…shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.

-Judith Butler

Trump is, unfortunately, not only America’s problem, which has in the past 3 weeks been one of my larger sources of comfort.  One could, this month, read only the New Zealand Herald and be perfectly informed on Biden v. Trump.  The best summary of US ballot initiatives I saw was in, of all places. Le Monde.  And it’s easier for me to think of the news sites, worldwide, which haven’t been closely covering our ongoing fiasco of succession the past two weeks than those which have.  Insofar as Trump is, along with Brexit, the most visible crest of the reactionary wave which has swept over much of the world recently, and insofar as he’s been an emboldening influence if not outright inspiration for the Bolsanaros and Jansas, his antics are a clear and vital interest for most of humanity.  As another commentator wrote; “I think we all feel the hand of history on our pussies.”  

Trump is a horrible person.  The question is not why he is, or why so many people embrace his horrid policies, but why so many people have embraced him, as a totem and lodestone.  In this he has a lot in common with the previous president born in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, who also understood that the politics of personality have in the US so much to do not merely with symbolism, but with an idealist instantiation of national identity.  The US president is king, not in fact (though TR and Trump have disconcerting commonalities when it comes to executive power), but in spirit.  Just as TR embodied the agency America was afraid of losing in 1900, Trump embodies the supposedly uncomplicated world back before the rest of the world reminded white men how pervasive, difficult to shirk, and evil their bias is.  

The appeal of this is, obviously in retrospect, not just confined to white men.  It is one thing to embrace Obama winning the Nobel for being elected.  It is another to sustain a nuanced conversation about how policing in America is both systemically biased and has for decades been eroded by an expanded mandate without matching increases in funding and support.  US abortion policy (and evidently, abortion policy elsewhere) is, now more than ever, explicitly in the interest of sustaining the patriarchy, something which does not prevent the many Coney Barret’s of the world.  4 years ago Trump’s election was a specific backlash against a black president, and the possibility of a female president.  That backlash is still strong, as 75 million voters reminded us.  Wanting to keep the world thus simple is on the wrong side of history, as nearly 80 million voters and a female vice president can tell us.   The question for the future is not whether the patriarchy will give up their grasp on the world, but when, and how much those holding on will let crumble in the process.


10 responses to “Shame”

  1. I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusions, Dave. I don’t think the election in 2016 was a testament to identity like you described but more to how unlikable a candidate HRC was and how much she represented the status quo of wars, big business, and no thought of middle America. Now as a country we didn’t get much different but the same issue presented itself in this election where the Democratic candidate puts up a very poor candidate leading many people to choose between the lesser of two evils. Then there’s the notion that Democratic candidates continue to miss many voters on values like patriotism and loyalty. Have you ever read Jonathan Haidts book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”? I highly recommend it. I have met many who have voted and support Trump and would hesitate to describe anything more than a small minority of them as racist or misogynist. Sure there are some bad apples, and this is by no means an endorsement of our president’s behavior. But partisan team cheering and generalizations that denigrate half the country aren’t solutions and only continue to propagate what got us into this mess in the first place.

    1. Perhaps we agree that both candidates are highly personally flawed (likely criminally so). I know many, many Trumpists — Obama’s race & Clinton’s ‘gender’ had nothing to do with DJT’s election. For Trump supporters, it’s about their perception of ‘American Values’ (1st & 2nd amendment, ‘law and order,’ meritocracy, etc), “a country is not a country without borders” (and a managed immigration policy), anti-socialism/communism & addressing the tech giants’ totalitarian approach to managing speech & everything…for starters. To Jack M’s point, their concerns are heartfelt.

    2. Massive difference between personal, operational racism/sexism and actions/choices/etc that promulgate privilege at the expense of others. I think the most coherent explanation for Trump’s appeal growing over the past 4 years is denial/backlash against how inexorable and embedded things like racism and sexism are. It is a profoundly uncomfortable thing to admit, which in turn is pretty much the only way I can grasp voting for the big T.

      A big part of own journey of understanding the past fortnight has been reading up on Presidential history. Clarification that Trump is a full outlier in our history doesn’t take much work to find. Past presidents in the bottom 10 or so (Johnson, Grant, Hoover, Tyler, Bush 2) were either victims of ineffectual reaction to circumstance, or actively pursued bad policy. Trump is singular in both the depth of his unqualification, and in his not really having a coherent agenda. In this last point he is similar to Reagan, in that what policy he does have is almost entirely ideological, rather than practical. Reagan was more able, obviously, as well as far more fortunate. The true cost of most Reagan policies waited 2+ decades to make themselves known.

      There was an argument for voting for Reagan, as well as for Bush 2. There is an argument for actively supporting Biden, who will probably (hopefully?) be more of an Eisenhower figure than anything else. There is no argument for voting for Trump.

      1. Though I think Trump is an existential risk to civilization in general, with all due respect, I would strongly disagree with your 2nd and final sentences in the response above.

        The left has used the last 4 years to obsess over demographic subsets to the point that their language and tent reminds me of some sick cousin of the Republican puritanism of my youth. Certainly sexism exists, but I believe most people voted for Trump 4 years ago as an act of repudiation. Those with less privilege than most voted for him in even greater proportions a couple weeks ago than they did in 2016 – largely because the left has abandoned them in most meaningful ways outside of signaling through incantations. I can think of a few reasons people would want to continue to repudiate the left, that if prioritized differently, are perfectly rational, and have nothing to do with racism or sexism. To many, voting is harm reduction, though it is true that to some in the era of Trump, it is a cult of personality and a religious act.

        Trump is the most terrible human we have ever seen as president, but intellectual energy is a limited capital, and instead of investing that capital inward, the left spent it all focused outward, repeating itself and shrinking its tent, and as we just saw, by the skin of our teeth we will avoid 4 more years of a madman.

        We must refuse to view our fellow Americans through either lense of the two political parties and their financial machines. I worry that continued obsession over identity and finger pointing at the portions of this country that voted for Trump, most of which I believe had nothing to do with the two isms mentioned above, will do nothing more than further our march toward chaos.

        1. “…intellectual energy is a limited capital, and instead of investing that capital inward, the left spent it all focused outward, repeating itself and shrinking its tent, and as we just saw, by the skin of our teeth we will avoid 4 more years of a madman.”

          I appreciate and agree with you here Bret, and appreciate you phrasing it that way.

          On the other hand, I don’t think a 6+ million vote margin is particularly close. Without the electoral college, the current Republican party doesn’t win another national election. Without the Senate, the current Republican party is forever in the minority. To say nothing of without (yes, racist) gerrymandering and voter suppression laws in places like Texas, even with the electoral college the current Republican party never wins another national election.

        2. I ask this genuinely bc I see it said a lot, and I don’t understand. In what ways has the left abandoned the under privileged? I can understand where the left didn’t help them I think. But I guess more importantly, in what ways did Trump stand up for them in substantial ways? I can see where he gave them an emotional outlet, even if I feel it was a horrible racist, xenophobic one. But I honestly just don’t see how he helped any of the under privileged in Red States in America.

          As a couple of other thoughts:
          -Is the basis of accusations of racism/sexism in Trump supporters not somewhat based in feeling they are ignored and upset bc the left “prioritizes” other races/groups, as if white America should always be the priority? Maybe that’s not racism, and just simple selfishness, but considering America’s past of white hegemony, the lines blur quickly.
          -With all respect to the concerns often listed by Trump supporters as why they voted him (1st and 2nd amendment rights, immigration, meritocracy (LOL at one, sorry…Trump is the embodiment of that….I mean look at his useless sons)….are those really the things holding them back in life? Even if there are no restrictions at all on guns, is that really going to improve the life of the rural Nebraskan? Same with immigration. Let’s imagine no more illegal immigrants, do Trump supporters truly benefit? We talk about manipulation and sometimes we don’t even stop to realize if what we’re worried about is what we need.

  2. Trump was a dark stain on our country but electing Biden, although it reduces the volume on the rhetoric, reverts us back to the status quo that left many feeling dissatisfied. I personally support nationalized healthcare, a higher minimum wage and other policies that bolster the middle and lower class. We need more of a revolution than a reversion to staid policies that only helps the upper crust of our society. This election has left many of us wanting.

  3. Thanks for this, Dave. I bet you’ll take some heat but its good to lay out on the line an actual stance on something, an examination of what power means and its impact on the social contract – and not just some mealymouthed “both sides” and “being angry is what got us here in the first place”. The latter thinking means that you, one, we, needs to just always accept that what people literally tell us with their votes and words is not what they mean. In short, gaslighting on an epic scale. What DJT and many of his supporters are now trying to do is objectively disrupt any kind of sense of continuity is blowing my mind (and does not excuse my disappointment with the craven Dem party leadership, who has campaigned off his misery and not shown any backbone). Thanks again, the elephant in the room is huge and we need to give it voice.

  4. I’ll be honest. I can understand describing Hilary as unlikeable. I don’t understand how Trump is any more likeable in comparison, or how he less represented big business and no thought of middle America. That’s the disconnect I still can’t understand. I find no connection between him and his base other than the undesirable things Dave points out.

    Dave, I appreciate your candor on this, even at the risk of alienating many, and couldn’t agree more. While I don’t believe all/many Trump supporters are bad at heart, I have yet to find ones who don’t fail to realize their status in life (and expectations related to such) as being at least in part related to the privilege of American affluence. Hard work is great, and to be praised. But many fail to see that it’s success is often related to where you start in life, and without certain a nice launching position and some luck along the way, is no guarantee of the desired success and “American dream”. When that disconnect surfaces, as it now does in much of middle class America, the “other”, change, and the government become easy scape goats unfortunately. As concerns Trump, this idea reaches extremely perverted extremes, where a man born with the proverbial silver spoon is somehow seen as champion of hard work and American success…the American dream and ideal…except his started at birth essentially.

    As a kind of concrete example of what I’m getting at, I heard many Republicans describe Trump’s working of the tax scheme as ingenuity, and praising his ability to take advantage of the system. Success, whether earned or not, is seen as being totally owed to the individual. Meanwhile, any person using social welfare is often villainized as mooching the system, simply because they “scheme” from a starting position of less prosperity.

    I don’t know. I’m never as clear or eloquent as I like, by far. Hopefully there’s a coherent thought in there.

  5. Agree that America is hungry for almost anything but status quo. Horrified that the Trump ideology is what was picked. That people believe Trump represents the common man just baffles me. The guy is about Trump. He is neither leader nor representative. I wouldn’t let the guy near my home or family.

    The thing that scares me the most is the hold that players, through the media and social networks, have on what folks believe. There is a movie/documentary/rag piece called Social Dilemma on Netflix I watched recently. It talked about how social network sites tap into emotions and human chemistry to sell products and ideas. Different people see different views of the world based on algorithms. We are fed what will generate a response whether that be a purchase or a click. The ability to steer us in a particular direction is sold to the highest bidder.

    Shame is the right word in my opinion. I wouldn’t accept the behavior we have seen from our president from my child. I believe history will not treat this stretch of time well. If the last four years is the statement for the character of our country, I fear for our children and their future.

    Thanks for sticking it out there Dave.

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