…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.
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.