By Shelton Bumgarner
The central question of the day is how a major industrial nation like the United States managed to elect a highly unqualified reality TV star with a conspicuous penchant for thugs and autocrats as its leader. How did this happen and why? And what do we do next to fix the problems all of this causes?
These are very difficult questions to answer, but I will try to do my best to answer them as briefly as possible. Trumplandia, as I call America under Donald Trump, was born, in part, I believe because of a unique set of circumstances.
Among those circumstances are the hysterical nature of the Right’s opposition to President Obama, an general hatred for Hillary Clinton on a personal level because of her gender and maybe a little bit of national boredom from eight years of “No Drama Obama.”
To me, the core of Trumplandia is how is it that otherwise normal voters bought into the long con of a racist, bigoted, misogynist demagogue. That’s the crux of this historical moment. And they had their eyes wide open. Trump went out of his way to tell the center-Right who he was. He may have promised them the stars and moon, but he definitely made clear what an asshole he was in the process.
What’s sad is that one a personal level, it’s not like the differences between Trumplandia and The Resistance are going to be fixed anytime soon. Trump has damaged civil discourse on an existential level and it will take many years for it to recover. It’s sad, but true.
Let’s pick apart the different aspects of Trumplandia. We have the racism. Now, I have had more than one conversation with Trumplandia citizens who absolutely refuse to acknowledge that Trump is a fucking racist. They just don’t see it. And it is the racist aspect that is so obvious and yet noting it pretty much shut downs any civil discourse about Trump. But given that Trump was went from being a celebrity to a major politician by peddling a bizarre conspiracy theory about Obama’s land of birth that is central to the existence of Trumplandia.
Then there is the misogyny. Many books are to be written about how America simply wasn’t ready for a woman president, or at least not Hillary Clinton. Clinton was not an ideal candidate by any stretch of the imagination, but she wasn’t an existential threat to the American Republic like Trump is. And, yet, the residents of Trumplandia did not have a problem with that. They made a guttural grunt in Trump’s direction on election day and the rest was history.
The bigotry of Trump against anyone one might consider the “other,” be it Mexicans or Muslims is also a central aspect o the Trumplandia experience. You have to include the word “bigot” when describing Trump because inevitably some Trumplandia person will try to make the case that Trump can’t be a racist because Mexican’s “aren’t a race.” That makes my blood boil, but I add bigot to the litany of charges against Trump to cover that line of reasoning.
Having said all that the case could be made that it was just, on a historical level, the center-Right’s time to run things and no one was prepared for how hysterical it was. So, in that sense, the real failure of the system happened during the Republican primaries when someone like Trump managed to best 15 professional political opponents. That Republican primary voters fell for such an obvious demagogue is something that should give all of us pause for thought.
So, how do we fix this problem?
First, I continue to think that technology may be one way to end the Trumplandia era. Trump is not only FOX News incarnate, he’s also pretty much just a celebrity Twitter troll. Let that sink in for a moment. Perhaps if a new site, one that serve as a “Twitter Killer” came into existence, maybe we could force our leaders to be a bit more cogent online. If it was expected that they were able to write more than 140 characters at any time, then maybe we could expect more from them.
When it comes to ending Trumplandia, one issue that I simply don’t know the answer to is — does The Resistance embrace the progressive movement, or does it bank more towards the center? It seems as if the most basic answer is to embrace the progressive movement, and, yet, the social aspect of that may be difficult to sell to the Trumplandia voter who obviously is cool with a racist, bigoted, misogynist demagogue. It is difficult to put the genii back in the bottle, as it were.
Trump gets his power from how divisive he is. He forces people to make decisions on a personal level that they never expected to have to make. It is mind blowing to me that people on the center-Right made the cognitive leap to vote for someone like Trump and that a core 30% of them continue to do so, no matter what. Some of this is a tribute to the stability of the American form of government, in that most people vote in November, then forget what about their vote for several more years.
But this election cycle is obviously different. So much smoke is coming out of the Trump Administration, that there are increasing calls for impeachment, barely over a hundred days into the existence of Trumplandia. That core group of 30% is so potent to the political goings-on of Congressional Republicans, however, that it’s unlikely they will do anything about Trump even if it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he or his associates are treasonous.
Additionally, the United States has one of the most vibrant civil societies in the world and it is interesting that the first group within that civil society to address Trumplandia effectively has been comedians. That could be the fact that in middle-school the only person willing to stand up to a bully is the class clown, it could be something else. But the fury that comics have thrown at Trumplandia indicates that the American Republic may be a little bit stronger than I am giving it credit for.
Yet, other aspects of pop culture have been relatively quiet since the Trumplandia era began. I mean, where are the movies and songs that are designed to incite The Resistance to action? The silence of both movie and music industries when it comes to Trumplandia is telling. Some of this may come from their longer creative gestation and some of it may come from the simple fact that the Trumplandia infection has not gotten bad enough to evoke a reaction by the average person who doesn’t really think that much about politics. So my hopes for a return to late 60s, early 70s quality movies and music may be a bit presumptive.
Regardless, all of this is going to be serious food for thought for decades to come. The question, of course, is this just a hickup in our Republic’s life, or is this its death knell? That existential question is something that will only be answered in the years and decades to come. It could be that the only the assurance of an open presidential seat every eight years may keep America from slipping irrevocably into autocracy.