Wednesday, March 09, 2016

March 9, 2016--Fear and Self-Loathing

For some time I have been trying to understand why, as the rhetoric descends in Republican primary debates--led by Donald Trump but recently further debased by others, especially by the increasingly-desperate Marco Rubio (he started the "small-hands" business)--why Trump thus far has not significantly lost support. He may yet get derailed, but after yesterday's primary victories, he is still the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination.

Many attribute his thus-far success to his ability to tune into and exploit the frustrations, anger, zeitgeist, and fear of his followers. They may not always want to publicly reveal they are supporting him, but those who do or contemplate doing so, are among America's most alienated citizens.

This includes many who one would think are secure and are objectively doing well. The anger and fear run that deep.

But what about the vile behavior and scarcely-veiled bigotry and racism? Why isn't everyone repelled by that, not wanting to be associated with it? Some are secret Trump supporters but others are proud to wear his Make-America-Great-Again caps and t-shirts.

Trump may also be tapping into deeper personal forces, including self-loathing.

Here's how that might be working--

His followers believe that many aspects of the partly-true, partly mythological American Way of Life have declined to the point where we may be on a fatal national trajectory.

To them America is past the declining stage and on to the falling phase.

We used to be able to take for granted that the opportunity structure was available to anyone willing to work hard and play by the rules. We used to be able to believe that American know-how was unsurpassed and that this was reflected in our world class educational and health care systems, our governments, our seemingly-limitless resources, manufacturing might, our vaunted freedoms, inventiveness, cultural leadership, and just plain gumption.

And, vastly underestimated, we used to win wars, not lose them while snagged in various quagmires of our own making.

Not unrelated, wherever Trump supporters look, they see America no longer considered to be the world leader. More the opposite, with us mocked and scorned by those who used to give us at least grudging respect.

Many Americans see crumbling infrastructure, growing inequality, a rigged economic system, craven politicians, water they can't drink, and believe that so many from plumbers to teachers to government workers to religious and corporate leaders to police and to cultural and manufactured products are incompetent, fraudulent, or debased.

And though few are willing to confess that they are a part of the problems they see in the world or willing to assume any personal responsibility that they are no better than those they criticize or hold in contempt, instead, they look for ways to dissemble and rationalize in order to help enable themselves to guiltlessly reap the benefits of personal corruption. Down deep, those who feel their own hypocrisy attempt to persuade themselves that they are not part of or contributing to this ugly reality.

But down a cut deeper, they are unable to beat down the self-loathing that is a significant consequence of living in this truth-denying, duplicitous way.

One manifestation of that self-loathing is to degrade themselves through their own coarse behavior and indulgence in guilty pleasures while at the same time seeking surrogates to confirm that they in fact willingly contribute to the problems and, the most seemingly-contradictory part, are no better than those they condemn.

We see this manifest in the worst of our entertainments, from various forms of addiction to pornography to the way people represent themselves in youth culture and the public arena.

With schadenfreude out of control--the pleasure taken by the downfall of others--it is not far from that to Donald Trump.

He is the guiltiest of perverse pleasures and comforts his most tortured supporters. In him they have found their doppelgänger--he externalizes their darkest emotions--and this grants them permission to justify being all too much like him.

In this way, he serves as their external id.

That is powerful social-psychological stuff. A case of national, psychic dislocation and clinical depression.

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