THE FUTURE OF AN ILLUSION
So I sat there slumped in my easy chair watching cops in their short-sleeve shirts, utility belts bulging with key rings and handcuffs, pepper spray, radio, flashlight, whatever else it takes to uphold the law. They were bored, idling in a corridor waiting for the former president to appear in court. A blond woman in the full regalia of her police uniform unconsciously followed the swaying of her colleague as he passed the time. He had walked purposely half a dozen times merely to pat the arm of some superior and whisper something humorous to him. Everyone had his secret irony to share, and the woman who was tall and self-possessed, kept her wary eye out for any movement that might suggest Trump had finally arrived. But instead everyone merely patted his pockets, checked a watch, gazed about with a longing to be put to use.
Finally, a door opened and a sour-faced orange-haired man appeared surrounded by underlings assigned to protect the man from danger. They disappeared through another door and the corridor went back to being a long narrow passageway where everyone was waiting for Godot. Up on the 7th floor of the building Trump was being fingerprinted, booked, informed that he was now under arrest. He led his entourage into the courtroom and sat there with hunched shoulders and a stony expression, hair neatly arranged to swoop down toward one ear and no doubt stiffened a bit with fixer to keep from losing its fragile shape. He seemed to be concentrating on one thought, how to focus his emotions on the evening to come when he would hold forth against his persecutors to an adoring crowd of acolytes bearing various signs and wearing MAGA caps, and told to smile and look elated at having their deposed king once more back in his fortress.
He delivered a set speech, I saw later on, with attack lines directed at Alvin Bragg, the presiding judge, the Democrats in general, the managers of various witch hunts trying to destroy him, or at least keep him from running for president. He’s an astute observer of those who labor to reveal his insidious plots to undermine the fragile freedoms we still try to observe and believe in. If ever there was an Oz in our government, this is the man behind the curtain, making false thunder, pulling levers that have long been disconnected from consequence. He is already shriveling into an empty legend, a flimsy cartoon of ruthless malevolence. When he predicted huge angry mobs to avenge his so-called persecution, a few people showed up behind the barricades, while a real mob of journalists looking for a cheap quote were crowding the sidewalks and curb.
Not even the network news media could make sufficient sense of what they saw. Reporters repeated lots of boiler plate descriptions of the slack-jowled Florida-tinted Sunkist prince of Orange, with his thin hair barely able to conceal his septuagenarian scalp. His eyes sagged, his hands rested in a loose grip on the defense table and could have passed for a child’s desperate effort not to betray panic. When a monument ceases to inspire fear in the public and becomes instead a roost for urban pigeons, you know you are observing the descent of an ersatz hero into the underworld. He had tried to take over heaven, but ended up buried in his own illusions and deceit. I watched carefully, looking for a way into that opaque countenance as he glowered at the cameras. I didn’t feel satisfied to see his suffering. No amount of pain can bring joy to the bystander. One can only gaze down at the source of so much mayhem and polarization and mumble, “Thank God this is over with.”
Maybe for the first time in a long time I was happy to see uniformed police milling about aimlessly, bored with the slow-moving gears of the law and the grinding progress of political tragedy. The “lying liars,” as Al Franken once wrote, are in the preliminary stages of implosion, which brings to mind something Prospero says at the end of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
You get up from such a spectacle and dust yourself off, stretch, look for the exits and go back out into the street where reality in all its drab and slow-moving progress proceeds as before, without a memory of the terrifying melodrama that was once the Trump era.
There are some constants to this life -- a glass of wine can still refresh the tongue and soothe a conversation forward to another topic. I only wish I had some friend to join me in a libation at this hour, and to reminisce over the old days when corruption was in a minor key and threats to democracy were the fodder of comic book heroes. But alas my companions are a newly started fire in the hearth, a half-bottle of a California wine tending to sweetness, the rumpled pages of last Sunday’s New York Times, my shoes kicked under the cocktail table, and a dish where a few crackers once lay before my hand reached down to devour them. My wife is out shopping or attending to her French lesson, and I would dearly love to confess my jumble of feelings to her. She would understand and give me a sage look from a woman whose powers of interpretation border on mysticism.
But the sun is now an old star hobbling toward the horizon, clutching his coat as the cold spring winds pick up. The trees are clapping as if they understood an era came to an end. The creeks are fully fleshed out with April rain. There are squirrel footprints in the mud of my garden, and the crows are wheeling impatiently overhead looking for some stale white bread thrown out by my crow-loving wife. They know her by her white hair, her gently smiling face, her bag of handouts that she lugs across the road and carefully distributes to make for easy capture before flying back to safety in the maple branches.
What a window provides in such dark times as these is a reminder that nature’s clock is set to the armless hour of eternity, and that the only real measure of change is the drift of the stars in their airless infinity. If you should gaze up in an idle moment at the splendor of such celestial parades, you are humbled and instructed in the flimsy contract of mortality you cling to. You are less than a wink in time, hardly the beat of a hummingbird’s wing as it hovers over a newly opened rosebud. The earth rolls its bulk through the corridors of space on its way to coming back again. The ripples in the air caused by a cry of injustice from a crowded court room in Manhattan are as ephemeral as a frog’s leap from the shallow edge of a pond to catch a mosquito. The water settles back again like a sigh, and order is restored. The minnows resum their aimless circling in the murky depths and gulp a mouthful of water from which to reap a few molecules of air. I am a student of such Brownian movements as I can observe from my comfortable perch. Down there in the muck of uneventful time are the forces that chew on rocks and spit out clay through their ruminating jaws. Loam oozes out of their lips and the seed of a wild flower germinates with all the placidity of a dragonfly perched on a thistle. Trump is nowhere to be found in such landscapes, a creature who invented himself, with his father’s help, and then puffed his breath into the outline to make it seem real. His march to the podium to hold forth his drastic predictions of the fall of common sense and fairness were meant to put an end to the legacy of Pericles and the genius of Greek political idealism. But I am sitting down again with my glass of wine to say to myself, it didn’t happen. The rubbery sag-eyed creature with the sewn on hairdo and the sun-lamp Florida tan was just make-believe after all.