e’re six months into the Donald Trump presidency, and for people like me, who consider him the world’s biggest douchebag and a complete embarrassment to any first world nation worth its salt, that time has mostly been used to try and figure out what this all means.
Like a lot of people, I didn’t expect him to become president. I voted for Hillary Clinton on the morning of November 8 and expected the election to be over in a couple of hours. I was utterly blindsided by Trump’s victory, and the fact that it’s mid-July and I’m still sitting here trying to understand what the fuck just happened means I’m still blindsided. Maybe I always will be.
The people who voted for him – not the people who voted against Hillary, the people who voted FOR him – did so because he deployed a lot of rhetoric that resonated with them, not the least of which was “Make America Great Again.” For someone like me, who never saw the United States as “great” for a single minute, it’s hard not to be cynical about what that means to the people who voted for him.
To them, my guess is that they define “greatness” through the rose-colored lens of a mythological Reagan-era America that never existed, where every movie was “Top Gun” and every meal consisted of heaping helpings of mashed potatoes, steak and endless flowing rivers of Coors beer. The movie tickets and the meals were paid for with money earned at the manufacturing job that would never be offshored.
Even at the time, this was a lie. Reagan-era America was already a nation in decline, and his election was the product of voters who believed the president would take away all the scary shit from the previous decade, with its looting and its platform shoes. And gas lines. The fact that Americans could be told to do anything that might affect its driving habits was a worse indignity than a twelve-inch-dicked lothario being forced to confine his sexual activities to a pocket pussy.
So when grandpa Ronnie came along and made them feel like goddamn Americans again, the dream was saved. Except it wasn’t. Grandpa Ronnie was already engaging the country in an eight-year long nostalgia act, a two-term episode of “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
More and more, I feel like if the United States was ever “the greatest country in the world,” it was largely a consequence of the fact that we had just annihilated two entire Japanese cities. I think we were feared more than we were admired, and the fear gave us room to become a very narcissistic nation who measured its value by the amount of consumer goods that we were able to amass. We became “great” in the sense that we could buy Studebakers and simply didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought, greatness achieved via conspicuous consumption.
With time, we became less feared and less able to buy consumer goods. When my fellow countrymen bemoan the fact that we’re no longer “great,” I think what they mean is that we’re no longer feared, and we all have big credit card balances to deal with. The bill came due, and nothing will bring you down to earth faster than the knowledge that all of the people around you who once fawned over you lost interest the minute you stopped buying them drinks.
Honestly, it’s not skin off my apple. I’ve never really felt like the United States was “my” country in the first place.
For one thing, if you live in New York City, where I was born and raised, you don’t live in the United States. Geographically you do, but the rest of the country hates us, and the feeling is mutual. But beyond that, I’ve never felt a sense that I belong here, or like I’m a part of things here.
I was born here and I grew up here and I live here, but the larger polity to which I supposedly belong has never felt real to me, and doesn’t really exist. I’m a fellow traveler on the same subway car as everyone else, but that’s no more a community than my neighborhood, city or state. So I see no tragedy in my city, state or country no longer being “great.” It never was to begin with.