Politics

How Will Boston Cope if Trump Wins…Again?

One snowflake's journey into the dark depths of our local psyche.


Illustration by Dale Stephanos

With all due respect to FDR and the lives lost at Pearl Harbor, the day that will live in infamy, for me personally, is November 8, 2016.

On that day, a man whose signal accomplishments in life were inheriting a pile of money, starring in a mean-spirited, cringe-worthy reality show, and achieving the seemingly impossible by enjoying a reputation as a successful businessman while simultaneously bankrupting casinos (casinos!) defeated a woman who had served as a first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state to become the 45th president of the United States. That he did so after mocking a disabled reporter, boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy,” labeling Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists, and babbling incoherently about topics on which a candidate for dogcatcher would undoubtedly be better informed and more articulate was beyond comprehension and reflects so poorly on the electorate of this country that it hurts my soul. Donald Trump’s presidency has felt like one long, continuous, extinction-level event. Now you know where I stand.

So what if he wins again? How will snowflakes like me fend off a complete meltdown? And how will Boston—a bastion of progressive blue—withstand it? I’ll revert to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief to trace the past four years, and, with some insight from a few experts, offer some prognostications about what a second Trump term might look like here at home.

Denial

On November 9, 2016, I woke up with a staggering hangover from all of the tequila I’d consumed the night before. The choice of tequila was initially a way of thumbing my nose at Trump’s anti-Mexican rhetoric while I was still anticipating a Clinton victory, then gradually became a crucial anesthetic to dull the horror. Almost four years later, the hangover hasn’t fully subsided, but I’m better off than one patient of my therapist friend in Arlington, who had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward when Trump took office. I thought maybe there’d be a recount. I prayed for faithless electors. But denial in 2020 would be far easier. A bipartisan Senate investigation has now confirmed what our own intelligence services already concluded: that Russia interfered in the last election. If the Kremlin was pulling the levers then, there’s no reason to think it can’t or won’t happen again, making Trump’s legitimacy more questionable than ever. That this all sounds like a pitch for a bad Cold War thriller starring Jerry Lewis in every role only adds to the surrealism.

The denial, in fact, has already started. “OMG, I’m paralyzed by the thought,” says CNN national security analyst, Harvard Kennedy School senior lecturer, and a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem. “I just can’t go there, and for someone who plans things for a living, that’s saying a lot.” Ditto for me. But if Trump actually wins again, I’m skipping this stage and going straight to…

Anger

The Trump administration has earned my fury in more ways than I can count, but let’s start by focusing on one of the most odious, unnecessary, and pointless: separating children from their parents at the southern border. Setting up kiddie concentration camps is the MO of a twisted bully, and the only people who can countenance a bully are cowards and other bullies—see: immigration capo Stephen Miller.

Do right and wrong matter to anyone who works under the president? Most likely not. According to PolitiFact, the Trump administration has been subject to a whopping 215 indictments, compared to only 76 under Richard Nixon, who wasn’t exactly a choir boy. It’s enraging, to say the least, for a man who claims to be the “law and order” president to flout both so shamelessly and to surround himself with so many people (I’ve lost count) too arrogant or too stupid not to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. “The Trump administration has been unique in its disregard for the rule of law,” says Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonpartisan organization that holds public officials accountable across the political spectrum and has sued both Democrats and Republicans.

Another four years of Trump would mean another four years of protesting in front of the State House, since, in Sellstrom’s opinion, Trump and his cronies would undoubtedly double down on their behavior, given that there would be no third term to worry about. Or would there? Perfectly sane and intelligent people have wondered whether Trump might refuse to leave the Oval Office if he doesn’t win in 2020. And if he does win, others are wary—because he tweeted as much this summer—that he may try in 2024 to circumvent the term limits set forth in the 22nd Amendment.

As for Trump’s unfounded claims that he’s bolstered law enforcement? Thirty-five-year Boston Police Department veteran Brian Latson, who is Black, says, “Another term for Trump would be devastating for law enforcement, as well as people of color. He’s caused deep divisions and distrust in communities of color. The best tool I ever had as an officer was the people I worked for. They are the eyes and ears. If they don’t participate and partner with cops, justice can never be obtained.” In short, four more years of everyone being chronically pissed off.

Bargaining

I think all of us snowflakes have, at some point, found ourselves trying to engage dispassionately with a Trump enthusiast to understand his or her POV. Many I have spoken to are one-issue voters (which I personally find intellectually lazy at best and morally bankrupt at worst): taxes, Israel, abortion, what have you. Like many Bostonians, I was shocked to learn just how many of them I knew; it was a bit like walking in on your mother in the shower, only to discover that she has a barnacle-encrusted carapace and tentacles sprouting from her scalp. Recently, one Trump apologist said to me, “If Trump cured cancer, you’d still hate him.” I won’t bother parsing that statement for statistical probability. I’ll just add that the person who said it is a one percenter who freely admits her principle news sources are People, Us, In Touch, and Star magazines. And for what it’s worth, my answer was, “Yes, I would still hate him, for the countless other hateful things he’s done.” Meanwhile, a billionaire businessman who calls himself “socially liberal” and who wishes to remain anonymous says, “This isn’t about Trump vs. Biden. This is capitalism vs. socialism, and I’m a capitalist.” When pressed about Trump’s track record on issues such as women’s reproductive rights and the environment, though, he shrugs and says, “This is survival of the fittest.”

And so it goes, down the list of acquaintances who proudly support Trump and those who are a bit more circumspect and qualify their defenses with comments such as “I’m a libertarian, and he’s not really my guy, but…” The one dependable thing about their arguments is that they rely on deflecting, dissembling, or quoting patent falsehoods that they’ve heard regurgitated by some so-called news source they’re never quite willing to divulge. Don’t make me do your homework for you, they’re fond of saying. The problem, then, is that it’s impossible (not to mention maddening) to argue against total cognitive dissonance. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously put it, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.” Facts, by definition, are immutable, something that seems to have gotten lost in the Orwellian fog this administration has created. The prospect of pointing that out until 2024 would be exhausting, demoralizing, and only marginally less appealing than being flayed alive.

Depression

As if a worldwide pandemic that’s on track to kill as many as 200,000 Americans by the time this appears in print isn’t depressing enough, there’s the Trump administration’s disastrous response to it, and it’s reasonable to think that we can expect more of the same if he’s reelected. Even when a vaccine is developed, Kayyem says, “There would be consequences for distribution. The first is skepticism, given Trump’s use of science for political purposes, but more important, if there is a valid vaccine, we need to know that distribution doesn’t favor some people over others unfairly.” No wonder I’ve spoken about little other than Trump to my psychiatrist for the past six months. Adding insult to injury is being subjected to a daily dose of the puerile and logic-defying likes of Kellyanne Conway (thankfully now taking a break from the White House and the cable news cycle) and the newly anointed Pretty Little Liar Kayleigh McEnany. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, which, for any Trump acolytes reading this, is a phrase from a document called the Bill of Rights. He, and you, might benefit by brushing up on it, while the rest of us spend the next four years popping antidepressants.

Acceptance

You might ask, is there a single accomplishment of the Trump presidency that could possibly expunge the putrefaction of the past four years? I’d argue that making George W. Bush look like a great statesman is quite a feat, and I’ve dusted off a lot of SAT words I’d forgotten, such as “troglodyte,” “fatuous,” “miasma,” and “chthonic.”

The stage of “acceptance,” though, is where Kübler-Ross and I part ways. As they’re so fond of doing, Trump’s base would undoubtedly tell those who can’t accept his victory to get out if they don’t like it, and, in fact, four of my closest friends have moved overseas as a direct result of his election. I know others who have purchased residences abroad, and more who have made alternative provisions. About her family’s Plan B, a social worker and psychologist from the western suburbs tells me that she’s gone through the lengthy, complicated process of applying for Canadian citizenship, which operates on a lottery system. “We’re still waiting, but if we’re chosen, we’ll do whatever is necessary to keep the visas valid while continuing to live here. We look at this as an escape plan and hope never to use it, and we’ve mostly done it in secrecy, to shield our son from the possible reality. It’s been both scary and isolating.” That’s how the Jewish half of my own family has lived, under various brutal totalitarian regimes, for generations.

The prospect of four more years of Trump is, in fact, so apocalyptic that former President Barack Obama has said it’s a threat to democracy itself. Renowned journalist Charlie Sennott, founder of the GroundTruth Project, agrees, citing Trump’s deadly indifference to the twin contagions of racial injustice and a global pandemic; the attempts to disrupt voting by cutting funding to the postal service; the emboldening of racist, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policy; and an overall rising authoritarian instinct and nationalist fervor. “All of this feels like a terrifying and out-of-control blaze,” he says, “but the danger zone I’m most focused on is the attack on journalism, the demonization of truth tellers and whistleblowers, and ultimately the erosion of truth itself.”

As a member of the media myself, I wholeheartedly concur. If Trump wins again, it’ll be worse than the days of the Know-Nothing Party, the Jim Crow South, the McCarthy era, and the anarchist/Bolshevik hysteria of the early 20th century combined, with a chaser of ecological catastrophe. At that point, the only logical course of action will be to revive the spirit of the suffragist, civil rights, and Stonewall eras, which the Black Lives Matter movement seems to already be doing. My personal forecast for January 2021, if Trump wins again, is a four-year blizzard of snowflakes that will grow into an avalanche. And to quote a certain sage from the golden age of disco: “I will survive.”


Disclaimer: I was somewhat drunk while writing this, because the mere thought of Donald Trump in the Oval Office for another four years gives me a life-threatening, existential case of the heebie-jeebies.