“Our Barbie-doll president, with his Barbie-doll wife and his boxful of Barbie-doll children is also America’s answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string-warts on nights when the moon comes too close…” – Hunter S. Thompson (Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72)
I wonder, Hunter, what you would have made of Donald J. Trump? You couldn’t believe that the American people voted for Bush, twice, so I must wonder what you would have thought about the American people voting for Trump.
But you are dead, and we are not, which means we’re the ones that have to make sense of this roller-coaster ride.
We are in the eighth official day of the Trump presidency, and the light has yet to break through the clouds. I held back talking about this sordid election since November, mostly because I didn’t feel like I had anything to add to the conversation. I also felt that maybe, just maybe, a higher power with a slightly less dark sense of humor would intervene, but no such luck.
So, here we are, and so it goes.
We have a president that has kicked the press after it’s already been thrashed by cheap neo-Nazis and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. We have a president that has muzzled the federal agencies and assembled a cabinet of corrupt and/or incompetent stooges to do his half-baked bidding. We have a president that believes a Great Wall of America is going to keep out ravenous hordes of Mexicans created in the mind of last century’s racists and the paranoid nightmares of middle America.
I have no love for this man, and, why should I? He’s the president of my country, sure, but that doesn’t mean too much. He’s a scum-sucking shyster that rode a wave of anxiety and xenophobia straight into the Oval Office, promising the people the moon and getting ready to hand them a pebble. I wouldn’t trust him with being president of the sophomore class, much less the United States. I suspect that, like Nixon, his paranoia and underhandedness will get the better of him, and when his regime combusts like the Hindenburg I will have no sympathy for the man.
Over two months after his victory on November 8th and I still find myself wondering, how the hell did this man get elected? That is, what possessed people to choose him as their leader?
It’s easy, almost comforting, to write them off as Klansmen, Nazis, garden-variety racists, or simpleton nationalists, and for a disturbing number of them that’s the truth.
Still, that’s not every Trump supporter.
Yes, Trump speaks to the dark side of the American character. Ignorant, brash, inarticulate, paranoid and violent. These are all characteristics we must confront, and I’m afraid we embrace them all too readily in times of crisis. We act like cornered beasts ready to lash out at anyone or anything that we even remotely perceive to be a threat.
He also speaks to the naivete of the American character, and for those people I can’t blame them.
We’re surrounded by two of the world’s largest oceans that are patrolled by a nigh-unstoppable navy, and we have two relatively comfortable neighbors. The last time we fought with Canada was during the War of 1812, and the last time soldiers went into Mexico was over 100 years ago during the time of Pancho Villa. It only makes sense that we feel sheltered, and Trump speaks to that. Withdraw from the international stage, build a wall, and beef up the military! It comforts people because it’s simple, lacks the nuance and complexities of geopolitics, and asserts America’s otherness from the rest of the world. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long ago that we could be withdrawn and isolationist. Part of me even agrees with it. Trump also speaks to the idea of self-reliance, the pioneering blood that flows through our veins and is grafted onto our DNA. It speaks to a time when, as a nation, we could be self-reliant: farming, manufacturing, technology, and culture we had it all. We were the last ones standing after World War II and we reveled in it.
Pax Americana, the New Rome straddling the globe, setting our eyes on space, and weeping for there were no new lands to conquer (the communists didn’t count).
Then came the hangover, and we didn’t like it. The 50-year drunk came to an end and it was time to pay the Great Bartender and stumble out into the blinding light of postmodernity.
Now, after a dwindling manufacturing sector, two costly wars, and a financial crisis we’re left wondering if it might be better to look to the past instead of the future. Trump roars onto the scene like a raving, unhinged version of your nostalgic and vaguely racist uncle. Almost everything he stands for, I’m against, yet I can still empathize with the Trump voters that aren’t throwing sieg heils or defending crackpot theories about race and genetics.
I grew up in Michigan. My father is a tool & die worker, my uncles worked for GM, and I remember the foreclosures and factories closing. I remember already-struggling towns get a swift kick to the groin. I know people who face insurmountable college debt, who were told to go to college because it was a golden ticket for job security and a luxurious future. I empathize with Trump voters because they are friends and family members.
I also empathize with them because they voted for a shyster and a conman. He lured them in with promises of a return to norms and American greatness without any idea of how to make that happen. Hell, I don’t even think Trump quite realizes the impossibility of his promises. I could be wrong, and part of me hopes I am wrong, but I doubt it. Even if the manufacturing jobs come back, they’ll be replaced with robots that are faster and don’t ask for a raise. Even if we extract ourselves from the international stage we’ll still compete with China and India. And what of the illegal immigrants? You could deport every last one of them and the economic situation won’t get any better. Do you think the fresh, young generation is going to run to the fruit fields to pay off their college debts to the tune of $4 an hour?
I empathize with the Trump voter because some of their anxieties are very real, and because they’ve been swindled by King Swindler; they just don’t realize it.