Jeff Sharlet in Bookforum:
I REMEMBER BETTER THAN MOST where I was when I knew Donald Trump would win. Not just that he would win but that “the office” would not subdue him, that he was coming because he was the crest of a wave, a force made unstoppable by its mostly unseen mass. It was October 9, 2016, I was forty-four, and I was having a heart attack. On the TV above my hospital bed, at his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump loomed over Clinton’s shoulder. My nurse, a Trump supporter, gave me a drip of nitroglycerin. It was a slow-moving heart attack. It’d gathered strength across days, at first fooling the ER doctors, who’d told me tests made them “95 percent certain” my heart was fine, which happens to be about the same certainty with which most pundits spoke of the imminent Clinton victory. The ER doctors had sent me home, they’d told me I could bet on those odds. But a heart is not a nation. Mine was just unlucky. Or maybe lucky, because a friend who understood the odds, or pain, better than I did insisted I return to the hospital.
I didn’t want to miss the debate. That’s how I thought then, as if hate was something you had to see, over and over, something from which you couldn’t look away. Trump’s words didn’t matter. Neither did Clinton’s. It was too late, I realized. I’d prided myself on calling him a contender from the day he’d descended the golden escalator. “Wow, whoa,” he’d said. And, “They’re not sending their best”—Mexico, remember. And “They’re rapists”—the people “they” were sending. That’ll play, I’d thought. I knew how to think ugly then. I’d been looking at hate for a long time. It’d become my beat, my livelihood. I listened. I learned the vernacular. Love languages? My specialty was discerning hate languages, the hate that claimed its name was “love” and the hate that flattered itself as “tradition,” the hate that declared itself a “right” and the hate that cried—like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, a big movie across the American hate spectrum—“Fr-e-e-e-e-dom!”
I’d spent that spring traveling to Trump rallies. I told people Trump was an orator. They didn’t believe me. Not like Obama, I said. I’d pull up a video and hit mute. What do you see? I’d ask. They’d watch the chopping hands. “Mussolini,” they’d say. Right, now look again. Sometimes they saw what I saw: his timing. “Oh my God,” they’d say, “he’s like a comedian!” I’d turn on the sound. “Now listen.”