California Forum

Kick the habit, Trumpaholics. Focus on policy, not personality

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace in August that on values, Trump “speaks for himself.” (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace in August that on values, Trump “speaks for himself.” (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) AP

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a new form of activism, a new inspiration. Lately, I’ve been thinking that I want to start a movement. I want to be the creator – the Bill W., if you will – of a new recovery program. My 12-step fantasy would be called: Donald J. Trump Anonymous.

From the moment, in June 2015, that he announced his candidacy to the declaration this week that he is unraveling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, Trump has been too much with us, in a toxic and unhealthy way. Not just because of his policies but also because of his personality, his narcissistic need to occupy the center of every conversation, to be the object of our disaffection, collectively or otherwise.

It’s time to free ourselves of the president’s bombast and challenge him on the only grounds that matter.

We are living now as bit players in his psychodrama. Indeed, we have made his psychodrama our own.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing for disengagement. I don’t want to stay home and eat cake. I’m taking my cue from Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, co-creators of the Comedy Central show “Broad City,” who announced in June that they would bleep out the president’s name in this season’s episodes.

Something similar might be said of Trump’s cabinet, some of whom have seemed, in recent weeks, to distance themselves.

Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told U.S. soldiers in Jordan, “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it” – an apparent reference to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville in which 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, told Fox News that “the president speaks for himself” when asked about Trump’s reaction to the violence.

Neither Mattis nor Tillerson are abdicating their responsibilities. They’re just trying to stand clear of the noise. This is the intent behind Donald J. Trump Anonymous: It’s not the personality but the policies we should focus on.

Take DACA. I don’t care – nor do I believe – that Trump considered the issue a moral dilemma, as the New York Times reported this week. My concern is the directive, what he does more than what he says.

The same is true of North Korea, which provoked a flurry of tweets after testing a nuclear device over the Labor Day weekend.

Government by Twitter? This is the first of my 12 steps, the first addiction we must overcome. Next, Jared and Ivanka. Then the endless stories about the disaffected Trump voter.

I am exhausted by the constant chatter, but equally by the anticipation, the wondering what he’ll do next. I find myself disappointed when I check my news feed and nothing has happened, as if I hadn’t gotten a necessary fix.

For Bill W., drink was the trigger; he was 39 when he gave up the bottle in 1934. He admitted he was “powerless over alcohol” and that his life “had become unmanageable.”

So I admit now that I, too, am powerless – over the president’s ego and its effect on me.

After the election, I told anyone who would listen that we would need to look out for one another, but that we would also need to look out for ourselves. If the only responsible action was to resist normalizing this president, we also had to be sure to normalize ourselves.

Ten months later, it’s clear I’ve underestimated how all-encompassing is this new normal. Or maybe it’s my resilience I’ve misjudged.

Either way, it’s time to free ourselves of the president’s bombast and challenge him on the only grounds that matter: politics, not personality.

David L. Ulin is the author of “Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles,” shortlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. He is the former book critic and book editor of the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at david.ulin@gmail.com.

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