Monday, February 1, 2016

On Trump

Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, once said, "All politics is identity politics."  Sure, there were plenty of black voters in Chicago who were voting for him because he was black, he was saying, but there were plenty of white voters who were voting for his opponents because they were white.  More significantly, voters are always seeking for some way to identify with their candidate. Policies mattered, but so did a belief that the candidate in question knew and understood who you were and that you knew and understood who he was in a spirit of mutual respect and empathy.

I had that with Obama in 2008.  He could have been a guy on my dorm.  Every upper-middle-class white intellectual had a sucker moment with him.  Mine came in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in which he mentioned his love for Philip Roth novels.  I liked Philip Roth novels too!  We could be friends!  I don't think he's a bad president, but my identification has soured in recent years.  He and his wife voice contempt for the humanities in favor of STEM, a philosophy that threatens everything I hold dear about academic life.  He tells jokes about drone warfare.  I'd vote for a third term, I guess, but I wouldn't do so with much excitement.

I am well aware of the difference between persona and person, but the subconscious is working on you whether or not you know it's working on you.  Bernie Sanders's goofball biography (Kibbutz for a year, a bad folk album) makes him the kind of guy I would keep as a lifelong friend.  Hilary Clinton's nose-to-the-grindstone, resume-padding, status-seeking, 17-hour/day, 40-year-long working life makes her the kind of person I would have known and respected in high school and probably never have seen again.  So, Bernie for me.  (Yes, I do prefer his policies, want to see the country move left, all the rest.)

There have been a lot of arguments as to why so many people identify with Donald Trump.  Who are these people?  I've never met any.  Have you?  They're all racists and xenophobes and assholes.  They are a bunch of old white people who are angry that the world hasn't given them what they want.  They are the kind of people who would blow their lottery winnings at Caesars Palace.

Some of that's true, some of it is more complicated. If you wonder why a rude, bigoted, obnoxious, know-nothing jerk could excite the love of so many, consider this about yourself:

Do you like listening to people who disagree with you?  Do you like listening to people who make you feel stupid?  Do you like listening to people who act like they know who you are but don't have the slightest idea?  Do you like it when these people try to become the most powerful person in the world?  Have you never wanted to go on stage during a debate, punch every single one of them in the face, tell everyone there to go fuck themselves?

What do these people see when they look at Trump?  They see themselves cursing with impotent rage at the TV.    

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