A lot of people are trying to grapple with the question of what the hell is happening to our country with the prominence of Donald Trump in the presidential primary. As I mentioned yesterday, I think Rebecca Traister articulated it very well in her article titled: The Election and the Death Throes of White Male Power.
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…
Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…
This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.
But of course, this goes way beyond the leadership of an African American and a woman. What is being challenged is also the entire white patriarchal view of the world and the assumption of dominance (usually military) as a means of power and control.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric has taken these assumptions out into the open after decades of lying just below the surface. We hear it from him all the time, but here’s part of his closing statement at the end of Tuesday’s debate.
Our country doesn’t win anymore…If I’m elected president, we will win again. We will win a lot. And we’re going to have a great, great country, greater than ever before.
When it comes to specifics about how he’ll do that, Trump very rarely provides any. That’s because he is speaking to a feeling his supporters have that neither they nor their country are dominant any more. In their minds, everything is a zero sum game viewed through the lens of win/lose, either/or, us/them, friends/enemies.
From that perspective, something that is accomplished via partnership with the other nations of the world – like the Iran nuclear deal or the Paris climate agreement – feels like a loss. Similarly, a political party that is a coalition of people from different races, genders, religions, sexual orientations, etc., is a threat.
Along those same lines, Trump embraces a very patriarchal view of strength. Tuesday night when he was asked by a Facebook participant about his proposal to “go after” the family members of terrorists (a war crime), he responded with this:
Look, look, look. We need a toughness. We need strength. We’re not respected, you know, as a nation anymore. We don’t have that level of respect that we need. And if we don’t get it back fast, we’re just going to go weaker, weaker and just disintegrate.
We can’t allow that to happen. We need strength. We don’t have it.
It doesn’t bother Trump at all that his approach is no different than ISIS. In his view of the world, these kinds of challenges are all about one big dick-swinging contest to see who can be the most dominant bad-ass. More importantly, that kind of talk assuages the fears of his supporters who see their entire world view threatened.
For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes — and, yes, religions — subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
What we are witnessing right now – as Traister put it – is a “dangerous rage” unleashed by those who feel threatened because their entire world view is in it’s death throes.