The Artificial Intelligence Threat: Heart vs. Hardware

New York Times social philosopher and mustachioed Minnesotan Thomas Friedman recently wrote a column about the existential crisis facing humanity as artificially intelligent super-computers like IBM’s Watson learn to do things—diagnose patients, write poetry, compose music, design buildings, tell jokes—that only humans are supposed to be capable of.

If a computer can compose a love sonnet, it begs the question: What does it mean to be human in the age of intelligent machines?

To answer that question, Friedman asked Dov Seidman, a “corporate virtue” consultant and author of, How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything, for his input (the title of which should win an award for its zen-like blend of redundancy and grandiosity.)

Now, you might think “corporate virtue” is one of those Orwellian oxymorons that masks the dark designs of the C-suite with the sweet scent of piety. But no, he’s serious. Sounding more like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz than an ethical futurist, the one thing machines will never have is “heart,” Seidman insists, adding that it is through the human capacity for love, compassion, virtue, and imagination that our uniqueness will endure. Quoth Seidman: “The technology revolution is thrusting us into ‘the human economy,’ which will be more about creating value with hired hearts — all the attributes that can’t be programmed into software, like passion, character and collaborative spirit.”

Friedman agrees. I don’t.

Here’s why:

According to a lot of hyper-intelligent people (Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk among them), the threat posed by an advanced from of artificial intelligence that can teach itself and has access, via the Internet, to all the knowledge in the world, is that it might one day decide human beings are expendable. Then there would be a war of some sort, and in the ultimate battle between man and machine, having a heart (whether organic or metaphorical) might be a liability. If our synthetically intelligent, ever-so-logical adversaries don’t care how much heart and passion we have, only how many resources we are gobbling up relative to our pitiful productive utility, we are toast. Besides, they will have listened to all of our conversations and read all our emails, so they’ll know how much human beings hate each other. Knowing this, they will reach the inevitable conclusion that humanity must be destroyed, if only to make way for some other, better creature to crawl up from the muck and take over the world. You know, something like a basset hound or a rabbit, an animal that mostly minds its own business and isn’t so fascinated by the laws of thermodynamics.

There is an intuitive appeal to this version of ultimate doom, because mankind’s head is lofted on a spike of irony. We will be destroyed by a monster of our own making, of course! (Then again, the idea that a hyper-intelligent machine would want to continually improve itself may just be wishful Western thinking. Maybe it would get so smart that it would realize how pointless it is to get any smarter. Or maybe it would just stop learning one day and, like so many people, develop a narcissistic personality disorder and spend the rest of eternity admiring its own genius.)

To comfort readers sipping coffee and contemplating their own extinction, Seidman and Friedman offer a hopeful message, one that attempts to reaffirm the dignity and worth of human beings in a world that is increasingly indifferent to them. Both agree that in the future, when working with your hands is stupid, and working with your head is irrelevant, people will create “social and economic value” with their hearts—most notably in what Friedman calls “STEMpathy” jobs. That is, jobs that combine the intelligence of computers with the compassion of humans, like a doctor who uses IBM’s Watson to help her diagnose and treat patients. (What happens when people no longer need a human doctor to diagnose their ills or prescribe them medication, S and F do not dare say.)

 For the vast swath of humanity that is now finding itself displaced and discarded by the relentless march of technology, S and F don’t offer much hope except to remind us that people are, you know . . . special. What differentiates us from a mindless beasts roaming the savannah is our ability to wonder and dream, to turn the fairy dust of our ideas into nifty stuff we can sell on e-bay. The human heart will always prevail, they say, because to think otherwise would be conceding defeat. Love still conquers all, because in desperate times we cling to clichés that reaffirm what we want to believe, not what we fear might be actually, horribly true.

Never mind that the work done by people who actually use their heart—artists, musicians, writers, poets, philosophers, social workers, mothers, caregivers—has been so systematically devalued that almost no one can make a living at it. As any recent college graduate who studied anything with the word “human” in it is discovering, finding work that “values” an interest in, or empathy for, people is hard to come by. Following one’s “heart,” or “passion,” is in all too many cases a one-way to ticket to minimum wage and misery. Most “heart work” isn’t work at all, it’s charity, or a hobby. Ask any artist. Economically speaking, most of the wage work humans can do that computers can’t—deliver pizzas, mow grass, tile a roof, dance naked, teach literature, wipe a baby’s butt—pays so little that it literally has no value. If, however, you are comfortable bathing your eyeballs in the soothing blue glow of a computer screen all day and are blessed with the temperament of a coder, the opportunities available to you are pretty much endless.  

In almost every way possible, then, our culture is systematically devaluing humanity. Having too much “heart” and not enough calculus is now a serious social and economic liability. Care too much about people and not enough about software algorithms? Welcome to the lower middle class.  

But machines didn’t make this happen: people did.

People decided that the most important things in the world are profit margins and efficiency. It just so happens that to maximize both, it makes more and more sense to take people out of the equation.

People decided that getting an hourly wage for a job was a good way to distribute income. It just so happens that one of the best ways to boost profit margins is to keep wages low.

Artificial intelligence may be a problem in the future, but the problem confronting us now is human intelligence—specifically, the lack thereof. For almost two-hundred years (since Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818), sci-fi books, movies, and TV shows by the thousands have warned us about the dangers of putting too much faith in technological progress. As always, however, it’s the humans behind the machines—the ones who create, own, and operate them—that are the real threat.###

The Truth: Good Riddance

According to many people in the truth business, we are now living in a “post-truth” world where facts don’t matter and the news is fake and people believe all kinds of crazy things they shouldn’t, not the marginally less crazy things they should.

This is always talked about as if it’s a bad thing. But I for one am happy we’re entering an age when truth doesn’t matter, and I think once people get used to the idea, it’s bound to improve everyone’s life.

For example, there’s a lot of jabber these days about the scourge of “fake news,” as if the “real news” is somehow better because it’s so boring and sad. But as fantastical news sites like Breitbart have taught us, when journalism is untethered from the truth and reporters are free to report anything they want, the news is much more entertaining.

In the old days, for instance, mentions of pizza in an email might have been taken literally, and that would have been the end of it. But now, even the most innocuous and innocent-sounding things have the potential to blow up into big news. Citizen journalists are free to strap on a rifle and go “self-investigate” anything they want. This kind of thing never would have happened back in the days of sober, responsible journalism, because the “truth” would have been way too dull to mention.

Back when I was a lowly writer/journalist (before I became a highly respected “content creator”), I too felt the cruel restraint of “facts.” Stuff other people claimed was true always contradicted what I wanted to say, which was tremendously inconvenient. In most cases, I knew much more about the subject than any so-called “expert,” and was more than happy to share my knowledge. But I couldn’t, because a professional obligation to tell “the truth” hung over me like a black cloud. Honestly, when I think of all the stories I wrote that got smaller and duller because of a misguided fealty to journalistic accuracy—well, I just feel sorry for the reading public. Fortunately, now that we’re entering an age when people can make up their own facts, old-fashioned “snooze news” will be replaced by news that’s fresh and wild—unbelievable stuff that never would have seen the light of day back when stuffy, elitist “editors” were the gatekeepers of public discourse. 

Consider as well our main source of supposedly reliable “facts”: science. Everyone thinks science is so great, but it’s really a giant buzzkill. The truth is, scientists are always coming up with depressing facts that make life a lot less fun. The problem is, whenever scientists think they’ve discovered some important new truth—like the danger of inhaling gas fumes, or how licking certain kinds of toads can make you sterile—they go and tell the whole world. When that happens, people like me don’t think, “Hey, thanks for the valuable info”—we think, “There go two more things that used to be a lot of fun.”

Climate change is another problem-child of the scientific “truth community” that we can all be thankful will disappear once we are free to ignore it. It is said that 99.9% of the scientists in the world agree that the world is getting warmer, so we should all drive less awesome cars and try not to fart so much. But this isn’t a realistic solution. What we should really be doing is building cars with better air-conditioning and fart-neutralizing seat cushions that make everything smell like cinnamon. America was built on ingenuity, and it’s that kind of ingenuity that’s going to make America great again. Listening to scientists is just going to make everyone feel like there’s no hope. I mean, if you own a Prius, haven’t you pretty much given up already?

“Truth in advertising” is another boneheaded idea that’s sure to make everyone feel better after it’s gone. In drug commercials, I’m so sick of hearing about all the bad things that could happen if I take a drug. What I want to hear about are the good things. What I want to know is how that drug is going to improve my life. But when the announcer starts listing all the possible side effects—seizures, headaches, diarrhea, mood swings, dry mouth, scurvy, gout, chilblains, etc.—it makes me not want to take the drug, or at least think twice about it. I only want to think once, then get my doctor to prescribe me the pill. How hard is that?

In a post-truth world, almost everything else will be better too. Take church. In confession, I’ve always felt compelled to be honest and tell the truth about my sins. Now I am free to make up whatever sins I want—bigger, better, bolder sins—and be absolved just the same.

A post-truth world will also be a boon for recent college graduates and other barely qualified job-seekers. In a post-truth world, people will be free to claim whatever experience they want on their resumes, which means American companies will soon be hiring nothing but extraordinary people with impeccable credentials. Bursting with leadership and talent, business productivity will soar and everyone will get rich beyond their wildest dreams. No company will be able to excuse its lack of productivity on a “shortage of qualified workers,” because every worker in America will be fabulously well-qualified for whatever job they seek.    

The moral fibre of the nation will also improve in a truth-less world, because adultery will no longer be possible. Spouses who cheat won’t have to feel guilty anymore about hiding “the truth,” because without a truth to hide, there’s no way to cheat, only different ways to get one’s needs met. A person can hardly be blamed for tending to their needs. And without the hobgoblin of truth ruining extra-marital affairs, sex with people who are not your spouse will be more like taking a daily multivitamin—something one simply does, every day, to maintain their own health and vitality.

Abandoning the truth will also do wonders for the collective mood of the country. Think of all the people who waste their time and money sitting in a therapist’s office, rummaging around in their memory to find some sort of core truth that explains their wretched lives. Now that the truth can be ignored, however, people are free to believe whatever they want about themselves. Guilt and shame will be abolished, along with any other emotion that causes people to question or doubt themselves. Think of what a country powered by such super-charged mega-positivism could accomplish. All the energy people once put into questioning themselves could be put toward questioning and doubting others, and all the fear people once had that they were inadequate, damaged, or mentally ill could be directed toward wondering if other people are sick, crazy, or just plain stupid.

The justice system would be improved as well. In a post-truth world, when people testify in court, and the judge asks them to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they can simply answer “no,” and say whatever they want. Speaking from personal experience, this will make a huge difference. Whenever I am called to testify in court, for instance, some shifty lawyer is always trying to trick me into saying something that will incriminate my friends or make it seem like whatever we did—fraud, blackmail, assault, racketeering, practicing dentistry without a license, or whatever—was wrong. Now I can just deny everything and call it a day, or make something up that will throw them off track. Either way, I win.

My friends in jail will also benefit. The few with a guilty conscience can finally let the bad thoughts go. Prisons that hold these alleged “criminals” can finally release them too, because whatever truth put them behind bars is now a distant artifact of time, a quaint anachronism left over from an era when people had to obey the law, or else. No more. A post-truth world is one in which we all get to take the law into our own hands—hands that will soon be able to hold a Glock .45 and point it at a suspicious person who is doing something un-American, like reading a book or eating sushi.

What the truth squad never wants to acknowledge is that nothing good ever came from truth-telling. Most of the worst scandals in history happened because some pesky, know-nothing journalist got it in their heads that “the truth” needed to be written down on paper, where everyone else could see it. Think what a fabulous world this would be if none of us knew about Chappaquiddick, Watergate, the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra affair, the Sandanistas, Bill and Monica, the Iraq War, or Donald Trump’s bro-mance with Vladimir Putin. Think how much better we’d feel if we didn’t know people in Haiti are starving, or that polar bears are dying, or that America is now a plutocracy pretending to be a democracy, or that Hillary Clinton is a three-horned she-devil.   

Are any of us better off for knowing these things? Sadly, no. Anger, disbelief, and cynicism have taken over, displacing the human brain’s natural state of blissful ignorance with a corrosive whir of agitated awareness. If only those goddamn journalists had just kept their mouths shut, everything would be fine. You wouldn’t need heroin, oxy, or meth to dull the pain of too much knowledge, and you wouldn’t have to think about how dangerous your favorite drugs are every time you prep a needle or pop a pill.

In all of these ways and more, life in a truth-free world will be just . . . great.

Wars, let’s not forget, are caused by people fighting over different versions of the truth. Without a truth to fight over, there will be no more wars, because everyone will realize how silly it is to fight over something that does not exist. Believing in anything other than one’s own infallibility will become passé, and people the world over will rejoice in the discovery that ever since the dawn of human consciousness, the truth has been nothing but a big fat lie.

I, for one, am glad the human race has evolved beyond its primal need to seek new forms of truth. I know whereof I speak. I abandoned the truth years ago and haven’t regretted it one bit.

Donald Trump: Sociopath in Chief

Now that Donald Trump (hereafter referred to as “DT,” so my fingers don’t cramp up typing his name over and over) is president-elect of the United States, I am going to stop mocking him temporarily to do what we all now must: take the man seriously.

Because, even though it is great fun to disparage DT—something the media has been gleefully doing for forty years—the man has now weaseled himself into a position where everyone must find a way to wrap their heads around him. And I mean that literally. Like it or not, DT is going to be living in our heads for at least the next four years, so Americans, particularly those who did not vote for him, are going to have to find ways to allow him to exist in their consciousness without letting him destroy what’s left of their sanity.

For Democrats, the shock of DT winning—the sudden existential dread of his ascendance and coronation—is akin to the shock many people on the Republican side felt when Barack (Hussein!!!) Obama was elected. The pendulum has swung back, the shoe is on the other foot, and that about exhausts the metaphors for this kind of thing. But back in 2008, even Americans who couldn’t stomach a black man in office and who were repulsed by his politics could go to bed at night knowing that their president was an honest, decent, level-headed man who wasn’t likely to do anything super crazy.

No one has that luxury anymore.


As a writer, the thing I dreaded most about a possible DT presidency was having to think and write about the guy for the unforeseeable future. On the whole, I find DT to be a boring oaf who sucks up much more energy and attention than he deserves. He’s basically the Kim Kardashian of politics, a media succubus who feeds on public attention. Before November 8, he was easy to ignore. Now, everyone (even many of his supporters) must live with that niggling fear in the back of their heads, nascent but growing, that DT could someday—set off by an intern rolling her eyes, or an ayatollah who doesn’t like his haircut—end us all.

This state of generalized anxiety is caused by fear of the unknown, the biggest unknown being what DT might actually do as president. Right now, there is a tremendous effort to rationalize DT’s election by searching for the causes—racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry, unemployment, income inequality, political dysfunction, Hillary hatred, God's will, Satan’s revenge, etc.—that could possibly lead to such a disastrous effect. Furthermore, all the pundits and prognosticators who got it wrong the first time around are busy trying to find a silver lining in DT’s election, hoping against hope that DT the candidate will be different from DT the president. They are hoping that, faced with real problems in the real world, DT will stop bullshitting and start being reasonable. He is a businessman, after all; he’s practical, so maybe he will start doing practical, business-like things. They hope. Maybe he doesn’t mean what he says. They hope. Maybe he’ll surprise us all and turn out to be an okay president. They hope.

This is folly.

Throughout the election people begged DT to change his ways—to temper his language, education himself on policy issues, prepare for the debates, become more “presidential” etc.—and he ignored them. To think that DT will now somehow morph into a more responsible and thoughtful person out of respect for the office of president is pure fantasy. Thinking doesn’t get much more magical. It’s like asking a bird to be a fish. DT does not respect the office of the president, or anyone or anything. He only respects himself. He only listens to himself. He is solipsism incarnate. Ego personified. His mind is an echo chamber of self-affirmation. The worst part is, the affirmation DT is receiving from the world is precisely what DT tells himself: I am right, I am smarter than everyone else, and anyone who says otherwise is an ugly, idiotic loser.

The desire to look for that silver sheen rather than acknowledge the cloud for what it is—a dark, menacing harbinger of thunder and chaos—is understandable. But there are ways to look at the cloud, recognize the danger, and find shelter from the storm.


Many reasonable people befuddled by DT’s antics have tried to explain them with various forms of freshman psychology. He’s a bully who is a cowardly nub of a man underneath it all. He’s a man who lives large to compensate for smallness in other areas. He’s a man who didn’t get enough attention from his mommy as a kid. And it’s true, DT’s entire life looks like a monument to his super-sized ego, a gleaming tower of babble, spit-shined with the sweat and tears of others, for the sole purpose of reflecting his own perceived greatness back at him.

Thinking about DT using common psychological tropes is a mistake, however, because his true psychology is much more devious and dangerous.

Recently, while working on an unrelated project, I did a great deal of research on the behavior of narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths: what motivates them, how they see the world, what it’s like to live in their psyche, and most important, how they differ from the rest of the population. I am no expert on the subject, but it strikes me that understanding how sociopaths view the world may be a particularly useful lens through which to view the current American predicament.

Opinion varies on whether DT is a narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, megalomaniac, or some special blend of psychological disorders that has yet to be named. (For the rest of this article, DT will be referred to as a sociopath, even though he may very well be a full-blown psychopath. Some psychologists use these terms interchangeably, and some see distinctions, but all are part of a spectrum of personality disorders that are difficult to parse.) At least one clinical psychologist, George Simon, thinks DT is such a textbook example of various personality disorders that he uses videotape of DT to teach seminars in how sociopaths and psychopaths manipulate people. “Otherwise I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes,” he says. “He’s a dream come true.”

At the very least, DT is a textbook example of an abusive, narcissistic sociopath. The delusions of grandeur, the need for attention, the habitual lying, the callous disregard for other people’s feelings, the fragile ego beneath it all . . . look it up. The diagnosis fits like one of Ivanka’s gloves.

As it happens, however, sociopaths often do very well in a capitalistic society. Many of the most successful CEOs and lawyers in this country are clinical sociopaths, because these fields disproportionately reward people who are smart, aggressive, driven, and calculating, as well as those who don’t really care how their actions affect others. Some researchers have even suggested that sociopathy is an evolutionary adaptation to the conditions of modern existence, since the emotional detachment necessary for expedient decision-making can be a strategic advantage in human interactions, particularly if one party is trying to persuade, manipulate, or cheat the other one.

Sociopaths are not all bad, either. They can be smart, charming, and charismatic. When they are on their best behavior, they can be the life of the party. They often radiate a confident energy that other people find attractive, and talk about things that others find superficially interesting. In a recent New York Times article, Gail Collins recalled how DT had once objected to a column she wrote by sending her a copy of the piece on which he had written, “The face of a dog!” The next time she saw him was at a lunch meeting where “he told interesting jokes about how much money he got for product placements on his TV show.” For those who think DT is crazy, she reminded her readers that “if you met DT at a private social occasion, you would probably find him to be a fairly pleasant person.”

What she just described is a casual meeting with a sociopath.


The difference between sociopaths and actually pleasant people is that sociopaths have a dark hole in their psyche that is much deeper and emptier than most people can imagine. Yes, they can be charming, but they use their charm to disarm people, to convince them to let their critical guard down—to earn their trust. Why? Because it is much easier to manipulate and deceive someone who trusts you. What sociopaths do best is lie to your face, then stab you in the back. That’s their core skillset.

This characterization could apply to virtually every politician in the land, of course. And it does, to an extent, because a certain amount of sociopathy is necessary to thrive in the American political system. The difference is that DT not a normal politician, and his psychological makeup is several magnitudes more disturbing than anyone who has ever held the presidency. There is no template or precedent for DT. The person he most closely resembles is a Bond villain. He may not yet have a plan to take over the world (that would mean having a plan, after all), but in the next four years his bizarre psychology will be on full, spectacular display for all to see.

Trust me, things are about to get very weird. Mystifying decisions will be made. Odd alliances will surface. Mind-melting nonsense will flood the media. Reason, logic, and sanity will seem like quaint vestiges of a bygone era. Coherence and meaning will be as elusive as DT’s tax returns. The world will look like it is coming apart at the seams. Understanding how sociopaths think—why they do what they do, and why their behavior seems so strange and unsettling to the rest of us—may be an important key to surviving it all.


Let’s start by dispensing with the idea that DT will change once he’s in office.

It has been said a thousand times: DT is a liar, bigot, racist, misogynist, bully, and hate-monger who appeals to humanity’s basest impulses. To hope any of this this will change just because he’s been elected president is—well—that’s what normal people do when faced with the contradictions of an abusive sociopath. They hope the mean, horrible, unthinkable things he says and does aren’t the “real” him—and pray, against all evidence to the contrary, that the charming, charismatic surface character he portrays at the office and at dinner parties (or on television) is his truer self, and that somehow the better side of his nature will prevail.

This is how normal, decent, rational people get hoodwinked by these kinds of people. Sociopaths rely on regular people to believe that everyone is playing by the same rule book, and that they believe the same things you do. They are not, and do not. Sociopaths believe you are a dupe for believing them, and amuse themselves by trying to figure out how to take advantage of your gullibility. That’s the trick DT used to ascend to the highest office in the land, and it is the trick he will try to play with the rest of the world. And why not? DT has spent his entire privileged, entitled life taking advantage of people. Why? Because to a sociopath, that’s what people are for!

And guess what? It works.

The reason DT can hire contractors and architects to build his projects, then weasel out of paying them without losing a wink of sleep, is that he doesn’t care about the contractors or the architects as people. Their just pawns in his game, and if the game allows him to get away with not paying them—by suing them, or bullying them, or calling their work crap—that’s the smart play. The same goes for taxes; not paying them by using bankruptcy law to his own advantage is just a logical strategic move. Ethics and values are for saps. His treatment of women is no different. He walks in on naked beauty-pageant contestants because he can, and because the contestants aren’t people to him; they are just a collection of more-or-less fabulous body parts for him to ogle. Likewise, he will say anything about anybody, because he does not care—nor is he capable of caring—how hurtful his words might be. In fact, if hurting someone is necessary to gain a strategic advantage in a given situation, he will do it every time.

In DT’s mind, his willingness to hurt people, and their powerlessness to hurt him back, is a kind of superpower. Right now, what that means to DT’s lizard brain is that he is temporarily invulnerable. He won the election, after all, so people are duty-bound to respect him, or at least pretend to. Democracy has certain protocols for the so-called “peaceful transfer of power,” and he will take advantage of every one of them, because he is counting on the civilized world to act toward him as if he is a normal person who deserves the respect that comes with the highest office in the land. He is not, and has proven it over and over again a thousand times—but he is a sociopath, so he is counting on everyone else to give him the benefit of the doubt. And he knows they will, because he’s also a life-long abuser and a bully. He knows people are afraid of him, and he likes it that way, because it gives him power over them. As he moves into the White House and assumes genuine power—a privilege he will immediately begin abusing—he will remind everyone that hey, he won the election and Hillary didn’t, so it is your job, as a citizen, to let him exercise all that immense power. When the shit hits the fan, as it inevitably will, he will ask the American people to trust him—because, even though things may look bad, he has their best interests at heart. (This is what people want to hear, and he knows it, which is why he will say it, over and over again.) And when things get really bad, he will blame it all on someone else—Obama, Hillary, Democrats, Republicans, his cabinet, ISIS, Iranians, Putin, God, whoever—and insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he is the solution, not the problem.


If it’s any consolation, a good portion of the planet has the same problem we do: what (or how) to think about DT. To the rest of the world, he personifies all the worst traits of the infamous ugly American. He’s an arrogant, ignorant, vulgar, contemptuous philistine—and proud of it. In order to get around that, we need to find new ways of understanding the clusterfuck of chaos that is going to rain down on us, and new ways of talking about the strange and mystifying realities that are going to be competing for our attention in the coming years.

Take the idea of lying, for instance. It gets pointed out and proven and fact-checked over and over again that roughly eighty percent of everything that comes out of DT’s mouth is a lie. Calling what DT says a “lie” misses the point entirely, however. DT does not “lie” in the way normal people understand the term, because lying in that way implies that the liar knows “the truth,” but is choosing to say something else. This is not how DT’s mind works. In his mind, he does not “lie” in the conventional sense, because he does not subscribe to any form of truth other than his own. Other people can lie about him, of course, when they challenge his version of reality. But to DT, there is no such thing as a lie, there are only different ways to arrange words in order get the results he wants. He attaches no value to the words that come out of his mouth beyond how other people react to them, and if people react the way he wants them to, then he has chosen the right words. End of story. Whether other people consider what he says “true” or “false” is entirely irrelevant. To DT, people who are tying themselves up in knots trying to separate his facts from his fiction are dupes. They are morons chasing their tails in a value system he does not recognize—a value system which, in fact, he enjoys manipulating. DT loves nothing more than to accuse other people of lying about him, in what amounts to a perpetual game of “I’m rubber, your glue.” To him, it’s fun, because it frustrates people and puts them on the defensive. If someone accuses him, he accuses them back. If someone sues him, he sues them back. That’s what he does, and has been doing, his entire life. Any actual legal trouble he settles quietly, out of court, and life goes on. That’s the system, and he takes full advantage of it.   

DT uses normal people’s expectations of truth and honesty against them in a kind of moral sleight-of-hand. Think of it as a magician’s trick. Magicians create a distraction in one hand while they pull off the deception in the other. The distraction in DT’s case is the impossible tangle of lies and half-truths and absurdities that come out of his mouth. Bigger lies make for a better distraction. That’s why, when more than a dozen women come out of the woodwork accusing him of sexual assault, DT did not admit any wrongdoing (remember, in his mind he can do no wrong), he doubled-down on “the truth” and accused them all of lying. That they could all be lying is patently absurd, but that does not matter at the level DT is playing the game. While everyone in the world of normative values was busy trying to figure out how awful a sexual predator DT is (the distraction), he was busy casting himself on the campaign trail as a victim of political correctness run amok, reminding people that the country is under attack by radical Mexican-Muslim jihadi serial rape killers, and promising his minions that, if elected, he will give each of them a pickup truck full of rainbows and stardust.

And it worked. DT convinced half the people in this country to vote for him, and in America, fooling half the population enough. Many of the folks who voted for him may have thought things couldn’t get much worse for them, or that some change—any change—is better than no change at all. Well, they’re about to find out. Creative destruction is how capitalism refreshes itself, and how democracies transfer power without spilling blood. Err too far on the side of destruction, however, and all bets are off.

Thus far, all of DTs prevarications and bluster have been in service of his greater goal, to win the presidency. I submit to you, however, that the presidency is but a stepping stone to another, larger goal of which we are not yet aware. Normal people think of the presidency as a position of great power and responsibility. DT may think of it as neither. He may merely think of it as a business opportunity. Or as a joke (me, president?). Or as a way to exact revenge on everyone who has mocked him all these years. Or he may just do things to prove he can, because he’s president. Or he may get tired of it and resign. No one knows.

The big mistake is to believe that DT will ever change, that he will ever tell “the truth” as most of us understand the term, or that he will ever do anything, for any reason, that does not benefit him personally in some way, shape, or form. He won’t change, because he can’t change. This is the way his brain is wired, and the world’s reward system has declared him the “winner” time and time again, so why should he change?


There is a feeling the world over that America has jumped the shark by electing DT. It is absurd, and yet it is also true. It was “unthinkable” a week ago, yet it is now our reality. The surreal feeling many people have been experiencing since the election is the human mind trying to make sense of the non-sensical, of being forced to accept a truth that cannot possibly be true. The human mind needs explanations and reasons, cause and effect need to be connected. And so, now, the great normalization begins—the process of telling ourselves that the nation hasn’t gone nuts, that there must be a rational explanation for DT’s ascendance, that the insanity of the electorate is really (we hope) a sane reaction to the current insanity of American life.

In a couple of weeks, the idea of DT as president will have sunk in, and most of us will, out of necessity, find a way to accept it and try to move on. Soon, the idea of president DT will feel almost normal. Indeed, this normalizing of the abnormal has already begun.

Part of the normalizing of DT is the idea that because he is the president-elect, Americans must respect him and give him a chance—that we should all suspend our judgment of him for the time being, give him the benefit of the doubt, and see what happens. But it is possible to respect the office without respecting the man. And if you respect the office, you owe it to the country to subject everything DT says and does to intense and ruthless scrutiny, from Day One.

Suspending judgment of DT’s character and actions, even for a short while, is the sort of dangerous, wishy-washy, shoulder-shrugging complacence that will allow him—buffeted by majorities in both the House and Senate, a compliant Supreme Court, and the crippled state of contemporary journalism—to run the country into the ground (or up in smoke). If DT starts appointing people from the island of misfit politicians (Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior, for instance, Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State, or Rudy Giuliani for attorney general), that would be a clue to dust off your critical-thinking skills. His appointment of campaign-manager Steve Bannon—the addled brain behind the Trump fanboy site—as his "chief strategest," should be a fairly clear indication that every word coming out of the White House for the next four years will be even more shameless propaganda than usual.

(Note: The apparent mind-meld between DT and alt-right zealot Steve Bannon is frightening all on its own. If you’ve gotten this far, and still think I’m exaggerating the potential insanity of the Trump presidency, please, please, please at least watch this trailer for the latest film Steve Bannon produced and directed. It’s called Torchbearer, and stars Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson as a modern-day prophet lamenting the fall of mankind in the scariest possible way you can imagine. This, friends, is the man behind DT’s message. And the reason you don’t know about it is that the news sources you rely upon don’t (gasp!) take Duck Dynasty seriously.)

These are not difficult signs to see. Remember, the last time we elected a dim-witted Republican who doesn’t read and makes decisions with his gut, we got a trillion-dollar war and the world financial system almost collapsed. Republicans, too, should be worried, because DT isn’t really a Republican, he’s an independent blowhard who co-opted the Republican party and used it pretty much the way he uses everyone else.

Because that’s what sociopaths do. Let the psychodrama begin. 

In Defense of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces

On college campuses these days, there is much discussion about so-called “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” two concepts that seem bizarre and unnecessary to those of who went to college back in the late twentieth century. The idea that a professor should warn students about potentially disturbing or offensive aspects of a reading assignment seems ridiculous to many of us. What, and spoil the surprise? And the idea that there need to be “safe” spaces for marginalized students to gather and commiserate sounds suspicious. Why do marginalized students need a safe place to talk? What are they plotting that makes the rest of the campus so dangerous?

Because these ideas sound so nonsensical, many in my generation have taken to disparaging college students who support and promote them. The University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison famously sent a letter last fall to the class of 2020 informing incoming freshman that they were not going to get any warnings at the U of C. A “free exchange of ideas” is what students should expect at U of C, he told them, because open discussion and debate are part of what used to be called an “education.”

Institutions that support trigger warnings and safe spaces are now regularly ridiculed as places where students are being coddled. Perhaps people with such tender sensibilities shouldn’t be in college, the thinking goes, because college is a place where people have to change their own diapers. Treating college students like babies isn’t doing anyone any favors, they say, because, among other things, breast-feeding takes a great deal of time. Older academics feel it’s much better to treat students like the young adults they are. That way, teachers can expect their students to feed and clothe themselves, which leaves much more time for the sort of hugging and hand-holding young adults so desperately need.

Still, I think it’s unfair to sneer at students who want to be warned how a reading assignment might affect them. Who among us wouldn’t have appreciated a heads up the first time through “Goodnight Moon,” when it gets to the part about “the old lady who is whispering ‘hush.’”?

Wait a minute, who? Where did this woman come from? And why is she hushing me? I’m just sitting here, quiet as can be, listening to my dad read a book. How much quieter can I get? What gives her the right to hush me, anyway? She’s the one making all the noise.

And then that last line: “Goodnight noises everywhere.” What noises are they talking about? Who—or what!—is making those noises? Is it some sort of creature outside I need to worry about? Are we safe in this little house? Is going to sleep right now even a good idea, given the uncertainties involved? Maybe we should re-think this, dad? What are our priorities here—sleep, or survival?

Just speaking from personal experience, a simple trigger warning from my father could have saved me a great deal of anxiety in that situation. Something along the lines of, “Son, the story I’m going to read you involves a creepy old lady who welcomes bears and kittens and mice into her house. She’s going to hush you, but it’s okay, because after the story is over, the bears are going to eat her.”

That said, the real problem with trigger warnings in college isn’t that they’re silly, it’s that they don’t go far enough. In my first English class, for instance, I could have endured The Great Gatsby much less traumatically if I’d simply been told that the book contains characters whose wealth and behavior is so far removed from anything in my own experience that they will seem like alien creatures from a very weird and wordy planet where they name cities after eggs. And I would have been eternally grateful if someone—anyone—had warned me before diving into Great Expectations that the title is ironic, and that four-hundred pages in my mind would seize, my eyes would bleed, and I would slowly lose the will to live.  

Trigger warnings could come in handy later in life as well. Wouldn’t it have been great, for instance, if every investment I made came with a warning? Something like: “Dear Investor: Shares in Tricor stock are likely to disappoint you by under-performing predictions by a wide margin. The CEO is a crook, after all—so, even though the stock looks like a sure bet, it's going to make you cry and beat your fists, then it's going to make you question everything, in particular the special ‘plan’ your own personal god has for you.”

Likewise, when I dated Gwen Sheffield for six months after a troubling run of involuntary celibacy, I could have used a simple heads-up: “Hey, this chick is crazy. She will eat your soul.”

And for young people entering the job market, what could be more useful than a helpful preview of the job to which they are applying?

Something like: “Dear potential employee: This job looks great on paper, but it is going to be a boring slog with no hope of a promotion or raise, and it is going to force you to compromise every value you have, so that by the time you leave you will be a thin shell of your former self, hollow and weak, unable to remember why you ever applied for the job in the first place.”

In my life, other trigger warnings could have come in handy as well:

Warning: The kid your wife is about to birth is going to rob you of sleep, infect you with germs, deprive you of sex for the rest of your life, and eventually bankrupt you.”

Warning: In that vacation cabin you rented there’s going to be a rat in the toilet, and you won’t see it until it’s too late.

Warning: There’s a serious crack in the foundation of your new house that the inspector missed.

Warning: Buy the Mazda, not the Nissan!

In fact, there are so many ways my life would have been better if I’d just had a simple warning about what to expect in the sea of uncertainty ahead. Likewise, my life would be much more pleasant if people weren't constantly arguing with me. Having one’s ideas challenged all the time is exhausting.  Honestly, wouldn’t it be great to go through life secure in your own ideological bubble, never having to defend yourself to anyone? In that sort of environment, one could believe anything—the idea that trickle-down economics works, for instance, or that wealthy people desperately want to create more jobs in this country; all they need is more money.

And oh my god, how many millions of heart attacks and ulcers could have been prevented if someone had just had the courtesy to tell Cubs fans the world over: “Don’t worry, the Cubs will eventually win the World Series, even though it may not seem possible until the very last out in Game 7.”

So no, I don’t think trigger warnings and safe spaces are necessarily a bad idea. In fact, I think they are a fantastic idea that should no longer be confined to college campuses. For the sake of humanity, they should be implemented everywhere, for every occasion.

I am terrified of what might happen on Tuesday, Nov. 8, for instance.

Please, someone, tell me it’s going to be okay.

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize is Just So, So Wrong

Feelings are mixed about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. The world is full of people who are applauding the Swedish academy’s decision to give its award to a musician instead of a novelist, poet, or essayist. Dylan was a fantastic choice, the thinking goes, because he’s a craggy-faced, frog-throated icon of American pop culture who doesn’t have enough awards and deserves way more recognition than he gets. A Nobel for Dylan? Why not. Nothing else in the world makes sense, either—so yes, it’s a perfect choice.

Then there’s me. I’ll come right out and say it: No, I don’t think Bob Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here’s why:

For one thing, the decision runs counter to the Swedish academy’s grand tradition of giving its award to writers from parts of the world that most Americans don’t even know exist, and who write in languages that use an entirely different alphabet. Conspicuous obscurity is an important hallmark of literature’s top prize, one that should not be dispensed with so cavalierly. As everyone knows, when the Nobel prize is announced, you’re supposed to think, “Who?,” not “WTF?”

Last year’s pick, Belarus journalist Svetlana Alexievich, was a perfect choice. By choosing Alexievich, a writer few people in America have ever heard of, let alone read, the academy maintained a firm grip on its own intellectual superiority while simultaneously thumbing its nose at American culture—two important prerequisites for a respectable Nobel choice.

By choosing Bob Dylan, however, the academy essentially destroyed its hard-won credibility by giving the award to someone every American knows, and who writes mostly in English (though he often sings in his own strange language). Not only does the nod to Dylan render some aspects of American culture marginally respectable (a big no-no in Nobel circles), it revealed for all the world to see that the Swedish academy is no longer comprised entirely of contemptuous cultural snobs who hate America. On the contrary, the Nobel committee’s dalliance with Dylan suggests that not only has its legendary disdain for American culture dissipated, the turgid gravity of its purpose has been replaced by a quirkily impish sense of humor.  

The decision process seems to have gone something like this:

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we gave it to Bob Dylan?”

“Why yes it would, old chap.”

“Shake things up a bit, it would.”

“No one would expect it.”

“Time to throw the Yanks a bone?”

“No one reads literature anymore anyway. What's the point of giving it to a novelist?”

“Lets do it, then. All in favor, say ‘ay.’”

(Laughter all around.)

This sort of frivolity is unacceptable for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Nobel is supposed to go to serious writers—gloomy thinkers who grapple with society’s demons and wrestle with the big questions in large, heavy, impenetrable tomes that only a few brave souls can endure. Anyone can listen to a song. And a CD is only about three millimeters thick. This fact alone cheapens the Nobel prize immeasurably, reducing it to a populist thumbs-up for a man half the world already thinks of as the poet-prophet of his generation. What does giving Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize do for anyone except put a huge stamp of approval on a guy almost everyone already approves of? The insecurity is shocking. It’s almost as if the Nobel committee wants Americans to like them.

Now, the question is: If the organization that hands out the Nobel prize can’t take itself seriously, how can anyone else? Clearly, the committee’s standards for “serious” literature have slipped, and its failure to understand the consequences of its actions is nothing short of alarming.

One unfortunate by-product I’m sure the committee did not take into account is the numbing effect of so many headline puns saturating the world’s media all at once.

“Knockin’ on history’s door: Bob Dylan wins the Nobel.”

“The times they are a changin’: a songwriter wins the Nobel.”

“The man from north country wins a Nobel.”

“It’s no jokerman: Dylan wins the Nobel.

“Blood on the stacks: Dylan won the Nobel?”

It’s all too much. Headline writers are simple folk, and they cannot resist a pun, especially an obvious one. To unleash such a wave of wanton wordplay on the unsuspecting public—with no warning or precedent to soften the blow—well, it’s just cruel. And unnecessary. If they’d just given the thing to Kenyan playwright Ngugi wa Thiong’o, none of this would have happened.

Many people are happy Dylan won, of course, because it means that architects might be able to win an Academy Award now, and dentists might be able to win a Grammy. If a musician can win a prize for literature, after all, what’s to prevent a welder from winning the Pillsbury Bake-off? Others like the fact that Dylan is not a writer, per se, which makes this year’s selection a lot less boring. Oh, and there’s the added benefit of not actually having to read anything Dylan has ever written; all you have to do is listen to his songs. The songs are better when someone else is playing them, of course, but that’s okay, because this is an award for literature, not musicianship.

Of course, what the pro-Dylan-Nobel camp doesn’t realize is that something more sinister may be going on here as well. It is possible that the Swedish academy hates American writers so much that it decided to send an intellectually devastating message—by snubbing all the actual American writers on its short list (Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, John Ashbery) and giving its prize to, snort, a songwriter. I mean, if you were the sort of person who really, really, really hated American writing, and were so obsessed with your own literary loathing that you couldn’t resist an opportunity to piss American writers off for an entire generation, giving the Nobel prize to Bob Dylan makes a crazy kind of sense. Now the Swedish academy doesn’t have to consider another American writer for another thirty years or so, and by then Kanye West will be Jesus, so the choice will once again be an easy one.  

So no, I don’t think Bob Dylan should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I recognize his name, I can understand what he’s saying most of the time, and I can even play some of his literature on the guitar. Those are all disqualifications in my book. If I could strum a few bars of D.H. Lawrence, I might feel differently, but I can’t. On the other hand, I have found that playing the harmonica while reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch does help pass the time.

Maybe the Nobel committee knows more about the state of world literature than it’s letting on.

Trigger Warning: What a Trump Presidency Might Look Like

Washington D.C.—President Trump announced today that Mexico has agreed to build “the most spectacular wall the world has ever seen” along the U.S.-Mexican border, making good on a campaign promise that many thought was ridiculous in the extreme.

Not only has president Trump convinced Mexico to pay for the wall, as he said he would, he has persuaded our neighbors to the south—which he wants to re-name “Trumpxico”— to build the wall twice as high as originally planned, and to plate the entire thing in solid gold, with a giant “T” engraved every fifty feet on each side.

“He threatened to invade Mexico and turn it into a golf course, so we had no choice but to build a wall,” said Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto of president Trump’s brilliant “bully”-pulpit diplomacy. “He’s crazy, and he just might do it, so a few billion dollars seems like a small price to pay.”

After the wall is built, president Trump’s highly anticipated jobs program will kick in. Since everyone with skin darker than a pancake has been either deported or jailed, Trump’s plan is to issue a lawnmower and some pruning shears to every teenage boy in America, and put them to work running a lawn service. “When they turn eighteen, they can become roofers,” Trump explained, “or maybe open a restaurant.”

In other Trump news, the president has issued an executive order requiring that all news in the United States be about him, and only him. Explaining his decision, president Trump said, “Ninety percent of the news is already about me, so why not just get rid of the stuff people don’t want to read and make it all about me? Makes sense, right?”

Mr. Trump’s first action as president was to shut down the New York Times and the Washington Post, completing his pledge to transform America into a “paperless” society. “It’s good for the environment, and it’s good for me,” president Trump declared. If anyone tries to defy him by writing something “boring and pointless” about foreign policy, arts and culture, sports, or financial dealings that don’t involve him, Trump has said he will simply “turn the Internet off.”

“It’ll be fun,” Trump tweeted yesterday about his threat to shut down the Internet. “We’ll see how long people like living in a Trump-less world. Not long, I’m guessing.”

In the Middle East, president Trump’s recent nuclear attack on Iran is now in the cleanup phase, after which the country will be turned into a giant parking lot. “America has a huge parking problem,” Trump said before he pushed the nuclear button. Then, afterwards, “Problem solved.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s plans to invade the Middle East, Africa, Japan, Australia, the Koreas, Europe, and South America continue apace. Trump explained his military strategy to reporters this way: “Face it, the problem with the world is that there are too many countries. It’s confusing. Let’s cut it down to three: Us, China, and Russia.” Alliances with China and Russia are necessary to take over the world, Trump’s advisers admit, but they also offered reassurances that Trump plans to double-cross the remaining two superpowers in the end and “run the board.”

Back at home, the U.S. Senate voted 48-2 to pass president Trump’s proposed legislation providing a free boob job to any woman in America who wants one. In a press release explaining the rationale behind the bill, president Trump said, “All women want bigger, firmer boobs. All men want women to have bigger, firmer boobs. It’s a win-win. Big boobs make everybody happier. That’s a fact.”

The only dissenters in the Senate vote were Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both of whom said, “We like our boobs just the way they are.”

To which Trump replied, “You’re the only ones, trust me.”

Later, Trump’s daily 5. a.m. tweet read, “Liz could be president if she were a C cup. Too bad it’s never gonna happen.” Sen. Warren immediately tweeted back, “My breasts are a lot firmer than your grasp of foreign policy.” To which Trump responded, “There she goes again, talking about her breasts. Does this woman have no shame?”

Next week, Congress will consider president Trump’s proposal to enlarge the Washington monument three-fold and re-name it Trump’s Other Tower. “I can see it from my window, and it’s way too small,” Trump has explained. “It needs to be a lot bigger. Much, much bigger. Who can respect a monument that small?”

When the monument re-opens, Trump says he will grant free admission to women who are a “6” or above. “That means, to see my monument, Lizzy Warren is going to have to pay,” he explained.

“His stupidity is, gee, let’s pick a word . . . how about monumental?” Warren snarked when she was informed of the attraction’s peculiar admissions policy.

“Damn right it is,” Trump tweeted, “just like everything else about me.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton continues to appeal her incarceration at Guantanamo Bay. She is serving a 300-year sentence for “trying to destroy everything,” and is only allowed to eat Trump steaks on plates from the recently shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino.

We Should All Be Afraid of What Donald Trump Gets Right


Most of the Tuesday-morning quarterbacks for last night’s debate have declared Hillary Clinton the “winner” because, you know, she spoke in complete sentences that seemed to flow logically from one to the next, and she outlined her actual (as opposed to imaginary) plans and ideas for improving the country, beating back ISIS, and preventing homegrown anarchists from looking up “how to make a bomb” on the internet.

And, except for right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, which charged moderator Lester Holt with bias for saying the word “birther” but not “Benghazi,” Trump has been dutifully savaged by the pundit-industrial complex for being a foreign-policy idiot, lying about everything, talking gibberish about everything else, interrupting, pouting, sniffling, and generally behaving like a sixth-grade boy bullshitting his way through an interrogation by his parents.

Many folks left of Vlad the Impaler think anyone who votes for Donald Trump is, by definition, an idiot. What very few people give Donald Trump credit for is that he is right about a number of crucial things about America and American life (there’s a reason he’s up there), and he is dangerously close to tapping into a volcanic undercurrent of despair and resentment that could blow this whole democracy thing sky high.

What Donald Trump understands and gets absolutely right is that millions of people in America are so angry they can’t think straight. Furthermore they don’t want to, because thinking “straight”—that is, playing by the rules they were taught, that working hard and being a good person is all you need to do to have a decent life in this country—is what landed them in their current mess in the first place. They don’t care that Donald Trump doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, they prefer his brand of blatant ignorance to the pretense, by Hillary and her ilk, that they do have an answer for everything. If you’re so smart, they wonder, why is my life swirling down the shitter? If your answers are so great, why does life outside my window look so goddamn miserable?

Trump understands that, for millions of people, Hillary Clinton does indeed represent the status quo—that nefarious force that has disenfranchised millions and can be blamed for pretty much everything, because it doesn’t really mean anything. The “status quo” is simply what is and has been, and criticizing it for not being “better” is the easiest thing in the world. It’s also Hillary’s biggest weakness. Because while she can argue that things could be a lot worse under a Trump presidency, and might have been worse if she weren’t part of the power structure, she cannot argue that things are better than they are to people who wake up in the morning wondering how things could get much worse.

If you lost your job because it got outsourced to Singapore, and your kids need clothes and food but you have no money, you are not an idiot for wanting to blame someone, somewhere for your troubles. You are not an idiot for thinking that you don’t have time to “re-train” yourself for another career. And you are not an idiot for recognizing that what you really, truly need is another job—now—because, you know, rent is due at the first of every month.

Trump also is correct when he says that America is a nation in decline in many areas. Our airports and infrastructure are, in some cases, worse than those in third-world countries. More than a dozen African countries have faster average internet speeds than those in the U.S., as do most other industrialized countries. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. Our mass transit is laughable compared to many European countries. Our infant mortality rate is higher than 27 other industrialized nations, including Cuba, despite our having the highest healthcare costs in the world. Raising children in America is an exercise in anxiety and exhaustion. The cost of going to college has reached the point of insanity. It is now almost impossible for most Americans to save enough money to retire. Rates of depression and suicide have never been higher. We are no longer the most educated country in the world, and, for good or ill, we no longer lead the world the way we used to. One huge reason: Our national politics is, in Trump's favorite word, a "disaster."

So there is a lot wrong with the American picture. And to many, Trump’s promises to “fix it,” however hollow, sound better than Hillary Clinton’s assurances that she won’t fix it very fast or very dramatically.

Hillary is arguing for gradual change in a complex world. But many Americans don’t feel like they can wait for that kind of change, and plenty can’t stand the “new normal” of the 21st-century economy. They are against Hillary precisely because she represents calm, cautious, reasonable progress—not the sort of decisive, “let’s fix this” attitude of Donald Trump, which, though it is little more than an empty posture, is a sentiment that aligns perfectly with the emotional frustration of millions in America who feel powerless to change anything themselves, and who suspect they are being held hostage by a dark cadre of do-nothing bureaucrats, politicians, and plutocrats who have rigged the system in their favor. This also happens to be the truth (none other than Jimmy Carter has stated that we no longer live in a democracy, we live in a plutocracy), and no amount of reasonable, stay-the-course progressivism will satisfy those who feel as if they’re good-faith efforts to achieve the American Dream have left them completely and utterly screwed.

The problem with Donald Trump is he gets so much so wrong that it’s impossible to take him seriously. Besides, he is such an improbable spokesman for the frustrations of the common man that the message tends to gets lost somewhere between his narcissistic gibberish and his claim that he started out in business with a “small” $14 million loan from his father. On the left, Bernie Sanders appealed to precisely the same emotions—frustration, powerlessness, betrayal—and was much more articulate, but running as a socialist curmudgeon in America has never been a winning strategy. So what are we left with this year?

Trump vs. Clinton: The Battle to the Bottom

Many people are afraid of what might happen if Donald Trump is elected. But Trump is not the problem. The problem is what and who Trump represents. What America’s ruling class should be afraid of is the rising tide of distrust and growing hatred for America’s government and institutions, which are the foundation of any functioning democracy. They should also be afraid of what might happen if, after four or eight years of stasis with Hillary Clinton as president, a smarter, smoother, savvier demagogue comes along with a much more precise and accurate critique of America’s leadership, who promises the same sort of emotionally satisfying upheaval of the “system” advocated by Donald Trump—but who can speak in complete sentences, is a likeable person, can hold his own in a debate, and seems like a reasonable alternative to the status quo, but isn’t. Not by a long shot. Think of a Marco Rubio who can tell a joke, or (though it’s admittedly hard to imagine) Ted Cruz in a sheep’s clothing of folksy rural charm and good-natured optimism, a man who feels the people’s pain so deeply he can summon tears on command. Someone like, say, Frank Underwood in House of Cards—a psychopath who pretends to mean well but is driven by one thing and one thing only: power, by any means necessary.

America is ripe for this kind of takeover, and the fact that Donald Trump (!!!) is as close to the presidency as he is should be ample and terrifying proof that such a thing is possible. Many Americans currently seek solace in the idea that when they actually reach the voting booth, democracy will eventually triumph and eradicate the noxious weed that is Trump. Surely, in the end, people will come to their senses and choose Hillary, even if they have to hold their nose to do so. . Choosing between the lesser of two evils is what most elections are about anyway, they think, and Hillary is the clear choice here. Obviously.

Unless of course you believe that the true evil is establishment politicians, governmental incompetence and corruption, corporate robber barons, Wall Street insiders, a weak military, job-stealing immigrants, lousy trade deals, and anyone who reads the New York Times more than once a week—in which case the choice is equally obvious.

And it isn’t Hillary.

Exclusive: A Guided Tour of Donald Trump's Brain

The phone rang at 3 a.m. and Donald Trump was restless. He did not like what people were saying about him, and he’d somehow gotten locked out of his Twitter account, so he was calling me for ideas about how to make people love him even more than they already do.

“I hear you can make yourself real small and get inside people’s heads,” he said in that familiar Queens-ian drawl.

“Yes, I can,” I replied.

“I want you to do that for me,” he said. “You know, get inside my head and tell people about the real me.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” I said.

“Sure it is,” he insisted. “People who know me, love me. They can’t help it. I’m the most loveable person in the world. The smartest, too. My brain is a monument to genius and love. We could turn it into a national park, charge admission, and make billions.”

“Okay,” I sighed. “But a complete brain tour will cost you $50,000.”

“Make it $100,000,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I did this on the cheap.”

“Make it $200,000 then,” I said, “so I can still have some dignity left when I’m done.”

“It’s a deal,” he said.

Five minutes later, there was a knock on my door and Donald Trump was standing there, in blue silk pajamas, holding a martini and a large bag of cash.

“Let’s do this,” he said.

I invited him in and told him to sit on the couch. “I like to enter through the right ear canal,” I explained, and handed him a q-tip. “If you could get in there and clean things out a little with this before we get started, I’d appreciate it.”

The Donald rolled his eyes, but did as he was told. He inserted the q-tip into his right ear and wiggled it around, then jabbed it in and out a few times to impress me with his thoroughness. He handed the q-tip back to me; the tip was covered with a thick, orange-ish goo.

“That’s real gold,” he said. “I’d keep that and sell it on eBay if I were you.”

I thanked him, and explained the details of the procedure: Using my extraordinary willpower, I would shrink myself to the size of a poppy seed and enter his brain through his right ear canal. He might feel a little tickling sensation at first, I explained, but once I was inside his head he wouldn’t feel anything at all. I like to spend at least two or three hours inside, I told him, and make a point of exploring all five major regions of the brain in order to get the full measure of a person. I usually spend more time in the frontal cortex, because that’s where human reason resides, as well as the regions for planning, problem-solving, and speech—but with him, I surmised, that may not be necessary.

“Great, let’s get started,” he said while he peeled back the carefully coiffed curtain of hair that hid his right ear. I closed my eyes, concentrated, shrunk myself, then hopped on his shoulder and up to the ledge of flesh at the opening of Donald Trump’s tremendous ear. He then closed the flap of hair on the side of his head and locked it in place. A comforting flaxen glow shown through the strands, which looked like bits of luminescent straw or long golden noodles lit from within.

As I stood there, preparing myself for the descent down his ear canal and into his brain, I felt my own self-esteem swell. I am the only person in the world Donald Trump trusts to give the American people a guided tour of his remarkable brain, I thought to myself—I must be pretty darn special. Then another, less charitable thought: People will probably think I’m making this up, that I didn’t actually crawl inside Donald Trump’s head and walk around. But as soon as that thought entered my mind, a warm breeze ruffled my own hair and a voice from deep inside The Donald’s ear canal boomed: “It doesn’t matter. People are stupid. They’ll believe anything you tell them.”

An overwhelming sense of certainty suddenly washed over me, rinsing my mind of doubt and fear. I flicked on my flashlight, then took a deep breath and began the long, dark descent into Donald Trump’s temporal lobe, where a normal person’s hearing and listening are processed. At the entrance to The Donald’s t-lobe, there was a door marked “Keep Closed.” The door was stuck, as if it hadn’t been opened in years. I jiggled the knob and pushed hard, but the door wouldn’t budge. I threw my shoulder into it a couple of times, and it finally gave way on the third heave. As soon as I made it through the door, it slammed shut behind me and I was suddenly enveloped in a thick, eerie silence.

In most people, the temporal lobe is where meaning is extracted from the sounds and noise and general cacophony of the world around us. And, having toured many a celebrity’s brain, I can tell you that it’s usually a madhouse in there, especially if the subject happens to live in New York: honking, screaming, shouting, construction, wind, talking, whining, crying—it all reverberates around and echoes around so loudly that I usually have to wear earplugs myself, especially if the person knows Beyoncé. But there was no noise whatsoever in Donald Trump’s temporal lobe; even his breathing and heartbeat were filtered out somehow, stranding me in a cone of perfect silence.

It was really quite peaceful, until it got creepy. There should be noise in here, I kept reminding myself—but there isn’t. How can that be? Maybe he’s deaf in his right ear, I thought. That would explain it. But then I shone my flashlight around and realized that the beam of the flashlight seemed to disappear, as if I were pointing it out into space. I clapped my hands together, but they didn’t make any noise. I started reciting the Declaration of Independence from memory, but could not hear myself speak. No words came out of my mouth, even though I knew perfectly well that I was talking. I then realized what was happening: I was standing in the middle of a tiny black hole, one that sucked up all outside sound and neutralized it, rendering it irrelevant and meaningless. The only other place I have encountered this phenomenon was inside Kanye West’s head, and the mere thought of it made me shudder.

Onward, I thought, it’s not safe in here.

Not knowing which direction to go, I walked downhill in the hope that I’d eventually reach Trump’s cerebellum, where physical coordination is managed and, I guessed, that fabulous golf swing of his would reside. After what seemed like miles, I reached a building that looked like the entrance to a country club. I informed the doorman that I was there to admire Donald Trump’s golf swing, which can allegedly launch a golf ball 280 yards, only a fraction less than Tiger Woods when his back is healthy.

I strolled out to the first tee, which looked out over a lush carpet of green, gorgeous grass. The fairway extended straight ahead and slightly downhill, and was bordered on either side by a forest of tall pines and majestic oaks. I watched as, in The Donald’s mind, he teed up a ball, lined up his shot, addressed the ball, waggled his club, and swung. The ball sliced off into the trees to the right. “Mulligan,” he said, and teed up another ball. This one hooked into the woods to the left. “I’m going to hit another one,” he said. This time the ball went more-or-less straight, and, as gravity began to pull his ball back to earth, The Donald held his finish and admired his handiwork.

Trump seemed proud of his drive, but my range meter indicated that his ball had only traveled 210 yards; 220 at the most. I was about to inform him of this unfortunate fact when he whistled and exclaimed, “A hole in one! How about that?”

“That’s impossible,” I said. “This is a 520-yard par five.”

“Well it just happened,” he said. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

“Your drive only went 210 yards,” I said. “By my calculations, you should have at least another 300 yards to the hole.”

He sneered at me like I was an idiot. “First, that was a 300-yard drive at least. Second, it hasn’t rained in a while, so these fairways have a lot of roll.”

“200 yards-worth?”

“I hit it pretty hard,” he said.

“Not that hard,” I protested.

“You don’t believe me, let’s walk up to the green. I guarantee you’re going to find a Trump Pro-V1 in the cup.”

To humor him, we walked down the fairway and up to the green. “Go ahead,” he said. “Look in the hole.”

I peered down into the cup, but there was no ball, and I told him so. He squeezed his hand into a fist and cussed. “It’s those damn Mexicans,” he spat. “They steal everything.”

“I don’t see any Mexicans,” I said.

“Believe me, they’re everywhere. The proof is right here,” he said, pointing at the hole. “There should be a golf ball there, and there isn’t.”

“Maybe you didn’t hit a hole in one,” I ventured.

“And maybe you’re a candy-assed piffle-tosser who lives in his mommie’s basement,” Trump hissed. “Let’s move on. The next hole is a Par 3. I hit a hole-in-one there pretty much every time.”

I wished him luck, but explained that I had to keep moving. I searched the rest of his cerebellum in vain for any other physical skills The Donald might have, but found none. Already behind schedule, I decided to high-tail it to his occipital lobe and check out his vision. Donald Trump doesn’t wear glasses, or even contacts as far as I knew, so I expected that his vision would be pretty good. Many people who don’t read books have excellent eyesight well into their seventies, due to a lifetime of relatively mild eyestrain. However, nothing in my experience prepared me for what I witnessed at the end of Trump’s occipital pathway.

The parts of his brain I’d visited thus far were either dark or naturally lit, but I could see from a good distance away that The Donald’s occipital lobe was lit with a bright, white light so intense that it appeared to be leaking into other regions of his brain. The closer I got, the brighter this part of his brain became. I didn’t bring sunglasses, so I wasn’t even sure I could enter the lobe itself, because it felt as if some sort of self-generating power source was in there, burning so hot and white that standing too close to it might, I feared, be dangerous.

Once inside, however, there turned out to be much more light than heat. It took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust, but when they did, I was astonished by what I saw. The glare was coming from thousands of round, frosted light bulbs, the kind actors use in their dressing rooms. Likewise, his entire occipital lobe was lined with mirrors, all arranged in a giant semi-circle and aimed at a single spot in the middle. Floating in mid-air at that the very center was a giant, disembodied, holographic version of Donald Trump’s head. The familiar golden comb-over, the chemically darkened skin, the squinty eyes and misshapen lips—it was all there, in three dimensions, but it was so transparent that you could see right through it. The head hovered and slowly turned, peering at itself in each mirror as it revolved. Reflected in all those mirrors, there seemed to be hundreds of heads, then hundreds more beyond that, stretching into infinity.

As I watched, the head at the center smiled at its reflection and winked at itself a few times. Then it did something as extraordinary as it was frightening: It puckered its lips in a circle, making its mouth look like a giant anus, and tried to kiss itself! The closer the head’s lips got to the mirror in front of it, the larger the lips looked in all the other mirrors. As his giant butthole lips got closer, and the reflections got larger, it felt as if I was either going to be sucked up into his mouth like a spaghetti noodle, or shot out the other end like whatever he had to eat that day.

Thankfully, the terror retreated as quickly as it came. The head kissed itself, winked, and nodded a few times to indicate that it approved of itself, then returned to the middle and continued rotating. When the back of its head was facing me, I took the opportunity to escape Trump’s occipital lobe and head over to his parietal lobe, where things like touch, taste, and body awareness are stored.

A lot of shame is what you find in most people’s parietal lobes, especially celebrities who are hyper-critical of their own looks. While everyone else is admiring them, they see only flaws and blemishes. The Donald did not have that problem. In many respects, his parietal lobe looked like the room of a hyper-sexual teenager. Posters of every Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and Miss Universe contestant for the past twenty years hung on the walls, along with Playboy playmates, Penthouse models, and several images from a much raunchier publication featuring unmentionable intimacies with animals, vegetables, and what one of the headlines termed “pleasures of the self.”

Interspersed among these posters was a curious collection of photographs that appeared to feature Donald Trump’s head photo-shopped onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body. As for the sense of touch, it was represented by a wall covered with various shapes and blobs that I couldn’t make out at first. When I stepped closer, however, I realized that the blobs and bubbles on the wall were all female breasts and buttocks in various sizes and shapes, most of them firm and toned, save for an occasional slab of saggy flesh hidden with a paper bag. Taste is another feature of the parietal lobe. I searched everywhere for it, but ultimately had to conclude that Donald Trump doesn’t have any.

The only region left on Trump’s brain tour was the frontal lobe, where most of a human being’s complex thought processes take place: concentration, problem-solving, planning, reason, etc. Speech is also a function of the frontal lobe, and because so much goes on here, the typical frontal lobe is a jungle-like tangle of synapses and neurotransmitters all feverishly firing messages back and forth in a desperate attempt to coordinate a person’s thoughts and actions.

Traversing the frontal lobe can be difficult because it is so densely packed with neurons, which is why I usually tackle it last.

When I entered The Donald’s frontal lobe, however, I thought for a moment I had taken a wrong turn and had landed in some other, less vital part of his brain—one of the boring sections that governs unconscious things like heart rate and breathing. Where other people have dense clusters of synapses, The Donald had airy wisps of brain tissue that looked like spider webs—flimsy, gossamer threads of synaptic silk that offered no more resistance to the sweep of my hand than a cloud of steam. Parts of the frontal lobe that usually spark and flicker like fireworks were, in The Donald’s brain, strangely dark. And parts that are typically packed with an accumulated lifetime of information and experience appeared to stop somewhere around the age of seven.

The planning and problem-solving parts of the frontal lobe are where I usually find out a lot about the person whose brain I am exploring. This area of The Donald’s brain was a complete mess, however—piles of old National Enquirers stacked everywhere, paperwork from various lawsuits strewn all over the place, piles of discarded golf clubs, stacks of old casino chips, a bucket of tiny American flags; it looked like my neighbor’s garage. I couldn’t make any sense of it, because there didn’t seem to be any order to the chaos. That’s not entirely unusual, though. A lot of artist’s brains look like that; the meaning and order come when they try to express themselves. I thought this might be true for The Donald too, so I hunted through the detritus in search of the part of his brain that governs speech. It’s usually located very close to the part of the lobe that executes planning and concentration, but try as I might, I couldn’t find it. It took a while, but I finally found his speech center way on the other side of his frontal lobe, near the smell section, entirely disconnected from almost all of his brain’s cognitive functions!

This is extraordinary, because it means Donald Trump may actually think with his nose. If this is the case, and all of his cognitive functions are packed into his nasal cavity, it’s possible that when Donald Trump smells something funny—the aroma of burnt toast, say, or the scent of Barack Obama’s birth certificate—he may overreact so completely that he convinces himself it’s something much more serious, like the apocalypse. And if his nose and mouth are so closely connected, that would explain why his lips move so strangely when he speaks, and why the words themselves don’t make much sense.

I didn’t notice the other thing in this area of his brain until I heard a rustle and turned around to see what was making the noise. It was hard to see, but hidden in a dark corner, in a large metal cage, was a huge, greenish lizard of some sort. The beast was at least three feet long, with a forked tongue that flitted in and out of its mouth as if it were hunting for its next meal. This is amazing, I thought. In most people, the term “lizard brain” is a euphemism, a shorthand reference to a person’s primal evolutionary defenses, particularly the “fight or flight” mechanism that kicks in when a creature senses it’s in mortal danger. But in Donald Trump’s case, his lizard brain is apparently a literal lizard—and a big, nasty-looking one at that.

Cautiously, I stepped closer to the lizard to get a better look. As I approached, it snapped its head forward and ate something in a convulsive gulp. I bent down to see what sort of food it was eating, and was horrified to see that it was being fed a strange type of mealworm with the body of a bug and the head of—Hillary Clinton!

I’d seen enough. As I exited Donald Trump’s brain and returned to my normal size, I felt disoriented and dizzy, but I also found myself feeling sorry for the man. I wondered what it must be like for his body to navigate its way through this world attached to that head—a head so oddly and mysteriously constructed that it bears almost no resemblance to any human mind I have ever seen, before or since. He must be very lonely, I concluded, because trying to make someone else understand what I just saw—much less admire and love it—must be very difficult for him. I felt fortunate that he had let me inside, but it is also my responsibility to report to the world what I saw in there, and that burden lay heavy on me as I gathered myself to share my findings with him and take my cash.

The Donald was in my kitchen, watching his assistant make him a sandwich, when he saw me emerge from his ear.

“Back already?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I couldn’t take much more.”

“Pretty amazing in there, huh?” he said.

“You might say that.”

“I envy you, you know,” he said, grabbing the sandwich and taking a bite. “I wish I could walk around inside my own mind. I mean, I’m the most fascinating person in the world, and one of the richest, but the one thing I can’t do is walk around inside my own head the way you just did. You’re one lucky motherfucker.”

“Yes, I guess so.”

He swallowed and took a swig of orange juice. “Better than Disneyland in there, isn’t it?”

“It was a wild ride, yes,” I said.

“I can’t wait to read about me,” he said. “But more important, I can’t wait for other people to read about me. They’re gonna fuckin’ love me. You love me now, right? Of course you do. You can’t help it. Because I’m the most loveable guy in the world.”

The Donald took a final gulp of orange juice. “Gotta go,” he said. “Got a campaign to run.”

He left as quickly as he’d arrived.

After I shut the door behind him, I figured I should count the cash to make sure he didn’t short me. I searched everywhere in my living room and kitchen for the bag of cash, however, but couldn’t find it. Sonofabitch, I thought—he took it with him.

Furious, I took of the q-tip out of my pocket and wondered how much I could get for the thing on eBay. But then I thought better of it. Nobody would believe actual gold came out of Donald Trump’s ear, I thought. People aren’t that stupid. They’d see it for what it was: a cue tip with some earwax on it.

But then I figured what the hell, and posted it on eBay anyway. Five minutes later, a bid for $1,000,000 came in, and I accepted it.

Maybe Trump is right, I thought—in a world where people will believe anything, is it also true that anything is possible? Then I noticed something fishy about the address where I was supposed to send the q-tip: 1 Trump Tower, Suite 1.

Sad, I thought. I would have happily sold it to him for half the price.

Smart vs. Stupid: The Battle for What's Left of the American Mind

What with millions of people cheering the rise of Donald Trump, Britain voting to leave the European Union, and yet another Danielle Steele novel at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, smart people everywhere are understandably concerned about the prospect of stupid people taking over the world. Everywhere, it seems, stupid people are asserting their right to make idiotic decisions, just like the smarty-pants elites they despise.

It’s an alarming trend, to be sure. Throughout history, stupid people have always outnumbered smart people, but smart people have always been able to outwit them, mostly by keeping them busy doing jobs they hate. When the job they hate disappears, however, the moronic masses must focus their rage on something else, and that’s when things tend to go south. When stupid people get mad, they start lopping off smart people’s heads, thereby disabling the mechanism by which smart people exert their overwhelming dominance. If history has taught stupid people anything, it’s that smart people tend to lose that smug look on their face when their head is rolling around in a basket.

Unfortunately, after all the smart people are decapitated, someone has to decide what to do next. Smart people are good at deciding, but if you get rid of all the smart people—by, say, creating a political system that discourages anyone with half a brain from participating in it—the deciding gets left to people who are ill-equipped for the task. In America, this vacuum of intelligence in politics has led to the rise of Donald Trump, whom many people view as an inconceivably stupid candidate for president—an ignorant, racist buffoon who thinks the word sexism is “kind of hot”—but who, in reality, is just smart enough to be dangerous.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, of course. The framers of our Constitution created several safeguards to prevent an angry mob of morons (otherwise known as voters) from derailing democracy. Unfortunately, all of the founding fathers were smart people. What their collective brainpower could not foresee was a wave of technological change that would “democratize” information by making it accessible to twelve-year-olds who are at least smart enough to answer “no” to the question: “Are you under 18?”

But even if they could have envisioned such a thing, who could have predicted that flooding the world with information would create an underclass of proudly ignorant idiots who, besides being utterly clueless about the most basic facts of civic life, have no idea how dumb they are?

Well, actually, lots of people have made that prediction. Einstein, for one.

The fact is, Americans don’t like smart people, and never have. Only 34% of people age 25-29 in this country have a college degree. Why? Because going to college is just the sort of thing that makes people smarter, and if you live in America, being smart puts you in the distinct minority. Walk into any bar in America and start betting people that you can solve a Rubik’s cube faster than they can say the Pledge of Allegiance, and trust me, you will quickly discover how outnumbered you are.

In America, this streak of disdain for smart people and lofty ideas used to be called “anti-intellectualism.” But these days, anti-intellectualism has morphed into something quite different, something that might more accurately be termed “pro-idiocy”—or, when it affects older people who ought to know better, “dumbass dementia.”

The chief feature of this new mental mindset is the enthusiastic celebration of ignorance—a specialized form of non-thinking that replaces the pleasures of contemplation with beer, pizza, football, and guns. With a whoop and a holler and few chugs of Bud, ignorance enthusiasts are able to reach an almost Zen-like state of detachment from the world of ideas, quieting all synaptic activity with a blissful fog of nostalgia for a time when humans co-existed peacefully with dinosaurs and America was beloved by all.

In the old days, anti-intellectuals used to spend their time battling bright ideas—by pointing out, say, that the sun obviously goes around the Earth, and if you don’t believe us, kindly step over to the guillotine. Nowadays, anti-intellectuals don’t bother refuting ideas they disagree with; instead, they amuse themselves by embracing nonsense and encouraging people who spout it. The stupider the idea the better, because the whole point of supporting and spreading ignorance is to short-circuit the only asset smart people really have: their over-active, hyper-educated, oh-so-superior brains.

Take Donald Trump’s proposal to build an 1,100-mile wall along the Mexican border to keep all the Mezzican rapists and murderers and terrorists where they belong: in line at the border crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. Many smart people have wasted their time by taking this idea seriously and pointing out how spectacularly ridiculous it is. Such efforts miss the point entirely. In the new world disorder, the stupidity of Donald Trump’s wall is its biggest asset, and the more smart people who sniff and sneer at the mind-melting logic behind it, the more attractive it becomes to the cheerful mob of morons who support it.

That makes no sense, you might think. But just thinking that it makes no sense betrays a mind that’s trying to make connections, to create meaning out of the madness, and minds like that have difficulty grasping the elusive nuances of nonsense. Donald Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican presidential ticket perplexes a lot of smart people because it seems insane, as if half the electorate has lost its marbles and is looking for them in the gobsmacking gobbledygook that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth, which even he admits is not entirely connected to his brain. Why would a bunch of unemployed, uneducated white people think a born-and-bred billionaire is their savior? Because it’s a crazy idea that—as they always say in the movies—just might work! In the movies, as everyone knows, the crazy person is the only one who really knows what’s going on—the only one who has the guts to tell people The Truth. And it is the hope and dream of everyone who couldn’t get a high-school diploma that The Truth is not as complicated as it seems—that, in fact, things will somehow work out in the end, because they must!

In the next few months, Democrats will spend a lot of time arguing that no, things will not magically work out in the end—that the only way things will work out is if a lot of smart people put their heads together and try to figure this thing out, one complex, nuanced, multi-faceted clusterfuck at a time. And even then things may not work out, because it’ll all be too little too late. Things may already be so messed up that no one can fix them, they’ll say, but we have to try. The world is a complicated place, they’ll say, so don’t expect too much too fast—don’t expect miracles. Cleaning up a mess like this takes time, so be patient, and vote for Hillary.

Donald Trump has a different message. He is the only candidate in this election who is willing to stand up and tell people precisely what they want to hear: That everything is going to be okay. Trust me, he’ll say, everything is going to work out. Sure, things are apocalyptically screwed up now, but that’s because a black guy is in office and I’m not president yet. Trust me, the solution is easy: All we have to do is close our borders, throw out everyone who doesn’t sunburn easily, nuke the Middle East, and chant “U S A! U S A!” until God gives in and starts leaving bricks of gold on everyone’s doorstep, which can be redeemed for sweet-smelling piles of cash or a shit-ton of bitcoin, whichever you prefer.

Boom, boom, boom—problem solved.

It’s nonsense, of course. Stupid doesn’t even begin to describe it. But that doesn’t matter. What Donald Trump understands that a lot of smart people don’t is that there are angry mobs of people out there who are sick and tired of being told what they need to do to get along in this world—obey the law, get an education, cut back on the meth—and want to see some heads rolling around in a basket. They want blood: spewing, spraying streams of it. They want revenge. They want to inflict a world of hurt on anyone and everyone who is not hurting as much as they are.

They also want climate change not to be real, for trickle-down economics to work, and for their first lady to be a former swimsuit model. They want all of these things and more, because that’s what America is for: heaping all your hopes and dreams on its back, then yelling at it when it runs too slow.

But most of all, people want to be reassured. They want to be told that everything is going to be all right—that the bogeyman is going to go away, that evil will not triumph, and yes, everyone who has faith and works hard can be filthy stinking rich beyond their wildest dreams. They want Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill,” only this time they want it to gleam like a diamond while they drink Perrier from the tap, breathe air infused with opiates, and sleep restfully knowing that America is once again kicking some global ass.  

Donald Trump is the only candidate stupid enough to promise it to them. All we can hope is that he doesn’t really believe it. Otherwise, heads really will roll, if they don’t explode first.


Yep, It's True, My Best Friend is a Dog

My dog, Sarge.

My dog, Sarge.

It recently dawned on me that the old cliché is indeed true: My best friend is a dog.

Sure, I used to have human friends, but over time they all either moved away, died, got boring, or did something inexcusably stupid that made me question why I was ever friends with them in the first place—you know, the kind of thing only humans do.

Not that my dog doesn’t do stupid things; he does. It’s just that when my dog does something stupid, it’s usually pretty funny. If he gets into the garbage while I’m away, the look of shame on his face when I come home is adorable. If he barks at a squirrel and then tries to chase it—well, how stupid is that? If he chews one of my wife’s shoes to pieces, his droopy doggy eyes will say, “What’s the big deal? There are dozens more where that came from,” and I have to laugh. Because it’s true. He could chew up a shoe a day for the next six months and barely make a dent in her shoe collection. I’d think it was funnier if shoes didn’t cost so much, but if it makes my little dog-friend happy, then it makes me happy too.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about?

The realization that my dog is far and away my best friend came to me rather suddenly, but in retrospect I can see that his dedication to me was constant; it was my human inability to appreciate his loyalty—to trust the sincerity of his affection—that prevented me from accepting his friendship for what it was: a true, deep kinship of spirit.

It seems silly now, but for a long time I had my doubts. For years, it seemed as if the only time my dog paid attention to me was when I was feeding him or giving him treats. As soon as he was done eating, he’d go back to ignoring me. If I forgot to feed him, he’d get ornery and act like missing a meal every now and then was the end of the world. And if I didn’t give him enough food off my dinner plate, he’d act like I was being stingy, as if I was asserting my human dominance over him, because I had this big tasty plate full of food and he had nothing but processed meat goo and a mountain of dry kibble.

In short, he was being selfish. It was all about him. I didn’t like that aspect of his personality, so I remained skeptical of his true motives. Sure, he’d bark and bounce around like a maniac when I came home from work, and he’d do his delirious dog dance when I took him for a walk. But those little performances always felt insincere, over the top. His responses were all out of proportion—he was ten times happier than he should be for the reward I was giving him—and it felt like he was mocking me. If I grabbed his leash and said, “Do you want to go for a walkie poo?,” he’d jump and bark in this conspicuously crazy way that seemed totally fake to me. Nobody could be that happy over a walk. They say dogs don’t do sarcasm, but mine did, I was pretty sure. In his little dog mind, I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking: “Oh goodie, do we get to go outside for fifteen minutes? Asshole. I’ve been locked up in this house for twelve hours. Fuck you.”

He wasn’t wrong, of course. The problem, I came to understand, was that I wasn’t giving him the respect he deserved. I was treating him like a dog, not like the friend he was, and that hurt his feelings. When he took a dump on my $5,000 Persian carpet, or puked on my Egyptian cotton sheets, it was his way of saying, “Hey, dipshit, I can be an asshole too.”

The friendship we share now was developed over time, and, unlike our previous relationship, is based on mutual trust and respect. My dog and I are equals now, two humble creatures trapped on this earthly plane, doomed to spend our lives seeking comfort, warmth, and solace in a cruel and unforgiving world. In fact, my dog is better than me in many respects. For one thing, he can run like the wind, despite his stubby legs. For another, he is completely true to himself. He doesn’t try to pretend he’s something he’s not, or that he isn’t feeling what he’s feeling. If he feels like taking a shit on the neighbor’s lawn, he doesn’t over-think it; he just does it, walks away, and never looks back. I respect that. (When I tried it, however, I had to explain to the police officer why I had not used my own toilet, a mere fifty feet away. In understanding the bond between dog and man, like so many other things, our society has a long way to go.)

They say you discover who your true friends are during difficult times, and that has certainly been the case with me and my dog. This past year has been a trying one, what with all the job stress, financial insecurity, health problems, deaths in the family and, most recently, a nationwide recall of Krusteaz blueberry pancake mix, my favorite. With each successive calamity, many people I considered friends fell by the wayside, unable or unwilling to extend the hand of friendship when it was needed most. But I am now grateful to these fair-weather “friends,” for their absence has clarified the identity of my true best friend. None of these people were there to offer comfort and support when my spirit was sinking and all hope seemed lost. At my lowest moments, the only living creature who remained by my side, through all the tears and wailing and madness, was my dog. (Well, my wife was there too, but she did not have nearly as much sympathy for me as my comfortingly non-verbal pooch.)

When my latest magnum opus was rejected by Random House for what the editors called an “idiotic premise” and “insufficient punctuation,” it was my dog who came to me, leash in mouth, as if to say, “Hey friend, let’s go for a walk.”

When my doctor called to tell me that all the tests had come back negative—that I was fine, and that, in his words, “medical science does not have a cure for what ails you”—it was my dog who sidled up to me, tongue lolling as if to say, “What do you say we go share a cone at Dairy Queen?”

When grief over the death of a loved one overtook me and my face was covered in tears, who came to lick away my pain? My dog, that’s who. Then, sensing my emotional fragility, he instinctively knew what I needed and urged me to accompany him to the dog park, where our other friends gather each day and are available to offer their support and good cheer.

Throughout all the strife and turmoil that drove lesser friends away, my dog has remained steadfast and true. Each day, as I pound my fists in anger and curse my fate on this godforsaken planet, my dog sits at my feet, a non-judgmental ball of calm in a perilous and turbulent world. Furthermore, I can talk to him for hours and he will listen patiently, unlike my restless human friends, who find it necessary to speak every now and then.

Our friendship continues to strengthen as the days and weeks roll by sans any other human interaction. Out of respect for each other, we no longer eat in different places; rather, I kneel and sup with him on the floor, at his level, where we can see eye to eye. One surprising note: His food does not taste as bad as you might expect. The canned food is made from “meat and vegetables” and is bathed in a savory gravy, while the kibble has a satisfying, toothsome crunch. Likewise, I have had my bed lowered so that he may enjoy night after night of restful sleep on a Serta pillowtop mattress, while my wife has graciously agreed to sleep at the foot of the bed, on a ratty slab of foam.

My dog and I now share most of our time together, and activities I once participated in with humans I now enjoy with him. We hike, we fish, we watch TV. We even play golf together. In fact, my scores have improved tremendously ever since I trained him to pick up the ball on the green and place it in the hole.

In these and many other ways, my dog has proven to be as enjoyable a companion as any human.

One area where he is surprisingly inept, however, is poker. All my life I have seen paintings of dogs playing poker, so I just assumed he knew the game. But as it turns out, he is the worst poker player I have ever seen. He can’t even hold the cards; I have to hold them for him. Which means he is also extremely easy to beat, a trait magnified by the fact that he constantly makes risky, ill-advised bets, as if money doesn’t mean anything to him.

Still, given the choice between spending time with a human or my dog, I am increasingly inclined to choose the latter. Why, just the other day we were headed out for a walk and my dog suddenly stopped at the door and looked up at me with an air of genuine distress.

The message in his eyes was unmistakable: “Shouldn’t we have a snack, first?”

“You’re right, we don’t want to get low blood sugar out there,” I replied, thanking him, and poured us each a handful of kibble.

Who else would put their desire for a walk on hold just to think about my blood sugar? Only my best friend, that’s who: My ever-loyal, ever-loving dog, without whom I would surely perish.