Monday, August 31, 2015

Donald Trump and White America’s Anxiety

New York Times columnist Charles Blow  is all too correct when he states that the Republican Party has created a "Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism.”  But like the author of a piece in Salon, I think he under estimates the sickness that has overtaken the GOP and the depth of the hate and anxiety generated by the GOP base's sense of lost white privilege.  And among the Christofascist element of the GOP, the much deserved waning deference given to religion - especially their hate and fear based version of Christianity - is terrifying to their fragile psyches.  Their childish beliefs are under assault in their minds by science and modernity and, heavens forbid, they are being challenged to think for themselves by the larger society.  Their reaction is to strike back and low and behold, Donald Trump has ridden in seeking to be their knight in shining armor riding a white horse.  Here are highlights from the Salon column:
Donald Trump is not running a Potemkin presidential campaign. He is not simply the beneficiary of a restless and vapid press corps. He is not the Herman Cain of 2016. He is not some carnivalesque distraction, seducing us into avoiding “the real issues.” . . . . no amount of wishful thinking will make him disappear.

Instead of comparing him to candidates like Cain (who was relatively unknown, had little media experience, and was unable to consistently raise enough money), it makes more sense to understand Trump as something new. Or new, rather, for the modern era. He’s a demagogic ethno-nationalist of the kind that’s succeeded before in American history, especially during times of great upheaval and dislocation. Think of him as our Huey Long, our George Wallace.

[W]hat Trump has in common with those three men is this: He appeals to a large swathe of Americans who have not only lived through massive social disruption — the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement, respectfully — but who have had their fundamental assumptions about Americanness, and therefore themselves, challenged in the process. When his fans speak of “taking” their country back, they are not being tongue-in-cheek. They are deathly serious.

Although their complaints are often unsympathetic and their solutions are frequently barbarous, they are not exactly wrong. Republican are, on the whole, older and whiter than Democrats. They’re also more religious, more discriminatory in their sexual mores (or at least their professed ones) and more likely to live in rural areas. For the vast majority of their lives, the American mainstream has been white, Christian and at least suburban, if not rural.

The country that Trump’s supporters grew up in really is evaporating. And they’re coming to find that many of their basic assumptions of what it means to be a “real American” are no longer allowed.

Like Long and Wallace before him, what Trump offers these people is not only a return to a glorious past, but also a reassurance. Specifically, Trump’s vision of a nation purged of immigrants — both documented and otherwise — and cleansed of “political correctness” suggests to these voters that America-as-they-knew-it is not historically contingent.

While I cannot relate to the substance of these people’s grievances, I can imagine that experiencing the transition from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama is profoundly disorienting. I also can imagine that the mix of loss and fear that seizes them is a pain not easily forgotten.  

And I might think to myself that Charles Blow and the New York Times are welcome to hide their heads when they see my candidate approaching. Because whether it’s Trump now or someone else later doesn’t really matter. I’m going to be heard, god dammit, fighting for my America. The country I grew up in may be little more than a memory; but I will not silently fade away. 

1 comment:

RobL said...

Im doubt if the base of Trump includes those who lived through the Great Depression (think most of those are gone), but those who were young adults during the 1950s, Civil Rights movement, Vietnam etc is indeed his largest base.