This blog has a lot of very perceptive readers. The fact that my “day job” precludes my weighing in on conversations among commenters doesn’t mean I don’t read what is posted, and I was particularly struck by the following observation, in a comment to last Tuesday’s post on the politics of resentment:
I would describe the executive orders and Congress’ legislative “agenda” (such as it is) so far as governing by revenge. Nothing done or proposed has any constructive elements in it. You’d think they were tearing down the Bastille.
As another commenter remarked, the mob won, and they’re cheering every brick that comes down, even when it lands on them.
I’m certainly aware–as the old academic adage has it–that the plural of anecdote is not data. But the image of “tearing down the Bastille” is eerily consistent with the attitudes of the Trump people I have encountered.
Most of the Trump voters I know personally ( I’m happy to report that I don’t know many–but then, I live in one of those diverse urban bubbles) nurse attitudes that I can only characterize as racist and misogynist. In at least two cases, both older white men, their bigotries were on display long before Trump emerged. They both were among the fringe crazies who appeared to “lose it” when Obama was elected; it was obvious that they experienced the ascension of a black man to the White House as incomprehensible and deeply disturbing, not to mention a personal affront. (In an email, one of them recently characterized President Obama as a “Fabian socialist progressive.” I have no idea what that terminology is supposed to mean, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either; he just knows that the black guy must be a commie.)
I have also been made aware, however, of Trump voters who seemed less motivated by racial animus or sexist attitudes than by a general hostility to “the system,” and a desire to tear it down. For these voters, Trump’s intellectual and emotional deficits and general buffoonery were assets–his lack of experience, his ignorance of government, his recklessness, volatility and especially his eruptions of uncontrolled anger–all promised chaos, and chaos was precisely what they wanted.
I am unable to fathom a fury that reckless. I can only assume that it is the result of a life experienced as deeply unsatisfying coupled with a conviction that things will not or cannot improve, and that the only satisfying course of action is therefore a destructive one.
If the destruction hurts a lot of innocent people, well, those are the breaks.
Whatever the motives of the 26% of (disproportionately white and elderly) eligible voters who cast ballots for Trump, the rest of us are left with a choice: man (or woman) the barricades and try to minimize the harm being done, especially to the powerless and disadvantaged; or sit on the sidelines and watch the bricks fall.