I go to the gym sometimes. And like most public gatherings with televisions, CNN is playing.
During the past two years, whenever I would walk past that CNN screen, the “breaking news” would undoubtedly be some ridiculous, divisive thing candidate turned president Donald Trump had said. Walking by that tv would leave me with an aura of frustration and cynicism that would stay with me for the next few hours.
One day, I realized this had become a Pavlovian reaction. Simply looking at the screen would instantly trigger anger and anxiety.
I knew I had to do something. There was no way I could ignore the news for the next four years, so I had to find some way to improve my reaction to these daily absurdities.
I eventually came across the question: what if I started thinking of Trump like your classic 12-year-old anonymous troll?
So I did, and you should too.
Of course, I’m not the first person to come up with this idea that our president is a troll – many people jokingly call Trump the Troll-in-Chief. But the extent to which I’ve taken it to be literally true has been useful.
Your typical Troll
- Creates uproar for no apparent reason
- Does not hold clear beliefs
- Demands that rules (read: laws) don’t apply to them
- Values attention over substance
- Spends a disproportionate time on Social Media
As anyone who’s spent time with these anonymous pains would tell you, there are better and worse ways to deal with trolls.
Among the worse ways include: getting ticked off, starting (what will be) endless arguments, giving the matter/person more attention than it deserves.
The most important thing to keep in mind when handling a troll is understanding that there is nothing they want more than for you to lose your shit, so they can turn around and say ‘see? this is exactly what I was talking about’
It almost goes without saying that our President embodies most of these traits perfectly.
- He has no interest in what is true, all the matters is what will strokes his ego
- His positions change from sentence to sentence
- He insults and fires career servants based on the sole principle that laws and investigations shouldn’t apply to him
- He spends much more time posturing and attacking as doing anything meaningful
- He is enormously sensitive about what people think of him
And just like the internet trolls, there are better and worse ways to think about and act against this Trump.
A Personal Tool
Referring to Trump as a troll may seem a bit silly at first. Maybe even dangerously cynical. The guy makes choices everyday that are dead serious and impact millions if not billions of lives. We can’t simply ignore them because it frustrates us.
That’s completely true, we can’t and shouldn’t ignore his actions. But understand something, this ‘Trump is a troll’ thing, it’s not a clever political line – think of it as a personal mental model for not losing your shit everyday.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was once the most powerful person in the world. Yet he would journal notes to himself on how to become a better person. He would write words of advice on how to not lose his temper, how to be fair, and how to do right in his duty as a leader and citizen.
As someone who faced unfair criticism and the prospect of betrayal by his own friends and family on a near daily basis, Marcus had to remind himself – “It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” We would be good to follow his advice.
What we’re doing with Trump is a perspective shift. It’s taking away (or limiting) this person’s power to upset you.
There’s a difference between ranting on the internet and finding out what you can do to make the world better, but you won’t be able to make that distinction without a cool head.
Drawing attention to corruption, calling congressmen, donating to advocacy groups, you should be doing all these things for the issues you care about. But you will be worse at all of these actions (and have less time to do them) if you’re wasting energy being angry at someone else’s faults.
Well Of Course He Would
What do trolls do? They say and do ridiculous things to rile up and harm people
When you resign yourself to the fact that our president is a troll, you can stop being surprised or shocked or having your day ruined by the latest piece of news. Of course that person would act like that. You shouldn’t expect otherwise.
If history is a good judge of character, and it is, Donald Trump will say and do at least 50 unprecedentedly ignorant, petty, and untrue things between now and Christmas. You and I can push back on the consequences of these actions, and we can also decide, by placing Trump in the box of troll, to suffocate his ability to trigger our emotions.
Take the Transgender ban for instance, there are plenty of people, including some congressmen of his own party and cabinet officials who are upset at the White House right now for this Troll Policy. You adding in your voice of anger won’t change anything. But you showing love to the LGBTQ people you know? That is truly meaningful.
This applies more broadly too. Walt Disney was right when he said said “whatever you do, do it well.” I would add to that and say for you to do things well and kindly. In an environment where it seems everyone is being mad at each other, being friendly at your job is as much of a rebuttal to Trump’s America as anything else.
Here’s part of a conversation between Senators Jack Reed from Rhode Island and Susan Collins from Maine
REED: I think [Trump] he’s crazy
COLLINS: I’m worried.
REED: I don’t say that lightly and as kind of, you know, a goofy guy.
Do you get what they’re saying? I’m not trying to be funny, I actually think he’s out of his mind.
Now the specifics of the president’s sanity is a medical question that isn’t exactly the point here, but think about this: If someone escaped from a psychward and committed some crazy crimes, everyone would try to catch and stop that person from doing any more harm, but no one would be surprised about what they did.
That’s exactly what we should strive to do – work as hard as we can to mitigate the damage Trump will do, while at the same time not being shocked when certain types of people (his administration) do certain types of things.
“That sort of person is bound to do that. You might as well resent a fig tree for secreting juice.” — Marcus Aurelius
In the Long Run, None Of This Lasts
Think about how the world will look back at this time period in fifty years. When many of the major players we now keep up with have passed away – and the Trump presidency feels as much like a footnote in history as the JFK presidency feels like to young people today.
You and I, if we’re fortunate enough to make it that far, were to look back on these years. How would we want to remember our actions during this time?
Did we spend our days fuming out of our ears as we refreshed Twitter? Or we did scoff and maybe even laugh a little at the absurdity of the emperor, while at the same time doing everything he could to mitigate the damage and make something good out of this presidency?
Again, those are not inconsistent ideas, they are complementary. The key to removing someone from power in reality is to first remove the power they have over your mind and emotions.
When arguments got heated among his staff members, a President Bill Clinton would point to a rock he kept in his office and say
“You see that rock? It’s 3.6 billion years old. We’re all just passing through. Let’s calm down and go back to work.”
I was too young to remember it then, but I’m sure all the presidential scandals during the 90s felt just as much like the end of the world as the current ones do. Those passed, and this will too.