John Chuckman



Donald Trump is something new to the American presidency. In style and language, he is the first president from Dogpatch, the fictional home of the old Sunday newspaper comics character, Li’l Abner. It is remarkable for a man who seems also to like dress-up occasions with tuxedos or tails and resorts and mansions, but there is just no denying the identifiable mindset and attitudes. It’s the Beverly Hillbillies living in an expensive Fifth Avenue apartment.

A Trump political base supporter has many Dogpatch qualities, especially in wanting little to do with international arrangements of any kind, except bombing, or real progress which necessarily entails uncomfortable change. The attitudes towards foreigners and minorities are what you’d find in Dogpatch, as well as the conviction that much of that ugly world out there just wants to take things from Americans.

Trump understands all of that in his gut. He is not thoughtful or at all intellectual or analytical, but he has the animal cunning and instinctive understanding of a high predator.

When Trump showily hugs a big, thick, satiny American flag to his cheek, posing for a photo with a slightly crazed smile as though he were under the spell of a drug or a sensuous woman, he’s providing a kind of American patriotic parody of a Russian Orthodox Church icon. That flag, for those Americans, hugged that way, captures their constellation of beliefs and dislikes, including providing a symbol of their home team ready to take on all foreigners. It absolutely does not represent rule of law, democratic values, and close regard for human rights.

Emerson wrote of most men “living lives of quiet desperation,” and I think there’s much truth in that, but I believe confusion is the state of a good portion of humanity, more than many people would care to admit. And Trump’s crowd is confused. That’s one of the reasons his supporters are so enthusiastic about him. He is confused, quite apparently about a good many things, and that makes a kind of brotherhood bond.

As does the fact that he refuses to admit to ever having any confusion, insisting on just stomping his feet and charging ahead like a bull. Confidence. Leadership. At least what his crowd understands as leadership.

Part of the confusion we see fairly widely in America represents a lack of critical education. America’s public-school system is risk-averse and politically extremely touchy. It has little tolerance for the kind of educators who impart genuine critical thinking.

Part of the confusion represents irrationality, mental imbalance, forms and shades of madness, conditions remarkably common in people. Think about all our biases and prejudices and fears, think about our superstitions, our religions, our politics, think of all our violent crimes and senseless vandalism, and you may agree with me that we are much less rational than we credit ourselves with being.

Trump’s supporters recognize their qualities reflected in him. Trump is not a man who reads, at all, and he is not a man to listen patiently to experts. He is in fact an extremely impatient man. Those, too, are defining characteristics for a goodly portion of America’s people, and he is their man. Expressions like, “He don’t take no guff!” and “She thinks her sh-t don’t stink!” are ones I’ve heard repeated many times through my life. They are “as American as cherry pie.”

Great leaders, and Trump is anything but, do not necessarily mirror the nature of their followers. Instead they are able to fashion a set of actions and policies with which many can identify or take pride in at least some portion. Putin is a very good example. I don’t think a great many Russians resemble him. He is an exceptional person in many qualities, but he is able to construct a program, parts of which most Russians can identify with and take pride in. That is sophisticated leadership. What Trump offers is more along the lines of nativism and tribalism.

Many years ago, journalist Tom Wicker wrote a book about Richard Nixon called “One of Us,” and that phrase captures what the people of Trump’s political base see in him. Never mind the wealthy status and resorts and tuxes and endless rounds of golf, he is one of us. That makes for a strong bond, such people relishing Trump’s exalted status combined with the crude way he enjoys it, a kind of bringing things down to their level, the kind of thing some old comedy teams, such as the Marx Brothers, used to do in movies.

No high-falutin airs. Likes watching television and eating hamburgers. Often believes he’s done something when he hasn’t, reminding one of that old American architype, the gracious and gentile Southern Colonel who in fact never was a Colonel.

Trump’s always ready with a new outpouring of words to defend what he has done badly. Never at a loss for words even when the words contradict what he’s already said. Confusion. Irrationality. “Bull sh-t baffles brains,” another phrase once commonly heard in America.

The confusion of people who would never think of taking “the Lord’s name in vain” supporting a man who does so regularly. The confusion of people who like wars and anything where America gets to come out on top supporting a man who avoided military service through a feeble excuse, a college basketball player incapacitated by heel spurs?

The confusion of people who for the most part do not like people who are not like themselves, as say, Muslims or Mexicans or Chinese. There’s no denying it, various strains of racism have always been part of the American social-political fabric, likely originating both in the long-lived institution of slavery and in the brutal wars on indigenous people that came with the long westward expansion. Related also are America’s Mexican and Spanish wars and hostilities and acts for limiting or preventing Chinese migration to the West Coast.

Perhaps, too, the great waves of earlier migration, mainly from poor parts of Europe, brought the prejudices of many different peoples, for it is fundamental part of human nature to have prejudices. Prejudice is not the property of any one people. It is society’s job to control its possible effects and to enforce fairness, but it cannot make prejudice go away. A President or any high official who gives off a sense of indulging prejudice, as Trump does even if he isn’t personally acting on it, is working against the proper duty of government. Some of Trump’s people love him for that.

Americans are people with a lot of resentments and anger. You can feel the anger in American society in many places just by walking around on the streets. Hard to get a good job and keep it. Hard to earn enough to have the things an American thinks he should have. It’s been like that while, for a good many years since the blindly happy days of “the American Dream.” It is, of course, just a symptom of America’s relative economic decline in the world. And whatever Trump says, fantasizing for his political supporters, there is little to be done for that but hard work and sacrifice and investment for the future.

But that hardly provides an attractive, snappy political program. Far more appealing are fantasies, like MAGA, and bellowing aggression towards those who are doing well because they do understand those principles, like the Chinese. And so much more readily embraced when the opponent is different. Differences enable people to visualize hatreds, much like statues of demons on Cathedrals.

It wouldn’t occur to many that all that borrowed money spent on the Pentagon and foreign wars could have been spent instead on the homeland equivalent of China’s New Silk Road, vast infrastructure improvements that would generate jobs for many years to come, improve the nation’s future competitiveness, and at least leave things of worth behind when the inevitable time comes to pay the bills for all the borrowing. But that’s just not the way most Americans were raised to think.

In reality, their political system makes it almost impossible for Americans to choose such a path. As I’ve explained elsewhere, the Pentagon and security services serve empire, and empire serves the establishment and the plutocracy. It generates careers and wealth for all the participants, and it’s just too bad for everyone else. The political system isn’t structured for change. No one with power wants change. And Trump’s delusions about grabbing from the rest of the world and giving it to Americans represents a one-way trip to nowhere. It represents, in effect, a continuation with new rhetoric and raises the risks of war and conflict along the way, but, of course, that’s music to the ears of much of the establishment.

No, the Pentagon is regarded much like the photo of Trump hugging the flag. A holy icon. It has been brainwashed into the society.

Posted January 14, 2020 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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