Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Politics of Shame and Disaffection

     OK, so I admit- I have too much time on my hands on the weekends.
     But I'd like to make some serious points.
     About a year and a half ago, in December 2016, The Nation published a piece entitled, "This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson." In it, she tried to produce a thread that would've spanned from 1966, the year after HST had published his book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, and the so-called election of Donald Trump.
     The author, Susan McWilliams, didn't conclusively prove her point that Thompson saw the rise of a President Trump. HST knew his politics but he was no prophet. The man who'd infamously hated Nixon never saw the rise of the even worse George W. Bush until the twilight of his life. While I'm sure he'd heard of Donald Trump (who hadn't before 2015?), I'm sure that even the famously paranoid and pessimistic Hunter S. Thompson in his worst acid flashback never thought America would be so collectively stupid and uncritical as to elect Donald Trump president.
     But she had made some good points as well as some false connections. She and HST may have had the Hell's Angels pegged when she said they were alienated, betrayed and left behind in an industrial America that had moved on without them. But that was a half century ago after Harley Davidson had peaked as America's motorcycle and was four years before Altamont.
     HST had also elicited a confession, of sorts, from one of the Angels that the racism was just part of the act (even though the boy killed at Altamont was black). Yet Trump's constituency (and his Nazi rallies from coast to coast were proof of this time and time and time again) was genuinely racist. And since his so-called election, they've only gotten worse, more brash and outspoken, especially since Charlottesville.
     As with Hitler, a guy whose speeches Trump kept next to his bed and may still, if his policies are any indication, Trump fell back on the tried-and-untrue nativist bullshit of singling out other races and religions for special venom. Who cared if they were American citizens, were gainfully employed and paid their taxes? Literally from Day One of Trump's campaign, Muslims and Latinos were "the others" and a frustrated white America saw an oligarch who wasn't supposed to be on their side but was.
     Or so they thought. Instead, Trump immediately enacted a right wing agenda on steroids, going into uncharted territory that would've given the worst neocons of the Bush years the dry heaves. The most massive tax rollback in US history, a trillion and a half dollars missing from the Treasury over the next decade and all you have to do is tighten your belt some more. Give up a bit of your Social Security and Medicare, give up your Obamacare and I'll bring the jobs back, he said.
     Until he didn't. Ironically, one of those companies hit hardest by Trump's completely insane tariff trade war was Harley Davidson which just axed a whole ton of jobs and will surely offshore them where, again, the labor is cheaper. In response, Trump lashed out at Harley, which he had previously hailed as an American business success story (which it was- until Trump).
     Trump's promise to bring back jobs, that Holy Grail of a Middle America that doesn't work so well with more liberal "coastal elites" was such a good snake oil pitch that he even fooled Michael Moore into giving him a testimonial on a stage that had to be seen to be believed. And if Donald Trump could get Michael Moore and the KKK on his side, then, by God, he must be the Messiah! It was the kind of populism you couldn't fucking buy even with all of Trump's ill-gotten money.
     But Trump had rightly counted on America's perennial ignorance of history. So, knowing enough time had gone by so that hardly anyone living would remember the chancellory election of 1933, Trump merely dusted off Hitler's old speeches, Americanized them by going off script, as he always did during his Two Minutes Hates, and essentially repurposed National Socialism. He threatened to lock up his opponent, a beloved trope of strongmen who cannot tolerate the thought of a legitimate challenge in a free and fair election.
     He encouraged violence and thuggery against those "others", even offering to pay their legal fees. He singled out the supposed cause of their misery, those dark skinned Latinos, Muslims and African Americans. He promised to keep out the first two with a wall and a ban. He promised us that only he and he alone could fix these problems while offering only the bold strokes and many times, not even that.
     Hitler said all that in the runup to his own election.
     If Hitler's and Trump's politics were united by one thing and one thing only, it would be what I call "the politics of shame and disaffection." Hitler told the people of Weimar Republic Germany that they should feel ashamed at losing WWI, be ashamed to be poor and left behind by "Jewish elites" in the struggling economy.
     Then Trump came along 82 and a half years later and said very much the same thing to working class Americans. It's a shame we hadn't defeated ISIS, it's a shame the coastal elites and Latinos have spat on you and are outsourcing and taking your jobs. It was the process of turning simmering anger and disaffection into votes. Trump, like Hitler before him, had turned shame into a marketable commodity only in Trump's case, one designed solely to make him and the financial elites who are really robbing them blind richer than ever.
     The problem is, despite Trump hardly making good on any of his campaign promises, despite a ruinous trade war that will make it harder for HST's Hell's Angels to get those rides and that will cost people jobs, despite our kidnapping children and putting them in prisons for misdemeanor offenses committed by their parents (and sometimes not even that), tens of millions of people continue to support Trump.
     Hitler was in power for just over 12 years. He brought back Germany's economic might (largely by employing Germans to build a war machine) and, for a time, brought back some honor to Germans old enough to remember the shame and stigma of losing WWI.
     Trump hasn't even done that for America. Instead of making America strong and great again, he's deliberately making us weaker for the benefit of Russia and America's oligarchs (see scam, Tax). And only a madman like Donald Trump would think that an American presidency can be completely supported on forever unfulfilled promises and bitter racism and hatred.
     The Hells Angels eventually turned on Thompson, seeing him, as Ms. McWilliams implied, as one of those elites who kept them down. Eventually, the goobers who voted for Trump will begin to realize the jobs aren't there, the tax breaks aren't there, not even his Hadrian's Wall will be there. And eventually, they will turn on him as the Angels turned on the undeserving Hunter S. Thompson.
     Because there's no worse feeling to a voter than belatedly realizing they've been had and merely trading one shame for another.


At July 1, 2018 at 9:40 AM, Blogger Harry Hamid said...

This is good. Thompson opposed Nixon's re-election and even wrote a book about it, but later on (it must on a DVD I have), he said he was glad that Nixon got re-elected after all. His reasoning? If Nixon had lost in 1972, his believers would have continued to tout his virtues, whereas, because of Watergate, Nixon was not only disgraced, but the 60% of the American people who voted for him (Thompson said 75%, which was wrong) were humiliated, too.

I've had people around me who were bad people, toxic accidents waiting to happen. You don't hitch your wagons to them even if it looks like you might benefit short-term because, man, you're going to get wiped out in the long run and you can see it. Nobody in the Republican Party can see the long-term problems here?

At July 6, 2018 at 1:13 PM, Blogger Stan B. said...

I certainly hope your closing paragraphs come to fruition- I've lost even that scintilla of hope when it comes America at large...


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