Fertile Soil for Trumpism

Was Trumpism fueled by racism? Yes! Clearly. In part.

But there was always more to it, and I understand the frustration with many Trump supporters being lumped together with the “racist” label. There were…

Also those who aim for some brand of theocracy
Also the “taxation is theft” anti-“socialists”
Also those disillusioned by broken bureaucracies
Also the gun nuts
Also the anti-abortionists
Also the misogynists hoping for a resurgence of patriarchal society
Also the homophobes
Also outright white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-nazis
Also other stuff

And plenty of people who were only a little bit of the some of the above but went along with him because he was the nominee for the party they identified with for so long.

Trumpism got as far as it did because it could lasso all these disparate groups together. (Interesting that the word fascism is literally from Latin fasces, meaning “bundle”.) The political frustration of all these fringe ideologies could rally together under a common banner and express their previously repressed emotions and irrational fears, but it bears repeating, they were also all at least kind of okay with the racism.

Were personal biases amplified by social media or whatever? Sure! Exploited at least. But, I think blaming social media is to superficial. Political frustration is a key common thread here. It is the best way I’ve been able to make sense of such a diverse group who justified their vote for an aspiring fascist. Social media fanned the flames of that underlying frustration, but the fire would be burning well enough without it.

Is it irrational & dangerous to hitch your wagon to a blowhard narcissist? Obviously! And yet by tapping into that common frustration, and with a bit of leverage from all the free media coverage, as well as highly targeted social media campaigns to help motivate the politically frustrated, he was able to galvanize people to vote for him in spite of all the other stuff.

An important note, also, is that to some, cruelty is a good way to voice frustration

My big takeaway is this: an often overlooked breeding ground for political frustration in the USA is our first past the post winner take all electoral system.

It leaves way more than half the country (counting nonvoters) feeling like those in place to represent them do not fill that role. They are not wrong!

For example, conservative voters in the 12th District of California (San Francisco) only had one meaningful option for their representative this year. They could vote FOR Nancy Pelosi (who they also hate) to avoid an actual progressive taking her place, or they could (statistically speaking) throw their vote away. This illustrates how this system actually suppresses the voice of progressives in that district too. This is lose lose, not healthy compromise!

The president I voted against lost, yay, I guess, but Biden doesn’t represent me.

Worse yet, at every other level where the policies I actually care about are in play I have representatives actively opposed to my own views, and no real hope of that changing anytime soon. It’s fucking frustrating! It is quite literally oppressive. It makes me feel resentful and even tempts me towards hate and violence, towards resentment and cruelty. I do actively resist those feelings, and that sets me apart from at least some Trump voters, but nonetheless here is a piece of common ground.

The relief many on the left feel as Biden appears to have won is maybe similar in this important regard to the relief many on the right felt in 2016. And with resentment on the right painfully evident after the 2020 election results, the stage is already set for 2024 to easily swing back the other way again. To avoid such chaotic pendulum swings we need to address what breeds this political frustration in people, and the lack of awareness about the root causes is alarming in this regard.

Repeated and genuine calls for unity paired with a polite do nothing centrism might just keep the frustration festering under the surface. But if a type of “moderate” policy is the goal we need some bold, dare I say radical, changes to get there and avoid the next wave of far right extremism

Am I saying we need to be sensitive to BS from hateful idiots, or not hold a whole major party descending into fascism accountable? NO! But we do need to try to diagnose some of what motivates 70m people to vote in the direction of fascism.

I believe understanding how our democratic system is dysfunctional at such a fundamental level is key to understanding the particular dysfunction we have been living through. Failure to do so will only lead to dysfunction of a different brand.

There are lot of sources for electoral reform, but one of my recommended places to start is FairVote

Is reform really possible? For your consideration here are some thoughts on New Zealand from two people who have each written a book on the topic of electoral reform :

built from my Twitter thread on November 9, 2020.

Positive Imagination Vectors Wanted

“My friends, nothing important is lost when others gain, when homeostasis occurs among humanity and compassion and opportunity are celebrated for all.”

I have been thinking about this line of thought in different ways over the past few weeks. Clearly, and depressingly, many people are opposed to the cause of achieving greater justice or equality. What is also sad and perplexing is that many many more seem just indifferent. Why? The extreme vast majority would really only stand to gain from the reforms or systemic changes that are being discussed in this wave of protesting.

But it is a similar pattern when I look back at the environmental movement, or pushes to curtail wealth inequality or whatever. I dislike lumping people in simplistic ways but it seems to be especially prominent among “conservatives” – as if what they want to preserve/conserve is the status quo, and in standing on that hill to die, they fail to have the perspective that the status quo is also a boot on their own damned neck.

The status quo so often really only benefits those at the very top. Yet the people at the very bottom protesting their plight find indifference, if not opposition, from so many in the middle. It’s as though they are suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome.

Is it something like inertia? If the oppression you experience is fairly bearable day to day, or is far enough removed from ones immediate present experience that it is hard to really imagine, there could be fear that any change may be for the worse. Many lack imagination for the positive but have an overactive one for the negative. Have we spent so much more time in fictional dystopias than fictional utopias that we have atrophied in our ability to even recognize the potential of positive change?

On the one hand Pascal’s Wager was never a very convincing argument to put your faith in something, but on the other hand, it seems rather useful to consider, “what do you stand to lose, really?”

Does a bit of increased cost or reduced convenience as a downside really outweigh all the potential benefits “going green” at a societal level? When we talk about universal health care as a policy, and the absolutely huge potential is dramatically overshadowed by some potential pitfalls of the implementation details, what is really going on there? If we fix some racially oppressive systems, improve the social services available to our communities, and reduce their capacity to harm and do violence, do the theoretical downsides really tip the scales compared to what we stand to gain?

Cruelty is the means

I have studied a bit about the sociology of cruelty, or the various ways humans come to act very inhumanely. From a couple books by Jaques Ellul, to various famous psych experiments, to recently some podcasts and a book by Douglas Rushkof. All recommended, but if you want a quick intro into an aspect in action in the present this article is worth a read. It has important implications for some current political happenings, but also some good general insight about humanity without being to long.

“Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.”

Adam Serwer

It is somewhat dated at this point, a lot has happened in Trumps circus in 9 months, but there is some fresh cruel, and overtly bigoted, remarks by the #RacistInCheif on twitter today, and I was especially reminded of this as I read some of the responses to his posts from his supporters. Spoiler, they seem to very much confirm the hypothesis that the cruelty is the point. In a way that is.

One clarification I would like to offer. I don’t think this is arguing for a people-are-just-bad-deep-down perspective. Rather, I think it speaks to the deep seated need for unity and community, in that we want or need it so much we are willing, even glad, to be cruel if that happens to be the price. In other words cruelty isn’t the point, ultimately, for trumps followers. It is the point for him as it happens to be the tool he is good at using that also serves his purpose of unifying his base of support.

If you are reading this, and still support Trump or his ilk, especially if you bristle at the above quote, I would genuinely like to hear from you. I worry I might have a significant blind spot in understanding you as a person. Frankly, I am also scared that I don’t misunderstand, but that you may have been sucked in by the appeal of community regardless of the fact that is centered on cruelty. I’m willing to have the discussion with an open mind if you are.