A Glib and Malevolent Violence
I’ve struggled to really write about politics in the Trump era, because, honestly, it’s so hard to find the voice to do so. It’s not that there’s a dearth of things to write about; every day, there’s a new, raw nerve that gets shoved or stomped on, or some new and unthinkable horror that we simply can’t stop talking about and can’t get away from. I’m at a loss for the right words to articulate what’s so clearly, deeply wrong.
Listen To What They're Telling You
Women have written about this era in very compelling and insightful ways. Jessica Winter has written a powerful piece in the The New Yorker that which connects the treatment of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers to the ways in which men (and it’s always men) abuse their partners and insist that their partners are responsible for their own abuse. These are the right words:
In intimate-partner abuse, the battered woman is both the cause and the effect of the violence waged against her; in the violence being done to families at theborder, the abducted child takes the battered woman’s place. (Look what your parents made me do.) Another hallmark of domestic violence is the abuser’s knack for gaslighting: the repertoire of lies, distortions, deflections, and belittlements that steadily distort and erode his victim’s sense of reality, tightening the abuser’s control over her. Gaslighting, it needs not be said, is Trump’s preferred mode of communication, and it is encoded in the family-separation policy itself: once their parents have been taken into custody, the children are reclassified as “unaccompanied minors,” their parents effectively disappeared.
Trump’s crude, common racism makes the implicit racism of his party explicit. He says the quiet parts loudly, and encourages us to do the same. The daylight between the racist hatemongers that run local Republican Party affiliates in far-flung Southern and Midwestern districts and the alleged “moderate conservatives” on cable news and in Washington, DC has always been slight, but Trump has done everything feasible to close the gap entirely. It’s perhaps the one thing he’s been unambiguously successful at doing. Roxane Gay touched on this in a thoughtful column about the Roseanne reboot and it’s cancellation, making an astute and observant point about the engine of white entitlement that helps to power racism. This white entitlement has reverberations throughout pop culture, policy, and - with results that are often deadly - within our policing and our communities. These are the right words:
In each of these encounters, white people took it upon themselves to police black bodies in public spaces. They felt entitled to do so because of racism, which they used to delineate the borders of what they arbitrarily determined as acceptable behavior for black people. They felt this entitlement because that’s what racism does — it allows one group of people to feel superior to and imagine dominion over another.
Dominion is a good, Biblical word for it, though I think Domination might be more appropriate. What Trump has unleashed in this country is a grinning, screaming skull demanding domination. In the aftermath of Trump’s election, a lot of major newspaper outlets focused on the “economic anxiety” of Trump’s fervent supporters. Profiles abounded of working class voters in Appalachia and the Rust Belt and the Old South, painting portraits of lives ruined by globalization, or automation, or prescription drugs, even when those lives were sometimes ruined by bad decisions and terrible judgment, just like lives in California or the Pacific Northwest or New York City so often are. Insofar as the genre goes, I thought it was oversaturated, with too many words and too few insights. But as the Trump Administration churns on, I’ve been reconsidering the economic anxiety diagnosis, and I’ve come to suspect that it was fundamentally and fatally wrong, in ways that are so much bleaker and more destructive. After all, better policy can fix inequality, and we can make big changes quickly with those levers. But what if the anxiety is real, but it’s not economic?
This week marks the two-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, where an angry man with access to firearms killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others, in a fit of rage that, as it turns out, seems to be no different than that of an angry Las Vegas man who killed almost 60 and wounded 500 less than a year ago, or an angry man who killed 17 people – mostly schoolchildren – less than six months ago. The primary motivation in all of these shootings, and almost all of these tragedies that have become reruns, was anger. Self-righteous and vulgar anger. I’m not even convinced that political motivations play a major factor in this bloodletting, though, of course, motivations are a complicated thing. What Donald Trump has unleashed in the body politic is a kind of permission to be angry, and an encouragement to let that anger out. It’s always been there, and it’s been building up steam for years, but, during the Obama Administration, we had a responsible adult figure who encouraged us and scolded us to do better, to always do better.
What if it’s not “economic anxiety” that Trump’s voters want him to soothe? What if domination is their demand? What then? If that be the case, there’s no way they will ever be satisfied. Senators Jeff Flake or Bob Corker or John McCain or Ben Sasse or Susan Collins can call for timidity and comity all they want, and stridently insist that this “isn’t their party”, as if most of them haven’t been deeply involved in Republican Party politics for most of their adult lives, but what if it is their party? What if the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and the “NeverTrumpers” of the National Review and the United States Senate are all wrong, and Donald Trump and Sean Hannity and Alex Jones have the right of it?
Good Dogs and Bad
Barack Obama the President was the angel perched high on one shoulder, a persistent and sometimes frustrating example of the merits of wisdom, and compassion, and thoughtfulness. He encouraged us to strive to be the best selves that we can be. Barack Obama was a Good Dog.
Donald Trump the President is the Devil tattooed into the flesh of the other shoulder, a brand that reminds us the cruel and the wicked and the vain don’t only escape punishment most of the time… they are often rewarded, and we are very strongly motivated by reward. Donald Trump is a Bad Dog. No dogs are born bad, but they can be made that way without discipline, and without love, and without care, and through pain and fear. It’s hard to fix a bad dog. Trump’s also an old dog, and anyone who has ever cared for and loved an old dog knows what it’s like to try to get them to change in their final years.
The base, and the anger that drives it, is rabies. Rabies is a bewildering and terrifying disease that’s extremely communicable in populations, spreads quickly and, without treatment, is universally fatal for both the dogs and the humans infected with it.
Rabies spreads like wildfire in feral populations whether the infected animal attacks or not, and it usually does. Trump and his base are a pack of rabid dogs. They’re a roiled and seething mass of glib and malevolent violence. They can’t be bargained or reasoned with. I’m not sure that I believe the forces of tolerance, or persuasion, or patience can cure this. We have professionals, experienced in the mastery of these forces; our activists, our historians, our organizers and our politicians – our healers, our veterinarians. But this disease is everywhere, and it’s spreading fast. This pack finds it’s way through every fence, across every street, into everyone’s backyards and onto everyone’s front porch. They are at the door. Now. How do you solve a problem like that?
In the end, what do you do with a rabid dog? What do you do if you get bit?