While not shying away from the realities of all the work that must be done to forge ahead so as not to let liberty die under Trump’s towering ego, I am currently finding viewing Trump through the fictional lens of a zombie apocalypse both apt and cathartic. If there is any character that seems Trump’s fictional double, it is Negan – the hyper-villainous leader of Sanctuary introduced in Season 6 of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Negan, drunk on power, makes his followers bow before him, rules not with an iron fist but a bat wrapped in barb-wire. He amasses wealth and resources through oppression and fear. In The Walking Dead series, he has built a safe-haven surrounded by a wall. To live inside his “Sanctuary,” one must give up their individual identity, their personal relationships, and become one of his minions, willing to do his bidding. The wall surrounding Sanctuary is guarded by chained zombies who serve as a sort of flesh-eating border control. These zombies stop anyone getting easily in or out. And is this not key to Trump’s visions of wall-building? Not only does Trump want to keep certain immigrants out of America, he wants to keep CERTAIN people in as well and keep them beholden to his vision of a “great America.”
After his wind, some found Trump’s acceptance speech rather conciliatory, interpreting his vow to serve and unite “all Americans” was a sign that the hate-speech that fueled his campaign trail was just grand-standing. I think not. I think his statement hinges on his definition of “American” – an exclusive category in his mind that exists of the white and the right (and those willing to serve them) – to those that believe in all those constitutional things the conservative right holds so dear – gun ownership, amassing capital, manifest destiny, America as “the greatest country on earth.” Trump and Negan are kindred spirits here as well.
While the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead introduced us to the hyper-violent Negan, a man who revels pummeling people’s heads to a pulpy mush and whose idea of fun is forcing a parent to face cutting off their child’s arm with an axe, the third episode of the current season, “Cell,” gave us far more details regarding this uber-creepy leader of Sanctuary. In the premier, Daryl was taken prisoner for protesting Negan’s killings and violently removed from the scene, much like resisters at Trump rallies. In “Cell,” we learn Daryl is locked in solitary confinement. Deprived of sleep and fed one dog-food sandwich a day, Daryl is tortured with an upbeat song played on loop to prevent him from sleeping. The lyrics of the song bare analysis:
“We’re on easy street, And it feels so sweet, Cause the world is but a treat, When you’re on easy street. And we’re breaking out the good champagne, We’re sitting pretty on the gravy train, And when we sing every sweet refrain, Right here on easy street. It’s our moment in the sun, And it’s only just begun, It’s time to have a little fun, We’re inviting you to come and see why you should be, On easy street. Yea we got a front row seat, O, to a life that can’t be beat, Right here on easy street, It’s our moment in the sun, And it’s only just begun.”
To consider this in relation to Trump, certainly his life on “easy street” feels “sweet.”. When you lack any moral compass and live a life framed around amassing as much wealth, power, and doing as much “pussy grabbing” as possible, all while believing you fully deserve to “sit pretty on the gravy train” and drink “good champagne,” well surely your believe that you deserve your “front row seat” to “ a life that can’t be beat.” That this life is one that depends on “easy money usually gotten by illegal means,” as the idiomatic/etymological origins of the term “gravy train” suggests, is key to remember. Trump’s “easy street” (which 1% of the world’s population lives on), is made easy on the backs of the other 99% – a good portion of whom, in the U.S., voted for the very man that supports such a stark economic divide based in sexism, racism, classism and so on. This feel-good ditty also links to the way bigotry and racism are framed as “individual problems” that come to those who don’t accept the “invitation” to join life on easy street. The type of “easy” framing used in the song and Trump’s rhetoric denies the systemic, generational, deep-seated aspects of racism (as well argued here).
Trump, like Negan, is a champion of the individual – that “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” lie that feeds the myth of meritocracy. Such individualism encourages people to feel they deserve their “moment in the sun” regardless of who or what has to suffer as consequence. Worryingly, as history teaches us, giving despotic tryrants more power generally escalates their despotism, thus, Trump’s “moment” has likely “only just begun.” Trump/Negan types don’t turn over a “good leaf” once handed the keys to the kingdom – no, they go the way of Caesar, swelling up already overblown egos and inevitably banging the drums of war and hate ever more urgently.
In the Walking Dead comics, as well as in his televised depiction so far, Negan is a bully running an autocratic enclave of humans who survive by stealing from others. His fondness for hyperbole and profanity echoes Trump’s style of speech – one devoid of any substance other than egotistical boasting and hateful rhetoric. His kingdom is located in a former factory where the men serve as soldiers/laborers and the women as sex slaves. Believing the best way to have power over another man is “by fucking his vagina,” Negan not only subscribes to the view of women as men’s property, but actively ‘steals’ women from other men, amassing a “harem of wives” and insisting all females of Sanctuary belong to him. Meanwhile, he claims to be anti-rape (remind anyone of Trump?).
A loose cannon, Negan vacillates from bullying to threatening to bombastic bragging. Incredibly sneaky and manipulative, he will do and say anything to maintain power. Ruling over what he calls his “new world order” mainly through threats of violence substantiated by torture and murder, Negan uses fear and intimidation as his main means to power, dehumanizing people and forcing them into submission if they wish to remain alive.
Is this not what Trump wishes to do with those he plans to welcome into his “great America”? In short, his Americans will need to tow the line and to swallow various lies used to justify abhorrent acts and policies so that his version of “American Dream” (read white, right, male, uber-capitalist) can thrive. This will allow his ilk to continue stamping their business-suited, designer-shoed tyranny over the nation and the world – at the expense, of course, of working class Americans who will not benefit from Trump’s vision, of middle-class Americans who have less buying power than they have ever had along with less prospects for future growth, of students misled into an increasingly corporatized academic system which graduates them into a society of underpaid and not enough jobs, of the minorities and the marginalized (people of color, Muslims, immigrants, women, the queer, the disabled) who will variously continue to have their humanity trumped on by police brutality, Islamophobia, threats of deportation, repeals of reproductive rights, a return to “conversion therapy” for non-heterosexuals, and a society that condones the mocking of those with non-normative bodies, be they disabled, fat, of the ‘wrong’ skin color.
Way too many voters bought into Trump’s message. Surely, many did so out of desperation. And this is not the time for us to turn against those misled by this sneaky fucker. Trump assaulted the populace, much as Negan assaults the post-apocalyptic survivors of The Walking Dead. They both use fear as a weapon, spew condescension, and have egos so over-inflated it’s a wonder their ballooned heads don’t find them floating above ground.
In his latest assault on Alexandrians, Negan forced Rick to hold his weapon of choice, the bat Lucille, while he lorded all over town insulting people with quips about their weight and tossing off various rape threats like so many jokes – Negan, like Trump, sees “grabbing the pussy” as his birthright. Negan plunders medicine, weapons, beds, and various other supplies from the Alexandria safe-zone while strutting around like cock-of-the-walk, pretending his tyranny is oh-so-charming. Before leaving, he acts as if he has done Rick a great favor by not killing anyone and forces Rick to thank him. Smug as ever, he tell Rick, “I just slid my dick down your throat, and you thanked me for it.” It seems to me this might be something like what Trump is repeating on loop in that puffed up noggin of his while we, as a nation, have Trump shoved down our throats.
The question is, what are we going to do in order to spit him out, cut off his power, and show that we are not a fearful bunch of neophytes, but rather have Michonne’s rebellious determination, Rosita’s strategy skills, Father Gabriel’s ability to play nice while figuring out how to turn the tides, Eugene’s technological savvy, and Carol’s shape-shifting abilities. In addition to adopting the skill set of the human survivors of The Walking Dead, so too must we become like a rising tide of walkers, a mass that will not stop shuffling towards Trump and his ilk until we bring them down. Not as brainless zombies but as the awakened masses. Only in rising, in moving forward, step by painful step, in refusing to cede our humanity, can we take down the infection that Trump has unleashed. Whether we do this wearing safety pins or Black Lives Matter t-shirts, by disrupting racism, or simply by day in and day out refusals to be accomplices to the hate and fear Trump represents, we can do it. We will. We must.