The Donald we deserve

One would think the end times are upon us. Pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle have been united by Donald Trump’s strident siren of our lesser nature, whose racism, misogyny, and brazen endorsement of stupidity have awakened a disenchanted demographic to their sacred calling: to “make America great again.” As Robert P. Jones of The Atlantic explained, Trump has succeeded in transforming the former “values voters” of the Christian Right into “nostalgia voters: a culturally and economically disaffected group that is anxious to hold onto a white, conservative Christian culture that is passing from the scene.”

The Left’s perpetual disdain for this voting bloc has never been more palpable. Trump’s vulgarity and the outright fascistic tendencies of his fans have given the media carte blanche in their quest to discredit the candidate and his followers as an aberration, the most extreme manifestation of a latent toxicity within the minds of some Americans.

Even a cursory glance at the post-2000 history of this country reveals the folly of such criticism. Writes Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept:

Don’t pretend that what Trump is advocating is something our civilized minds have never previously encountered. He may be more gauche for saying it aloud and gleefully justifying it rather than feigning sorrow over it, but the substance of what he’s saying — despicable though it is — is hardly categorically different from what the U.S. government and its closest allies actually do over and over.

Viewed through this lens, the Trump campaign — in all its bloated glory — is a monstrosity decades in the making. Mitt Romney’s claim that “America would cease to be a shining city on a hill” if Trump were to win is mere propaganda, recourse to one of America’s most treasured founding myths. To proclaim Trump’s incongruity with America’s values is to ignore the fact that a candidate like Trump, writes Roger Cohen in the New York Times, “is only and absolutely of America.”

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Only in a country with normalized mass surveillance under the guise of a war on terror could a leading candidate propose a database of Syrian (read: Muslim) refugees. Only in a country responsible for the most heinous crimes of the 21st century could the Republican frontrunner advocate total war on the families of terrorists. Only in a country where intelligence is elitist and ignorance a virtue could a politician be applauded for claiming to “have the best words.”

Our materialist lust makes heroes of industrial giants who think running a business is the same as running a country. Our political apathy is the only reason a candidate so brash and callous could make headlines day after day. Grown adults smirked and shook their heads as young people turned to comedy for their news, as if the degradation of democracy by our parents’ complacency was not the primary reason for our distrust of the media. These are the same young people who, in turn, reduced political discourse to memes and clickbait, making an instant celebrity of any public figure capable of eliciting the sort of shock needed to garner attention in a 24/7 media orgy of reality TV and journalistic sensationalism.

Only in the dull glow of endless entertainment and a pseudo-religious veneration of all things “ironic” could a narcissistic sociopath running for president be seen as anything but a descent into depravity. And descend we have. Already we have seen the violence of a disaffected mob whipped into a frenzy, as Trump supporters have repeatedly beaten and trampled dissenting voices. To presume this fearsome ideology lives and dies with Trump’s candidacy is foolishly naive. Our lack of political will in challenging a system universally regarded as corrupt is what has allowed this poisonous mind to captivate the American public.

Freeing ourselves from this pernicious attitude will demand more than recourse to the ballot box. We must directly address the underlying roots of Trump’s appeal: the wounded spasms of white supremacy, the degradation of women in the public sphere, the people’s lack of faith in a system that confines them — these are all near-permanent features of American politics that can only be stamped out by a revolutionary ideology of universal liberation. Defeating Trump may prove difficult, but even that hard-won victory will prove hollow if we cannot cure the uniquely American illness that has made President Trump a possibility.

Raghav Sharma is a writer, filmmaker, and political activist studying at the University of Pittsburgh. He writes on electoral and campaign finance issues, foreign policy, and economic affairs.

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