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Notably Quoted

It’s good for an artist to try things. It’s good for an artist to be ridiculous.
Sheila Heti in How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life (p. 18)

« As the World Turns | Main | WTF, America »

The Campaign to Make America Hate Again

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you [Donald Trump] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-age, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and … you scream about patriotism. (“The American President” – 1995)

As the sage, cultural observer John Oliver recently noted, the person we have just elected as president is a “Klan-backed, misogynistic, internet troll.”

It would seem, fellow citizens, that we “have a lot of ’splainin to do.”

Alas, I am one of those highly-educated, elitist, left-coast, blue-state, living-in-a-bubble progressives, who thought it totally impossible the country could elect such a toxic and unqualified candidate. Plus, this is true: I did buy into the polls that predicted a substantial win for HRC.

However, by donning my value-laden blinders this way, I was ignoring what I knew, deep down, about human nature. And, especially, what I believed about the male of the species in this country.

It now seems evident that Donald Trump’s racist, female-objectifying, gutter talk spoke to millions. In fact, I believe all those “disqualifying” verbal moments by the candidate, the ones we progressives expressed such utter disdain for, were actually the very essence of The Donald’s broad appeal.

And, oh, there were so many examples of his outrageous behavior: the labeling of Mexicans as rapists; implying that all Muslims are terrorists; referring to African Americans as “The Blacks.” He dismissed John McCain’s war heroism and went to absurd lengths to attack Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died heroically in Iraq. During the first Republican debate, he joked about his derogatory comments made toward Rosie O’Donnell, including calling her a “pig.” Further, during a Clinton-Trump debate, we learned of his sexist behavior and remarks toward Alicia Machado (“Miss Piggy,” “Miss Housekeeping”), a former Miss Universe. And then, the most explicit, demeaning and aggressive sexual language of all (“grab them by the pussy”), was revealed with the release of that “Access Hollywood” encounter with Billy Bush.

There was one outrageous episode after another, for well over a year, and still, Donald Trump was alive and well as a candidate. How could this possibly be?, we all asked.

Well, I’m here to suggest that the American public just couldn’t get enough of this in-your-face, potty-mouth, fuck-you-all attitude. In fact, (a huge portion of) the country fell totally in love with his message. There is a lot of racial rage, and anger with the system, out there, as well as a tenacious attachment to “traditional” male/female roles (that look and feel much like the 1950s). Unfortunately, such beliefs, attitudes, language and behavior haven’t changed much over time, no matter what we progressives would like to believe about the current level of American cultural enlightenment.

I say all this speaking from personal experience as a white American male who has been alive during the last half of the 20th century – and so far into the 21st. (I am basically Donald Trump’s age.) Although I have spent most of my life in the relatively safe arena of academia, I do have first-hand knowledge of the pervasive racism and sexism out there in the “real world.” For example, when I was in college, during two summers I worked “on the line” at two different factory jobs in the upper Midwest. Virtually all my co-workers were middle-aged white males. During these months, I witnessed, every day, the manner in which “the other” was viewed. I heard the “N” word – and learned about how “the woman’s place is in the home” viewpoint prevailed.  Many years have passed since my time on an assembly line, but I can assure you these attitudes and behaviors are all very pervasive, contemporary and real.

Then, in addition, I have years’ worth of other experience witnessing the lives and values of more privileged white males. For five years, I was a professional event photographer, during which time I went to fraternity and sorority parties for a living. I worked very closely with these types of campus social groups and became intimately involved with members and their out-of-classroom activities. The whole scene fascinated me so much that, years later, as a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education Administration, I wrote a doctoral dissertation describing the socialization process of a college fraternity. I spent three years doing fieldwork and, in my report, explicitly described the recruitment and indoctrination of new members. During this time, for example, I attended social events held for high-school seniors where fraternity members presented a number of skits, meant to both entertain and inform newcomers about fraternity life.

Here is how I described one of those occasions, lifted directly from my dissertation (Indiana University, 1995, pp. 58-59).

The skits were apparently a takeoff on “Saturday Night Live,” and initially reminded me of the kinds of things we used to do at Boy Scout camp on occasion: just good-clean-all-male fun. That first impression did not persist for very long, however.

On this particular night, there were about eight or ten skits altogether. During one of them, two members, portraying “cool” fraternity guys, talked between themselves about what being in a fraternity is like. For example, one asked the other what happened after the party the other night, with the reply, “Hey, I got laid, sucked and fucked. It’s a given!”

During the skit, women were consistently referred to as “bitches,” and were usually yelled at with an order to do something to perform some act. It was explained that “two vocabulary words fraternity men must know the meaning of” are “leave” and “cram” and each was explained and used in an appropriate context. “Leave” was illustrated in a number of shouted sentences such as “BITCH, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES OVER THERE!” and “BITCH, YOU BETTER LEAVE, I CAN HEAR YOUR BOYFRIEND HONKING OUTSIDE.” “Cram” was used in the context of “CRAM MY DICK INTO HER PUSSY.” Much laughter accompanied almost every line of the skit. It appeared that everyone in the room thought all of this to be quite funny. I tried to pay particular attention to the few women in the room, since the material seemed to be so patently offensive. They, however, were laughing along with all the guys as best as I could tell. (Note: a few sorority women had been invited and were present to serve food and to do some cleaning up.)

During the time of the 2016 campaign when people around the world were reacting to Trump’s use of the word “pussy,” the claim was that “no one talks like this.” We heard from many, “I don’t talk like this, and I don’t know anyone who does. This doesn’t happen in my locker room.” And the women said, indignantly, “I can assure you that my husband (brother, son, boyfriend) doesn’t use language like this.”

I am here to confidently contradict such claims. I’m sorry to report: yes, men do talk like this. If others, like me, have long outgrown it, then they certainly have heard other males use this language and likely have, at one time or another in their life, engaged in similar behavior themselves. Of course, this is largely behind-closed-doors talk in today’s world. But, on the other hand, listen to any woman who has walked by a big-city construction site, and ask her about the male language and behavior she’s encountered. Not so enlightened after all, are we?

Donald Trump, wearing his red baseball cap with the silly slogan, and his man-of-the-people language, was saying to many American men and women out there, “I am one of you. I know who you are.” And, by example, “It’s OK to hate. It’s OK to disparage women. It’s OK to be racist. It’s OK to beat up people.” And, finally, “There are no rules of decorum any more. Political correctness is dead.”

“Vote for me,” he pleaded.

And vote we did; enough of us in the right states to give him the win.

So here’s where I end up: “Oh, shit. What the fuck do we do now?”

Soundtrack Suggestion

Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’
Im sittin’ here, just contemplatin’

I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation

Handful of Senators don’t pass legislation

And marches alone can’t bring integration

When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend

Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

(“Eve of Destruction” – Barry McGuire)

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