Toad is very rich and a bit of a fop, with a penchant for Harris tweed suits. He owns his own horse, and is able to indulge his impulsive desires, such as punting, house boating and hot air ballooning. Toad is intelligent, creative and resourceful; however, he is also narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense.
Let’s call him Mr. Toad.
I don’t want to say his name, damn it.
Like ancient magic, uttering his name gives him power. Content and intention burn up and blow away as ashes in the ritual, leaving only a rumbling chuckle in the dark. Praise his name and he grows. Curse his name and he grows. Leylines of power warp around him; we are past the event horizon; every possible path only leads deeper into the crushing selfish heart of a dead star.
So I play with words. I give him a nickname. I decide I won’t say his name, won’t summon his supporters, won’t add to his power.
I contort my every limb to avoid him. Yeah. He has no power over me. Right.
There is chuckling in the dark.
A few years ago, when a young candidate swept the nation with talk of hope and change, I watched as hairline cracks began to appear in the Republican Party. Radicals dangling teabags from their hats jerked the Overton window hard to the right, leaving “moderate Republicans” in the lurch. Unless you were a Bible-thumping, government-hating, tax-cursing, flag-waving, gun-toting, freedom-loving American, you were part of the Machine, and thus dead to them.
At the time, I laughed–maybe through gritted teeth, but I still laughed. Watching this discord foment, I fantasized about a future when the radical Tea Partiers and the “moderate Republicans,” finding each other intolerable enough, would part ways, splitting the vote and guaranteeing their losses. The Republican Party, I dreamed, would tear itself apart over its own infighting. The Tea Party would lose steam and in another election cycle or two, the Republicans would reclaim a moderate centrist position, having abandoned the fringe-est of fringe beliefs.
For a while, I believed in Mr. Toad’s ability to do exactly that.
He started strong. An outsider with a boorish personality and vague connotations of wealth to his name (despite a history of four bankruptcies), he said the right things to rally supporters. Calling immigrants rapists? Check. Creating a database of Muslims? Check. Unbelievably unfeasible border wall? Check, check, check. He aligned himself with the fringe-right while a few other candidates tried to stake a claim to the “reasonable moderate” position (inasmuch as such a thing even exists anymore in the Republican Party).
The xenophobia, bigotry, and promises of an aggressively authoritarian state were supposed to be his Achilles heel. I was counting on that, as, I expect, were many Republican Party leaders. If he went that far-right, surely it would contain his flash in the pan.
And it would have, had the Republican Party not been stocking powderkegs of anti-establishment far-right rhetoric for nearly a decade. Suddenly, all the xenophobia, the fearmongering, the hatred–everything the Republican Party had been playing at–it was all going up.
Mr. Toad’s explosive ascendancy may have been unplanned, but that doesn’t mean it was unavoidable. He was simply taking advantage of the ripe climate others had made for him.
Here is what I now recognize:
Politics is only a game for the powerful.
Mr. Toad plays it masterfully. He knows the players: the politicians, slow-moving and ineffective; the media, starving and desperate; and the voters, angry and afraid. He is utterly lacking in decorum or credentials, but to him, that doesn’t matter. Mr. Toad recognizes that despite our high-minded civic mythology, our elections for President of the United States of America are no more about governance than are elections for high school class president. Politics is a game, power and prestige are the goals, and Mr. Toad knows how exactly to move the players to get what he wants.
But politics is only a game for the powerful–the rest of us have to live with the consequences. Mr. Toad knows that his best shot at winning is to incite hatred and stoke the flames of fear, the consequences be damned. He offers to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault protesters at his rallies, takes days to disavow a white supremacist leader, and encourages racial profiling and hostility. And what happens? Schoolchildren are threatened by their peers with deportation in his name; high school sports teams are taunt racially diverse opponents with his name; protesters (usually people of color) are punched, spit upon, shoved, and otherwise assaulted at his rallies, often to white supremacist epithets; white supremacist leaders report surges in popularity thanks to him and are lining up to support his candidacy.
In Virginia, an elementary school teacher says students are “crying in the classroom and having meltdowns at home.” In Oregon, a K-3 teacher says her black students are “concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.” In North Carolina, a high school teacher says she has “Latino students who carry their birth certificates and Social Security cards to school because they are afraid they will be deported.”
Some of the stories are heartbreaking. In Tennessee, a kindergarten teacher says a Latino child—told by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall—asks every day, “Is the wall here yet?”
Many children, however, are not afraid at all. Rather, some are using the word Trump as a taunt or as a chant as they gang up on others. Muslim children are being called terrorist or ISIS or bomber.
I wanted to see the Republican Party tear itself apart, and for a while, Mr. Toad’s hateful buffoonery amused me. I was taking politics as a game.
Mr. Toad plays this game single-mindedly. He moves us around like pawns on a board because it’s how he wins. But he gets to pack the board up and retire for the night. The rest of us–millions of Americans–have to live with the mess he’s made.
He is clawing at America and leaving the wound to fester.
“If he’s elected,” a white man somewhere in designer plaid and a handlebar mustache proclaims into his IPA, “we’ll deserve it.”
Politics is a game for the powerful, and as a white man in a kyriarchal society, I am powerful. Under President Toad, I would likely see little affront to my liberties; the biggest consequence I would face would be deep disappointment in my fellow Americans and our political system.
Mr. Toad has not threatened to deport me based on my ethnicity or my religion. Mr. Toad has not tacitly encouraged his supporters to assault me. Mr. Toad and his supporters do not seek to bar me from using public restrooms based on my appearance. But for others not like me, that threat is very real.
My safety and my life in this country would not be realistically endangered by a President Toad. Others’ safety and security have already been endangered by his candidacy.
A system that forces us to vote for the “lesser of two evils” is twisted and broken, yes. But I am extremely fortunate to even be able to consider this election through the lens of lofty political ideals. My life is not on the line. Millions of others’ are. I have an obligation to remember that this November.
I may deserve President Toad. My friends, family, and communities do not.
Damn it, I want this to end on a hopeful note. I want to say that the forces of love and community are standing strong against hatred, isolation, and fear. I want to say that there are signs that Mr. Toad will falter. Oh, how I wish I could say that Americans were realizing they had been played by a savvy businessman and were uniting to reject an authoritarian candidate and his fascist aesthetic.
I wish. I really wish.