E. Stanley guest blogs about Donald Trump’s win and his thoughts and feelings about what this means for the United States and the rest of us.
*blog title borrowed from Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.”
Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential race, and we all lost – even those who supported him. I watched the results on election night like millions of others, hoping Clinton would take Florida early so I could go to bed. Instead, the act of national self-mutilation was dragged on until after two o’clock in the morning when I finally retired, emotionally exhausted and numbed by whiskey, and woke up the next day to find that America had elected a fascist pig to the highest office in the country.
That phrase gets slung a lot at people who don’t deserve the label, but I don’t use it lightly, and in this case, it is earned. I’m a political scientist by training, holding bachelor’s and graduate degrees in the subject, I work in politics, and I’m a WWII history buff, so I know exactly what fascism looks like, and I see it when I look into the twisted, ranting face of America’s president-elect.
What defines a fascist? Kevin Passmore calls it a movement placing the nation above all other sources of loyalty; a reactionary movement hostile to socialism and feminism, both of which threaten the nation since they place class or gender above it. Fascism can be useful or appealing to conservatism but, in the end, will not hesitate to trample it for its own ends.
I am not going to make the case for Trump as a fascist under those criteria because he has already made it for me. These are not matters of opinion, they are objective facts. His own statements embody every single one of those points. Nobody has to accuse him of these things. He has already proudly proclaimed his adherence to all of them.
So, we’ll shortly have a fascist in the White House, with his finger on the metaphorical button that launches 7,100 nuclear warheads. How did it come to this?
Some are blaming the Democrats, and that can mean either the party membership or the party leadership, or both – whoever they feel was ultimately responsible for not running Bernie Sanders against Trump, or someone – anyone – else. Biden. Warren. Anyone. In point of fact, Clinton won the nomination because more Democrats wanted her to have it than anyone else. Not because of Super PACs, shady deals, or The Establishment. Maybe a different Democrat could have won, maybe not. That’s pure speculation, and anyone who tells you they know for sure is a fool or a liar.
No, the blame is on 59.7 million Americans who voted for a fascist. It’s their fault. To say that this is the Democrats’ fault, or that this is Clinton’s fault, or the fault of third parties or those who voted for them, or the fault of those who stayed home or refused their ballots, is an exercise in mass victim-blaming. It’s the political equivalent of “yes, but what was she wearing? How much had she had to drink? Was she flirting with him?” None of that should matter worth a damn, and none of what the Democrats or anyone else did matters worth a damn next to what those who actually went out and voted to put a fascist in the White House did.
It is their fault. They will have to live with that shame and they will share the moral guilt for what he does, just as those who voted for Putin share it for thirty-four murdered Russian journalists, just as those who voted for Hitler share it for the Shoah, just as those who marched with the Fascisti or the Ustaše or who supported Milošević or Suharto share it for the misery, suffering and bloodshed they inflicted. As John Boehner said – and who ever thought I would be quoting him as a voice of reason? – a leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.
But did they know what they were doing? They didn’t vote for fascism, they voted against the establishment, or so it has been explained. Washington Is Broken™, and they just wanted an outsider who would crack some heads. They never intended for him to put them on spikes and build pyramids of their bleached skulls.
But they are culpable. Ignorance is no defence, and here we come to the main weakness of democracy, the one that led Plato and Aristotle to condemn it. Democracies are systems of government. To function effectively, they rely on a reasonable and an informed electorate. Design the most flawless democratic system imaginable, and a bigoted, ignorant electorate will plunge it into tyranny. Conversely, your democracy can be deeply flawed and problematic, and as long as those who vote are reasonable and informed, and as long as those running for office respect it, it will work.
Plato despised democracy. It was one step from tyranny, he said; democracy lasts until a champion arrives, unjust and lawless, doing as he pleases. The people will believe him necessary to save them from the problems that their flawed democracy has created. When they realize he is a tyrant they will seek to overthrow him, only to realize he has become too powerful.
He wrote that almost two-and-a-half thousand years ago. He could have written it today.
Ignorance put Trump in power. He is an objectively flawed candidate. I should state that I am a straight, white, middle-class man born to middle-class parents and I enjoy good social standing. I’m university-educated. Everyone in my family is. We are not obscenely wealthy, but I have never wondered where my next meal will come from or how I will pay rent. I’m a property-owner. Two late-model cars sit in my driveway.
I am precisely the sort of person who ought to love him and who is supposed to benefit the most from his administration, yet when I looked at him without prejudice and without self-interest, I saw a candidate who is completely inexperienced and completely unqualified, with no political experience beyond his revoltingly racist “birther” campaign against President Obama. I saw a lazy candidate who does no prep work, who cannot be bothered to inform himself about anything and yet feels the need to spout his opinion on everything and decries anyone who disagrees for an idiot. He does not understand or care for the Constitution, for world politics, foreign affairs, or economics; he gives not a tinker’s cuss about climate change or energy policy; he has no idea what NAFTA or NATO do or why they exist, but he will tear them up anyway. He is a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and a religious bigot; he mocks the disabled, he insults people who have fought, endured, been tortured and died for their country, he sexually assaults women, and he’s proud of all of it.
None of this is my opinion. It is all objective and demonstrable truth, taken from his own words, captured and recorded for posterity by smartphone cameras, hot mics, and Twitter screenshots. It is not up for debate. He is an objectively terrible candidate for the Presidency of the United States, and anyone who voted for him either shares his bigotry or is an ignorant fool who, with their ballot, spat in the faces of their ancestors who fought, sometimes to the death, for their freedoms and their rights.
And the lies, oh, god, the lies. They are unceasing, bald-faced, and more blatantly false than his tan. He denies ever having said things he said just days ago. Things that were recorded. Things I personally remember him saying. This is nothing less than gaslighting on a national scale. How, I ask you, can democracy survive politicians from whose mouths lies spill so easily and so constantly? As Hannah Arendt observed, the loss of truth in politics is the end of politics. A German-Jewish intellectual in the 1930s, she watched the rise of European fascism first-hand and witnessed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Final Solution. She knew what she was talking about.
This may be the last election in which the American people got a chance to make an informed and reasonable choice, and even that was in a greatly diminished capacity. Trump has proven that he will lie about anything and everything, and the media have proven that they are almost completely unable to fulfill their political role and sift truth from lies. If it is the role of the electorate to inform themselves, it is the role of the media to provide the means for them to do so, but how can this work when more people have heard of Clinton’s private email server than of Trump’s rape of a child?
The false equivalency between the two is almost farcical. Trump has been accused of no fewer than fifteen separate sexual assaults and brags about others even while he calls his accusers liars. He has bribed an Attorney General. He has employed and exploited migrant workers illegally, cheated subcontractors out of millions, cheated the American taxpayers out of millions, cheated Trump University students out of millions, exploited the Trump Foundation for personal gain, violated the Cuban embargo, and so on, but all this is apparently equivalent to a private email server and some luncheons with dubious people on behalf of the Clinton Foundation, a world-class charity with better ethics than the Red Cross. The media must take responsibility for hiding these truths from the public or downplaying their significance and for pretending that Trump’s indiscretions and his crimes were in any way equivalent to Clinton’s errors in judgement.
But despite these problems, I was still able to find the truth about all of this. The media failed, but they did not fail completely; the facts were obfuscated and twisted, but they were available, and his voters should be ashamed for not finding them.
This man, Trump, is an embarrassment to men everywhere, as are the braying jackals who support him. “Repeal the 19th,” they chanted in response to polls which indicated that if only women voted, Clinton would sweep every state. The 19th Amendment grants women the right to vote. And they want to repeal it.
This lays bare the beating, black, diseased heart of the Trump movement and of the toxic masculinity at its core: childish and bullying, unable to reason or learn, irretrievably arrogant, unbelievably stupid, and unwilling to compromise or to act at anything above the level of a preschooler. It does not play well with others. Rather than ponder why their movement is so repulsive to so many women, their response is to take away their rights. Instead of wondering why the protesters are so angry at his rallies, they just beat them up.
They never ask why they are poor, unemployed, ill-housed, ill-clothed, ill-fed and ill-tempered; why the good manufacturing jobs are gone; why their healthcare costs are bankrupting them; why they can’t afford to go to college; why they can’t drink the tap water.
They never ask because so many of them know. It’s the feminazis, who should be at home raising their kids, cooking their dinners and taking their beatings. It’s the wetbacks, the spics, and the chinks taking their jobs. The niggers shooting up their cities and dealing drugs. The faggots and the trannies destroying their marriages, their churches and their pious, Christian family values.
Those are ugly, ugly words, and I cringe at myself for even writing them, but we should not give this movement a dignity it hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve by sanitizing its language. There are people, so many people, who throw these slurs like confetti, spray-paint swastikas on walls, beat up lone young men leaving gay nightclubs, and bully trans people to suicide. Let’s not pretend their discourse is dignified or cultured. It is neither. It is as disgusting as the terms of abuse I brought myself to write here. And to those who are a part of this movement and would never use those words: shame on you for standing up to be counted with those who do.
The problems these angry, poor Americans face are real. The alleged causes are not. A demagogue took all of their rage and focused it on scapegoats who were never responsible for any of them. The truth is that it is people like Trump who are responsible for their plight: rich, white, straight men who “game society,” as Robert De Niro put it. Unimaginably wealthy, Trump still evades taxes and steals the wages of his workers and subcontractors. He decries the elites as he flies around the country in his private jet. He leverages his immense privilege not into social responsibility and philanthropy, like a Bronfman or a Gates, but to build even more privilege for himself.
Men like Trump have ensured that all of the wealth and the economic, social and political power have accumulated to themselves for the last forty years, and now that the anger of those they robbed has reached boiling point, men like Trump have returned to turn their victims against one another. Rape is the fault of the victim. Poverty is the fault of the poor. He should have obeyed the cops. She should have kept her mouth shut. They should just get a goddamn job.
I am embarrassed by men like Trump. I am sick of having to point and say, “I’m not with them.” I am sick of being part of that group and having to say to women, to ethnic minorities, to LGBT people, to people with disabilities, to everyone else who is not a part of this ugliest of revolutions: I’m sorry. We let you down again. This isn’t the year you break the glass ceiling. This isn’t the year you achieve income equality. This isn’t the year your schools will be half-decent. This isn’t the year you won’t have to worry about being shot dead at a routine traffic stop. This isn’t the year you’ll be able to walk into the bathroom that matches your gender identity. This isn’t the year a jury won’t look you in the eye and acquit your rapist. Maybe next year. Maybe next election. Maybe next generation.
Don’t hold your breath.