Donald Trump’s speech on immigration from August input into Paul Chan’s “oH Ho.”
By Rick Moody
October 3, 2016
One of my jobs is teaching writing classes for visual artists. I do this at two schools—at the Yale University School of Art, and at the NYU graduate program in fine art. This is a job I dearly love, in part because I love visual artists (I am married to one), love their minds and their conceptual brilliance, but also because I love making writing accessible to people who aren’t always sure that it is for them. My theory is that creativity the same across disciplines, and if you can take a great photograph, or make a multi-media extravaganza, you can definitely write well too. People think the writing always has to be perfect, literary, or, in the case of visual artists, that it has to sound like Artforum or October. Not at all! It should sound like human beings!
What this has to do with the election is that I always give an assignment that involves making found text, or collage-oriented poems (something I do myself on occasion) at the beginning of the semester in order to give the non-writers a chance to demystify language, and so that they might realize that it’s okay to treat the words like objects (I’m quoting the great poet Susan Wheeler here).
In both classes this semester, I gave the artists Donald Trump’s speech on immigration from a couple of months ago and then a copy of the National Enquirer—the last publication supporting him, it would seem—after which they were encouraged to make four lines of poetry combining words or lines from the two sources. We then voted on our favorites lines and made “sonnets” out of the resulting collages.
Here’s the Yale class (who consisted of: Joe Hoyt, Res, Danna Singer, Chau Tran, Anna Shimshak, Ashton Hudgins, Farah Al-Qasimi, Bek Andersen, Lance Brewer, Matt Leifheit, Carr Chadwick, Kathryn Kerr, Harry Griffin):
Word Salad #1
Most people thought the era of the super-powerful diet pill ended
because of safety concerns,
and they would comply if we would act properly
The juiciest body doesn’t serve you—let me tell you who it does serve.
Don’t forget the Supreme Court of the United States,
don’t forget that, and don’t forget building up our depleted military,
and don’t forget dad’s high school ring.
Someone from your past who you never expected to hear from
reaches out to send her daughter one final message—
weak, weak, weak…
I would hide them all in my lace-up shoes,
and before I would go home I would Febreeze my car.
A vampire breast lift, a pair of my jeans, the reign of terror.
Hear these words from me—they think the biggest thing is that
The crimes scenes are desperate for heroes
Say hello to the police, disgusting pig fat mother of a whore
Touchy royals, guilt free wanks, cut it off! Cut it off!
Welfare use will decrease
Skid row squatter, flowers on the tarmac, another creep, white supremacist:
And here’s the NYU version (and the students were, Lara Saget, Jerry Adams, Biraaj Dodiya, Nick Doty, Alex Heffesse, Jessica Lanchester, Luca Molnar, Omer ben Zvi, Erin Schiller, Meeka Patton):
Word Salad #2
Without the laws against crime we have got a shock—primped metrosexual guys, wow.
Lip plumpers cost our country more than $113 billion a year.
Toking and twerking, they’re going out fast.
I’m going to ask the moms to come join me. These are amazing women who can crush steel with the slightest ease. That’s what’s going to happen sure as you’re standing here.
I used to put a sock under my arm and touch the doll but I don’t have to now.
The Trojan Horse will capture your woman folks, the heavens will fall.
I am by the way just a twisted baby killer who got a glam makeover from Susan Smith, who doesn’t have a mom many more, seriously, the chin-implant made her look like a different person.
It seems you have multiple tragic deaths and attempted murders and it’s all going to end very, very badly.
Word salad, the term, in the Trump era, has come to suggest the denotative stylings of Trump during the first debate. More or less. But I remember word salad from my trip through the psychiatric hospital in the 80s. My ward had a number of schizophrenics in it, and they were usually the schizophrenics who were in the middle of heavy decompensation. I can remember one guy, a tall skinny fellow in his late forties, reasonably good-looking, who was so psychotic he couldn’t really put a sentence together at all. The only time I can remember him saying anything sensible was when he told one resident of the ward that smoking was bad for him. The rest of the time it was all paranoid gibberish. Word salad, then, describes a way that syntax fragments, bends and breaks, beneath the flood of bad chemicals in the brain, in which the best you can manage is a sort of late-Artaud heavily symbolic nonsense that says little specifically and is more indicative of the painful state of you who deploys it than it is about anything.
A good example during the debate was Trump’s comeback on the Miss Universe topic. He seethes into a writhing serpentine misery, in front of his bad microphone, spitting, and snorting, and repeating where did you get this? As though his disdain will be enough to shut down Clinton. The above poems, then, are part of the strategy of word salad, the fulminating and sputtering that seem liable to cost Trump the election. Were he to fail to prepare for the second debate more than he did in this case, we would have to conclude that he actually does not want to be president.
October 8, 2016
Pussy. We have now seen the word pussy in the The New York Times (though I noticed they used fuck last week, too, and, I believe, motherfuckers, when transcribing some heart-rending remarks at the scene of the police assassination of an innocent party in Charlotte, NC), and we have seen it bandied about, along with some not-to-be-overlooked-pro-rape-culture stuff, from the nominee of an American political party.
As the vice-presidential debate seemed to indicate, the longing for a softer-gentler time is now upon us, and all the militating for a Pence presidency now, is an indication thereof. Pence is no prince. But at least he probably has never allowed the word pussy to escape his mouth.
There’s a point in the election cycle when the opposition research starts to get its message out, and we are now in that point. It surprises me that the Republicans have not managed to come up with more on Hillary Clinton (though careful what you ask for), but it may be, as she said in 2008: she has already been vetted. If Vince Foster will not stick, if Benghazi will not stick, then there is nothing that is going to stick. But you have to hand it to the Clinton team: they have lined up their October surprises, and they are going to get out one or two a week from now until early November.
This is not to say that Trump is not a pig, and a sexual harasser of the keenest variety. He is. That pig is the man that was nominated by the Republican Party, and he is in keeping with the Republican Party. He is being counseled by another sexual harasser, Roger Ailes. His views are not out of line with the Republican Party. They are exemplary for the Republican Party. So it’s not some kind of conservative trainwreck. Trump is the result of Republican and conservative policies. This is who you wanted, someone who was not moderate like McCain and Romney, and, barring the unforeseen, you are going to get your asses handed to you.
The only person who looks worse than Trump right now is Billy Bush. If I were him I wouldn’t go outside for six months. Can he possibly keep his job on the Today Show. If anyone has not seen the video here’s the link.
This is what we’ve come to.
8:16 PM: Condoleezza Rice calls on Trump to drop out.
October 10, 2016
The entire second debate was about rape culture.
My friend Elizabeth Crane, the novelist and short story writer, posted on, not Friday, not long after the video footage of the pelted one and Billy Bush came to light, that the footage was all about rape culture. Not merely about the fact that the pelted one is a pig, and that he has narcissistic personality disorder. Not about about Billy Bush’s frat-house guffaws of support, with the added veneer of entitlement and television-culture vacuity. No, once you get into parsing the language of the boasts, the peculiarity of the Tic Tacs, it’s clear that Trump’s speech is a how-to manual about unwanted sexual attention, at the very least, and, more accurately, about how to sexually abuse another human being. This speech, given just months after he had married Melania, was transparently about how to sexually abuse a married person.
This is one idea about power. It’s the same idea about power that Vladimir Putin has, that with power (and in this country capital always amounts to a kind of power) one catapults oneself beyond the rules of decorum, to the point where one can always force another to submit.
Trump’s problem is that the video is absolutely consistent with what we know of him from his Howard Stern appearances, and the dip-shittery of his television show, and his annoying and uninformed political remarks past. (Like his full-page ad about the Central Park jogger. If he’d had his way, five African-American men would have been executed already, regardless of their innocence.) He is a person who believes this sort of thing, in absolute power and the subjection of anyone and everyone, and who believes in the inerrancy of his every immediate perception.
With that in mind, we watch the second presidential debate, knowing that Trump believes that sexual assault is legitimate, is just red-blooded masculinity, and his every move, from the You’d be in jail line, to his stalking of HRC as she stood near the audience, from his dragging out of Bill Clinton’s demons, to his accusation that HRC made the tax code what it is, and you see a man who does not acknowledge that a woman could be more than a piece of property, and who honestly believes the use of force upon a woman is natural, is the course of things. Had he reached over to strangle her, as it honestly looked that he might do, I would not have been surprised in the least. He would have done it, and gotten up from closing off the last bit of oxygen in her wind pipe, and stepping over her lifeless body, certain of the idea that his supporters would cheer him on for it.
The entire desperate and toxic charade, every do-or-die second, was about forcing a woman to know her place. That’s why the deplorables love Trump so much, the David Dukes of the American heartland, because they believe in this kind of power, the rape kind, and they believe in this kind of femininity, the fantasy kind, the kind that lies down for their violence, intimidation, and entitlement.
My agony at gazing upon the proceedings comes from always having hated, with every ounce of life in me, guys like this. There was a guy in my boarding school who seemed to be a serial rapist of one degree or another, and he had a similar vibe, charming, malevolent, heedless, entitled, repellent, and I have known others who if not reliably convicted of sexual abuse at least talked a good game. Indeed, in a certain stratum of American civilization, Trump’s menace and intimidation and rape talk are endemic, and that is because rape culture is endemic. I wish they would go to a separatist Europeans-only nation-state in Idaho, where they can worship a tree god, rectally fondle one another, eat brisket every night, and bet on college football, though few of them ever graduated college.
HRC’s performance was off all night. She seemed inarticulate, rattled, forgetful, unable to martial obvious points of attack. For example: the answer to the question of why accept more dispossessed Syrians is: because we are nation of immigrants, because diversity is our strength (as her husband used to say), and because at every stage, when America has grown more robust economically, and more powerful, it has been because immigrants made it possible to do so. Even now, in Trump’s empire, it is Latin Americans who are building his buildings and mowing his golf courses, as it is just about everywhere else in the United States. The whole good life of the moment is fueled by the labor of Central Americans, in particular. HRC missed this, and she missed a few other tantalizing pieces of low hanging fruit, and I assume it is because, on some level, she worried for her physical safety. Her one perfect answer for the night was about Trump’s tape, and Trump’s character. She was right on the money here, and devastating, and having divested herself of this answer, she had done most of what she needed to do for the rest of the night, even if it meant she has no idea what to do about Aleppo. Nobody else does either.
HRC only had to still be standing on the stage at the end to be heroic. And she was.
Trump performed like a man who doesn’t care if he burns down the entire edifice of presidential candidacy. He has nothing to lose now, because he is going to lose. He doesn’t care who is the collateral damage anymore. He’s cynical, he believes in nothing except money and power, and he loathes women. He is a rapist as a matter of course. And if he can’t have the presidency, he’ll settle for a television network, and last night he proved the validity of that enterprise, by having all eyes on him.
The debate was disgraceful. And we, the whole of the United States, are disgraceful for allowing this to happen. We have defiled the electoral process, we have cheapened the presidency, we have become the laughingstock of democratic nations across the globe, we have emboldened dictators, and we have proven that even the most placid and orderly of transitions can disintegrate into something where autocracy seems like a virtue, and plunder a sign of ideological certitude. I don’t really want to live in this country very much, the one on display last night.
Who knew that the Paddy Chayefsky who wrote Network was timid, mild, and had not enough conviction to see the ramifications of his imagination.
October 19, 2016
Third debate: a righteous ass-kicking.
October 31, 2016
The news this week is all about the crumbling and decline of the idea of the checks and balances of the American system of government. In the Senate, they’re talking about failing to fill the empty spots on the Supreme Court, until they have it down to six (an even number) as though this notion were routine or historically justified. And as everyone knows, it now appears that the department of justice, and its Federal Bureau of Investigation, has jurisdiction over the presidential election. I imagine that this all has to do with styles and varieties of power. The idealizing of despots, the idealizing of Assad, the idealizing of Putin, these are late-night fantasies about power for the pelted candidate. The fantasy of total control and the crumbling of the separation of powers these suggest that it IS democracy that is at stake. It’s power as masturbatory fantasy versus the broadcasting and decentralization of power in democracy.
I think democracy is robust in theory but frail in practice. People love it when they don’t have it, as in the Arab Spring, but how quickly it decays when unsupported. Is our country democratic? Does it live up to the billboard? Perhaps it aspires to be democratic. But money and power often prevail. They often bulldoze democratic formulations. (One of the candidates has worked on behalf of the disenfranchised, and one has not.) These tendencies are complex, paradoxical, but if you tease apart the curtains you can see.
The fundamentally undemocratic objectives of the Republicans in the senate and their nightwatchman, their rent-a-cop, James Comey, are bent in the prism of pelted rhetorical flourishes. How easy it would be to push too hard on the one branch until with a muffled crack it breaks. If you say “Our nation needs a strongman” enough times you will eventually get your strongman. And his simplistic rhetoric and violent force and nepotism.
The other piece of this sinister moment is Anthony Weiner. I do not judge the addict who admits to the disease, accepts the consequences thereof, and goes about getting help. Weiner, so articulate in the documentary, appears to be that addict but is not. As he was willing to jeopardize his son, in his continuous masturbatory fantasy, it’s no stretch to imagine him stealing shit off his wife’s computer, and fantasizing about the power he no longer has. It’s just across the bedroom there. Addiction has no moral compass. I myself did many things as an addict that I cannot explain nor rationalize. The addict self is a divided self. Bad decisions are made at every turn until the vehicle of compulsion strikes the implacable wall.
But if it turns out that democracy gives out once and for all because of an adult male jerking off online with a 15 year old, while his toddler son slumbers next to him, we’re all to blame. We didn’t nurture the democratic vine while it was right here in front of us, apparently flourishing. We didn’t educate the ignorant, we didn’t welcome the huddled masses, we didn’t make the case for democracy. Instead we wanted the zircon-encrusted hotel lobby, the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the final solution, the total control, and we would stop at nothing.
He still could win.
November 3, 2016
I stayed up late watching game seven of the World Series, and I rooted for the Cubs, because my father-in-law grew up loving the Cubs, and because the Indians’ uniform is racist, and because a 108-year-long hex is a beautiful thing to watch as it comes to the end, and because I love lost causes. I love when hope seems the most foolish thing of all. So I watched game seven, which had more twists and turns than the last ten years of World Series games put together, and all throughout the evening my father-in-law texted back and forth.
Rick: Just turned it on. Hair-raising.
Neil: Anything can lead to something …
Rick: I’m digging the small-ball technique. They can knock Kluber out. Like maybe right now. Action in Cleveland bullpen!
Neil: Especially if Hayward gets on.
And then, later.
Rick: Rain delay!
Rick: Could be a long night.
Neil: Chapman done in any case. Cleveland pitching situation not clear to me.
But I assume new pitcher after rain?
The point here being the foundational quality of something relatively innocent and traditional, the dare-I-say-it audacity of sports-related hope. The fact that the Cubs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat seems to suggest (despite the apparent horrid politics of the Ricketts family, who opposed Trump, and then were the subject of veiled threats, via Twitter, from the man himself, and then turned around and gave him a cool million) real possibility, the coming from behind to victory, the sun behind the clouds, the possibility of things improving, of droughts coming to an end, of rampages of bad thinking eventually culminating in the eureka moment, the sudden blinding instant of enlightenment, the cresting of the new moon, the receding of the flood, the union of the disputing parties, and the ways in which these things happen only after years of trouble. I went to bed, after four and a half hours of baseball, and I felt like things could really improve.
November 7, 2016
I had Paul Chan, the great conceptual artist, sculptor, and renegade publisher sit in on my writing class in the NYU art department today, in this the last bit of the pre-election era I’ll be able to concentrate on. At one point, a few years ago, Paul made a lot of “fonts,” as he calls them, in which he basically converted your regular typeface on your computer into a sort of a code. When you type in words on your keyboard, Chan’s “font” outputs, usually, a weird, and fascinating code gibberish. At one point, the “fonts” consisted of a lot of pornographic language, and so I decided to see what you would happen if I input some of Donald Trump’s speech on immigration (from August) into Paul Chan’s font entitled “oH Ho.” This is just the first paragraph, I believe. I think it sits well in the field of what we know of Donald Trump’s interests.
November 8, 2016
I actually took notes while it was happening, in real time:
7:22 Trump takes IN and KY, Clinton takes VT. Horrible sinking feeling.
7:29 Trump up 75% to 23% in Georgia. Horrible sinking feeling.
7:39 Trump up in FL. Horrible sinking feeling.
7:51 Trump wins SC. Horrible sinking feeling.
7:53 Changing networks. NBC too depressing.
8:00 Back to NBC. Child asleep. Home sprayed by skunk. Horrible sinking feeling.
8:02 Clinton sweeps the vast majority of New England states. Cautious feelings of hope.
8:06 Kellyanne Conway is a remarkable a dipshit.
8:41 Trump opens lead in FL. Horrible sinking feeling.
8:43 Evan Bayh goes down. Horrible sinking feeling.
8:47 Trump running strong in VA. Horrible sinking feeling.
8:58 Horrible sinking feeling about MI.
9:01 Horrible sinking feeling about OH.
9:04 New York!
9:37 I think Trump may win.
9:49 Systemic horrible sinking feeling.
9:50 Just the worst, most horrible sinking feeling.
10:18 So demoralized I am considering going to bed.
10:22 Susan Sarandon? Wanna rethink that endorsement?
10:25 OH to Trump.
10:26 I wish I could feel comfortable telling America it deserves what it gets, but I feel terrible sadness and foreboding about what’s to come. It’s heartless to fail to see how much suffering is to come, how immigrant communities are going to suffer, how the very people voting for Trump are going to suffer. It’s going to be a truly dark four years.
10:51 Still awake.
11:01 A brief moment of hope as the West Coast falls in line.
11:11 Women’s rights will be set back fifty years.
2:19 A.M. Trump wins PA.
2:28 Just a truly historic loss for Democrats. With a full Republican slate and at least three Supreme Court picks ahead of him, Trump has immense power and his core supporters among racists, Anti-Semites, and lovers of the police state are well situated to make significant cultural gains.
2:34 I sure hope we can scale up the Trump U investigations and the rape charges immediately.
2:36 White people with no higher education: you paid his taxes for him, that’s how smart he is.
2:42 Trump pronounced winner.
2:42 What is James Comey doing right now?
2:42 What is Anthony Weiner doing right now?
2:47 I would rather eat glass than watch his victory speech.
3:11 Christie gets a second act, I guess …
November 10, 2016
I have come now, in these dark days, to two conclusions about the 2016 election, about which I have been thinking, now, for eighteen months.
The first way to think about it, in fact, is that it really is about pussy. I’m using the word though it pains me to use it after all these months. And I hope you will forgive me. Trump, obviously, really loves the word pussy, and he believes that power and money make it inevitable that he should have pussy and that an inevitable adornment of money and power is not only heterosexuality, but the dominance of the masculine, and the submission of the feminine. The feminine is the wallpaper of the masculine habitation of money and power. That’s one thing we know about pussy. But the other thing we know about it is that it brought Anthony Weiner’s life to an abrupt halt. Weiner used the word with his child bride: “I would bust that tight pussy.” Weiner’s lust for political power, as he says in the cinematic documentary about his mayoral ambitions, comes from the same place as his heedlessness about the propriety of his online sexual relationships. For him, as with Trump, and perhaps as with Bill Clinton (of whom it was said that he “eats pussy like a champ”), the feminine is something over which we assert ownership, as an indication of our masculine achievement.
It’s entirely consistent with rape culture. With the idea that men have some kind of privilege that women don’t have, and that women, or the bodies of women, more exactly (because the total personhood of women is never part of this equation), are the site of male power. That Hillary Clinton’s eleven-point lead essentially evaporated because of Anthony Weiner, and what was alleged to be on his computer, or because the FBI is as full of male privilege as the Donald Trump campaign staff, is ironic. She was the one person in the tawdry embarrassment that was Election 2016 who would not have overused the word pussy.
The hordes of white men in the Midwest who helped Trump through the needle’s eye of the electoral college, they approved this message. (Their wives, in many cases, did too.) The great America that we are supposed to be getting back to, the mythological, once-upon-a-time America, is a culture in which women knew their place, and in which the head-of-household privilege of the male was uncontested. This America never existed, of course, except in the early iterations of television; this America was more about back-alley abortions, and compulsive Victorian-style perversion, in which there was the lust with for pussy, or conversely the traditionally Republican closeted gay sex-and-drugs compulsion.
Where we were getting, with Barack Obama, and where we might have gotten with Hillary Clinton, was away from rape culture. Though there was work still to be done, we were making some progress. In fact, the mere fact of identity culture on campuses in the last few years suggests that things were improving enough that there was time and space, at last, to deal with our own philosophical failings. But: when you dig in and threaten the dispossessed of their last cherished vanities—that they are more important because they are white, and that they are more important because they are men—watch out.
The second way to think about the election is this: the Democratic Party really stands for something. When Hillary Clinton stood up to give her concession speech on Wednesday, in the great shimmering of despair in the room, the paroxysms of loss—which I have seen since, among young people, among women, among children, among people of color, among all of those who fear their own dispossession now—it was pretty clear that by dialectical reasoning, all of those who are against the oligarch, and his grim policy agenda stand for something. In Clinton’s incredibly graceful remarks, some of the particulars began to be clear: we are a nation of immigrants, we are about equality for all, we are about opportunities those without opportunities, and we are about lending a hand to whoever needs it, we are about equal access to law for all, we are about conserving the environment, we are about insuring a future for our children and their children, and we are about civil rights for those who have historically been treated as though they had none: women, Latinos, African-Americans, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, people of Jewish descent, people of African descent, Asian-Americans, refugees from the war-torn corners of the world. Clinton played through the themes of the Democratic project like a consummate musician, perhaps knowing that it was the last time she would do it for a while, and I could feel the language being hammered into a shape where it really means something, really stands for the ages, at last.
So if you feel lost, and hopeless, and like there is nowhere to turn, there is somewhere to turn, there are others, if not right next to you, then within reach through the instantaneous communication of these times. There are others. And with these others remember this: that at the site of most ignominious negation the voyage back begins.
Rick Moody is the author, most recently, of the novel Hotels of North America. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he also recently released The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise Recordings).