If I drew one of those old-timey phrenology charts of my brain at this moment I’m frightened to think how much space would be occupied by all things Trump. I know I’m not alone; the president owns major real estate in the heads of most Americans right now. It was once a cherished cliché that Americans vote for someone they’d like to have a beer with. Somehow we ended up with a teetotaling rageaholic. I think we also vote for the person we don’t mind (or mind least) as a long-term guest living rent-free in our brains.
Over the five years that Trump’s been surfing on my mental air mattress and peeing on my psychic toilet seat, he’s been more than just a bad guest. He’s more like a dead rat in the walls; an inescapable presence, making me want to flee my own thoughts. Every single morning before I’m fully awake I’m hit with the dull thud of the realization that, damn it, he’s still here—in the White House, and in my brain. I have to tiptoe around my own unconscious to avoid bumping into him.
And the worst part may be that when I do manage to banish him from my thoughts, I feel like I’m only making things worse. Normalcy has come to feel unearned, frivolous. A megalomaniac is ruining people’s lives and trying to torch democracy—how dare I read a comic book or take my kids to the beach?
In a brief moment of what I had thought would be escape, I recently watched an episode of Our Planet that featured Ophiocordyceps, the fungus that “zombifies” tropical carpenter ants. Infected ants are hijacked and forced to climb onto a leaf above their nests, then immobilized while a phallic stalk grows out of their heads to drop spores onto the unsuspecting colony below. The really horrible part is that the fungus doesn’t actually take over the ants’ brains—they’re essentially conscious as their bodies are turned into a biological weapon. My Trump-addled mind couldn’t help but think that like this ancient parasite, the president is perfectly evolved to isolate us, paralyze us, and use us to spread his contagion. All while we’re fully aware that our detachment and solipsism are signs that we’re letting him win.
Having George W. Bush rattling around in my brain wasn’t like this. Sure, I was filled with outrage and disgust and resignation for eight years, but somehow the thought of him didn’t contaminate all my pleasures and private moments. Trump’s soulless, stultifying, ubiquitous presence is something different. As the embodiment of the ugliest side of white America, he is both revolting and familiar. Sending him packing will only be the first step toward freeing my mind. —Dave Gilson