How to Think about the Trumpateriat

Frank Rich, The Trashing of the Republic: The only response to the carnage in Washington is to banish Trump and his traitorous collaborators from civil society.

Frank Rich is deeply offended by the Trumpateriat, and, most definitely, will not be inviting any of them to his next backyard barbeque. Well, me neither.

But addressing the problem of the 74 million Trump voters among us is a political concern of the first water. It demands that we get the analysis right, not just that we take a proper moral and emotional stance. In other words, we have to think with our heads as well as our hearts.

Here’s the thing. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, deep in the Heart of Dixie. Lord only knows, and I surely know, there’s nothing new about virulent racism. The question in my mind is: why is virulent racism on the rise, and turning into full-throated fascism?

Well, if I knew for sure, I would be happy to tell you. But here’s a pretty good working hypothesis.

There are two kinds of people in. our country. Those of us with a goodish amount of money in the stock market are doing just fine. Those of us with no money in the stock market, trying to make ends meet on low wages, living paycheck to paycheck, are in a world of hurt.

And we know that a sense of being cheated–a sense of undeserved inequality– is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior.

With that thought in mind, I think Richard North Patterson’s piece, The Political Context of the Assault on the Capitol: Bonfires of grievance and dispossession in a country riven by alternate realities, pretty much hits the nail on the head. Patterson writes, in part,

The paralysis reflects a deeper social pathology with multiple tributaries—the toxins of racial and cultural estrangement; the disintegration of communal bonds; the proliferation of mind-numbing misinformation; the accelerating gaps in wealth and opportunity; the increasingly ossified class system—which, in turn, erode faith in democracy as a means of resolving our problems. Running through this is the crabbed doctrine of shareholder capitalism which reduces human beings to disposable units of production divorced from the conditions that give life dignity: health, safety, security, opportunity.

This largely accounts for the oft-remarked “deaths of despair” among those left behind. Fearing that our widening economic inequities will breed resentment, an oligarchy of the outnumbered wealthy bankroll political parties and politicians to protect their interests and augment their power—notably Trump, who diverted the marginalized and insecure by trafficking in racism, xenophobia, and phony populism while passing tax cuts for the rich.

As we glide toward plutocracy, ever more couples struggle to sustain their families on two insufficient incomes. Increasingly, overstressed Americans are divorced from communal associations—clubs, unions, recreational sports, mainstream places of worship. Instead our fragmented society offers gated communities of the mind: the nostrums of white nationalism or religious fundamentalism rooted in hostility to the “other”; online conspiracy theories offering fantastical but simple explanations for an increasingly abstract and menacing world; broadcasters profiting by promoting discontent and loathing—Fox News, Newsmax, OAN, talk radio.

As economic power concentrates and executive power swells, the workings of globalism and government become yet more incomprehensible to ordinary citizens. This sense of disempowerment and estrangement further abets the arsonists of truth who traffic in rage and paranoia to mesmerize the credulous. …

It therefore falls to Joe Biden to revive a politics of the common good. Defeating the pandemic and reviving our economy are but the prerequisites restoring a shared sense of opportunity, equity, comity, and confidence in democratic governance as a force for bettering the lives of all.

Then, perhaps, we can begin to restore a shared sense of citizenship wherein more Americans feel welcome to re-engage in the social and political enterprise of improving their communities and their country. One can but hope for a national service program which allows Americans to know each other again, and a renewed civics education which reintroduces our democratic institutions to a citizenry which, all too often, misapprehends them.

Harder yet is to reform those institutions. But we must try. The Electoral College promotes minority rule and electoral chicanery; gerrymandering breeds extremism; our campaign finance system engenders oligarchy.