Burning Out on Trump Terror

You get used to it, after a while

In 2001, around the time I was getting into Marilyn Manson in a big way, the Onion wrote their seminal article on the subject: Marilyn Manson Now Going Door-To-Door Trying To Shock People. We didn't know about the abuse allegations at the time, though maybe we should have asked more questions about the, um, dubiously consensual activities described in his autobiography, which I read around the the same time. “Laura, you don't seem old enough to have been reading a rape-adjacent text in 2001,” I like to imagine you saying: if so, you would be correct.*

Anyway, I've been thinking about that article a lot because here, in 2024, a different grab-them-by-the-pussy rock-star is going door to door trying to shock people, with genuinely shocking things, to less effect than one might expect.

In the last few weeks, Trump has:

These things are shocking. Terrifying, even. But it’s been eight years of Trump saying increasingly terrifying things. Eight years of being shocked and scared and told that this time Trump has really gone too far. Eight years of justified hysteria, waking up every day in a country teetering on the edge of authoritarianism.

As Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series, once said: “A body can get used to anything, even to being hanged.”

I am beginning to understand why people don't leave their dying countries until it's too late. “Oh look. Trump said a terrible thing, did a terrible thing,” I say to myself as I check the headlines. “I wonder if I have enough time to go to Trader Joe's before it closes.”

Synapses burn out. We may be teetering on the edge of authoritarianism but rent is still due every month. You learn to live with it. You have to.

Imagine dropping someone from 2010 directly into 2024. They’d lose their mind immediately; they’d go stark raving mad. We are super used to ignoring the “masks required” signs that no one bothered to take down and the “6 feet apart” stickers still on grocery store floors. We didn’t decide it was safe to take off our masks, most of us just collectively burned out on being afraid of COVID. And I maintain that, once the pandemic turned endemic, it was the correct response. Isolation is really, really bad for you. What is the point of being alive if you can never again go to Tabata class or raves or happy hours or whatever social thing you’re into. Lockdowns were the right move for the first year at least, but not forever. The on-the-surface weird thing is, we didn’t stop masking because we thought about it. We didn’t stop masking because we came to the rational conclusion that it was time to stop. We just…stopped. Because two years in, COVID felt normal.

Trump feels endemic too. Kind of is endemic, to be honest. That might change in November. Things could get very real, very fast. 

We are in terrible danger. There’s Schedule F, which will gut the civil service so that Project 2025 can replace our nonpartisan bureaucracy with MAGA yes-men who will implement Trump’s policies. Trump plans to round up millions of immigrants, place them in detention camps, and deprive them of due process. He wants to create detention camps for people without homes as well. The “eradication of transgenderism” remains a top priority. Trump plans to indict everyone who had anything to do with his recent criminal charges, journalists he doesn’t like, and (as far as I can tell) anyone who ever hurt him. He keeps threatening to use the Insurrection Act to send the military into our cities to quell dissent. The closest I ever got to combat was facing down DHS and ICE agents in body armor carrying loaded M4s and firing “less lethal” rounds at close range that physically scarred me and many of my friends. I have a hard drive full of footage I took, things I witnessed, like cops dislocating a non-resisting ACLU representative’s shoulder after she was handcuffed. I took footage of police smashing a woman into a brick wall and breaking her hand. I never look at it. I try not to think about it. But that hard drive would be nothing compared to full-blown militarized suppression of dissent, and that might be happening this time next year.

But the rent is due at the end of the month and no one can hold that knowledge in their heart and remain a functional human being. So most of us don’t. We can’t. We just get angry at whoever we think could save us for not saving us like they should. For me, that’s the Biden campaign. For a lot of people, it’s the press.

A lot of people are very angry at the media for not doing more to spread the word about Trump’s growing psychosis. But the media is spreading the word. They’ve written articles on everything discussed above. Nobody is clicking on them, because it’s not really news, it’s not new, we’ve had eight long years of this shit and we are tired.

Also: who would this increased coverage be for, exactly? Who is this mythical creature who will see this wall-to-wall coverage of The Terrible Things Trump Has Said and be like, “Oh wow, I hadn’t really thought about it before. I guess January 6th was bad.” Everyone has made up their minds. Everyone knows what they think. 2024 is the same election as 2020 except for the part where both candidates are even older and Biden is facilitating ethnic cleansing in Gaza. If people don’t think Trump is a problem by now, I’m not sure another thinkpiece is going to change their minds.

Anyway, the media’s cardinal sin isn’t ignoring Trump; if anything it’s the opposite. Back in 2016 they exhausted America’s superlative reserve to describe all the evil things Trump did. Don’t get me wrong. There were some really evil things. But it wasn’t the goddamn Handmaid’s Tale, Trump wasn’t literally Hitler, and we weren’t actually living in 1984. We were not enduring active fascism, we were on a dark path that we knew could lead us to where we are now, in 2024, where fascism is howling at the door and the word “fascist” has lost all meaning.

And the media is still irresponsibly pearl-clutching, somehow, even though there are so, so many legitimately terrifying things to write about. You may have noticed up above that I very conspicuously did not mention the “If I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole country” quote from that Ohio rally a few weeks ago, which is because that story was bullshit and a goddamn embarrassment. If you watch the clip, it clearly refers to the auto industry.

“But in the context of Trump’s larger speech, and his rhetoric as a whole, it really is a threat.” Yeah. I know. If it was planned and not an ad lib, the dog-whistled threat was the entire point. Get the media to predictably foam at the mouth over the word bloodbath, then stand to one side and tut-tut about how dishonest and hysterical they are. And then, when the media tries to talk about something real, people assume it’s another lie. “Why is trust in the media down?” I guess we’ll never know.

Being alive right now feels a lot like the way I imagine it would feel to cross a narrow, rotten rope bridge across a deep canyon. Bad idea to look down. Bad idea to forget the chasm is there. Very important to keep moving before this whole thing falls apart. If you, like me, are finding it difficult to care about the 2024 election, if you are also having trouble emotionally comprehending the implications of a Trump victory, you’re doing a very normal thing. You’re staying sane, you’re getting that rent paid, you’re saving your emotional strength for when you need it. Just, don’t forget about the abyss below our feet. Don’t stare into it, but don’t forget it’s there. 

And please, for the love of God, don’t cut the ropes come November.

*not an indictment of my parents and/or guardians, who would have had to pry this book from my cold, dead hands.

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