One of the essential ironies of our time is that world-changing events are happening, things unseen in all of human existence, or even since the beginning of the Earth--and yet somehow they fail to get much serious attention from the general population. Ice sheets melting away at the top of the world. Land masses sinking. Epochal extinction. The rise of robots, artificial intelligence, precision genetics. And so on. The phenomenon of widespread numbness undercuts our ability to think clearly. The 21st century citizen stresses and bustles along, abetting these changes, hampered by a conscience riddled with blind spots. It’s as if lightning were flashing all around, and yet those in the storm insist on an appearance of drab blue.
That the United States rose to greatness on the back of genocide, and continues to be propelled by violence and viciousness, this is, from the perspective of many Americans, basically irrelevant. The general behavioral pattern of the population, in effect, proclaims, ‘Who cares?’ Consider the epidemic of sexual assault, mostly against women and children, that runs wild in our society. What is the general attitude? In the nature of the daily routine, the people basically respond, ‘So what?’
This ethical vacuum extends even to issues that threaten our very survival. The environment is degrading in unprecedented ways. Yet this merits a mere shrug. Or you get the ignorant, “It’s always been changing.” If you press a typical individual on even the most stark injustices, you often get an answer that endorses the horror, like “It’s just human nature.”
With social ease we endorse horror while not even admitting it is horror.
One of the hardest lessons for anyone to learn, because our culture makes it so, is that, although the system looks rational and honest on the surface, it is not. It is dishonest and irrational. It is ugly below the facade of a chiseled Justice, blindfolded, holding a scale. Perversely, we use our minds to hide from the truth, not uphold it. The subtle acculturation includes all our institutions, and proceeds via multiple interlocking subliminal prods, backed up by the very real threat of poverty or imprisonment.
It’s very hard to learn about, and accept, that the ideals, rituals and celebrations trumpeted by our culture actually reinforce wrongdoing. It’s like being Truman in the movie, The Truman Show, except far worse. Every 107 seconds another person is sexually assaulted in America (https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/frequency-of-sexual-assault).
Nuclear war could occur any day. It is quite plausible. If somehow humanity survived it, future people would look back and label us as utter fools. Indeed, we are utter fools whether or not nuclear holocaust occurs because we have fostered conditions in which it could occur.
Magnifying our foolishness, if that were possible, are the constant proclamations about America's greatness and “exceptionalism.”
Donald Trump has, for a brief time, has made us look at our foolishness. He has brought the ugliness out of the mental cage, yanked it from its hidden, numb niche. In so doing, he birthed his own shocking, amazing moment. And he has done it so fast that our mechanisms of denial can’t keep up. The virulent racism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia that infect the American public have been laid bare. We are like bugs exposed by overturning a stone. Even our institutions recoil. Even the Republican Party, a longstanding proponent of (unstated) white superiority, is caught off guard. The GOP never wanted to confront this side of itself. It’s as if Dorian Grey were being forced to look into his secret sin-accumulating mirror.
It won’t last long, the shock. The pain of inner conflict is too great. We are too uneducated, have underdeveloped ethical and emotional skills, to wisely handle our feelings. We turn to rigid ideologies--frameworks that split the world into black and white--for mental support, at the price of the ability to think freely. Our media and institutions have already begun the process of normalizing Trump.
Soon he will be seen not as a vulgar, unethical bigot, but rather as the new standard of an obnoxious, yet acceptable, right wing politician. A plausible enfant terrible.
Commentators are already tailoring their approach. They claim that his followers are simply protesting the injustice of the establishment. This “protest movement” explains and forgives Trump’s tendency to ballyhoo even the most outlandish and bizarre claims, to cock-a-doodle forth whatever he wants, even the most unwieldy lies.
This ‘protest’ slant by the media sugarcoats his sickness. The truth is, Trump can’t just say anything he pleases. If he stopped promoting white-superiority, he would fall. If he ceased to champion the motto, “Make America White Again” (clearly that’s what it’s all about) the hatred he has amassed and stoked would abandon him.
Donald Trump = bigot.
And yet Hilary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, won’t say that. She refuses to speak the obvious. No doubt she’s afraid of offending some demographic slice. She is known to drop racist cues herself, albeit not on the scale of her opponent.
Clinton embraces the mealy-mouth-ism that has made most Americans sick of politicians. Our leaders, including Clinton, have perpetrated decades of corruption, transferring money from the middle class to the rich. Their duplicity and prideful arrogance have fertilized a soil ripe for the xenophobia in which Trumpism takes root.
It is heart-wrenching to watch the national media bend around fascism, accommodating and shielding it. The Republican Party is in an early stage of acceptance, pretending right now, it seems, that Trump is okay--forcing themselves to smile. You can almost see the psychological struggle that results in awkward smiles and troubled faces, the mental pressure to accept that Trump isn’t so bad after all. You can almost see the truth being stuffed away, deep into the subconscious, where it can’t be riled up by logic.
They are in turmoil, experiencing cognitive dissonance, but the GOP is stepping into line, more and more eager to take up the banner of hate. The more they accept Trump, the more the hate coils over their hearts, like tendrils of a weed, taking control in increments.
Calling Trump the leader of a “protest movement” is fallacious. It ignores much, and implants a twisted suggestion: that Trump’s message is somehow enlightened, like the protest messages of the 1960’s. What a sad misuse of semantics to satisfy the specious mind.
A common normalizing statement is, ‘He will bring jobs.’ In other words, it doesn’t matter if he is a virulent racist so long as we get some money. Racism isn’t so bad, not next to a paycheck.
It’s shocking, amazing. Or it should be. So many politicians who said Trump was terrible just months ago, who lambasted him with the darkest rhetoric, now kowtow and roll over behind his monstrosity. It is gut-awful to watch. It validates how petty humans can be. No liberty. No equality. Not decency. Just an hypocrisy beyond abhorrent.
There is opposition to Trump. Tens of millions of people. But many of them are making the mistake of thinking that Hilary Clinton, a longtime member of the establishment, isn’t part of the problem.
The Huffington Post, to its great credit, runs the following editor’s note after pieces on Trump:
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
Don’t expect the obvious to affect Trump’s followers. They epitomize the key insight that, first and foremost, humans are not rational, but rather psychological creatures. Trump is consistently inconsistent. He speaks in contradictions. This is not only fine with his claques, it gives them an outlet for their hate. Hate thrives on ignorance, especially the most willful. And what is more willful than disregard for logical contradiction? As long as Trump promotes whiteness and offers outlets for hate, he can curry mass favor. He recently accused Ted Cruz’s father of involvement in the JFK assassination. Ridiculous. And yet it worked for his hardcore followers. It worked from the perspective of championing ignorance and energizing hate.
If human society is to move forward, we must admit that human beings are primarily psychological. Advertisers and political campaigners already know this and act accordingly. It’s a dangerous myth that citizens will vote rationally, and thereby steer the country well.
Trump’s style goes back to despotism, the scepter-heavy standard of might makes right. History tells us that this leads to cycles of revenge and great bloodshed. But knowing this history requires education. Trump has said, “I love the poorly educated.” He surely also loves fear. It’s hard to imagine someone admitting they love fear--perhaps the most hardened criminal--but at some level, Trump must. Fear is his grease.
In regard to normalizing Trump, Paul Krugman is perhaps the best op-ed writer. He points out the danger of “false equivalence”:
One candidate is engaged in wildly irresponsible fantasy while the other is being quite careful with her numbers. But beware of news analyses that, in the name of “balance,” downplay this contrast.This isn’t a new phenomenon: Many years ago, when George W. Bush was obviously lying about his budget arithmetic but nobody would report it, I suggested that if a candidate declared that the earth was flat, headlines would read, “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” But this year it could be much, much worse. (from “Trump and Trumpism”)
We should all be shocked and amazed at the slide into dark conformity taking place. The shameless kowtowing. The descent into a yawning prejudice. Trump ‘s aggression is innately bellicose, and threatens not only the moral nature of western civilization, but also its very life. To quote Denzel Washington’s character in the movie Crimson Tide, “In the nuclear age, the real enemy is war itself.”
To put it another way, the mottos of ‘winner take all’ and ‘might makes right’, in the nuclear age, are the real enemy.
The spoiled-brat aspect of all this adds to the ethical grime. The American people have been the number one consumers of energy, the number one spenders and guzzlers of endless products. They have wallowed in materialism and excess. Other people on the planet, billions of people, live in penury. Those who aggress for the right to carry a gun everywhere seem to forget that their fancy piece of steel costs a year’s salary to many laborers around the world.
A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes aired a segment about a region in India where mine work is done by families, including children, using hand tools. They break rocks down with hammers. On the show, a family couldn’t afford their first meal of the day until they had earned enough money, which didn’t happen until around noontime. It was emphasized that a seven-year-old girl was going hungry, until she and her family broke enough rocks with hammers.
We need empathy, if humanity is to survive, not hate.
In the 21st century, you would think that some of the wisdom of the civil rights movement, of the women’s movement, of the LGBT movement, might have taken hold. But progress has meant some people progressing. It has meant a bifurcation, two subcultures going different ways. The subculture of white superiority, if it gets strong enough, will impose its will by force. As long as you win, all is good and fine, according to the new puppetmaster of this faction, Donald Trump. America was built on taking land from the indigenous peoples, after all. Because we were wicked yet mighty, we got a new continent to ‘develop.’ We got to spread our genes. And because we won, we got to write the narrative, a narrative that claims we really weren’t wicked after all. We were only exercising God’s decree. Manifest Destiny.
In the end, despite the sophistical rhetoric, we do get judged. We are sworn in and sentenced by our own actions. As individuals and as collectives. Greed, as with previous empires, has been America's decline. The fuel of the country's immiseration.
The final judgement could come very soon. If ignorance ‘wins’, we all go down. In the nuclear age, the real enemy is ignorance itself.