Trump is more Beckett than Sartre

David A. Graham’s latest in The Atlantic, “There’s No Way Out”, is subtitled, “Trump’s presidency may be a dysfunctional disaster, but there’s no apparent way to end it.”.

In the piece, Graham offers a survey of observations and incidents on his way to building the case that we have no exit from Trump and his administration’s relentless aggression against democracy. He concludes:

That means until at least the end of 2020, the situation will remain much as it is, with a president widely acknowledged to be dysfunctional and no way to change that. It is as though the United States is stumbling, never quite falling on its face but never fully righting itself, either, caught perpetually mid-stumble. The only certainty is more weeks like this one. There is no exit.

The URL of the article cites it as, “No Exit”, a reference, I assume, to Jean-Paul Sartre’s work of the same name. But in that play, we learn hell is other people and eternal torture at their figurative hands.

It’s not hard to understand how Graham might feel this way, but he has cast us in the wrong absurdist menage à trois if indeed he had No Exit in mind. Samuel Beckett’s The Unnameable, specifically the last sentence, is far more apropos, in my opinion. The segment is an internal dialogue reflecting an attempt by the protagonist to make sense of the his efforts and experiences, and to understand them, frustration and all. He concludes with the words, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on”.

We are getting gaslighted repeatedly by the current administration: in our efforts to make a run at it, to work with it where we thought we could, to challenge it where we think we must but to no avail, to start up parallel efforts to funnel energy but then see the impact fall short. So the feeling of no way out – as opposed to the no exit of Sartre – is easy to understand and recognize.

However, that leaves us inert and we cannot afford to be inert. We are not sentient people with emotions for the purposes of remaining inert. We must go on, maybe especially when we think we can’t. We need to heed Beckett, not Sartre.

Ultimately, it is our choice, how we view how we’re feeling in the face of what we’re experiencing at the hands of Trump. Graham’s piece would have us view the situation as one with no exit. That’s not hard to see. But we can also view our situation as one in which we must go on even if we feel that we can’t go on – or that the situation cannot go on. Because as Graham outlines, and I agree, the current situation will go on. But so must we.

2 thoughts on “Trump is more Beckett than Sartre

  1. Good morning Jill,

    Two marks for using Beckett and Sartre. Well played!

    I would appeal to another writer, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi, who wrote:

    Inside this new love, die.
    Your way begins on the other side.
    Become the sky.
    Take an axe to the prison wall.
    Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
    Do it now.
    You are covered with thick cloud.
    Slide out the side. Die,
    and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
    that you have died.
    Your old life was a frantic running
    from silence.


    The lines that speak most to me—so much so that I include them under the Have Coffee Will Write banner along with Marge Piercy’s advice to writers—are these:

    Take an axe to the prison wall.
    Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.
    Do it now.

    I think someone at Nike stole that line.



    • Fascinating – thanks for sharing that. From my experience, knowing you have an axe at your disposal or finding one or making one, and then thinking to use it and deciding to use it, these are all distinct commitments along the way. Such a process, IMO. But yeah – once you’re ready – do it now, or just do it. Tsk tsk on Nike!

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