Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 15, 2016--Affectionate Pressure

I have been under affectionate pressure from many liberal friends about some of the things I have posted here about Donald Trump and his remarkable candidacy. In truth, some admonitions that have actually been less than affectionate.

But there I go again, illustrating what they see to be my problem--while attempting to understand why Trump has gathered so much support, I have used words such as remarkable to describe what I see to be the Trump phenomenon. As if remarkable sounds too much like support (it doesn't) or phenomenon is too dispassionately analytical (it may be).

Why haven't I, some say to me, reached the obvious conclusion about him and move on? Don't I see him to be a fraud and a bully, worse, a racist bigot, a misogynist with fascistic aspirations?

Yes, I see all of those tendencies and more.

But if you have been wondering about me, hear me clearly--I have no intention of voting for him in November if he is the Republican nominee.

(As a sidebar, I do not see him winning the nomination--I predicted here months ago that the prize will go to the over-coy, over-eager Paul Ryan. Mitt Romney, clearly, was not ready for his closeup.)

And, these friends have also been unhappy to hear that I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton. I find her qualifications and resumé to be suspect and her inclination to play by her own rules and lie about the consequences unacceptable. Perhaps even felonious. It is no surprise to me at all that the vast majority of young women are voting for Bernie Sanders.

My hope is that somehow someone like a Joe Biden will be able to enter the race. Someone with real, as opposed to self-proclaimed accomplishments.

Otherwise I may sit this one out.

But again, Trump is not anyone for whom I have any admiration or even respect and will not knowingly render him any support.

But I will continue to attempt to figure out the political, social, cultural, and even psychological reasons he has attracted so many followers. Neither I nor any of my friends thus far have answered all the questions I have about these questions and thus many remain.

For example, I have been pressed to see Trump as a crypto-fascist in the mode of Benito Mussolini. There are fascistic strains being exposed, but what are the economic and cultural pressures that might lead to the emergence of an American Duce? Many conditions are dire here, but it is far from 1920s Italy. And how do Evangelical Christians, as opposed to Italian Catholics affect these impulses? This is a key difference and no one to date has shown me how to think about this.

Some say to me that I am meandering into the slippery world of psychohistory. That to psychoanalyze Trump is both an easy thing to do--his omnivorous narcissism and inordinate need for adulation are right there to see on the surface--but hardly worth unpacking. I have responded that I am less interested in his personality disorders than I am in the social-psychological forces at work within our society. Our pervasive national pathology. Our tendency toward anti-intellectualism, know-nothingness, even what historians such as my undergraduate history professor, Richard Hofstadter, have called the "paranoid style in American politics."

Probing beneath the surface of the day-to-day news cycle, I have also written here about how self-loathing can lead one to an interest in Donald Trump. There is more to say about this and over time I hope to be able to do that.

Is there a will to believe that is driving interest, even devotion to Trump? If so, why are Americans, unlike our Western European allies, so prone to belief at the expense of evidence? Scientific as well as religious? Is it simply that after the Founders' generation we have been waging a war against the Enlightenment? If so, isn't that something we should be talking about?

Also, I have been asking, what about belief-driven behavior on the progressive side? Are the people who have turned to Sanders, since his numbers make no fiscal sense at all, just as belief-driven as those chanting "USA, USA" at Trump rallies? "Bernie, Bernie," doesn't sound all that attractive to me.

While on the subject of progressives, also agitating many of my progressive friends, I have been asking if we are as prone to confirmation bias as we accuse conservatives as being? In the spirit of searching for justification for our views, seemingly seeking evidence, how might we be filtering out or ignoring data and views that are legitimate but contradict our fervently-held beliefs? Are we so much smarter and objective than the conservatives we abhor?

And what about the penchant for seeking scapegoats? On the Trump side finding them among undocumented immigrants and more generally people of color. On the other side, I have periodically found friends also engaging in stereotypes--labeling Trump supporters "ignoramuses," "sexists," and "bigots." Is that the best we can come up with when attempting to understand Trump's appeal?

If a large part of Trump's power, many who excoriate him claim, comes from his exploiting and pandering to people's frustration and rage about what they perceive to be America's dissent into a society that panders to people here illegally or others who allegedly are ripping off hard-working Americans who are trying to survive by playing by the rules, what about all the grousing and withering complaints I hear from some of my friends? Much of it quite nasty.

Aren't many of us also frustrated by what we see to be America's failings and even decline? About our rigged system? Don't too many of us on the left join many on the right in looking down our noses at America's struggling unwashed? Aren't we all guilty of having insufficient understanding and too little empathy?

If any of this is true shouldn't we be more honest about our views and, more important, behavior? So many of my friends who understandably despise Trump and say we have to stop him because we will need to tell the next generation why we didn't act to stop him are doing little more than sending money to Bernie from the comforts of middle-class lives. Where is our movement? Is Black Lives Matter the best we can do?

This is just part of my list of unanswered questions. Questions I feel require better answers if we are not to rip ourselves apart. Like him, hate him, one thing Trump has inarguably done is to tear the scab off much of our collective, ideologically-spanning hypocrisies.

Admittedly, many of my remaining questions focus on people like, well,  me. To me and those like me who are leading contradictory lives, substantially satisfied, living in relative comfort and security, it is essential to understand the implications of these unflattering things, including our claim that it is only others who are vulnerable to false prophets.

Perhaps that's too quick a characterization. Among other things, it excuses us from the unpleasantness of having to engage in a difficult self-examination.

As valid as our characterization of "others" might be, to note that is the easy part. The hard part, the more important part, is to look within ourselves, do more fessing up, take more responsibility, and do a lot less finger pointing and condemning.

We're too smart for that.

There's a stereotype for you.

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Anonymous Lisa Zwerling said...

My mother worked for Henry Wallace who ran on the Progressive Party in 1948. However, when she got into the voting booth, she voted for Truman, realizing that a vote for Wallace was a vote for Dewey. If the choice is Trump vs. Hillary, I find it sad that you are voting for Trump by not voting. You say that the young women are overwhelming for Sanders, but what about the older women, women of experience?

March 16, 2016  

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