I have titled posts “Is it OK to use stupid now?” “Is it OK to use fascist now?” Now I ask, is it OK to ignore Trump and his supporters? When we engage with them, we validate that they have a pov, a position, a point. They don’t. All they have is a mood. That’s why their own idiocies, lies, and self-contradictions fly right over their heads, why the very notion of alternative facts does not strike them as ironic. It is all about being angry.
Some do not show it. Those are the dangerous ones b/c they are in the Trump camp for very practical reasons. They are amoral. All they want is to get on the bandwagon and ride as far as they can, running over anyone dumb enough to get in their way to riches. These are the polished, well-placed insiders and movers and shakers who either out-right side with Trump or slyly hedge their condemnations of him uttered with an air of wise tolerance for boorish behavior.
The behavior is way beyond boorish. They described fascist thugs as boorish, as if condemning them to stand outside the parlors and fine cafes of the notables would cool the embers of their hate. It fanned them. So they decided to storm the parlors and cafes, smash them, and arrest the people in them. Trump’s behavior contains the nucleus (nuclear is not a good word to use around him) of a movement. He is incapable of leading it but he could inspire it. Look at mass movements that wound up oppressing millions; they all had early provocateurs and rabble-rousers who were soon consigned to death camps by their wilier colleagues, the ones who waited to see what advantage to take, and then sprang.
The mass of Trump supporters are not like that. They are the ones with a mood, with an attitude. We know from surveys and preliminary research that Trump supporters were neither poor nor grossly uneducated. What they were was White, that much is clear. My mind goes back to those WW II photo books when I see Trump and Melania, to that photo of Mussolini and his mistress hanging upside down in the town square, riddled with bullets; and when I see Trump surrogates from minority groups, I recall the photos of French collaborateurs with shaved heads marched down the street and spat upon. When you ride the tiger, you will fall off at some point, invevitably.
I seem to have taken Trump out of the equation. The major reason for that is Trump’s disordered mental condition. Some of us saw that early on; I have a background working in a psychiatric clinic for many years. Commentators like Chris Matthews persisted for month after month in asking, “Why is he doing that?” That is like approaching the homeless man walking down the sidewalk gesticulating and yelling at the sky and asking him who he’s talking to…. unless he’s sporting a blue tooth 🙂
Even now, Chris, who has begun to see the light, will still try to make sense out of what Trump does. The difficulty in discussing this is, as it so often is, a problem with vocabulary. I’ve cited elsewhere the debate among 3 historians and a psychiatrist about whether or not Hitler was “crazy”, the psychiatrist asserting that Hitler was not clinically insane and the historians erupting in righteous indignation that one had to be crazy/insane to kill millions of people. As I recall, the debate ended with nobody, not even the moderator, asking anyone to define crazy.
Trump has a severe personality disorder. Among several personality disorders, his is labeled narcissistic personality disorder. That is a diagnosis. If used as a label in a scientific way, it can help us predict what Trump will or will not do and prediction is the essence of science. Few people see it that way. First, we have the pseudo-intellectuals who claim to not like labels. OK, next time you want to buy Wheaties, we’ll remove all the labels from the umpteen cereal boxes and surprise you. Next, you have those incapable of seeing anyone with a mental disorder diagnosis as anything less than stark, raving mad…. insane. They just don’t bother to inform themselves. If they did, they would find that most of us have traits of personality disorders but not severe enough to get us a diagnosis – depressive, border line, hysterical, narcissistic, and so on, about 12-15 (google it). That’s why the qualifier ‘severe’ is important. And distinguishing personality disorders from other disorders like psychoses, organic disturbances, maladjustments, situational disorders, and so on and on, trying to cover the human condition, is ultimately essential to getting to what Trump is about and predicting his behavior.
The chief element for us to consider is that he cannot learn. He has one strategy he uses – making everything about himself – and if that fails consistently, he may break down. My wife, an extremely, sometimes scarily so, observant person, pointed out Trump’s disheveled hair the other day when appearing in an important meeting and on TV. No reason for the coif not being tended to, at least by an aide. Minor perhaps, but also note that mental status exams include notes on grooming, not casual wear but actual neglect. Did he push away his staff who tried to comb his hair? Does he not care? Is it for effect? Did his staff even notice, or did they say WTF, given his talent for insulting everyone around him. “Let him look like the schmuck he is.”
This one strategy approach is what makes this chief element chief – it means he cannot learn. That is the hallmark of a personality disorder – they do not learn from their many mistakes. They do not listen to others. The paranoid personality we easily imagine being too suspicious to listen, but all them do not and cannot listen, especially in the sense of “mind.” You see this in reporting of how Trump does not “listen” to his handlers, advisors, lawyers…. and even his family now seems a bit estranged from him, even Ivanka.
That is why Trump is out of the equation. How he’ll end up is anyone’s guess; one reporter said a friend in the intelligence services said Trump will die in prison. But what about the Trump supporters? Can anyone shape them into a coherent movement the way the GOP shaped die-hard Southern White Democrat segregationists into Republicans in the 60s? Doubtful. For all their fervor, they actually had a vague agenda, sort of. They wanted a return to earlier, imagined times, even the young ones. They have been fed a diet of nostalgia by the media, old Perry Mason shows depicting an America where criminals got caught and punished, good people were mild-mannered and unassuming, the culture was homogeneous from coast to coast, marriages lasted and families stayed together b/c everyone had a role and they stuck to it, and it was all White.
Did I say White? Let me remind folks that a number of Blacks and Hispanics back Trump. What is going on with them and, importantly, can it be jiggered into a movement? A column by Jenna Johnson appeared in WaPo today in which she interview a number of Harvey victims/Trump supports, the Hoggs, the Maddoxes, and a Ramirez. It’s here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/many-trump-voters-who-got-hurricane-relief-in-texas-arent-sure-puerto-ricans-should/2017/10/20/32da835c-b344-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?undefined=&utm_term=.0afcbd1a8acc&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1) [long enough for you?] and illustrates very well the attitudes, positive and negative, of such people. Note that even the husband and wife cannot agree on Trump: he still hopes he can pull through and she wants him impeached, but they ALL VOTED FOR HIM.
There is no coalition to keep the Bannon/Trump train choo-chooing along. But is there a coalition out there somewhere that will represent the grievances of the Trump voters? Is grievance alone the basis for a movement? It is not b/c it is too easy for members of the movement to fall off or be peeled off by other forces, there is no central theme for them to adhere to. Being White has been offered, but it seems to get traction only in particular contexts, when people feel threatened. Most Americans of any stripe would not ordinarily be against helping Americans in Puerto Rico; it is only when it is put in juxtaposition to helping “Americans” that a sort of “we need to help our own first” attitude emerges. But they are our own, right? Not when Trump gets done with them, they aren’t. He “others” them – they are brown for the most part, speak Spanish, and live on an island. That’s enough for people who are looking for a reason to “other” them. The same thing happened to victims of Katrina, even though many were White.
I can see a terrible downturn in the economy, for instance, pushing people into camps and those camps could have racial boundaries. But the racial dog whistles serve where people feel threatened and those are the Trump supporters. Once their anxieties recede, racial appeals don’t have the same effect. That is not to say they stop imbibing racial stereotypes nor that the old social construct of race ceases to be a factor; they just lose some of their steam. That’s why the GOP is stronger in the South, the South is always anxious about race. First and foremost, the South is founded on a strict racial division that has never gone away. And that is why the concept of the Southernization of America is important. Now that workers are used to anti-union governments, a product of Southernization, they can be persuaded that Blacks need to be contained, even though in most parts outside the South, Blacks do not constitute a sizeable group. It goes back to the Southern ante-bellum planters persuading poor Whites to ignore class distinctions and hang on to the only wealth they had – their Whiteness. They still do, when push comes to shove. Trump knows if he continually upsets the apple cart, anxiety will reign supreme and he can appeal to his supporters’ Whiteness. Thus Ta-Nahisi Coates’ article’s title, The First White President.