LISTEN LIVE: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!

Advertisement

Donald Trump's Nihilism, And Our Imperiled National Soul

Trump’s performance on Sunday night was the single most depressing political event of my lifetime, writes Steve Almond. By the end of it, I wasn’t angry or indignant or even triumphant. I was just incredibly sad.
Pictured: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Trump’s performance on Sunday night was the single most depressing political event of my lifetime, writes Steve Almond. By the end of it, I wasn’t angry or indignant or even triumphant. I was just incredibly sad. Pictured: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Many insults ago, when Election 2016 was still in its tender primary stages, my wife tried to convince me that Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican standard bearer would be a disaster for the country.

I was having none of it. On the contrary, I saw Trump as so shallow and unhinged that he would lose to whomever the Democrats nominated. And that was what mattered to me back then: winning.

...as the debate wore on... I kept wishing Clinton would stop operating as a politician and simply speak from her heart.

But after months of watching Trump pollute our political discourse (and, in particular, that Dumpster fire of a second debate) I would like to publicly apologize to my wife. She was right. I was wrong.

I was wrong because, back then, I was treating the election as a power struggle rather than a struggle for the national soul.

Trump’s performance on Sunday night was the single most depressing political event of my lifetime. By the end of it, I wasn’t angry or indignant or even triumphant. I was just incredibly sad.

It wasn’t the revelation of Trump’s braggadocious sexual assault how-to, or his pathetic efforts to smear Bill Clinton, or his predictable avalanche of lies, or his creepy lack of humility. It was the desperate and relentless rage the guy radiates, the growing sense that his true goal at this point isn’t to win the presidency but to inflict as much pain as he can before going down in flames.

The central way he does this is to present a version America as some kind of apocalyptic wasteland where immigrant rapists and terrorists frolic while hard-working white people are sold out and robbed blind. All the jobs are gone. The inner cites are hell. The politicians are crooked idiots. In essence, Trump has hung a sign over the Statue of Liberty that reads, Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

Hillary Clinton, unfortunately, is too conventional and cautious a politician to fully reckon with Trump’s monstrous nihilism. She’s simply unable to express the emotion that nearly everyone — aside from his ardent supporters — feels in watching him, which is not contempt or frustration but something much closer to despair.

As my wife intuited months ago, the ease with which Trump was able to seize political power speaks most of all to the erosion of our hope within our citizenry.

A more astute debater than Clinton would certainly have pointed out that America is the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth, not the hotbed of cowards and losers that Trump keeps describing. The stats speak for themselves. Our economy has added 15 million jobs under Barack Obama, cut unemployment to 5 percent, started to see real wage growth, and so on.

Clinton also might have offered a sharper response to Trump’s sneering insistence that she was responsible for every governmental shortcoming of the past three decades. She needed only to point out to Trump, as she did during the Democratic National Convention, that children and despots conceive of power in such simplistic terms. Politicians don’t fix problems alone; dictators do.

As for his hot mic mess, all Clinton needed to do was to ask Trump how he would feel, as a father, if some 59-year-old letch were talking about his daughters in that way. Period.

But as the debate wore on, and as it became clear that Trump had nothing new to offer aside from alpha male wrath, I kept wishing Clinton would stop operating as a politician and simply speak from her heart.

[Trump] has no interest in healing America. He just wants to roar about how sick we are as a nation.

She needed to confront Trump about the dark truth at the heart of his crusade. He has no interest in healing America. He just wants to roar about how sick we are as a nation.

It’s become increasingly sad and exhausting to watch this demagogue flail, to realize that we have devoted so much time and attention to a man so fundamentally indecent. And it’s even sadder to think about the Americans who have placed their trust in him. He has offered them nothing but bigoted myths and conspiracy theories, to which they will cling like holy relics once he loses.

If we are to recover from the malignancy of Trumpism, we must turn away from the spectacle of Trump and invigorate the virtues he has spent months defiling: humility, integrity, mercy, gratitude and hope.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

More…

Advertisement

Advertisement

/00:00
Close