Compassion For The Trump Persona

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung - Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung – Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I know someone who is a lot like Donald Trump, except he doesn’t have power or a lot of money. This person, whom I’ll call “Dave,” is bombastic, opinionated, and aggressive. His father divorced his mother when he was 8, and then Dave never heard from him again, until Dave sought him out shortly before his father died. Dave’s mother was difficult, the daughter of a narcissist, who was angry and abusive and generally frustrated with her life and limitations.

As he grew up, Dave’s mother remarried, and he gained a step-brother and two half-siblings. But Dave was insecure and had low self-esteem, in part due to years of emotional abuse from his hyper-critical mother. He entered the military, where he found a sense of family and belonging for the first time in his life. Dave didn’t have a lot of inborn identity, or sense of who he was, so he identified with the military and took that into his identity. He was a military man, a guardian of freedom and the American way. He was somebody now. An attack on the military was an attack on him.

Although his parents were solid Democrats, Dave became a Republican, because Republican ideals aligned more closely with military ideals. By extension then, a support for Republicans meant a support for the military, his family, his sense of identity. And from thenceforth, any attack on the Republican party was an attack on him.

Dave never went to college, couldn’t afford it, and had goofed off too much in high school to have good grades. But the military provided, sending him to technical schools so that he could learn to perform a highly specific job: build and maintain nuclear weapons. Dave was not stupid, inasmuch as his capacity for science and engineering went, and he thrived. He was proud of the specialized work that he did, and he felt that his ability to perform it meant that he was smarter than the average bear.

Dave secretly worried, inside, that maybe he wasn’t really smart enough or good enough to do anything—his mother had told him so repeatedly. So he latched on hard to anything that would prove otherwise, and an attack on anything he had latched hard onto was an attack on him.

The thing is, one did not have to actually attack any of the things that Dave had decided were central to his identity. One had only to disagree with Dave, and the attack would be thus perceived. I witnessed the father of a friend of mine casually mention politics to Dave; the man was a Democrat. In tone, speech, and body language, Dave made certain that this man knew how wrong he was. He was strident, boorish, and unkind. I wanted to hide under the table.

You see, Dave was my father, and I spent many years figuratively hiding under the table when he went on the attack. He had a peculiar talent for imparting icy, dripping, disdain for the other person. He behaved this way to my mother’s entire (very large) family, letting them know with certainty how far beneath him they were. They were country bumpkins; he was an intelligent person.

Dave’s personality was not only constructed by his military and political alliances; it was constructed with his own white, male privilege. This is incredibly common, particularly for those who do not have a strong sense of self. So even in the military, his black coworkers were beneath him, he condescended almost daily to my ignorant mother (which was unfair, since she had the common sense he lacked), and he had a clear idea of what was “women’s work” and what wasn’t. I was also acutely aware that it would have been better if I were a son instead of a daughter, but as I was the only child, I would have to do.

Dave was visiting us once while our carport was being rebuilt by the insurance company (that’s a long story). The men working on the roof were Hispanic. One of them came to the door with a question. Dave was, predictably, horrible, and humiliated him about his speech, or his accent, or whatever, before deigning to provide an answer. My wife was nearby, horrified. When the man left, Dave turned to her and said, “HE’S not doing a job an American wouldn’t do!” Ahnna relayed the story to me later, and I realized why my smiles and greetings to the workers went unreturned. We were all marked as racist assholes.

As a warrant officer in the military, Dave could order people around. He liked this. A lot. I once saw him go after a soldier who passed him on the sidewalk without saluting and dress him down. I was appalled. No getting lost in your own thoughts, soldier. At home, Dave tried to run things in much the same way, once yelling at me, “I not only want respect, but by God, I demand it!” As you might guess, I lost any respect I had left for him in that moment. Nevertheless, the way to get things done, in Dave’s view, was to scream a command. My mother, being the strong-willed narcissist that she is, was the only one who could cow him. The implicit threat that she might abandon him (as his father once had) was enough. Theirs was a pure love-hate relationship: he loved her codependently; she hated and tolerated him.

I could easily see my father as the boss on The Apprentice, barking at people, enjoying their suffering. My father often stated that if he were put in charge of this country, he’d have everything straightened out in two weeks. Because, you know, he’s a genius, and no one else is. Trump’s words at the Republican Convention, “Only I can fix it” reminded me of my father. Only dictators, tiny (in Dave’s case) or large (fill-in-the-blank), think like this.

For my father (and Trump), there exists only his suffering. If his needs are met, but other people are lacking in those needs, it doesn’t concern him. He is not affected, and if others suffer, it must be their own fault or stupidity. Trump operates much the same way. He has his; to heck with you. Whatever cements his power, feeds his ego, validates his self-perceived greatness and intellect—that is all that matters. Trump has millions of naïve people cheering him on, so he will continue whatever is necessary to keep winning that love. For Dave, his validation came with the arbitrary power of rank. After he retired from the military, that shield was no longer available, and he struggled to keep a job. (He was laid off three times.) While he was often competent to do the work, that had to be weighed against the pain of his bombastic attitude and condescension to his bosses. Trump, as his own boss, doesn’t have that problem.

I suspect that a number of the people who voted for Trump resemble my father a great deal. They are insecure, clinging to superficial identities, such as “whiteness,” a construct that is meaningless. They feel aggrieved, victimized somehow, but they aren’t sure whom to blame. Those brown people, maybe. Then along comes someone just like them, who says the same things, but from a position of power and wealth. This is how fascist dictatorships are made.

Of course, not all Trump voters are like my father. I think many of them are confused, but sure about one thing: something is wrong in our country. And something is wrong. The wealthy people running the show have been funneling money upward for years, to the detriment of our entire society. And yet, it’s easier to blame immigrants, poor blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gay marriage, or what have you. These are the equivalent of gladiators in the ring: distractions from the real problems.

What’s the answer? I know I can’t reach people like my father. He’s as mentally ill as Trump so clearly is. You can’t negotiate with someone like that. But compassion, not just for those who are being hurt, but for those who do not see or cannot be reached, must figure in somehow. Attacks raise defenses. They don’t work. Resist? Yes. But continue to reach out, or at least be compassionate. It’s our only hope.

What’s Next for the Resistance?

Woman's March on Washington 2017

By Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Woman’s March on January 21, 2017 cheered me up tremendously. Many of us are alarmed, as we should be, and our voices were heard. So what’s next?

There are two agendas that we must address. In some cases, there is overlap. To be blunt, there is the Republican agenda, and there is the Donald Trump agenda. Both are dangerous, and both are, in some ways, on opposing sides.

The Trump Agenda

Trump’s agenda, as much as anyone can tell, involves these primary points:

  • American protectionism: punishing countries and businesses who are “not fair” to the U.S. Whatever that means.
  • Curtailing immigration of Muslims and nonwhites
  • Yes, the “wall” or border fence
  • Funding infrastructure spending in America by giving huge tax cuts to corporations, who will then be free to impose tolls and other fees
  • Increasing the military state: channeling more military-grade weaponry to police departments and overlooking or flat-out ignoring civil-rights violations by police (it’s reasonable to suggest that as a corollary, the surveillance state will also be increased)
  • Ignoring civil rights issues altogether (in the name of “safety”)
  • Infringing on civil rights of some groups (see: Hispanics, Muslims, possibly LGBTQ and Jews)
  • Increasing executive authority
  • Suppressing dissent as much as possible
  • Aiding and reinforcing right-wing, nationalist agendas in other countries, in collusion with Russia (see: Steve Bannon)
  • Putting a right-wing extremist on the Supreme Court (see: William Pryor, Jr)
  • Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (see: Republican agenda, below)
  • Increasing military spending and potentially allying with Russia (where? why?)
  • Abandon any pretense of helping or protecting our traditional allies in Europe (see: NATO comments, Vladimir Putin)
  • Reduce or eliminate federal support for education, placing a heavy burden on money-strapped states (see: Republican agenda. Also, Greek-style austerity may be coming to a state near you.)
  • Cut taxes, mostly for corporations and the higher brackets (see: Republican agenda since forever)
  • Completely dismantle any regulations that protect our environment or guard against climate change (see also: Republican agenda) and eliminate agencies such as:
    • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    • Office of Fossil Energy, which seeks to reduce CO emissions
  • Eliminating spending that does not serve the military state:
    • National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities
      (combined funding is less than .002% of the budget)
    • PBS and NPR (to be privatized)
    • Minority Business Development Agency and similar trade agencies
    • Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
    • Violence Against Women grants
    • Legal Services Corporation
    • Reduced funding for the Civil Rights and Environment and Natural Resources divisions

Much of this is bad enough. His penchant for authoritarian figures is already well documented. How much authority can he steal in the U.S.? That remains to be seen, although it was disturbing to watch Trump supporters boo Chuck Schumer for saying things like:

Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held, yet fierce devotion to our country, and in our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy, and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.

Today, we celebrate one of democracy’s core attributes, the peaceful transfer of power. And every day, we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution — the rule of law, equal protection for all under law, the freedom of speech, press, religion — the things that make America America.

Our institutions are fragile. They depend on the buy-in of the American public. It would seem that some of the American public does not agree. That’s not good.

The Republican Agenda

The GOP is positively giddy with glee that they have unfettered power now. Their silence and general lack of spine on matters Trumpian can be directly attributed to the fact that they need him to make sweeping changes to the very fabric of America, none of them good.

Some of the bullets above, as noted, are the same for Republicans in Congress, with a few differences, as noted below:

  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act
    Not so keen on replacing, though. What they propose is universal access, not coverage. Those with the wherewithal can continue their use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and they may raise the amount that you can put in during a year, but remember: that still comes out of your pretax income. It’s your money. Also, while the ACA specifies certain coverage that insurance must provide, their replacement will not. There will also be no limit on deductibles. So yes, your premiums might be cheaper, but your out-of-pocket expenses could be astronomical. And if you have a preexisting condition? Their answer is “high-risk pools,” which have already been proven to not work.
  • Kill Medicare and replace it with “vouchers,” which let you purchase your own insurance in the same unregulated market that the rest of the country has to suffer from.
  • Kill Social Security, suck up the money we all paid into it (they’ve already stolen, er, “borrowed,” a good deal, which is how they claim it’s insolvent), and give you… well, nothing. Happy retirement!
  • Kill SNAP benefits (food stamps), which, if you qualify gives a household of four $649 per month. Which is why, by the end of the month, a lot of people and children are hungry.
  • Kill WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits, because you shouldn’t have an abortion, but so what if you want to feed your baby. (Note: I haven’t seen an actual proposal to do this, but given that they want to kill everything else… they will if they can.)
  • Reduce veteran’s benefits and possibly kill the VA (“vouchers” and “HSAs,” you know)
  • Open up everything to drilling and fracking, and ban local attempts to prevent them from doing so.
  • Cut funding for Planned Parenthood, because women’s health is unimportant.
  • Either a) Treat Russia as the global threat it is and back our western allies, or b) Follow Trump’s lead because they want to get reelected in two years (dependent on the person). I expect more of “b.”
  • Go along with all “discretionary” spending cuts that Trump/Pence propose, as long as it doesn’t affect the military budget, which is God.
  • As for civil rights, well… the GOP hasn’t been a fan of those in a long time.

While there is a fair bit of overlap in these agendas, Donald Trump has said he would preserve Medicare and Social Security. So there are areas of conflict. One thing to watch for:  the Republicans in Congress may try to do what they want anyway, and blame Trump. They could easily throw him under the bus if it suits them. We’ll see.

Donald Trump spoke of the “American carnage.” And it’s true that many people and places have lost their jobs and means of making a living. The great depression (which was not caused by Obama) of 2008 have made things worse for the average American. So I get the desire for a change. But the changes I’ve listed will decimate the social safety net, which millions of Americans need in order to live, not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because it’s incredibly difficult to get ahead in the economy that has evolved.  The phrase “the working poor” is apt because many poor people work two or three jobs, without benefits, just to get by. They are not lazy. And yet their children are hungry. This is not right. Automation is increasing, and more jobs will be lost. That’s a fact.

A better use of our tax money would be a Universal Basic Income, which some developed countries are experimenting with. It would provide a basic income for every adult citizen, enough to live on. Obviously, every citizen is also free to earn more as well, to increase their standard of living. I believe most people who could do so would. (Remember, some people are disabled or infirm and cannot work.) But obviously, at this point in time, the U.S. is not going to do that.

What we can do as we resist these wretched agendas is to educate people about the pain that is about to be inflicted on them. (Democrats: you’ve done a terrible job of this.) Liberals and progressives and even former Republicans have taken to the streets, but Trump voters will suffer with the rest of us, too. We cannot let Congress inflict this kind of pain on our country. We must stay in the streets, run for office, do whatever it takes. If we continue to hobble science and education, if we give into authoritarian voices because “safety” sounds good, this country will cease to be a world leader. It will cease to be a place of new ideas. It will likely even cease to be.