Here we are, rolling to the end of another year, about to elect another President. Very likely the Democratic nominee will be elected, and yet barring divine intervention we’ll be stuck with a Republican majority in the House. (Right now it appears the Senate could go either way.) So there is still obstruction ahead as far as the eye can see.
Our basic problem, as I see it, boils down to this: There’s a portion of the American population that is prepared, intellectually and emotionally, for the United States to adjust to the 21st century. This portion accepts the U.S. as a multicultural and multi-ethnic nation. It understands the U.S. is one nation among many on this planet, and that our future security and prosperity require friendship and co-operation among nations, for our mutual benefit. It sees government as a means to carry forward the will of we, the people; to secure the rights of citizens; and to be sure that everybody gets a “square deal,” as Theodore Roosevelt promised about 112 years ago.
And then there’s the portion that wants to crawl inside a 1950s-era Disney movie about America and patriotism and never come out. You remember those. In that world, nearly everybody was white. Men were in charge and women were happy to let them be in charge. The few blacks were poor but cheerfully docile, and Native Americans were remote characters who dutifully fell out of trees whenever a white man shot a rifle. You’d think they would have learned to stay out of trees.
There also are a lot of people in neither of those portions. I think a big chunk of the electorate probably knows that Donald Trump is ridiculous and really don’t want to bomb Iran, but they tacitly accept much of the “wisdom” of the Right because that’s all they ever hear — taxes must always be cut, government spending is always bad, and all Middle Easterners are dangerous. They probably don’t accept progressivism, but it’s also the case that it’s probably never been explained to them.
So here we are, this big, strong, wealthy and allegedly dominant nation, and we can’t so much as fix our own bridges. We’re stuck between moving forward as a modern representative democracy or morphing into some kind of authoritarian state run by a cabal of mega-billionaires. If the latter vision wins, the (white) masses will be placated by visions of Fess Parker and his spunky militia protecting the homestead against scary foreign things. Everybody else will be disenfranchised.
A couple of weeks ago, Rebecca Traister wrote that we’re all suffering through the death throes of while male power.
This moment, this election, these years represent the death throes of exclusive white male power in the United States. That the snarling fury and violence are contemporary does not make them less real than the terrors of previous periods; it makes them more real, at least to those of us living through them. And the presidential-primary contest, while absurdist and theatrical, is reflecting very real fury and violence in the non-electoral world: the burning of crosses and black churches, the execution of black men by police, the resistance of male soldiers to women in elite combat positions, a white man with a history of violence against women himself a “warrior for the babies” after killing people at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and a younger white man killing nine black churchgoers with the explanation “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.”
The political contest just projects these panicked resentments on a bigger, more official screen. The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us. Recall that Trump’s rise in politics began with his attacks on Barack Obama as foreign, as Muslim, as other. And that the tea party whence Ted Cruz springs has concerned itself mostly — official protestations about economic priorities to the contrary — with shutting down reproductive-health options for women. That is, when they are not trying to shut down the political ambitions of Hillary Clinton at any cost (see Trey Gowdy’s wild-eyed, profligate, and fruitless Benghazi investigation).
Increasingly, Republican voters want just one thing: revenge. Read what Frank Lutz says about pro-Trump focus groups:
I spent three hours in a deep dialogue focus group with 29 Trump supporters. The phenomenon of “The Donald” is rooted in a psyche far deeper and more consequential than next November’s presidential election. His support denotes an abiding distrust in — and disrespect for — the governing elite. These individuals do not like being told by Washington or Wall Street what is best for them, do not like the direction America is headed in, and disdain President Barack Obama and his (perceived) circle of self-righteous, tone-deaf governing partisans.
Trump voters are not just angry — they want revenge.
Mr Trump has adroitly filled the vacuum of vitriol, establishing himself as the bold, brash, take-no-prisoners megaphone for the frustrated masses. They see him as the antidote to all that Mr Obama has made wrong with America. So to understand why millions love Mr Trump so much, you have to take a step back and listen to why they hate Mr Obama so much.
Here, my Trump voter focus group was particularly illuminating. Some still believe the president is not Christian. Many believe he does not love America. And just about all of them think he does not reflect the values the country was built upon. Indeed, within this growing faction, Mr Trump has license to say just about anything. As we have seen repeatedly, the more outrageous the accusation, the more receptive the ear.
Mr Trump delights in unleashing harsh attacks on Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment and the “mainstream media”. His childlike joy in ridiculing his critics is tantamount to healing balm for the millions who have felt silenced, ignored and even scorned by the governing and media elite for so long. Is it any wonder that his declaration of war against “political correctness” is his most potent and predictable applause line?
This of course begs the question — what, exactly, has President Obama “made wrong with America”? Other than being POTUS while black? Do they even know?
The fact that they hate “political correctness” above all things tells me that nothing matters to them more than the freedom to be openly bigoted without being stigmatized for it.
Tom Gogola writes that America really wasn’t ready for a black president.
If hope and change were the Obama buzzwords in 2009, the lesson of 2015 is that a bunch of overstimulated, hopelessly right-wing pseudo statesmen haven’t changed, grown up, dropped the sub rosa race-bait narrative—even as Obama delivered on his fair share of what he promised way back when.
Don’t ask me why Obama’s race is still an issue; ask Lou Dobbs. The immigrant-bashing news anchor blabbed to the Fox masses about how Obama only became president because he played the “race card,” a curiously timed outburst given that Dobbs made it just two weeks ago.
See the rock-solid belief in the minds of true bigots — black people get things handed to them they don’t deserve, at the expense of white people. They even somehow get elected POTUS when they don’t deserve it.
The Trump supporters feel their “values” are being threatened. And, of course, we know what those values are. They value maintaining social and cultural dominance as a birthright. They deserve to dominate because they are white. Being male and overtly Christian also count.
I could go on. Of course,there’s always been a disconnect between the ideal America and the “real” America. We see ourselves as the “good guys” who stand for freedom and compassion. And, y’know, every now and then, we have been. But there’s also always been bigotry and discrimination, sometimes to the point of violence. We’re a nation of mutts uneasily tied together by a Constitution that we all honor, even if we disagree over what it means. And right now I have no idea where we are heading.
See also: Nate Cohn, Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat; Nancy LeTourneau, Republicans Want Revenge and A World View in Its Death Throes.