I tried to escape from the cacophony of the presidential campaign Sunday evening in order to enjoy The Walking Dead—my weekly guilty pleasure. Escape was futile. This time reality intruded in the guise of a character named Dwight, a lackey in a dystopian sanctuary called, well, the Sanctuary. This Dwight, physically and emotionally emasculated by the tyrannical and sadistic leader Negan, confides to a prisoner who is apparently being groomed for a similarly servile position that he (Dwight) has allowed himself to be subjugated because “People will do anything for safety.”
The line does not exactly recall the best of Wordsworth or Frost, Seamus Heamey or Sharon Olds, but there’s a poetry of desperation in that line, and it reminded me of how Trump supporters have explained themselves during the past sixteen months—of how they have defended and even justified the most heinous and offensive rhetoric against…well against all of us. It wasn’t just women or Mexicans or Muslims or the educated or journalists or any other specific group he singled out on a given day: when he glibly pronounced that not paying taxes made him smart, we all stood huddled under the same stupid umbrella—just more deplorables for whom he has only disdain while we try to stay dry. Anything for safety.
The prisoner in The Walking Dead, the popular Daryl (one of the few original cast who have survived seven seasons) is subjected to a nauseatingly happy and lilting song blasting into his cell 24/7 while he lies there alone. It’s part of the mental torture designed to break him. And what presidential candidte has mastered similar repetition better than Trump? How many times have we heard Great. Huge. Sad. Weak. Lame. Lyin’ Ted. Crooked Hillary. Goofy Elizabeth Warren. Rigged. Lock her up. This is the man who repeatedly insisted he had “great respect for women” when his entire history refutes any such notion. Of course people would follow him. Daryl does not appear easy to break, but most of us aren’t Daryl.
This is the challenge that Hillary Clinton faces if she wins. The people who have given their all for the purported safety of Donald Trump are going to find themselves even more exposed and ostracized than they were before Trump—before they they had a spokesman to give voice to their frustrations. (I don’t include the white supremacists and bigots—they’ll always find a new savior and I refuse to worry about them.) If she wins, Hillary Clinton will have to do something she has shown an aversion to—reaching out to her critics and trying to assuage the haters. During the campaign she avoided the states she had no chance of winning—maybe that’s smart campaigning—but it’s not smart presidenting. That tack will have to change, especially since there will be millions of displaced souls out there who remain ready to fight her.
When Obama became president in 2008 with the country in the throes of a financial debacle, I remember wondering who would even want to be president at a time like this? That question does not seem to have lost its relevance.