“Usually, it takes decades for people to cross over from my present-tense, analog life, into my dreams . . . and nightmares. But Trump has jumped my blood-brain barrier in record time.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Way of Being
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”―Maya Angelou
“. . . in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.”―Masha Gessen
PETIT TRIANON Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—December 2016—In my dream, I am face-to-face with Donald Trump. Our faces—those masks we cannot remove—are inches apart . . . .
Usually, it takes decades for people to cross over from my present-tense, analog life, into my dreams . . . and nightmares. But Trump has jumped my blood-brain barrier in record time. (For the sake of perspective, I have not yet dreamed of the monsters Bush and Cheney, though I hold them responsible for the millions murdered over the course of their ongoing Middle Eastern wars, wars funded by my, and your, tax dollars.)
The larger-than-life figures of my life hardly ever appear in my dreams. My spouse of 16 years is there now, often but, for the most part, he and I are off to one side, minor characters in a vast scene: observers. Like Icarus in Breughel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” we are incidental to the main action.
Trump, however, is up-close and personal but, in my dream, I have “normalized” him. That face, which so fills me with loathing in real life, in my dream softens; sheds its rolls of fat and its decades of damage. The eyes widen; the expression morphs from that rictus we know (of fear, of hate, of anger), to something more approachable. I look into his eyes—knowing that my dream-Trump is a mask of my own making—and, for a moment, I feel, for this dream-Trump, compassion.
The face I give him, in my sleep, is human. It is like my own face. It reflects my own humanity and tenderness.
Lucid, in my sleep, I know all these things, and yet the encounter still unnerves me.
I ask myself, upon waking, “What did this mean, this meeting? What am I trying to tell myself?”
It’s not simple. The message—from deep self, to daytime self—is not straightforward. And, so, I have pondered it for weeks.
What the face of Trump says to me is this:
“Like Hitler, like Mussolini, like George Wallace, like Joseph McCarthy, like Pol Pot, like the Greek colonels, like Kim Jong-un, like Putin, like Marine Le Penn, I am real, and I will haunt you now. Waking and sleeping, you will see me.
“And, even though, here in the dark, you have let me borrow a human mask, you know I am not fully human. Like your late stepfather and former brother-in-law, both sociopaths, and like your psychopathic former publisher, jailed for multiple identity theft, I am one of the living, breathing varieties of human nightmare: an inchoate, never-fully-formed, proto-human. I am you, but not-you. I can borrow your face, but never inhabit it.
“Your country has called me into being, for dark purposes. Born in America, you intuit some of these purposes, and can even name some of them. But they were never your own purposes.
“Though you have done everything in your power, too, to stop my rise, I am here now, and I will be with(in) you always.
“In a sense, you have very few options at your disposal. Knowing you, Elizabeth, I know you will not choose to normalize or frame or name me. Much more gifted thinkers and writers than you have quelled before that task.
“Suffice it to say, for now, that my name is legion, for we are many. And that will be typical of me, from here on out, for I will speak to you in code and dog-whistles, and will change my message and my image on a dime.
“That I can come to you in sleep, though, does not mean that you are powerless. Look: here you are writing about the experience, already at one remove (if one fragile, synapse-wide remove) from the horror I embody for you.
“No, I am here with you, face to face, which means—and this is crucial, Elizabeth—I am not you; you are not me.
“I am not your mirror; not your reflection; not a limpid pool in which you can lose yourself.
“When you wake, in the morning, you will, in every way, be able to put more and more distance between us; between me and you, and the people you love.
“Let that be of some comfort, to you and yours.
“. . . until we meet again.”
The photograph above, of Donald Trump at a presidential campaign event in Sterling Heights, Michigan, was taken by Damon Winter/New York Times/Redux/Eyevine.
Autocracy: Rules for Survival, by Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books, November 10, 2016
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