So, President Trump is real thing now. That very revelation itself rises to the ranks of a raging hangover in your early thirties—your disbelief is only outweighed by how sick you feel in the moment. I don’t mind hyperboles. And so, when confronted with questions of how I’m doing after the election, I have no reservations about reminding people that, “Well, the Gates of Hell are open.” But I guess I’m alright.
America has entered the alternate 1985 from Back to the Future, and aside from the alarming similarities between Biff and The Donald, perhaps the scariest part is realizing that a souped-up Delorean isn’t going to fix this nightmare. Shock, confusion, and the recovery from both, continues in the days following one of the biggest political upsets in American history.
Donald Trump himself could not have imagined a world in which he would hold the highest executive office on the planet. I saw the video footage. That was the look of a man whose bluff had just been called, a man who suddenly realized, “Damn, I actually have to do this now.” It’s the opinion of this writer that Donald Trump never really wanted to be the president; he just wanted to win. My gut tells me that Trump would have been happier spending the next twenty years up-charging the leasing of his name based on American lore that tells of how the presidency was stolen from him. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to this country” he’d say, “believe me.”
But in the aftermath of a Trump victory, shock gripped the media. The polls were wrong, the pundits and talking heads were wrong, the analysts were wrong, the public was wrong—everyone got it wrong. The whole thing was a complete embarrassment for the American media, which now parades panel after panel of experts that don an existential look of fear about whether or not they’re even worth their paychecks. Despite theories that are just now emerging, in the hours leading up to victory, it’s not clear that anyone had predicted—with any certain accuracy—that Trump would have flipped enough blue to win by the lead he had.
The official narrative now is that Trump had tapped into working class American angst like no one else could. A growing contempt for the tone deaf ears of Washington elites had caused a phantom ground swell of stealth voters unseen by the Clinton campaign. That much is true. But even Trump’s campaign admitted that their internal model had only calculated a 30% chance of victory in the days before voters would decide. Because dumb luck can’t possible be the foundation of a political platform that has just won the White House, everyone had to think fast. People want to know that you’re smart, calculated, that there was a plan which chance had little hand in shaping. So, in sterling American fashion, Trump’s camp (and everyone else) did exactly what we always do when we’re caught without any real answers: we find the one’s that fit the best and call it truth.
I’m not saying Trump’s message hadn’t resonated with working-class Americans looking to buck the system. That much is certain. But the narrative runs thin when considering the magnitude of backlash witnessed at the polls, and the subsequent shock of what had seemed a no-contest win for Democrats. Of course Hillary is corrupt, and of course she became the perfect foil for Trump’s populist movement. Her thirty years of experience in politics wasn’t a strength; it was the achilles heel in Trumpers’ calls for the subversion of a system that puts banks and corporate interests first.
All of this has been discussed already. But I believe there are a few other hidden contributors to the rise of Trump. The kind of raging fire we’ve witnessed wasn’t created by wood and sparks alone. There were powerful, more primal accelerants that pushed a specific cohort of American voters passed the breaking point.
Race and The Real Establishment.
Only one commentator seemed to hit the mark about the primal role of race in Donald Trump’s election, and that was CNN’s Van Jones and his introduction of “White-Lash”. Because the veracity of racial influence on Trump’s victory is so evident, I’ll give you the short version first:
The REASON Trump has survived all the racist, xenophobic, and marginalizing attacks he has spewed throughout his campaign, is because those threats do not affect the white privileged class—the base majority of voters who elected him.
It’s because of white privilege that Trump’s supporters enjoy the luxury of being able to sidestep his bigotry and focus on his economic messsage. But even that’s a sham when you think about it. Rural working-class disdain for the ruling elite doesn’t seem all that concerned with money, power, or privilege per say—clearly the Donald is all of those things. We could spend all day relishing the irony of privileged white men attempting to challenge the status quo by electing a white man born into money, but I think you get the point.
No. Working-class Americans in the hinterlands that surround urban diversity were riling against a different status quo, one that, for years, had asked that they play nice, think of others, and behave themselves. And at the modern apex of progressive social contracts, white male privilege had been outed and publicly admonished for its arrogance, bigotry, and disregard for women and persons of color. From that point the sting of humiliation festered, giving rise to the transformation of white guilt and shame into anger that has long sought a pathway for release. Donald Trump is that pathway.
The Fragility of White Privilege and the Explosiveness of Its Anger.
American Psycho was an awesome book that later became a cult film starring Christian Bale as the lead character, Patrick Bateman. Bateman represents the epitome of the ruling class elite in America, a picture of privileged perfection in every prescriptive advantage of American life: young, rich, handsome, educated, white, and male. But for Bateman, none of this could ever be enough. The fragility of his ego is in equal proportion to his privilege, so that, having it all means absolutely nothing in the face of even the most trivial of challenges. In one scene, his attempt to get a drink from a female bartender prompts a murderous fantasy of bathing in her blood after being told his drink tickets had expired.
The film is a stunningly accurate and intense look at the expression of anger within the context of a privileged class. Yet, though Bateman represents the economic elitism of the white privileged class, white privilege itself still translates to rural working-class identities. In this way, Trump’s supporters don’t have to be rich to be part of a privileged class that is white, proud, and angry under the surface.
What Bateman’s character also represents is the fragility of white identities in the face of a changing world that demands the recognition and inclusion of others. Modern challenges to the nostalgic minds of older white Americans and their indoctrinated kin—the election of Barrack Obama, Black Lives Matter, the Fight for 15 (launched by inner city minorities in poverty), Love is Love (LGBTQ), and a push to close the wage gap for women—all of it represented a loss of status and a closing door.
Attempts to force conservative whites to conform came from the extreme left. But the newly established order of compassion for and inclusion of others was met with push back from the right, who launched a critical campaign that played into their anti-establishment message. Political correctness (PC) was now the tool of the ruling elite, where any and all calls for decency, reservation, and tolerance were seen as a means to silence the frustrations of white Christian conservatives. Attacks on the left characterized political correctness as an expression of weakness, fragility, and intolerance of others “opinions”.
The tastiness of vanilla ice cream is an opinion; the inalienable human rights and dignity of all people is not a legitimate debate.
Oddly enough, Donald Trump and his populist right movement are giving its supporters the same kind of “trophies for everyone” message they say the left has used to destroyed millennials’ grit. The core of Trump’s followers represent an equally fragile brand of “delicate snowflakes” unable to comprehend how persons of color and women might be more capable than they. The Trump campaign simply trades safe spaces and the PC police for a different haven of philosophy that says hard work, decency, and knowing facts aren’t really what make someone great—White America is great just because.
The Cool Dad.
Though white anger from rural Christian America has traditionally been sublimated through its love of guns, hunting, and the military industrial complex, Trump has provided the opportunity and the permission for the explicit release of that anger. This is important, especially in the wake of fears that, at any point, the government is coming to “take the guns”.
Trump gave specific hint at his permission for white America to act out their anger at a rally during his campaign. A protester had emerged from the crowd to denounce the candidate and was met with the backlash of an angry mob mentality. After the protester’s ejection, Trump addressed the crowd, reminding them of what it was like in the “old days”:
“You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
The crowd erupted in cheers. The statement was unlike any of the commonly conservative messages of hindsight nostalgia, where past generations might balk at the outward and bold expressions of persons who have no self-control. Rather than restrictive, the message was permissive. It was a foreshadowing prophecy of an America under Trump, where his supporters wouldn’t have to sit still and act right; they wouldn’t have to mind their tongues or exercise humility; they wouldn’t have to accept diplomacy over violence.
One of the more hidden proponents of Trump’s victory was his assumption of a role that resembled the “cool dad”. Under another, more responsible parent’s rules, you might be expected to go the bed on time, act right, and do your homework. But not under daddy Trump. Think about your childhood. Your excitement and willingness to be under the supervision of a less responsible adult wasn’t because you thought they were a GOOD caretaker, it’s because you could get away with more and have more fun. It’s another reason why none of the negative press Trump had accumulated ever mattered. Cool dad is fun and allows you do stuff other adults don’t; it doesn’t matter that he went to prison. And so, like a long-lost father, Trump has come home to coddle his scared white America and save them from the harsh rules of a more responsible society that expects more from them. That’s why they ran full speed into him arms. That’s why the pollsters couldn’t detect the ground swell. Trump’s rise had simpler and more primal accelerants that flew under the radar.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about living with a less responsible adult it’s this: the moment a lack of adequate supervision causes you to get hurt and things go wrong, you’ll be crying for the rules and structure of a more responsible adult.
Also published on Medium.