The Audience

by jkatejohnston

15 November 2016

Dear Max,

The Saturday before the election, Karol and I were talking with someone we work with and like and admire. We’re lawyers, and she’s an investigator. The election came up, and our friend said, “But how can I vote for Hillary? Doesn’t she have people killed?”

Karol and I asked why she thought that. She laughed at herself—she did recognize the absurdity—and said one of her Facebook friends posted something about Hillary having people killed, and she didn’t want to seem like she didn’t know what was going on, so she just said nothing.

She didn’t tell us this, but I’ll bet you a million dollars she clicked Like, because that’s what you do, and, having Liked it, she started to believe it. Or at least not to disbelieve it. She entered into a state of mind where the presence of something swimming around in your head becomes dispositive.

This is an intelligent, lovable woman working in an evidence-based profession.


It’s Sunday, and I’ve been at work all day, feeling a little sorry for myself, but I also secretly like being alone in this huge empty building. A few hours ago I gave myself a lunch break and rode my bike to the park. It was a beautiful day: blue sky, clear warm air, fall color all over the place, gaudy as hell.

I was reading Elena Ferrante’s Frantumaglia, and I came across an essay that’s partly about Silvio Berlusconi and how he rode the TV that he controlled to ultimate power, reducing the citizenry to an audience. And I came across something that stated so perfectly what I’ve been trying to say all week (at least to myself) about Trump—that as an individual he’s unimportant, but what he showed us how to do is horribly important.

She says: “…the man will disappear…one way or another the political struggle will remove him from the scene, but his ascent as supreme leader within democratic institutions, the construction of his figure as a democratically elected economic-political-television duce, will remain a perfectible, repeatable model.” (Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia, from the essay Suspension of Disbelief)

It reminds me of a remark my big sister made after the election: “Let’s make the reality TV screen bigger than ever. Let’s make it as big as the whole country.”


I’m so weary of opinions—my own and everybody else’s. My mind feels about as receptive and responsive as a hard little marble rattling around in a pinball machine. But I have just one more.

Teresa and Michele are going to Washington in January to protest at the inauguration. And I’ve heard the criticism that that’s just what Trump threatened to do, reject the results of the democratic process just because he lost.

Wrong. Protesting at the inauguration is as American as you can get. Trump won under the system that we have. He has to be President, and we have to endure it. But we don’t have to endure it silently.