This is a full reprint of a piece I published on January 20, 2017, the day that Donald Trump took office. The original title was “Trump Is Attuned To The Zeitgeist of Darkness and Despair; That Is The America He Spoke To, Not Us.” You may remember hearing Trump’s American Carnage speech that day, which was addressed to his America, the people living in fear, resentment and rage, whose zeitgeist he captured when he ran for office — but not to all Americans. It’s a custom for newly inaugurated presidents to speak inclusively, to one and all, to bring the nation together — at least it’s a gesture that is made. But not the day Donald Trump took office.
I’ll speak specifically of El Paso at the end of the piece. The mood of the nation today so resembles January 20, 2017 that I wanted to revisit that day and my thoughts at that time, before speaking of our latest American mass murder.
Trump’s inauguration speech was dark, militant, and paranoid, not surprisingly. Steve Bannon unquestionably authored it and one thing I’ll give to Steve Bannon is that he has his finger firmly on the pulse of the chaotic and despairing mindset of a great many Americans in 2017. Bannon understands the impotent rage and frustration which so many average Americans feel. They feel forgotten and passed over by a world that has left them behind and that’s why they voted for Donald Trump; to strike back at a society they feel abandoned them.
Months ago when it seemed evident that he would get the nomination, I saw Trump as a cult leader. He fit all the basic criteria, a charismatic figure preaching a shockingly different message that captured the imagination of marginalized people and made them feel that they belonged again; or perhaps for the first time ever. Now I think that Trump is an idiot savant, because of his gift for tapping into the irrational fear that exists in the darkest recesses of the cultural psyche, his ability to extract it, and then mainline it back into his voters again, and again like a drug. That is how he built his popularity with one outrage after another, by tapping into the reptilian brain and unthinking, emotional response of his voters.
Trump unconsciously tapped into the currents of repressed rage that flow just beneath the surface of our culture. He cracked the ice and that rage geysered upwards and continues to geyser upwards. It is no secret that Trump’s supporters have taken his election as a cultural carte blanche to misbehave in any manner which they see fit. Just the other day, Texas Congressman and Democrat Filemon Vela reported that a group of migrant children which he brought to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration were disparaged by Trump voters who called them, “beaners,” “burritos,” and even spit on them.
Trump is the pied piper for these people. His gauche vulgarity and excess may mesmerize the normal minded and cause us to ask, jaw droppingly, what is wrong with these people? What is wrong? They’re enraged and they’re totally lost, that’s what’s wrong. And what is really wrong is that they are totally alienated from their government. They feel that their government is a thing apart from themselves, that their government doesn’t care, and that they cannot affect their government. Donald Trump is the first person to come along in their entire lives making any kind of sense to them, with his 200 word vocabulary, articulating their rage. Just like the Howard Beal character in the movie, “Network.” Trump is the, “messianic jedemiah, articulating the rage of the common man,” as the Faye Dunaway character put it. It’s as simple, and as terrifying in it’s import, as that.
When I was in college I read a treatise which said that all of modern society’s ills are traceable to one cause alone and that is that technological advances, starting with the industrial revolution, have all happened much faster than the ability of society to adjust. So technology and society have gotten progressively out of step since 1760. Since the rise of the computer as a tool of premiere importance in our society, vast numbers of people have become disenchanted and disenfranchised.
The advance of the computer is the single most important factor in the societal malaise that our culture is now telling us, darkly, is reality by electing Trump. The computer has taken away the “forgotten man’s” traditional livelihood and his self esteem — or so the legend goes. Televangelist Franklin Graham was quoted a few weeks ago, saying, however absurdly, that there, “was no pride in computer programming, and that the ‘men’ wanted the same jobs as their fathers and grandfathers,” i.e. coal mining jobs; a thankless hazardous pursuit which apparently Franklin Graham sees as quite dignified. Dying at age 40 from black lung disease is perhaps dignified in Graham’s worldview as well, who knows?
In all events, these same men were lied to by Trump, who promised the coal mining jobs back, and the coal miners couldn’t be bothered with looking at the true facts of their position, because Trump voters don’t deal in facts. Anybody who was looking for facts during the 2016 campaign found them and ended up voting the Democratic ticket. The Trump voters didn’t bother with the facts, which would have told them, again, back to the coal miners, that their jobs were not gone due to an evil government outsourcing them overseas, but that attrition had taken their jobs in a complex global economy where natural gas and solar power are much cheaper alternatives than coal and the coal mining jobs were never coming back, no matter who is in the White House. The current status of the coal mining industry in the world is that robot labor will be doing that task to the extent that it is done at all.
The Hillary campaign never grasped the numbers of voters that were enraged and lost. Hillary herself never saw this at all. She relied upon textbook debating techniques and campaign strategies like she who can raise the most money wins. She was totally out of touch with the real zeitgeist of America and that is why she lost. Hillary was upbeat and positive and seeing the glass as half full not half empty. No. The glass is broken and in shards, in the view of John and Jane Q. Public. Now the facts may indeed indicate otherwise. Yes, we may have in fact had a drop in crime in the past eight years and in fact had a substantial increase in jobs and rise in employment in America, and in fact the ACA is the best thing to happen in this country since sliced bread. But facts are not feelings and people vote for candidates based on emotional buttons which either get pushed or don’t get pushed and in this case, Donald Trump managed to push the buttons, bigly. The Trump voters are a bunch of lobotomized Luke Skywalkers, muddling through life, “trusting their feelings,” doing what their fee fees say to do and they don’t know about facts. But they still get to vote and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in and that’s why this horrible man was sworn in at noon today.
Whether Trump is legitimately president or not he is legitimately terrifying. Today a milestone in American culture was reached; in essence, the nadir of democracy, and the pit of American politics, one hopes. H.L. Mencken most presciently predicted this day when he said, “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” Yes, just plain folks won the 2016 election, indisputably, and a great man left the White House today and a greatly inferior man entered it. We can only wait for the next shoe to drop. Now is truly the winter of our discontent.
Nothing has changed from January 20, 2017 until today, except to get worse. In Cincinnati, a Trump supporter got out of his truck and attacked a much older man, presumably because he wasn’t also a MAGAt. Today in El Paso, another Trump supporter opened fire in a WalMart, slaying 20 people and injuring 26 others.
What do these two incidents have in common? Simple. Donald Trump told them both that this was right. Trump told people at one of his rallies to go ahead and beat up protesters and he would “pay the legal bills.” Trump said that immigrants from south of the border are “rapists” and “drug dealers” and “criminals.” He said, “They’re not sending their best people.” In Cincinnati he mocked the visa lottery system saying, “Oh, another murderer. Fine. Bring him in.” It requires no leap of logic or imagination to say that this divisive rhetoric directly inspired today’s shooting.
To Trump, it’s all a joke. Life is but a dream. The only reality he knows is his gilt-plated penthouse and his golden toilet. The hate speech that he spews, is to him merely improvised dialogue in a skit. None of this is real to him. He does not get the connection between what he says, and what happens in the society. The words of an American president have always mattered, not just here, but world wide. It is sickening that this petty, perverse, mindless and moral-less man occupies the highest office in our nation and that his words matter. But they do.
Words have power. They direct thought, excite emotions and inspire action. Look at what the words of Donald Trump hath wrought today, in El Paso.