One. It’s early September of 2015 and I’m on the island of Santorini for a literary festival. After the short reading, which takes place outdoors on a patio, the Greek audience asks questions, the first of which is, “What do you think of Donald Trump?”
Since announcing his candidacy, the reality-show star has been all over the news. Every outrageous thing he says is repeated and analyzed—like he’s a real politician. I answer that I first became aware of Donald Trump in the late 1980s. That was when Alma, a Lithuanian woman I was working for, bought his book The Art of the Deal and decided he was wonderful. Shortly afterward, I saw him on Oprah, and ever since then he’s always been in the background, this ridiculous blowhard, part showman and part cartoon character. I see his presidential bid as just another commercial for himself. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to name the Hamburglar as his running mate. So I say that on stage and then have to explain who the Hamburglar is.
Two. A month before the election a man picks me up at the Philadelphia airport and takes me to Red Bank, New Jersey, for a show. We get to talking and I learn his name is Michael. He is white and fifty-five and used to work for Pathmark, a supermarket chain that went bankrupt and closed the last of its branches in 2015. I ask some general questions and learn that grocery stores make the brunt of their money on junk food. “The highest markup, though, is on spices—seventy-six percent!” says Michael, adding that the most frequently stolen items are razor blades, baby formula, and big jugs of laundry detergent, which seem like they’d be pretty hard to shoplift. I mean, those things have gotten huge, like gas cans.
“Nowadays people walk out with the whole cart,” Michael says. “Roll out the door saying, Just try to stop me!”
It’s rare for a hired driver to overtly discuss politics, and rarer still for him or her to introduce the topic. They will sometimes skirt around it, though. We pass a Trump sign on the road and Michael acknowledges it, saying, sourly, “I just feel that for guys like us, white guys our age, if we need any help—housing or food stamps or whatever—it’s the back of the line. You know what I mean?”
Well isn’t that sort of where the line forms? I think. Michael’s is a group I’ve been hearing a lot about lately. White men who, following eight years of a black president, feel forgotten.
How exactly did Obama neglect you? I want to ask but don’t. Instead, I change the subject to lines in general. “I didn’t wait more than a few minutes to check in for my flight this morning,” I say cheerfully, not adding that I’m executive platinum on American so never have to wait for anything. When I do have to wait, I’m appalled.
Three. I donate a thousand dollars to the Hillary for America campaign and within what seems like minutes I get an email from them saying, in effect, That’s great, but can we have more? Her organization is by no means unique in this regard. Everyone I donate to acts the same way, and I wind up unsubscribing from their emails and resenting them.
Four. I talk to a longtime friend of the family who tells me with great authority that Hillary Clinton is a member of the Illuminati and that she and her husband have killed scores of people, including children, who they also sexually molested.
“You’re kidding, right?” I say.
He’s not, and within minutes words are shooting from his mouth like water from a fire hose. It’s hard to catch it all, but I do grab hold of, “You think it’s a coincidence that Prince was murdered on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday?”
“Who said he was murdered?” I ask.
“Oh, please,” this person says. “You honestly believe he died of an ‘accidental drug overdose?’ ”
The guy speaks to me like I’m an idiot. “And the queen had him killed … why, exactly?” I ask. “Because his name was Prince?”
I later look at one of the websites this person relies on for information. On it, an anonymous source close to the royal family—a “Palace Insider”—reports hearing the queen saying to another Illuminati member at a tea party that before the year ends, three more world famous musicians must die.
None of the websites my friend looks at say anything bad about Donald Trump. Rather he is hailed as a man of peace. The ones they hate are George Soros, of course, and, surprisingly, Bill Gates, who has murdered more innocents than even the Clintons, apparently. My friend gets almost feverish when he talks about these people and the way they’re all connected: Queen Elizabeth leads to Jay Z leads to the Centers for Disease Control leads to the faked Sandy Hook shooting and the way the government staged 9/11.
I want to laugh. Then I want him to laugh and say, “Just kidding!” But he honestly believes all this, and is frustrated that I won’t believe it as well. “Wake up!” he says.
Five. An article in the New York Times suggests that Trump should run with the Hamburglar and I think, Hey, that’s my line.
Six. On election night, I am in Portland, Oregon. At the start of the evening I feel confident, but come dinnertime I start to get nervous. I eat alone in the fancy hotel restaurant, watching the waiters and waitresses for clues that I am worrying over nothing. “Any news?” I keep asking, taking it for granted that, like me, they voted for Clinton. They have ironic tattoos and know about wine, who else could they have been for? I think.
Back in the room, I turn on the radio and look at the electoral map online. I go to bed, reach for my iPad. Shut my eyes, reach for my iPad. When the election is called for Trump, I lie there, unable to sleep. In the middle of the night, I go to the fitness center and watch the little TV embedded in my elliptical machine. The news had been telling me for months that Clinton was a shoo-in. Now they want me to listen as they soul search and determine how they got it so wrong. “Fuck you,” I say to the little screen.
An hour later, I take a bath and get back into bed. Staring at the ceiling, wide-awake, I suddenly think of Cher and realize that what I’m feeling, she’s feeling as well. So are millions of other people of course: Hugh, my sisters, all my friends except for the conspiracy theorist. Oddly, it’s this woman I’ve never met or even seen in person, who brings me comfort. The next morning I wander the city in a daze, my eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep, thinking I’m not alone. I’ve got Cher.
Seven. A few days after the election, I’m in Oakland, California. It’s Sunday afternoon and I notice a great many people walking toward what looks like a park, some of them carrying signs. “What’s going on?” I ask a young woman. Her hair is purple in some places and green in others.
“Oh,” she says. “Everyone’s going to gather around Lake Merritt and hold hands. We’re going to form a human chain around it.” She says this as though it’s going to reverse time and make Donald Trump stop being the president-elect. I cringe, thinking of how this will play on Fox News—“Watch out everyone, they’re holding hands!”
Eight. I join my family on Emerald Isle for Thanksgiving and have a great screaming fight with my Republican father, who yells at one point, “Donald Trump is not an asshole!” I find this funny but at the same time surprising. Regardless of whether or not you voted for him, I thought the president-elect’s identity as a despicable human being was something we could all agree on. I mean, he pretty much ran on it.
Later in our argument my father shouts, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this country in years,” and, “It was just locker-room talk.”
“I’m in locker rooms five days a week and have never heard anyone carry on like Trump in that video,” I argue. “And if I did, I wouldn’t think, Wow, that guy ought to be my president. I’d think he was a creep and a loser.” Then I add, repeating something I’d heard from someone else, “Besides, he wasn’t in a locker room, he was at work.”
Since I left the United States in 1998, I’ve cast absentee ballots. Americans overseas vote from the last state they lived in, which for me was New York. Then we got the house on Emerald Isle, and I changed my location to North Carolina, where I’m more inclined to feel hopeless. In 1996, in line at the grocery store in lower Manhattan, I’d look at the people in front of me thinking Bill Clinton voter, Bill Clinton voter, convicted felon, Bill Clinton voter, foreign tourist, felon, felon, Bill Clinton voter, felon.
At the supermarket I stomp off to after the fight with my father on Emerald Isle, it’s Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, and then the cashier, who also voted for him. Of course, these are just my assumptions. The guy in the T-shirt that pictures a semiautomatic rifle above the message COME AND TAKE IT—the one in fatigues buying two twelve packs of beer and a tub of rice pudding—didn’t necessarily vote Republican. He could have just stayed home on election day and force-fed the women he holds captive in the crawl space beneath his living room.
The morning after our argument, I come downstairs to find my father in the kitchen. “Are you still talking to me?” he asks.
I look at him as if he were single-handedly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, as if he had knowingly cast the tie-breaking vote and all of what is to come is entirely his fault. Then I say, “Yes. Of course I’m still talking to you.”
He turns and plods into the living room. “Horse’s ass.”
Nine. On Christmas morning, at home in England, I climb into the loft space above the bathroom in search of some presents I’d wrapped months earlier. The ladder I’m using is wooden and has only two legs, which slip on my freshly waxed floor. I fall from a height of nine feet and land with a bang on my left side, fracturing eight ribs. Lying on the floor, stunned, and in the greatest pain of my life, it occurs to me that I might die before Trump assumes office and that maybe that won’t be such a terrible thing. Amy runs out of the guest room then and Hugh charges up the stairs from the kitchen, both of them asking, “What happened?” and “Are you all right?”
I don’t want to ruin Christmas, so say, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” Fine people, though, don’t need ten minutes to get off the floor.
Hugh phones the NHS—the National Health Service—and after being asked a number of preliminary questions, I’m put through to a nurse named Mary.
“Who are you again?” I ask.
“Mary,” she repeats, not, I notice, Mary Steward, or whatever her last name is. Everything in America is based on lawsuits, on establishing a trail. In the U.S. I’d be told to come in immediately for X-rays, but in England they figure that unless you’re unconscious, or leaking great quantities of fluid—blood, pus, et cetera—there’s no point in wasting everyone’s time. Mary asks me a number of questions that determine whether or not I pierced a lung, which apparently I have not. “But it really hurts when I cough,” I tell her.
“Well, David,” she says brightly. “Then my advice to you would be not to cough, and to have a lovely Christmas.”
I later learn that what I suffered was called a blunt-force trauma. It’s remarkably similar to how I felt after the election, as if I’d been slammed against a wall or hit by a car. Both pains persist, show no signs, in fact, of ever going away. The damage is permanent. I will never be the same as I was before the accident/election. A lovely Christmas is out of the question. Every day I lie on the floor and clutch my sides, stunned.
Ten. I hold on to the most unreasonable hope: The electoral college will come to its senses and say, We can’t let this happen! It will turn out that Russia tampered with our voting machines. Yet nothing stops the advancing truck. On Inauguration Day, I am in Seattle. Late in the afternoon, my old friend Lyn sends me a photo of an anti-Trump sticker someone found in Japan. It’s cleverly designed: three peaks that on second glance turn out to be Trump sandwiched between two Klansmen. I want to write back and say, Ha, but instead, as a joke, I respond, “Dear Lyn, I’m sorry you’re so opposed to change, or too small-minded to move past your narrow assumptions. In the future, I’d appreciate your keeping things like this to yourself. David”
A minute later, I send a follow-up email that says, “Just kidding.” And it bounces back, as do the next three emails I send. She’s blocked me! I realize. After thirty-eight years of friendship!
I go to bed that night and lie awake, worried that she’s telling everyone I’m a Trump supporter. The news will spread and by morning I’ll be ruined. But it was just a joke, I say to myself in the dark room. A horrible, horrible joke.
David Sedaris is the author of nine books and lives in West Sussex, England. His most recent book is Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977–2002).