Mutual demonizing and scapegoating in the Presidential campaign undermine prospects for social transformation. That “politics of personal destruction” reinforces an ongoing downward spiral. Violence, whether physical or verbal, breeds violence. We risk becoming the evil we resist. Being the change we seek offers greater hope.
Jesus was right: Love your enemies. We can hate what people do without hating their soul, their essential humanity, who they are down deep as a person. With nonviolent communication, we can make judgments without being judgmental.
Trump has made racist statements, but I cannot say he is a racist (I don’t know that he believes people of color are inherently inferior). He has fascist tendencies, but I cannot say he is a fascist. He sometimes acts like a bully, but I cannot say he is a bully. His children are testament that he probably has positive human qualities.
I hold sympathy for Trump. His abusive father pushed his sons to “get ahead” (which apparently is the primary message Trump taught his own children). That extreme pressure damaged his brother, but Trump flourished. True to the American spirit, he became hyper-competitive. “Winning is everything.” He’s the ultimate American individualist. He’s a victim of the American myth that you can be anything you want to be.
His relative success nurtured in him arrogance, a sense of superiority, and a tendency to be harshly judgmental. Like the hippies, he does his own thing. Like Frank Sinatra, he does it his way. Like a chronic adolescent, he indulges in instant gratification and says whatever’s on his mind. Like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, he revels in rebellion.
Like Leonard Cohen said, America has the best and the worst. We have high ideals that we only sometimes honor. Trump is a true American, a product of the dominant culture, a mixed bag. We cannot criticize him, without criticizing ourselves.
Like many left-wing utopians, without focusing on winnable short-term objectives, he wants to “shut it down,” “shake things up,” “tear down” the “rigged system,” “turn Washington on its head,” and hopefully impose major improvements out of the chaos.
He’s not insane. Rather, he’s crazy like a wolf who aims to dominate. As America taught him, he believes someone must be in charge. You either dominate or submit.
But, most likely, underneath the rigid bluster is an insecurity that constantly drives him to prove himself. As such, it’s sad to watch him perform, with his weak ego just below the surface.
But his performance has provided a great service. He has helped expose how progressives have ignored, disrespected, and failed to address legitimate concerns felt by white poor and working class people who suffer immensely from economic injustice.
Trump has helped us confront those questions. For that, I express my appreciation.
Routinely, progressives preach the “middle-class mythology” — the belief that upward mobility is the solution. But the obsession with constantly climbing the social ladder is the heart of our problem.
Guaranteeing economic security for all by insuring that everyone can immediately get a living-wage job would be a much different goal. Under those conditions, those who want to do so could relax about their economic future and devote more time to serving humanity and pursuing truth, justice, and beauty.
If we college-educated Trump opponents deepen our understanding of why so many “white trash” support Trump, it will help us learn how to form productive cross-class alliances. After all, we do want to ally with the working class, don’t we?
But thus far, college-educated progressives have done a poor job of connecting with whites who don’t have a college degree.
Trump, however, has spoken to them, tapped their anger, and fed on their resentment toward urban elites who adopt a condescending attitude toward those who “cling to guns and religion.”
It’s not just economics. It’s also cultural. Until progressives learn how to affirm values held by rural and working-class whites that are positive, that gap will not be bridged.
Donald Trump is not the problem. He’s a symptom, created by a social system that thrives on advertising revenue, manufactured crises, and zero-sum games with “winners” and “losers.”
No Presidential candidate is the Devil and none is a Savior. And no camp of followers is purely rational. But we are getting sucked into an increasingly mean, irrational vortex.
We can discredit Trump’s temperament without demonizing him in a way that insults his followers. After this election, another, more effective Trump might follow his path. To weaken that threat, it will help to learn from him and develop better ways to engage his followers.
To do that, we need more humility and less self-righteousness. I suspect most of us have some of the same tendencies that Trump displays, such as irrational gut reactions, being judgmental, a conviction that we have the answers, and a desire to impose our beliefs on those who are less enlightened. I know I do.
Facing those weaknesses and our own class-based biases would help with that effort. An upward spiral of evermore understanding and compassion could then nurture reconciliation with many Trump supporters and help coalesce an overwhelming majority of Americans that could implement major improvements in our society.
Learning to love Donald Trump would be a good first step.