observations and opinion
Donald Trump and “Trumpism” is the American expression of the same reactionary, nativist, fundamentalist sentiment that has swept up many Arab and some other societies. Trumpism is the American cousin of ISIL, Putinism and Hamas.
Seventy five percent of non-college educated white males in the United States plan to vote for Donald Trump. How in the world is that possible?
That number is stunning, but when we examine what has happened in the USA in recent decades, it becomes predictable. For thirty years, the Republicans and their enablers have taught white men that the government is their enemy. What does government do? It takes their money, their freedom and their jobs, and gives it all to brown people. Or women. Or gays.
Taxation, regulation and trade have reduced white men from building cars to flipping burgers. Manufacturing has sailed away offshore; machines have replaced men; women have replaced men. Wages have fallen flat, or just fallen.
White males are still the most employed demographic in the United States. But there are elements of obvious truth in the perceived economic change besetting them: they don’t make as much money, for as little or the same work, as they used to.
The economic calamity has happened during a quickening cultural revolution, with women and other historically marginalized groups (blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, etc) demanding that their rights be recognized. The exalted status of the white male American has dissolved in the rushing tide of globalization and progressivism.
However real, or perceived, the loss of status has been for white males is less important than the manner in which the sentiment has been stoked and milked. A whole industry has arisen to feed and suckle on white self-pity.
For some time the White Male v. Everybody Else dynamic has been played out in proxy wars: the relentless fight against reproductive rights is an attempt to suppress women. The shameless and widespread Republican efforts to restrict legal voting – by erecting modern Jim Crow type barriers – has maintained white supremacy.
The post-9/11 climate of hostility to Muslims has been another, poorly veiled proxy battle by white America. With thousands dying in the most horrific ways at the hands of Islamists, America has waged war back on the culprits (real and imagined). With that threat still out there, if somewhat contained, there remains ample room to blame and hate Muslims.
Then, of course, came the ultimate white man’s disaster: Barack Obama. A talented, smart, erudite, cool, charismatic liberal academic snob. And a black one, to boot. He could only have been more hateful if married to a white woman. After Obama arrived, it was easy to gin up all the sleeping and unspoken race hatred and bring it to boil. The Tea Party and Birtherism were examples of widespread, corrosive white hatred for the President and all he represents. Obama accomplished much in his first two years, and has had to fight to keep it in the remaining six.
But that battle is over, and the next one has begun. In 2016, the American white male found his true champion, and he’s an American white whale – a shameless huckster, promising to “make America great again.” How? By reversing the tide of history: jobs lost to decades of free trade, will somehow be repatriated; jobs lost to immigrants, legal or illegal, will be taken back; immigrants themselves – 11 million illegals we are told – will be sent back at gunpoint, to wherever they came from. New immigrants, especially Muslims, will be barred. Gay marriage will be stopped. Abortion will be stopped. And walls, real and virtual, will be built to keep the wrong people out.
The genius of Donald Trump, of course, has been to punch a catheter into the deeply aggrieved white American male. He releases the rancid juices of enmity, envy and most of all, self-pity. The uneducated white American male feels sorry for himself with an intensity that defies gravity and sense. And no-one alive has understood that, lived that, cultivated that and exploited that more deftly than Donald Trump. Trump is the self-pity vampire, who has now found an almost bottomless reservoir of grievance and petulance on which to feed.
Donald Trump bears an amazing resemblance to other self-pity vampires, like the old German one to whom he is so harshly compared. But there are better comparisons: ISIL, spreading a philosophy of doom and humiliation; Yasir Arafat and his heirs, who have thwarted Palestinian progress, cultivated misery and fed on mass grievance; Putin, who lives off of nationalism and internal terror.
Self-pity is a strong elixir for the powerless – they will surrender everything to that feeling. And so they have surrendered to Donald Trump.
Against this, the Democrats having nominated someone who is the physical embodiment of “what’s wrong” – an internationalist, professional politician deeply immersed in the power elite. Someone who has climbed the ladder of life in lock step with the rise of globalization. An educated, progressive, liberal Democrat. And something else too: she’s a woman. Hillary Clinton could only be more hateful to these people, if she were black.
In 2016 we witness the spectacle of one of the most successful and experienced Americans alive struggling to pull together an electoral coalition to slay the beast hatched by white male America.
First, Trumpism must be stopped in November. Every resource possible must be brought to bear – and that includes the millions of white people, female and male, who are still too proud, too decent, too mature, to let themselves surrender to the self-pity that Trump invites them to indulge.
Even if Clinton wins, the war will not be over. Trumpism didn’t start with Donald Trump and it won’t die with him, either. Victory in November, if it comes, will be just one battle in the permanent struggle to earn and protect progress. It will be one step, forward or backward, in a slow, steady, bloody, endless and exhausting struggle.
And while that struggle is inevitable, victory is not. Civilization and progress demand vigilance and strength. Trump may be beaten and his voters may ultimately die of natural causes, but self-pity and tribalism are permanent aspects of the human character.
The next self-pity vampire is waiting.