos about abortion.
If liberals are so smart, then why were the people some would deride as denizens of flyover country able to outsmart us, over and over? Why have they been able to use that power to disenfranchise voters, making it even more difficult for the left to regain lost territory? We’re pretty damn smug for people who keep losing.
In the years leading up to Trump Year Zero, those who were empowered to put a stop to the events already in motion were not paying attention. Or, at least, they weren’t paying attention to the right things. While banishing bad thoughts is a relief in the short-term, problems don’t go away if you pretend they don’t exist. An illness, for example, won’t get better if you just ignore it. Bills don’t get smaller if you simply don’t pay them. Leaving on vacation and never checking in on your house isn’t a good way to keep it from being robbed. Unless we start paying attention en masse to the ugly, unpleasant aspects of Donald Trump, it’s only going to get worse. We no longer have the luxury of avoidance. From this point forward, it’s a dissenter’s patriotic duty to face whatever pain Trump’s words and actions cause. Do not retreat into comfort. Those who oppose Trump need to know enough about what is going on to speak up against it when it crosses a line.
Trump’s power comes from being able to pull a fast one on the public by disappearing into a cloud of bullshit every time something singularly damaging surfaces. Don’t let the volume of distractions minimize their severity. Russian influence in American politics, the new Justice Department, the deficit, access to health care, and Trump’s nominees for cabinet posts are all issues that deserve unrelenting attention from the general public. It doesn’t matter if he was pretending to write a speech at a reception desk at Mar-a-Lago. It’s funny, but we’ve spent the last 8 years laughing when we should have been listening.
Don’t get overwhelmed. Don’t change the channel. Trump’s lack of palatability was an asset, and it will continue to be an asset as long as it can convince people who should be working against him to stop keeping abreast to the facts. Don’t let him force you to stop listening. Don’t let a person who has spent a career screwing business and personal contacts screw the whole country.
If the next four years are going to be a fight, you can’t depend on anybody to fight for you but you. Watch the entire inauguration. And watch the hearings of Trump’s cabinet nominees. And read the newspaper. And call your representative. And talk to your neighbors. And run for office. And don’t forget why you care. Force yourself. Don’t let the pain of the way Donald Trump pronounces “China” distract you. The time to look away has ended.