I’m not particularly thrilled to be writing this column about Donald Trump. You’re probably not all that thrilled to be reading it. But judging by web traffic, ratings, and every other measure of media these days that’s not stopping either of us.
I was actually unable to follow the Super Tuesday results in real time, so I got a lot of my news from NPR — there’s a phrase to shiver the spines of legions of Trump supporters — while driving home. One reporter summed it up as, to paraphrase, “We’re actually looking at a Trump versus Clinton presidential election.”
This sent me into a flashback to my high school Algebra I class, where one morning I experienced my first-ever revelation: The sudden, overwhelming, and terrifying realization that all of this around me would end, that I would soon be an actual adult. The prospect of being grown-up stopped being theoretical and started being very tangible.
Luckily, I got snapped out of it by a question about the quadratic equation.
Anyway, I had the same pit-in-the-stomach feeling about Trump v. Clinton: That all of this was not just some fever-dream of the American reality television complex, but actually the highly likely outcome of America’s once-vaunted democracy.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been snapped out of this one yet.
I suppose I’ve mentally made the connection to my freshman year — a time of zits and bullies and longing for the day I’d get my driver’s license — because this year’s election has literally been as juvenile as a high school class election. Trump’s soaring performance as a shameless bully — mocking the disabled, flirting with racism, being an all-around dick — has won him the cafeteria vote.
Yes, I’m clutching my pearls about this along with every other moderately sane person out there. My schadenfreude level, however, has been declining as Trump’s political fortunes have been rising. That’s not because I suddenly have sympathy for the Republican Party who created him — they’re the ones who rode the tiger, unleashed the kraken, opened Pandora’s box, and any number of other clichés applicable to people about to be devoured by their own short-sighted hubris. And it’s not just because of the fear of Trump being one Tuesday in November away from the White House.
It’s because listening to Trump supporters depresses me about the failure of our politics and our not-so-civil society. I’m not talking about the sniveling, white-supremacist twits who’ve crawled out from their rocks to bask in Trump’s rhetoric — I still feel plenty of schadenfreude that the past eight years of racist-tinged politics have culminated in them suddenly feeling back at home in a Republican primary. I’m talking about the rural, blue-collar whites who haven’t been to college and who have been royally screwed by GOP policies that prioritized the needs of the rich over anything and anyone else.
There’s an argument going on in the Democratic party between progressives (generally white) who advocate looking at economic inequality through a mostly color-blind lens and progressives (generally black) who believe our historical racism is inextricable from that inequality. This shouldn’t be an argument because they’re both right.
There is a group of white people in the U.S. who are suffering economically and otherwise. They are easy to mock because their anger, stoked for decades by politicians who’ve pitted whites against minorities, is often flat-out racist. That doesn’t make the underlying economic causes of their anger any less real. They want the return of an economy that hasn’t existed in decades. They want the safety net (albeit for the so-called “deserving”) that their own political party has been actively destroying. They want an other to blame for their very real misfortunate. And Trump is just the con man to promise all of that.
It’s depressing that racial resentment has been powerful enough for so many white people to vote against their interests. From the left, I wish we were making better progress taking those interests seriously. To be clear, Democrats should never give an inch on their commitment to racial equality and civil rights. I’m lamenting that racism remains so powerful that it keeps those who should be allies apart and fearful.
Maybe the Trump Fabulous and Classy Roadshow is what it feels like to lance a political boil. You have raise it to the surface before you get rid of it. I’m just afraid of the scar it’s going to leave behind.
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