Can I Get Over Donald Trump?

Maybe the healing America needs should start with me.


This week, the third one since the presidential election, I — like almost everybody else in America — spent more time thinking about the loser of that election than the winner.

If you don’t remember previous transition periods, it’s hard to get across just how strange that is. At this point in his administration, every previous one-term president in my lifetime — Bush the First, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, LBJ — was already starting to fade into history. Even exiting two-term presidents — Barack Obama, Bush the Second, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan — were planning their moves back to wherever and leafing through proposals for their presidential libraries.

As for media coverage, it’s supposed to be like the Eagles’ song:

Where you been lately?
There’s a new kid in town.

All previous presidential transitions brought in lots of new kids. People from the victorious campaign, veterans from previous administrations, and prominent governors or members of Congress were either getting new positions or maneuvering for them. Remember Mitt Romney going to Trump Tower in hopes of becoming Secretary of State? That’s the kind of story that usually makes headlines in the weeks after an election.

Even the members of your party most skeptical of your candidacy come around like Flatnose Curry after Butch Cassidy wins the knife fight: “I was really rootin’ for you, Butch.”

And Joe Biden is playing his part. He has named his Covid-19 task force and his chief of staff. Cabinet nominations are due to start rolling out this week. Reportedly, the foreign policy team is already chosen: Antony Blinken will be secretary of state Linda Thomas-Greenfield ambassador to the UN, and Jake Sullivan national security advisor. (You remember, that’s Mike Flynn’s old job.) A treasury secretary is coming soon — quite possibly the first woman ever to play that role.

And yet, what are we talking about? Trump.

Why won’t he concede? Will he ever let the Biden transition officially begin? What’s going on with all these absurd lawsuits, rolled out by people who ought to be in asylums (Sidney Powell ) or in jail (Rudy Giuliani)? Is he staging a coup? Can it possibly work? (No.) Why is he calling local election officials and meeting with Republican legislators in states Biden won? Why is he replacing the leadership in the Pentagon?

Now, it’s hard to claim we shouldn’t pay attention. Trump is breaking the norms of democracy, sabotaging the next administration, and just generally putting his own interests ahead of the country’s — like he always does. If nobody paid attention to his coup attempt, it might even work.

These three weeks have been a microcosm of the last four years. Nobody wanted to read stories about the American government ripping children away from their parents and stashing them in cages, or about our President standing on a stage with an enemy dictator and siding with the dictator against our own intelligence services, or about that President’s even-handed assessment of Nazis and anti-Nazis.

This really happened.

But we felt we had to pay attention; public pressure was the only tool we had to set things right — or at least keep them from getting worse. Arguably, the reason the administration still hasn’t found the parents of hundreds of the children it kidnapped is that we let ourselves lose focus; after Trump’s people announced that the policy had been reversed, we moved on.

I feel the same way about covering Trump’s inept coup: People do need to pay attention to this, and to appreciate the disregard for American democracy it demonstrates.

And yet, when I introspect, I can tell that there’s more going on inside me than just the public interest. The news about Trump is intense. It makes me feel things — anger, frustration, fear. I don’t think he can overthrow democracy, but what if I’m wrong?

The Biden news, by contrast, seems flat. His Covid team consists of doctors and public health experts, without a charlatan in sight. He’s not going to be taking his advice from a radiologist or the My Pillow guy. Nobody’s pushing quack cures. They’re trying to get you to wear a mask and wash your hands, like experts have been saying for months and months. Nobody is telling you to inject bleach or lying about the death statistics or promising that the virus will go away like magic.

That’s all very sensible, but what should I feel about it?

Similarly, Biden’s foreign policy team is made up of foreign-policy types. They believe in alliances and treaties and international law. None of them have been making public appearances with Vladimir Putin or taking money from Turkey. They don’t come from corporations that stand to make billions if Russian sanctions get relaxed.

How does any of that keep my adrenaline pumping?

For four years now, I — and I think a lot of my readers as well — have been stuck in a relationship with the President of the United States that has not just been dysfunctional, it’s been downright abusive. Day after day, I have approached my news sources by armoring myself against attack. I have expected that each day I will somehow be insulted by my President, or that he will do or say something that will make me feel ashamed of a country I used to take pride in. He will involve me in sins that I can never make right.

Day after day, I’ve had to overcome a sense of “He can’t do that.” Again and again, I’ve been surprised as he disregarded some norm of democracy and good government that I had come to take for granted. He can’t ignore Hatch Act violations up and down his government. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t make a deal to commute Roger Stone’s sentence in exchange for Stone’s continued silence about collusion with Russia. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t dangle a pardon in front of Paul Manafort to induce him not to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. (Oh yes he can.) He can’t get the Justice Department to defend him in a lawsuit filed by a woman he raped. (Oh yes he can, but a judge can turn DOJ away.) He can’t ruin the careers of government officials in revenge for their role in exposing Russia’s effort to get him elected or his Ukraine extortion scheme. (Oh yes he can.)

As a result, I’ve walked around with a sense of dread. What else can he do that I have thought was impossible?

It will be a great relief to be rid of that dread, which I’m sure has pushed down my mood even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about it.

And yet … those strong emotions are so addictive. It’s typical not to know what to do with yourself when you first come out of an abusive relationship. If you’re lucky enough to form a new relationship with somebody sane and sensible and good-hearted (like Joe Biden), it’s hard to take it seriously. If you don’t cry over your relationship at least once a week, are you really in love? If nothing you do makes your partner crazy enough to send you to the emergency room, does he really care about you?

After that dysfunctional intensity, sane relationships seem flat. That could be why victims of abuse so often go back and give their abusers another chance. Or why ex-members of cults feel themselves being drawn back in.

I remember how it felt when my wife’s nine-month breast cancer treatment program drew to a close, and it started to look like she might beat this thing. (That was more than 20 years ago, and she’s doing fine.) For most of a year, we had lived with the constant awareness that some test we were waiting for could come back with a death sentence, or that some treatment could induce a disastrous side effect. And then suddenly there were no more tests and no more treatments. “Come back in six months.”

Normal life, long periods of time without life-and-death questions to answer — what do you do with that?

Soldiers return from war to confront a world where nobody will die if they make a mistake. A “bad day” means you got stuck in a traffic jam, or the team you root for lost a playoff game, or the report that was due Friday won’t actually come out until Monday. What do you do with that?

After four years of wondering whether we were living through the end of American democracy, can we really return to normal politics? If TV networks have to go back to discussing deficits and interest rates and cost overruns on the new weapons system, will anybody watch?

Matt Yglesias makes fun of the difficulties he faces as he starts a new for-money blog in the post-Trump era:

Tomorrow’s post is going to defy the woke censors and speak some plain truths about interest rate policy from five years ago. Trigger warning: Will feature some discussion of the difference between core and headline PCE inflation.

Joe Biden has begun his transition to the presidency by talking about healing. Most of us have jumped to the conclusion that healing has to start with attempts to make peace with the 70+-million Americans who voted for continuing the march towards fascism. Maybe Biden should seek peace by pardoning Trump like Ford pardoned Nixon. (Or maybe that’s a horrible mistake.)

Maybe we need another round of reporters visiting small-town diners and talking to Trump’s faithful, or more books like Hillbilly Elegy. Maybe we need to see that Trump voters are not deluded cultists brainwashed by Q-Anon, but thoughtful people whose interests and points of view we aren’t properly appreciating.

Here’s what I think: The very violence of my feelings about those questions tells me that healing really needs to start somewhere else. It needs to start with me, and maybe with you also.

The first step I can take towards healing America is to get over Trump. I need to stop looking to him for my political intensity, and stop looking for some new source of intensity to replace him.

I’ll be healed when I can begin a day without feeling an overhang of dread, without anticipating some new insult or threat or shame coming to me from the White House. I’ll be healed when I can appreciate the lack of intensity in our politics, and not experience it as a flatness or an eerie moment before the storm. I’ll be healed when a news cycle that doesn’t demand my immediate emotional response feels open and free rather than dull. I’ll be healed when I look forward to such days and think about how I want to shape them, now that I am not being constantly trolled and my feelings are truly my own.

When that day comes, then I’ll be able to look outward and think sanely about the next steps in healing America. But until then, I suspect that all my efforts will be contaminated by my continued entanglement in Trump

So I’d better start working on that.

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Comments

  • Nancy Browning  On November 23, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Thanks so much for your sanity throughout all of these challenges and over the past 8+ years in which I have been reading your blog. I love the abusive relationship analogy.

  • Karen Hughes  On November 23, 2020 at 11:26 am

    On a light note, Romney looks like he’s thinking “Is this all we get for dinner?”. With respect to the article, I think you nailed it. I’ve become addicted to searching the news for any indication that something or someone will halt these abuses or that Trump supporters will wake up (not a chance). I think I will have healed when I can sit down at my desk and instead of pulling up the news, I can enjoy writing a new lecture on some esoteric topic like the evolution of the angiosperm gametophyte.

  • kimsiebert  On November 23, 2020 at 11:39 am

    You’re reading my mind, Doug. Or maybe I’m reading yours. These same thoughts have been circling in my head–and on my FB page–as well.

  • TRPChicago  On November 23, 2020 at 11:51 am

    No pardon of Donald Trump would resemble Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Trump’s kit of crimes and wrongs is huge, much of it self-committed rather than Nixonian-style coverup. No “healing” is possible that would cover the man’s many activities or put him, his supporters, his sycophants or the norms he has shattered at rest. Quite to the contrary, many on both sides would view such a pardon as weakness.

    Biden should stand back and let the several legal systems who have authority over Trump matters proceed.

    • Will  On November 23, 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Amen. Healing sounds good but a scar left reminds us where we erred. Pardoning criminal behavior has led to a tiered justice system where elites no longer expect consequences for their criminal behavior. I’m still waiting for Bush era war crimes to be dealt with. And I mean both Bush administrations. Once done we need to tackle the war crimes of the Obama administration. Yes, of course Trump too and then Clinton. And if we are still reminded of Hitler’s crimes why not discuss Truman’s crimes. In the end we need to understand the U.S, is not exceptional and there needs to be repercussions when we act as if it was.

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On November 23, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    “somebody sane and sensible and good-hearted (like Joe Biden)”

    Really? The one who voted to kill half a million people in the Iraq War on the basis of a lie? The architect of the crime bill that destroyed a generation of young black men? The one who started his career by opposing busing? that Joe Biden?

    • George Washington, Jr.  On November 23, 2020 at 4:04 pm

      We’re going by personality, not voting record, although you’re exaggerating. Biden didn’t have sole responsibility for the Iraq War or the crime bill. He wasn’t my first choice for the nomination either. But the options came down to either him or Trump, not Trump and some perfect imaginary candidate.

      Once Biden is in office, as progressives we have an obligation to push him in our direction as much as possible. Or, you can just complain about how he’s a conservative corporatist warmonger and lament over how unfair it is that the media didn’t give Howie Hawkins enough free publicity.

      • Anonymous  On November 23, 2020 at 5:27 pm

        “We’re going by personality, not voting record”

        Can’t speak for Serapion, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? And could we, even if we wanted to, go back to a simpler time for the Democratic party when being sane, sensible, and good-hearted was completely compatible with cheerleading illegal wars of aggression and racist institutions?

        Doug doesn’t cross this line, but the nostalgia for a more sane POTUS, while completely valid given Trump’s antics, often comes off as, well, privileged. If you are more concerned with having a less toxic Twitter page from your president than the plight of your less fortunate neighbors and the progressive policies that seek to address their systemic problems, congratulations, you are doing better than most.

  • Donna Agah  On November 23, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Trump has been dancing with the media since his loss…and the media has been breathlessly reporting every twitch on twitter. It’s to raise $$ and to gain power in the GOP. I fully expect the GOP to stand by helplessly during this power grab and that Trump or one of his family will attempt a run in 2024. I plan to enjoy full peace on January 20th while I support with donations and time a change in the electoral college as well as Democrats up and down every ticket in every election.

  • The Serapion Brotherhood  On November 23, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Biden should not pardon Trump. Trump needs to be tried and sent away to prison for the little that is left of his life (despite all the vital life force he saved by never exercising). To start, he and Obama could be tried together for the murders of Anwar al-Awlaki’s children.

    Another nice thing would be if the people behind the Q-Anon movement were sued for libel.

    If not, Trump and Q-Anon will be taken as the base-line for new right-wing movements.

  • Janet Amaral  On November 23, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    Ugh. Why is it my job to reach out to people who actually want to kill me? I’ve been in an abusive marriage, and it was years before I was able to just stop reacting to my ex-husband constant stream of nastiness and hatred whenever I had to deal with him. He *never* changed his behavior, and even though my kids are in their 30’s now and we have grandchildren he still makes it a big scene. Unfortunately, one of my sons is profoundly autistic and will require care his entire life. The drama over holidays from my ex is absurd. (Ironically enough, the man works as a mid-level functionary for the state GOP!)
    So while I want this division to end, I don’t see it as long as the Trumpian base exists in their alt-right bubble of hate and victimhood. It could be argued that’s the type of condescending arrogance from liberals that sparked the lurchto the hard right in the first place. Put yourself in the opposite role. Say Trump won, and your flag bedecked truck-driving “Beer, BBQ, and Trump” neighbor strolls over with his AR15 and wants to invite you to a cookout this weekend to mend fences. And because he’s so neighborly there won’t be any of that sissy freedom stealing distancing or masks! How would that make you feel? Would you go there and be comfortable surrounded by virus deniers who would happily laugh in your face and spew racist trash with impunity?
    Until Biden can create the economic and social changes that will benefit all Americans in the lower income brackets, I just don’t see any chance of unity in this country.

    • Guest  On November 23, 2020 at 4:49 pm

      “Until Biden can create the economic and social changes that will benefit all Americans in the lower income brackets, I just don’t see any chance of unity in this country.”

      Louder for the people in the back!

      Totally agree, Janet, I’d just add that given Biden’s track record, campaign, and early staffing pick whispers, our new president won’t be leading the charge on this. We have to drag him there.

  • joeirvin  On November 23, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Doug, I second Janet Amaral’s last paragraph. The U.S. is now a full-fledged plutocracy, less benign since 1975 or so than when the country was founded by the economic elite of the day. The 1960s of free love and civil rights really scared the Olins, Coors, Mellons and Kochs. So once Carter deregulated the airlines and Reagan told us government is the problem, the plutocrats decided the country needed a remaking, so we got the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and thus began the slow sucking of the country’s wealth into the pockets of what we call the 1%. Until the plutocrats decide it’s in their self-interest to share more of the wealth, there probably is little a Joe Biden or anyone else can do to reduce the number of heads wearing MAGA hats.

  • wcroth55  On November 23, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Healing, yes, and everything you said, thank you.

    But even when Trump is gone, his unindicted-co-abusers are still there, still ready to destroy anything at all for short-term gain. (e.g. Loeffler)

    But I (and I suspect ‘we’) can never go back to our more-naive trust in democracy. I have done a few days of GOTV work in each major election since 1973(!), figured it was just a citizen’s duty. But after the gut-punch of 2016, I decided to use my software skills big-time, and did a ton of volunteer tech infrastructure work for various causes and candidates. In 2020, our county alone had 26,000 MORE Democratic votes than in 2016, double Trump’s 2016 win here in Michigan. I got to help make that happen.

    The point is — everything we’ve geared up to make happen because of Trump… has to KEEP happening.

  • John Abplanalp  On November 23, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    While I would agree that tRump’s antics are getting attention, my news feed is more and more involved with the appointments and emerging policies of Biden. What is being said about the outgoing “administration” is derisive and, in many cases, humorous. I frankly believe we need to be very concerned that 70 million plus voters still were bamboozled by the clown, but tRump himself will likely be tied up in lawsuits and legal actions, rather than be making political mischief in the coming years.

  • christopher negado  On November 23, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Can a victim heal when their abuser is out and about spouting more abuse and looking for more crimes to commit?

  • coastcontact  On November 23, 2020 at 8:41 pm

    The title should have been “Can America get over Trump?” Sadly the answer is no. We love entertainers. Ronald Reagan was an entertainer. Arnold Schwartzenneger was an entertainer. California Senator George Murphy was an entertainer. Donald Trump is not going away because we love the nonsense.

    • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On November 24, 2020 at 9:15 am

      I fear I concur. We are way too much into celebrity in this country, which has contributed to too many following talking heads rather than facts. I observe it as a great emotional hijack. Lots of work to do to base our cultural idealism in reality.

      • Kim Cooper  On November 25, 2020 at 6:24 am

        Doug Muder wrote one of his best many years ago about the religion of Consumer Hedonism and the celebrities who are its saints.

      • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On November 25, 2020 at 8:07 am

        I’ll have to look him up. Thanks.

  • Roger  On November 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    And he says he’s running in 2024. LOCK HIM UP!

  • jmagoun  On November 23, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    You sound like you’ve forgotten how awful George W. Bush was, or Ronald Reagan – two Republican presidents (post-Nixon) who generated cathartic amounts of outrage among liberals but never radiated authoritarian contempt for American democracy and rule of law the way Trump does.

    Dial it back.

  • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On November 24, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Responsibility needs to be taken for feeding the almost-ex-president’s insatiable need for whatever attention he could muster. We’d have done better to minimize attention and exposure to his antics and to have focused, rather, on the actions being taken to trash our country and democracy. There has been way too little of that. Pray we’ve learned that lesson.

    • Anonymous  On November 27, 2020 at 5:34 am

      I read a really interesting book called “Politics is for Power” by Eitan Hersh. One of his points is that for a great many people, politics is a hobby the way sports is a hobby. You do things like watch the news, talk about how the season is going, and cheer for your team. But you don’t do anything that actually affects the outcome. The number of people who are actively trying to affect the outcome is really small compared to the number of “hobbyists.”

      Looking through the lens of Hersh’s argument, making fun of Trump and focusing on his crassness is mostly about rooting for your team, rather than trying to affect the outcome.

      He also talks about Conor Lamb (Democrat) getting elected to Congress in a special election in a conservative part of Pennsylvania, and a lot of the work that happened before that. That win started before anyone knew that there would be a special election. It started one voter at a time. It didn’t involve making fun of Trump.

  • Abby  On November 24, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    I’ve been thinking for a while now (based on reading that I’ve done) that Trump supporters were people who needed a source of intensity and entertainment in their lives. I’ve said “Maybe what Trump supporters need is to go to more rock concerts.” That may go for all of us now.

    Although I never liked Trump’s intensity-generating behavior, (as I suspect his supporters did) I suspect that I, like you, will still need to wean myself off them. I will make a point of attending concerts, etc, again, once I can. Maybe we can talk the Red Sox and Yankees into another World Series–that was good for intensity in a way that didn’t endanger civilization.

    That said, the outrage porn generators at Fox and other outlets will not stop peddling intensity masquerading as politics. We can hope to cure ourselves by doing whatever generates those strong emotions in us–but we will need to be aware that other will still be getting their rocks off by looking at far-right websites.

  • Kim Cooper  On November 25, 2020 at 6:42 am

    Tonight when we watched MSNBC about the new Biden people, we were happy, relieved, and comforted. He wasn’t my first pick — he’s way too conservative for me– but he is exactly what we need now to get back on track. Like an interim minister, to take the anger from the hurt and ground us.
    I do not think Biden should pardon Trump for his crimes — he should stand back and let the prosecutors decide what is actionable and let them do it. But he should also get some of the “customs” Trump broke put into law.
    But the main thing I wanted to say is that I think Trump is doing all these crazy lawsuits and recounts so we won’t notice the other things he is doing. He is doing all kinds of crazy things to wreck our government and our country while he still has the power. Things like dropping out of the Clear Skies treaty, and destroying the specialized airplanes used in it. Taking away the reservation of the Wampanoags, saying they don’t recognize them. There was another one I can’t remember that was going to take away some protection we have, and he is going to do it on Jan.15. It sounds like the man who murders his leaving wife because if he can’t have her, no one can.

    • Jacqueline (Bonin) Gargiulo  On November 25, 2020 at 8:11 am

      Kim, I see this, too, and I witness marketed media missing that mark as it has long done, keeping us in reaction to shiny words when reporting on actions would better serve.

    • Will  On November 25, 2020 at 11:48 am

      I agree with your latter point. Trump is very much the playground bully. However codifying Trump’s crimes by not aggressively prosecuting him, including strong assertions by POTUS, would be a huge mistake akin to Obama’s refusal to prosecute the war criminals of the Bush/Cheney cabal. In fact Obama similarly escaped punishment for his war crimes.

  • Terry Newberg  On November 25, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    So well said – that about covers it for all of us.

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful weekly comments, analysis, and opinions.

    Terry Newberg

    >

  • L. Misemer  On December 1, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Missing your blog this week. I suspect you are internalizing, evaluating, evolving, healing . . . getting ready for a re-birth. thanks for a very significant read every week.

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