Home / Culture and Society / I am Ashamed to be an American, Part Three

I am Ashamed to be an American, Part Three

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Continued from Part Two

A disclaimer of sorts is in order: My presentation thus far has been but a partial account of how and why Donald Trump got elected. For one thing, it wouldn’t have happened were it not for the suburban and working-class whites of the Midwest and other parts, heavily Democratic-leaning voters not only traditionally but for the past two election cycles. Most of them voted for Barack Obama not just once but twice.

And then, it must be noted that the sentiment of resentment and/or rancor on the part of whites against people of color has never been strongly associated with the industrial working class per se, let alone with suburbanites – at least not until now. Not the working class, because whatever their roots, and some have surely come from the South, they have all learned, through ongoing exposure to what would eventually come to be known as a melting pot, how to live and let live: It would become, if not at once then eventually, a part of their daily experience. And surely not the suburbanites either, because they’re presumed to be educated, sophisticated, and erudite, far too clever to ever fall for Mr. Trump’s rhetoric no matter what he was peddling.

donald trumpNo, this resentment is and always was a Southern kind of thing. Granted, it wasn’t only the South that had a prolonged experience with slavery, but only in the South, where agriculture was the mainstay of the region’s economy, did slavery, a rigidly defined and rigidly enforced two-class system and a way of life to boot, acquire the status of a sacrosanct institution that was never meant to be tinkered with, but to exist in perpetuity, unchallenged and unchanged. Couple this with the humiliation the South had suffered in having been on the losing side of the Civil War, a wound that never healed, and you can begin to understand the depth of Southern reaction.

It is thus that this feeling of resentment and rancor has got nothing to do with reason but is based almost entirely on blind emotion, a highly combustible admixture of disorientation, displacement, anger, fear, sense of failure, loss of personal identity, etc. – all culminating, as it were, in extreme prejudice, bigotry, and hatred. (I could have added blatant racism as well, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing, no such concept for the Southerner, just as there is no concept of “white privilege” either: It’s just a way of life to them, a natural order of things, an order that ought to have prevailed but is no longer.)

All of which, naturally and by way of compensation, found its ultimate expression in the idea of white supremacy: indeed, only a defeated folk needs to reinvent itself so, and to express its bruised identity in such an extreme fashion. It was so with the impoverished white South; and it was no different with Weimar Germany.

Which brings us to the anomaly of this year’s presidential election – the suburban and the working class vote going Mr. Trump’s way, thus defying the conventional wisdom and politics as usual. How are we to account for this?

It’s rather simple, folks. Mr. Trump, a demagogue pure and simple, apparently tapped into this deep-seated, Southern brand of rancor and resentment – the feelings of hatred, bigotry, misogyny, and yes, racism, too, whether overt or covert – in short, the ugliness of it all! – and he toyed with it: perhaps at first only for his own and/or our amusement, if only to see what obtained; but once the signs became unmistakable, then for keeps. In the process, he unleashed the beast within, the worst in our already tarnished (white) nature, and the rest is history.

Trump’s lies, half-truths, and innuendos, most of all his scapegoating nearly everyone but his own rabid base, the diehards, for the grave and complex problems which face not only the United States but the entire world as it stumbles through the 21st century, spread like wildfire and consumed so many of us who otherwise wouldn’t have even dreamed of considering Mr. Trump for any office, let alone the Oval Office. And so, nearly half of the American voting public, white men and women of all ages, creeds, and parts of the country, regardless of their economic or professional status or past political affiliations, whether from the rural or the industrial USA, educated as well as uneducated, all got caught up in the frenzy and cast their votes.

I suppose it’s fair to say that “uneducated folks” may not have a clear idea of what a demagogue is. It’s not required of a demagogue that he believes in the very things he agitates ; au contraire, it’s a quintessential part of the definition that he does not! (True to form, we’ve already seen our President-elect backpedaling on a great many outrageous things which he said on the campaign trail he would or would not do.) Which is why, perhaps, Mr. Trump remarked once during one of his “stump-trump” speeches that “he loves the uneducated.” Whether he was trying thereby to humor his most ardent followers by putting them at ease and stroking their egos lest they begin to suspect that all may not be as it seems, we will never know; from what we have learned about Mr. Trump so far, nothing is above him, let alone deceit, so this is a distinct possibility. No matter, he got a standing ovation regardless.

Be that as it may, it still leaves open the question about the suburbanites, not the Tony Soprano kind, and not because they’re dumb (which they’re not!) but because they’re unrealistic. And so, when we come to the real suburbs, our enclave areas with green manicured lawns and our gated communities, each populated by real men and real women, educated, sophisticated, and professional, we’ve got to ask why. What possessed you to vote for such an unsavory person? The poorer and uneducated, or in any case the poorer and less well-educated than you, may not have known any better; they may have thought their situation dire, and in voting for Mr. Trump, in their own minds at least, they were making their last stand; at least they have a semblance of an excuse. But you

There’s only one way for me to even begin to fathom your inexplicable vote. Civilization is but a veneer with you, a very thin veneer. Underneath it all, you’re just like every one of us, worse perhaps. You may be white, lily-white on the outside, but your hearts reek of darkness. Far from having been moved by a sense of remorse (because of collective guilt we all share) and the resulting feelings of empathy, you decided instead to take part in the Great White Hope parade; thus, you have only compromised your common decency and shown your true colors!

I have yet to absorb the full meaning of these events; as a result, this presentation has been a rather odd blend of analysis and emotional reaction. As to the latter, I can do no better than refer you to “We Are Rome,” an audio podcast by Gregg Popovich, head coach of San Antonio Spurs.

It says it all!

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About Roger Nowosielski