In the four weeks since the shocking election of Donald Trump as president, many in Hollywood and other coastal liberal enclaves have gone through the traditional phases of mourning: denial, anger, bargaining and depression.
Acceptance, the fifth phase, has not arrived.
In the past week or so, I have had conversations with a half dozen leaders in the entertainment industry — producers, executives, managers, writers, directors and others — who continue to walk through their days dazed and struggling to process what has come to pass.
“Every day I wake up and I think for a second that maybe this was all a dream,” one leading executive told me last week. Then reality strikes again, and this person is plunged back into some level of disbelief. I’ve heard similar reactions from more than one other person.
Trump’s decisions during this transition period have reinforced the shock and delayed any path to acceptance. His brazen choice to pick a privatizing billionaire to run public education, a climate change denier to the EPA, a proponent of automating the work force to run the Labor Department and possibly the head of Exxon Mobil to be Secretary of State defies any hope that Trump would govern more moderately than he campaigned.
On Friday came the news that Trump will hold on to his executive producer credit on “The Apprentice” — what does that mean for NBC and NBC News? — and this weekend he landed the humdinger that he rejects CIA intelligence that Russia interfered with the election. This came with the stunning pronouncement that he does not feel he needs daily intelligence briefings.
These developments, cascading through our news feeds day by day, are profoundly destabilizing to those who want to figure out how to approach a presidency they did not expect or want.
This casual lack of responsibility toward the office of the presidency, this penchant for choosing right-wing extremists and military figures for civilian Cabinet posts feels deliberate. It’s as if Trump is aiming to keep people off balance. And that is precisely what is happening.
I ran into the head of a TV network and asked how things were going. Things at the network were going great, he said, but he confessed that he found it hard to be in a good mood about anything with the Trump news inserting itself into his daily life.
Another leading producer told me said she felt powerless and paralyzed. She is busy at work, but she wonders if there’s something she ought to be doing…. but what would that be?
I am not exaggerating when I say that the people I meet feel they have passed through the looking-glass. More times than I can count I hear people say that what is happening in reality would not pass muster in a Hollywood pitch meeting, it’s just too outrageous. Let’s see: The president of the United States is the executive producer of a reality show starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? Rewrite!
All of this points to a tumultuous period to come. When the people who craft the nation’s stories are at a loss, there are bound to be consequences and ripple effects on our culture.
For the moment, we wait, hoping for something to hold onto. But for the moment the cliff-dive that the electorate took with Trump, away from recognizable norms in our government and our politics, leaves us all with vertigo.