Opinion: Michael Ian Black: Trump Lives ‘Rent-Free’ in Our Heads—and With Good Reason

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

There’s a phrase people sometimes use when they want to insult somebody—say, for example, me—who spends too much time thinking about and discussing somebody else—say, for example, Donald Trump: “You’re letting Trump live rent-free in your head.”

I hate that.

The insult stings because it happens to be true. I really do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking/reading/writing about our previous president.

Michael Ian Black: Can We Stop Acting Shocked About Alito Family Shenanigans?

That wasn’t always the case. Years ago, in fact, I was at some New York City event or other when I noticed Trump saunter up and start chatting with Ice-T. At the time, Trump was just a tacky jerk who made the NYC party rounds. Don’t ask me what they talked about because I didn’t even care enough to eavesdrop. The only reason I even remember the occasion is because I once found the surreptitious photo I took of the two to commemorate the weirdness of that pairing. (A photo which I have had no success in locating to accompany this piece.)

Through The Apprentice years, I had no thoughts of Trump whatsoever. If he occupied any portion of my mind, I devoted about the same square footage to him as I did for the old candy Bit O’ Honey. Not none, but pretty darn close.

That all changed in 2015 when Trump hired a bunch of actors to applaud him as he rode down an escalator to announce his absurd run for President of the United States of America. From that moment on, my thoughts increasingly turned to the man who would soon become our narcissist-in-chief.

It wasn’t so much that I cared about Trump the person; as far as I could tell, he was the same fatuous loser he’d always been. What changed for me was the nation. Or, perhaps, “changed” is the wrong word. Perhaps I should say that Trump, uniquely among all presidential candidates I have ever witnessed, revealed the nation to me.

As that miserable campaign season dragged on and on, I experienced what people in the UFO community call “ontological shock,” a rapid and radical shift in worldview. I couldn’t believe that so many of my fellow Americans not only supported his platform of cruelty and exclusion but adopted that platform as their personal creed. Here, at last, they seemed to think, was somebody giving us permission—and celebrating—all of our worst human impulses.

It’s like they’d been waiting decades to finally unleash the Karen.

And here I’ll use another tired phrase: I thought we were better than that. I really did.

Michael Ian Black: UFO Whistleblower David Grusch Is My Hero of 2023

I thought the heat from the previous half-century of progress had finally cooled enough to harden into the permanent national consciousness. Nope. Turns out a sizeable percentage of the population believed that we’d already progressed as far as they would like, thank you very much, and maybe we actually needed to back the fuck up a few steps.

I made the classic mistake of thinking that just because all of my friends supported basic ideas like gay marriage, equal pay for equal work, congressional districts that represent the people who live there, and the separation of church and state, that the rest of the nation basically agreed, even if their acquiescence was occasionally begrudging.

Sure, I thought, there would always be loons on the far right who would make noises about repealing Roe v. Wade but, as every judicial nominee had answered since days of yore (or at least since 1973), access to abortion was settled law. That’s what I thought, but, as I’ve often said, I’m an idiot.

Once he was elected, I expected Trump to be among our worst presidents. The actual experience of living through that administration, however, was horrifying as much for its incompetence as its malfeasance. Don’t misunderstand, the malfeasance was plentiful, but it would have been worse had he not also been so spectacularly incompetent.

Then the COVID pandemic hit, and the line between incompetence and malfeasance blurred so much as to become indistinguishable. We all saw the results.

Michael Ian Black: Screw It, Let’s Hold the 2024 Election Tomorrow

Does anybody feel like going through that again? Apparently, they do. Trump is currently either slightly ahead or tied in most polls.

So yes, I really do allow Trump to live rent-free in my head. To evict him now would be to turn away from the threat this man’s movement has provoked for the nation and the world.

While he gets to live up there for free, it certainly costs me a great deal to spend as much time as I do obsessing about him, but the way I think of it is simple: we either pay now or we pay later. I prefer to pay now, before the cost has risen even higher.

Whether I like it or not, I’m going to allow Donald Trump to continue to let him live up there, rent-free, for just a little while longer. Then, when he’s lost another election, I can finally kick him to the curb for good. With luck, he will take up free residence somewhere else—a jail cell, perhaps.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.