In the days leading up to the election last November, many people vowed if Donald Trump was elected they would emigrate to some genial and inconsequential place, Toronto or a Canada of the imagination, as if all they had to endure were toxic policies until our electoral system somehow rights itself. When I arrived at work on November 8th, the day after the presidential election, my boss greeted me, "Welcome to the first day in Trumpland!" I thought she was being ironic, but she wasn't. Not only had she enthusiastically voted for Trump, but so had several other of my co-workers. I was completely shocked. This is Chicago, I thought. The globalized economy provides our livelihoods. Sure, last summer I heard people I considered friends talk about how Clinton was just as bad as Trump, but once we learned the restless little hands of our future president liked to plunge themselves into women's private parts, I though the equivalency argument was put to rest. No one liked Clinton, but Trump would besmirch the office of the presidency. Agreed?
To this day I walk around my workplace and wonder, did that software developer vote for Trump? Is that executive still looking forward to a Trump presidency? Is that customer service person reading Brietbart News while waiting for the next call? Am I the only person who voted for Hillary Clinton?
Actually, over 80% of voters in my town voted for her and she carried Illinois easily, so no, I'm not alone. Yet I have a new mindset, one similar to that Aleksandar Hemon first experienced while wandering the streets of Sarajevo in his youth. War had broken out in neighboring Croatia, but it seemed impossible for it to reach Sarajevo. Nevertheless, Hemon couldn't help spotting good places for a sniper to go to work. Hemon now recognizes those imaginings as the first stirrings of a "war mind" preparing itself for the trauma to come.
The pre-war mind was still busy convincing itself that war is, must be, avoidable, because it simply didn't make sense — who would want war? I took my involuntary thoughts to be symptoms of a minor mental breakdown, and exerted myself to dismiss them [. . .]People asked me if I had known the war was coming — I did, I'd say, I just didn't know I did, because my mind refused to accept the possibility that the only life and reality I had known could be so easily annihilated. I perceived and received information but could not process it and convert it into knowledge, because the mind could not accept the unimaginable, because I had no access to an alternative ontology.
For the Age of Trump Hemon wants a "split-mind literature" in which the deer hunters come looking for you. Remember when you first saw a plane slam into the World Trade Center? There should be a literature of that kind of trauma, the story of staring at 757's flying overhead and feeling uneasy. Trauma renders everything uncanny, but Hemon points out "the upside is that living with and in a mind where nothing appears normal or stable is the best antidote to normalization." When you're comfortable in your house, snug against your neighbors, imagination functions to smooth over the sharp edges that keep popping up. In this context conventional literature, as an art of the imagination, stamps the quotidian real as fixed, inevitable, as the normality we all crave. Trauma, however, interrupts the smooth flow of language and thwarts easy reconciliation with immediate circumstances. In the years to come literature should teach us to be alert to how our worst fears are, in fact, coming to pass. Then we can see a moment from the past as a harbinger of a future we have troubling imagining, such as a call from Hemon's mother from Sarajevo during the siege of 1992. "They're already shooting less than yesterday," she assured him.