In the best of Trump voters, there’s deep and intense dissatisfaction. A feeling that anything must be better than the politics of our memory, whether that memory is the few years of the 18 year old first time voter or the several decades of the elder Trump voter.
In many, I think, there’s an approach to politics that is identical to the approach to sport. You choose a team, and you root for them no matter what. Which is a foolish and dangerous approach to politics no matter who you’re voting for, and a core failure of civic education at school, in our communities, and in our homes.
But I’m not talking about the best of Trump voters here. I’m not talking about the rah-rah-go-team voters, or the reluctant ideologues who don’t like Trump but hate anyone outside the GOP more, or the impulse-shopper voters who went with whoever’s last sound bite they liked more, or the strategic ‘he’ll pick SCOTUS justices I’ll like’ voters or the on-the-fence voters who aren’t quite sure, somehow, who best represents their ideas and ethics.
I’m talking about the hard Trump core. The people who love the guy for all he represents. Not the Russian bots and foreign provocateurs, but the ones who sound like Russian bots despite being born and raised in the most corn-and-apple-pie-fed settings across the country.
Theirs is the triumph of the won’t.
They call themselves “alphas” and their perceived enemies (most of the citizenry of the United States of America) “betas” and “cucks”…
…and “feminized” (because being a woman is bad, or means you’re inferior, or means you’re genetically programmed to serve men because quite a few of the Trumpite hard core love them some 19th century pseudoscientific genetic determinism and its cousins eugenics and eugenic-style theories, and possibly phrenology and physiognomy and phlogiston and phlat earth ‘theory’ and who knows what else) and, well, whatever flaccid insults help them feel turgid and ready to lash out violently — because manliness, to them, is not showing humanity, but is found in behaving like a rage-blind distempered ape.
They imagine that by naming themselves dominant and aggressive, that makes them paragons of rock-jawed will.
They have little clue what it really reveals: it doesn’t reveal will. It reveals won’t. A humanity-paralyzing fear of tomorrow, of today, and of anything that doesn’t cater to their fussy, prissy, whiny control-freak demands of reality. A boy-tantrum “I WON’T” to the inevitability of time passing. They’re pissed off that reality itself won’t cut the crusts off their PB&J like mommy used to, but insists on being reality.
The “f–k your feelings” crowd runs on the feeling that they are offended that the universe will not treat them like the little princes and princesses they know they are.
That failure of adapting to the facts of life is their motive force, just as gasoline is the motive force of your car: there are a variety of other ingredients and factors, some important and others not, but without gasoline and failure Trumpism Car DOES. NOT. MOVE.
Of course, that’s not what they see in the mirror.
Trumpites, just like “God Emperor Trump” mostly cast themselves as alpha-male towers of will (or equivalent, or admirers of same, when women) — an army to proudly march back into the middle of the 20th century. Or maybe the 19th or 18th, depending on the Trumpite.
As if a past can ever be re-lived. As if the past was ever half as idyllic and perfect as many of them seem to believe — and an awful lot of them can remember the middle of the 20th century.
It is, after all, the land of their childhoods, the land of their childish dreams and childish ambitions. It is an age of shelter for many, even those whose childhoods were difficult or even abusive — what comes after, dealing with the adult consequences of childhood deprivation and/or abuse, often seems even harder than childhood, especially to the adult living it in the now.
And the remembrance of childhood is veiled in the ignorance of the child, and that is hazed by the passage of decades as well as the bitter demise of childhood dreams at the hands of reality — and both white male Boomers and GenX, key Trump demographics, had big dreams that died hard. Dreams of privilege expanding endlessly, dreams of unlimited world-altering success, dreams of the industry and union driven white middle class boom of the 1950s trending up, up, forever up, three chickens in every pot and three cars in every McMansion garage on a solid acre in the suburbs with a tall white privacy fence and a dog and a cat and 2.5 children educated at the highest standard in the world.
Only, the Boomers grew up to be Yuppies and ‘vulture capitalists’ and GenX grew up to build the dot-com boom and bust and found the ‘gig economy,’ and the ‘leaders’ of both have spent, collectively, the last 40 years gutting that goose that was laying the golden eggs, haven’t they?
There were a lot of rich guts in the American goose. Gutting it has taken a long time. But the work is almost done, now. What do you do with a fowl once you have it gutted?
You cut it into pieces and fry it, that’s what. It’s delicious.
Then you throw the bones away. Might take another 40 years to get there. And the process is part of the problem. The Boomer and Gen X gutters know they’ll almost certainly be dead and gone by the time they’ve gnawed this goose down to the greasy bones.
And here they are, writing and tweeting and bitching and Trump-voting away, flailing about wildly for someone else to blame. We (white male GenX, of which I am one) aren’t about to blame ourselves collectively. We’re all about ego and the importance of the individual, by which we mean ourselves, singular, not any other white male of our generations and certainly not any other individuals beyond that demographic. I, me, me, I. And if something is wrong you must be to blame and that’s why we have Trump yelling at his fans to ‘knock the shit out of’ people who dare voice dissent and why we have ideological zealots stabbing people for not agreeing with their politics (yes, enforcing the ‘correctness’ of their politics by killing those who disagree. Or, in milder form, by calling them rude names on Twitter.) and attacking people for having brown skin or the ‘wrong’ religious/spiritual/ideological/scientific/educated beliefs and knowledge.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to that perceived childhood idyll they’re so hot to “take our country back” to.
For me, childhood was the 1970s. In my memory, there’s sort of a glow around those years. That glow is the better side of my childhood. A glow of carefree play. What did I know or feel of the ugliness of the war in Vietnam or the national humiliation of Richard Nixon or the horror of Kent State?
Little or nothing, of course. I was a boy, a poor boy to be sure, but one who was wandering field and forest of rural Wisconsin with a faithful dog at my side. I was concerned with wading in creeks, gathering hickory nuts, snacking on wild apples and plums and berries, climbing trees, playing games with my friends, reading books, and so on. I wasn’t watching or comprehending much of the news.
The 1970s were no golden age, to be sure. But they look a bit gold to me when I remember them. Because I was a child, and the cares of adulthood were not yet upon me. The 1950s are no different. Or the 1930s, or 1990s. Wherever your childhood is.
Trumpism is no yearning for utopia, and it is no brave embrace of the hard work of making a better tomorrow. It is a fleeing in the hopeless direction of lost childhood. It is a cowering. For tomorrow is always uncertain, and doubly so for those who wish, uselessly, to live in the past.
The thuggish threats and violence and posturing with gun and fist are not strength. They are the bared teeth of the rat backed into a corner — only the Trumpite corner is built of fear-rhetoric and scaremongering taken to heart by the fearful. It’s not real. But more than imaginary, it is a huge corner packed full of a whole chaos of rats constantly telling each other how hellish and awful life and the United States and the world are. And no matter how much the rats tear into each other, no matter what other of their fellows they manage to bite, what they rage against is impossible to bite, because it is tomorrow itself, and the blood they taste is their own.
They’re raging against the only true constant in the universe: change itself. A constant that nothing can turn aside, delay, or even touch.
And, perhaps fittingly for the generations of Boomers and GenXers that are the meat of the ranks of Trumpism, their idea of a better world is an action B-movie. No actual leaders, just stars whose charisma is a scriptwritten Hollywood facade of strength, whose power is all spectacle and cheesy one-liners and costumery (Mike Pence and Scott Walker on Harleys, anyone?) whose will is the will of the moral and ethical and emotional weakling: the temper tantrum, the uncontrolled rage, the urge to mass murder with big guns and exciting stunts and technicolor explosions, and of course lots and lots of angry, violent intimidation.
Bully tools, but played out in real life instead of the theater.
Yearn for an angry, bloody version of childhood all you like, Trumpites. That way lies chaos and loss and disappointment. Adulthood can be quite a bit more boring, with its reason, and compromise, and sometimes painful ethical choices, and hard work, and compassion. But one way leads into a better future for our children, and one leads into Lord of the Flies for children of all ages, even the balding ones with deep crows’ feet.
If I wrote Donald Trump as a character, he would never fly outside of overt satire. “He’s too one-dimensional, too absurdly over the top, too poorly conceived. But worst of all, he’s just a trope. In fact, you threw every major supervillain trope but one together and called it done.”
You’d be right, too.
First trope: he thinks he’s the hero. But usually the villain has a rationale for thinking so that makes sense. Like Magneto, out to save the mutants from the humans. But Trump is no Magneto. Trump isn’t that well thought out of a character. More like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, Trump thinks he’s the hero simply because he is himself. But Mr. Burns is a satirical character, representing greed and the blindness of old money to the daily concerns of the poor and the workers and the middle class. A serious character in a serious story needs to have more to him, and Trump doesn’t.
Trump is a sore loser AND an ungracious winner, which is both a villain trope and a bully trope. Fine, plenty of villains are bullies and vice-versa. There’s nothing too wrong with giving a villain both of these traits; they’re common enough in the real world among assholes. The only real problem is just throwing them willy-nilly in with the rest of the package of tropes without any real justification. Why is Trump a sore loser and an ungracious winner? Because he was raised a spoiled rich brat and has never known being denied everything he ever wanted? That doesn’t wash – Trump HAS been denied things he wants. He has lost properties and yachts and control of businesses because of corporate bankruptcies forced by runaway, mismanaged debt. He began his business life by blowing a million dollar loan and having to appeal to his dad to pull strings to get him tens of millions of dollars in credit, which credit line he promptly maxed out, requiring his dad to give him millions more to bail him out. He’s had opportunity to learn, but apparently hasn’t learned from any of his forty-plus years of experiencing denial and defeat. It’s just not a credible backstory for the character. It’s poor writing.
His self-absorbed egotism and lack of empathy, again, aren’t unbelievable in and of themselves. They’re just so over the top, so glaring. Cartoonish, even. Like reacting to the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 by saying he now has the tallest building in the city. Who the hell would be THAT bereft of humanity? Outside of satire, nobody is going to buy that. Especially if this Trump character is supposed to be a savvy villain. Would Lex Luthor be stupid enough to say something that obviously self-absorbed, even if he believed it? In private, maybe. But TO A JOURNALIST IN A TAPED INTERVIEW? Too cartoonish, outside of maybe a one-shot comic issue where there’s no time for any subtlety or nuance at all.
He’s frequently driven by anger and mocks others for inborn characteristics like disability or physical appearance. SERIOUSLY, COME ON. Those are traits of nameless thug characters, not of big bosses. To be a believable major villain, they have to have some shred of self-control. They can’t just be lashing out randomly every time they don’t like someone. Plus it doesn’t really fit well with the ‘believes he’s the hero’ trope. Again, that trope requires at least a veneer of self-control that this ridiculous Trump character so obviously lacks.
But somehow, he harbors grudges, often for years, over setbacks both minor and major. If he’s so out of control he can’t help but mock a reporter for having a withered arm or resurrect a twenty-year-old feud with an actress over an entirely unconnected matter, how the hell is he focused enough to hold on to all these long-term grudges and plot revenge?
And on top of all that, he’s also blind to major portions of reality. He imagines himself winning when he’s losing. He calls abject business failures – by the way, bankrupting casinos during a gambling industry boom? Failing to sell VODKA, STEAKS, AND FOOTBALL in the United States? Who’s going to believe that shit? – victories. He thinks he’s suave and professional when all he has to do is watch his own interviews to see differently. He thinks he’s an opinion leader when he constantly changes his opinion on every position he’s ever taken.
It’s all too much. Way, way too much. All this isn’t needed to establish a character as a villain, unless he’s deliberately written to be a campy parody. And it’s not even subtle enough for that. There’s a point where the reader says, “this is all too crude and clumsy. It’s not interesting. It’s a mere catalog of assholery. This writer should have just written a listicle entitled “Ten Ways To Be A Total Prick” because I’m not buying the character AT ALL.
And after all that, what is this villain’s nefarious plan? To become the President of the United States and… not do the job. That’s it. To hand the whole job to the Vice President and travel around the country being a cheerleader, giving rah-rah speeches. Really. That’s the big revenge.
What’s the missing trope, you ask?
Trump isn’t a casual killer.
As far as we know.