I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump lately. It’s been hard not to, what with the avalanche of commentary about his run for the presidency. And the avalanche has mostly flowed one way: Trump is horrible, Trump is awful, a menace, a Mussolini, a Hitler. The extremism of it all gets me going a bit. I don’t like avalanches, though I know it’s dangerous to get in the way of one.
Not that I like Donald Trump. He seems like a blustery buffoon, a bully, a nasty guy. I worry even about writing that: maybe he’ll come after me; maybe he’ll say, You’re fired! He’s not my type of person at all. I also don’t like guns, AK-47’s, or whatever the type of gun the kids at Columbine used. You know, the ones who shot up their school and killed I don’t know how many classmates because they’d suffered bullying there.
I was revolted by the killing, as was everyone, I’m sure, and yet now, looking back, I think: bullied kids. What bullied kid doesn’t dream of revenge? I was a bullied kid and I remember fantasizing about being a high judge presiding over a trial of the bulliers. In the fantasy, perhaps oddly, I pardoned the bullies. Not before they grovelled and apologized, but that was all I needed: go and sin no more, I said, channelling my inner Jesus or something. An angry Jesus, but a forgiving one.
All of which is to say I can understand the impulse of the bullied to respond to their bullying. Which brings me back to Donald Trump. How does he fit into the scenario of bullies, the bullied, and AK-47’s? Well, frankly, I think he’s the AK-47, the vehicle of revenge, the weapon.
Then who are the bullies and the bullied? This the media has gone into a bit, trying to trace out the roots of Trump’s appeal. The roots seem similar to the ones that produced the Brexit revolt in England: there’s an animus there, an anger against the ruling establishment and its support for the European Union and for the policies of political correctness, policies which some fear will threaten their livelihoods or their way of life. The roots lead us to ordinary working people, usually older, the ones who remember past days with nostalgia and view the present with trepidation.
Their opponents call them poor white trash or stupid old bigots or other unflattering terms. And the interesting thing about who their opponents are is that they mostly seem to come from the Left. Progressives. The people who in the last century championed the People, the Working Class, the Proletariat.
That was often an odd alliance while it lasted: well-educated radicals calling themselves the vanguard of the proletariat when in practice the working class wanted no part of radicalism. The true nature of things was laid out long ago in the sitcom All in the Family, which portrayed a backward working stiff (Archie Bunker) doing battle with his radical son-in-law (Meathead), who was a sort of 60’s-era hippie and certainly not a regular working guy.
I can remember the Left agonizing over this sort of thing in the past, saying the workers were suffering from “false consciousness,” and if only they recognized their true interests, they’d support liberal-left policies on everything ranging from immigration to environmentalism. But is an environmental movement that threatens to shut down the industry you work in really in your interests? I wonder.
So what has happened more recently is that the Left has given up all pretence of speaking for the working class. The Left has indeed become derisive about the working class (I exaggerate, of course; I’m sure there are exceptions; there are still people who call themselves socialists; Bernie Sanders called himself a socialist – but did he focus much on working-class issues or was he talking about climate change and free university education?).
So the working class, never drawn to the Left in the first place (at least not in North America), looks elsewhere to find someone who will represent them, and they settle on … Donald Trump, who says all the things no one is allowed to say anymore and comes across as a racist and a dedicated enemy of political correctness.
As a writer, I am no friend of political correctness. There are too many things you’re not allowed to say these days. I know the creative spirit that inspires writing gets strangled when the rational brain says, You can’t say that. I hear that comedians are unhappy these days for the same reason. Which is not to say there aren’t nasty things which shouldn’t be said. But still …
Trump taps into that, into the discontent against the forces that would turn us into careful lovers of the environment and the First Nations and minorities and women. Feminism, aboriginal rights, climate change, the Palestinians – these are the watchwords of the Left, and more than the Left, these days, and you oppose them at your peril. No, what you are supposed to oppose are Big Business, America, men’s rights groups, and Israel. Oh, and of course, climate change “deniers.” There is a ruling ideology – some associate it with globalization – and if you don’t join in, you can get ostracized.
But some don’t want to join in. Some are so angry about it that they want to revolt. And so they say no to Brexit and yes to Donald Trump. Just like those bullied kids who pulled out guns at Columbine and started shooting – well, not exactly, of course. I don’t meant to make an exact equation.
My point, though, is that there can be legitimate grievances and bad ways to voice them. I hesitate to go down the path followed by those who see terrorism and say, Well, of course we can’t condone their means, but you can sympathize with their goals, with their frustrations. Let’s explore the root causes: American foreign policy or poverty or whatever. I’m not a big fan of that way of thinking, and besides, we’ve learned that poverty has not in fact been where most of the terrorists have come from.
People fear terrorism these days and look to their leaders to protect them or do something about the problem. Some of the support for Trump comes from those who think the current leadership doesn’t take terrorism seriously enough, thinks climate change is more important or making sure we don’t wrongly smear a whole group for the actions of a few.
Now of course we shouldn’t do that (smear the many for the few), but when that sort of worry becomes more important than defending ourselves: well, I don’t know how we would have won World War II with that sort of emphasis. Of course, we shouldn’t have interned Japanese-Canadians, and maybe we shouldn’t have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we did have to defeat Hirohito’s Japan. Are our leaders really committed to defeating ISIS? It’s the fear that they’re not that’s led to support for Trump’s crazy ideas about banning all Muslims.
As to where we go from here, well, clearly there are a lot of disaffected people out there. I’ve heard their problems analyzed, when they’re not being dismissed, but is there anything that can be done to address them? Perhaps not. Perhaps we can’t stop schoolyard bullying either, and then we rightfully are horrified when the bullies’ victims go ballistic.
So we’re horrified with Donald Trump, but perhaps it’s time to look at some of the issues that fuelled his campaign, that have energized his supporters. Perhaps it’s time to stop denigrating those supporters and the 52% of the British voters who supported Brexit. Perhaps it’s time to do something for them. And perhaps it’s time to move beyond political correctness.