In the summer of 2016, General Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, wrote something in an email that he never intended to be made public. But it was, and it very succinctly sums up this moment in American history. He wrote: “Donald Trump is a national disgrace.”
Of course, that was months before Donald John Trump became President of the United States. Regardless of what happens in the years to come, America has disgraced itself, and will never fully recover its former dignity. One gets a sense from the media that most of them think there will be a Democratic surge this year, that women and brown Americans are finally beginning to turn the country around, and that somehow this will erase the stain Trump has left on America. It won’t. America may well begin to move forward, after years of stagnation. But the stain will never completely disappear.
The election of Trump has reinforced for me how insular establishment politicians and media elites are from a huge swath of America. Every few days there is another head-scratching article published by one of them, wondering aloud how anyone with any decency could still support the moron-in-chief. Although his approval numbers are historically low, almost 4 out of 10 Americans still approve of Trump.
For every one of us who are disgusted and repulsed (including many Republicans) by his misogyny, racism, infantile pettiness, and utter disdain for the very notion of objective truth, there is (almost) another American who is cheering him on. This does not surprise me one little bit. Trump represents an enormous block of Americans, most of whom never get air time on national television. The media often wonders why Hillary Clinton is so hated by so many. 25 YEARS AGO, working on construction sites, I heard plenty of dirty, sexist jokes about Hillary Clinton. I heard plenty of racist jokes. One of my uncles said that Nicole Brown deserved what she got because she married a black man. (No, he didn’t use the phrase “black man.”) He was a deacon at the largest Baptist church in a city of well over 100,000 people at the time.
Decency, in the sense of genuine respect for non-family, has no value for large numbers of Americans. MANNERS have meaning for them, but only as a self-promoting façade. Life is all about advantage for them, and Trump is carrying their banner. His misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are not flaws for them – they are strengths. They are fascists, and always were. Yes, that’s what I’m saying. A huge swath of the American public consists of fascists. The political elites like to argue about whether Trump himself is a fascist, quibbling over fine details that have meaning only in dry, academic circles. In real life, fascism boils down to this – I’m better than other people, and I belong to a group that’s superior to other groups.
I wonder how many Americans even know what the title Mein Kampf translates into. (I wouldn’t mind seeing a poll.) It means “my struggle.” Hitler absolutely believed in social Darwinism. He felt that notions such as “love thy neighbor” were Jewish inventions that brainwashed and weakened individuals and societies. Life is a struggle for survival to a fascist. There is no such thing as win-win, and since I’m superior to others, I should win. Since my group is superior to other groups, my group should win. This is what millions of Americans have been taught by their parents and their peers.
It’s easy for media and political elites, most of whom have never had to struggle for the basics, to overlook these people, or be mystified by them. They are no mystery to me. I grew up with them. They are my cousins, my neighbors, my co-workers. Life is all about struggle for them. All about advantage and disadvantage. All about survival of the fittest. They don’t think of such a society as barbaric because they can’t conceive of anything else.
All of the indecency, the sliminess, the barbarity that Trump exhibits, is nothing more or less than everyday life for these people. Just last week, yet another high official in the Trump administration was booted out, because the media discovered despicable comments that he had made on many occasions. His name is Carl Higbie. He was Chief of External Affairs for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Here are a few choice quotes:
“You know, I don’t like gay people. I just don’t.”
“Go back to your Muslim shithole and go crap in your hands and bang little boys on Thursday nights. I just don’t like Muslim people.”
“Well people are like, ‘well, you can’t hate somebody just for being Muslim.’ It’s like, yeah, I can.”
“We’re promoting birth control to a black woman because of the incredibly high rate of children born out of wedlock that are under-cared for or not cared for at all. The taxpayers are tired of supporting government checks going to these people who think that breeding is a form of employment.”
“What’s so wrong with wanting to put up a fence and saying, ‘hey, everybody with a gun, if you want to go shoot people coming across our border illegally, you can do it fo’ free,'”
This person was appointed to lead our country’s national volunteer service programs. His comments are tame compared to what is said every day by Trump supporters, in shops, in bars, in cafes, and at construction sites. The national media focuses on those who go to white supremacist rallies and post on alt-right sites. But for every one of those people there are a dozen who are different only in their political zeal. They don’t go to rallies, they don’t post on-line, they don’t get appointed to senior positions by Trump – but they do vote and respond to polls.
Higbie is a fascist. Period. He believes that he is better than other people, and that he belongs to a group that is superior to other groups. He believes that life is a struggle, and if someone else is winning, he’s losing. For every Higbie there are a dozen more. The media elites choose to ignore them, or rationalize away their attitudes.
America has disgraced itself, and that disgrace is intimately tied to social Darwinism. I believe the problem lies in the fact that our political and media elites have never taken survival seriously, the way millions of struggling Americans do. If a senator gets voted out, or a news anchor loses his job, almost never is his basic survival at stake. If an auto mechanic or coal miner or steel worker loses his job, it’s a different story.
Our media and political elites promote competition as the bedrock of the American economy. As long as you don’t think of competition as a zero sum game, there’s nothing wrong with that. They certainly don’t. They don’t have jobs. They have CAREERS. The worst that can happen is that they get booted out of the Washington power-brokers club. But for someone who spends their whole life worrying about the basics, the message they receive from this talk about competition is survival of the fittest. If they lose the competition, that loss MUST happen because someone inferior was given an advantage they didn’t deserve. And more importantly, before it even comes to that, if someone who’s the “wrong” gender or the “wrong” color is doing well, it MUST mean that they themselves have been betrayed.
This is the essence of Trump’s thinly veiled message to the white working class. It is the same message that has been fed to them by business leaders for more than a century. They don’t give a rat’s anus about decency or respect. They see non-white faces at America’s colleges. They see America turning brown. They hear talk about white privilege, but they don’t feel privileged. They feel threatened.
Many Americans would like to throw these people away. Many of the same people who would call an African-American who robbed a store a victim of institutional racism (perhaps with justification) will often have no sympathy for a white, uneducated coal miner who thinks he is better than the best black person. They miss the point. The disgrace that America now endures is precisely because we have ignored the fascism in our midst. It is precisely because our educational system and our media system have failed. Who has been there, explaining to that coal miner, that life is not all about struggle, that there is such a thing as win-win, that we all have to pull together to make things better? Without a message to counter the fascism that he has been raised with, what should we expect?
Some, of course, are hopeless cases. Our moron-in-chief for example. He has been insulated from genuine criticism virtually all his life, and will now be well taken care of by the state until he dies. But most fascists are salvageable. They are fundamentally no different than the African-American languishing in jail, or the Palestinian jumping up and down yelling “Yankee go home!” The German people turned firmly away from Nazism. It’s all a matter of education and social support.