This July update for Portland is a few days late because I have been busily putting the last touches on my next book, and also for the last few weeks I have been dealing with one infection after another. More importantly, I want to introduce two new correspondents this year: Rachel and Rheea. I know both of these amazing women from my graduate program at The California College of the Arts. After we graduated from our MFA program, Rheea and Rachel moved out of the country. Rheea lives in Bangalore, India and Rachel lives in Seoul, South Korea. I am really looking forward to working with them this year.
As for me and Portland….Man. It’s been a surreal month. Here in the United States we’ve just had the RNC and the DNC, which are the two major parties’ conventions to nominate their candidate for the presidency. Unless you’ve been living in a cave without WIFI, you know that Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are running for the office of president of The United States.
Until this week, Trump has been leading in the polls and people were FREAKING the fuck out. I can’t tell you how many real estate clients have said to me, “We figure unless The Really Big One hits or Donald Trump becomes president we should invest in Real Estate..” Or, “ I’m afraid to buy a house. What if Trump gets elected?”
Although these statements are said somewhat in jest, or at least with the self-consciousness that goes along with divulging a primal fear, there is the fact: Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States. It is possible. For most liberal Oregonians, imagining a future where Trump is president is like imagining some nightmare science fiction bizarre absurdist dystopia.
And my real estate clients are right to compare it to the “Really Big One” - a term used for the earthquake that will likely hit Portland sometimes in the as yet to be determined future. It’s supposed to be catastrophic, a total disaster. It’s supposed to take down all the famed bridges across the Willamette River and destroy Portland’s infrastructure. According to the New Yorker article that sparked the local hysteria about the earthquake, it would basically destroy the city as we know it.
So, to equate a Trump presidency to a natural disaster, is to recognize the unthinkable. And if you are wondering what it’s like to live in the United States right now, in a liberal state, in a progressive city, in the Northwest corner of this vast and diverse nation. That’s your answer. It’s fucking terrifying.
I was driving home with my sister Ana the other day, and I talked about this new correspondence with Rachel and Rheea and how I always value the opinions of people living outside the United States, how they offer a fresh perspective. And Ana said, “But doesn't it feel like that for us, living in Oregon? I mean, doesn’t it seem like we are watching a different country go through this election?” I had to admit she was right. It seems like it’s happening in a different country, on a different planet. They say that Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio could decide this election. I’ve never traveled to any of these states. And because Trump is so obviously insane and most Americans haven’t traveled to all of their own country, politics are bewildering right now. I’ve had a difficult time understanding: just who are these people who are going to vote for Donald Trump and why?
In my heart I can’t believe that Trump is merely tapping into the racist and sexist and xenophobic undercurrent ofWhite America. Don’t get me wrong this is a HUGE part of his appeal, but I think there’s something more there. I was listening to a podcast the other day called “Politically Reactive”. It’s a political podcast hosted by two comedians of color: W. Kamua Bell and Hari Kondabolu. They kept playing a clip from an interview where Trump denies he knows who prominent white supremacist David Duke is, and how he can’t disavow Duke’s endorsement because he knows nothing about him.
The first time I heard the clip, I thought: Well, Trump was given the opportunity to distance himself from White Supremacists and he’s not doing it, so therefore he’s racist. But there is more to it than that. Trump is denying he knows who David Duke is, even though of course he knows who he is! It’s a blatant “Fuck You” to the reporter and to the institutions that he represents – the power of the media, the power to decide what is civil behavior and what is not, to decide what is acceptable discourse and conduct. Trump, is not only being blatantly racist, he is giving the middle finger to the grade school principal, to the nanny, to the babysitter and he’s doing it with a smirk. That is what people find so appealing about Trump. He’s getting away with stuff that they wish they could get away with.
It reminded me of the Trickster figure in mythology. This figure is in almost every culture’s mythology around the world. Locally, here in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, it’s the Coyote or the Raven that was depicted as the trickster figure in Native American oral tradition. The trickster is also Loki, the Norse god of poetry and chaos, or in the Bible, King David, with his constant upending of social customs and morality. In the American South it was Brer Rabbit. More currently the trickster is Bart Simpson or the Joker from the Batman series. And people love these characters, because they get one over on the powerful. They’re entertaining. They create drama. They create unpredictability. They create chaos.
Tricksters don't care about right and wrong. They don’t care about “political correctness.” They’re amoral. They have no ethics. Their only ethic is personal gain and having a little sadistic fun while they’re at it. While not claiming to be morally pure themselves, they expose the hypocrisy of polite society.
One only has to look at a few of Trumps quotes etc. to see this pattern. He admits to donating money to politicians on both sides of the aisle. He has no qualms about this bald self-interest and in doing so exposes the hypocrisy of the political system. He spews insults and makes fun of disabled journalists. He says John McCain wasn’t much of a soldier because he got captured by the enemy and was a POW. He says that the verba; attacks on him during the DNC made him want to hit people and make their “head spin.” He lies constantly and in the most ridiculous ways. He makes preposterous claims, he invites foreign powers to hack our government, he insults the grieving parents of dead soldiers.
He accepts a purple heart from a veteran, only to chuckle and say “I’ve always wanted to get the purple heart. This was much easier” Stupid veteran, he seems to insinuate, your patriotism and loyalty to me are laughable and idiotic. Trump himself was a draft dodger, claiming five deferments during the Vietnam War. Never mind that the war was a nightmare of imperialism and human suffering and that many, many Americans tried to evade the draft. I mean, wouldn’t you if you were in the same situation? But as a leader, we expect him to take one for the team, to be a proud participant in America’s collective delusions. Instead, in classic trickster fashion he takes a big crap on patriotic duty. When asked what his last medical deferment was for, Trump stated that it was for a bone-spur in his foot. Which foot? He couldn’t remember. LOLZ.
He cheats his investors and employees. He sues and is sued. He renders and creates evil legally. He breaks no laws by declaring bankruptcy and is at the same time cruel, selfish and ruthless. Why? Because our capitalist system allows and encourages it. His wife steals her RNC speech from Michelle Obama’s pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps-America-is-the-land-of-opportunity-and-dreams-and everyone-knows-this-is-all-bullshit-anyway-speech. I mean, we all know the emperor has no clothes right? Or do we?
Meanwhile Hilary Clinton, poised to become the first female president in History, is characterized as “crooked Hilary” a projection so obvious to be laughable. And isn’t a vote for Hilary like a vote for your mom? C’mon, you don’t want to vote for the high school teacher, or your mom? That’s not what Bart Simpson would do.
Now there’s talk that Trump may drop out. His poll numbers are falling. He doesn’t want to lose. But does he want to win? Does he really want to govern? It’s as if it’s all been a big publicity stunt, a big joke. And guess what, as we watch his followers foam at the mouth, physically assault protestors and scream racist epithets, as we sit in front of our televisions at night and watch in horror as our delusions of civility are smashed, our ideas of what is moral and appropriate held up in the harsh light of hate and fear and gleeful nihilism…. as we watch what appears to be a horror show of political, social and historical ignorance, we know in the pit of our stomachs that this election is a joke. And guess what America? The joke is on us, the joke is on us.