Recently, a young man took a pickaxe to President Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Austin Clay, 24, absolutely pulverized the terrazzo-and-brass emblem. After, he said, “I think I did, like, a real good act ... I feel proud of myself.”
It was not a violent act. But it was an act of symbolic violence. And so legions of people who also despise Trump took to social media to hail Clay.
He seems of sound mind. So do the people who commended him as far as we can tell. He and they feel driven to this as a last resort, as the only practical response: to smash something.
Pickaxing the star was an expression of impotent rage.
Part of what steeps this frustration is the notion that Trump is a usurper, a Kremlin stooge, something alien to the American way of life – and also that he’s getting away with it. There is the sense shared by many that Trump was imposed on those of us who didn’t vote for him.
More maddening still for the resistance is that Trump’s support seems unwavering amid an endless stream of contradictions and missteps.
Some of this frustration is understandable. The world was confounded when we thought we saw Trump kowtow to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. And the images of crying children in immigration detention could make a good person furious. But what matters is what happens next: What do you do with that fury?
Smart, passionate people in the Trump resistance report feeling by turns shaken by rage and – more alarmingly, less than three months from the midterm elections – exhausted.
Scarcely buried here is the question of how Trump happened. The Russians may have helped, but no matter whom we voted for, we can’t let ourselves off the hook. For better or worse, we also have done this to ourselves. Helplessness is a luxury we can’t afford. What we can do, we can undo – if we choose.
We were struck the other day by an observation related by New York Times columnist David Brooks, that in July 2016, “only 29 percent of Donald Trump supporters and 23 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.”
What this describes is an electorate that was easy pickings. Perhaps we were damned by our low expectations. Some of us went long on realism. We shorted idealism. We talked an awful lot about “electability.” Others were all too willing to just roll the dice.
Like our branches of government, our parties ought to check one another; we hardly need to go into what happens to countries with one-party rule. At the moment, however, one party has suffered excruciating, legitimate setbacks.
It is no time to smash stars. That’s just surrendering.
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave an address in which he considered whether America and its democracy should expect to be subverted by some foreign power.
No, he said. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”
Speaking of free men – and free women: Have you registered to vote yet?