Our Editor warns of the dangers of Trump—but also the dangers of reacting against him in the wrong way—in introducing the essays in December's magazineby Tom Clark / November 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Fear and loathing: two emotions connected with the American right, especially by European liberals. But on hearing of Donald Trump’s stunning win, I think—if we’re honest—that many of us have reacted with a little fear and loathing of our own.
The fear part is amply justified by the alarming stance the President-Elect takes towards many parts of the world (as Martin Woollacott sets out on p22), as well as by many other things that candidate Trump had said and done. Recall the bullying, the racial slurs and the appalling alpha-male id. Recall, too, the avowed “love” of torture, the professed admiration for nuclear “devastation,” and the abject disdain for the rule of law that led him to advocate persecuting terrorists’ families. As Diane Roberts writes on p25, all of this has licensed the saying of things that have long been unsayable—and for very good reason. Despite Trump’s hour of victory talk of “reaching out,” American society will have to live with the demons he has unleashed for a long time to come.
But the loathing element of the response is no sort of answer for progressives—any more than it is for Trump himself. The duty is to understand. Not, perhaps, to waste too much time on the psychology that inspires Trump to emit what Sam Tanenhaus (p18) describes as his scream “out into the void.” No, the onus is rather to grapple with what it was that could drive half of the American electorate into his arms—to find out more about the lives of those who found him appealing, to listen with open ears to what they say, and to empathise with their despair.
The seeming mystery is not so hard to unravel. Globalisation may have worked wonders in the shopping malls, but it has left tracts of the industrial US running to seed, consigning old ways of life to ruin. Unlike in Europe, there is little social protection to pick up the pieces. Abject poverty is endemic. The typical working man’s pay has not grown in 43 years, and—at the bottom—the minimum wage buys no more than it did half a century ago. The great hope of political change in 2008 all too soon evaporated in a gridlocked Washington. And there have latterly been alarming signs of mental distress taking a mortal toll—with the life expectancy of poorly-schooled whites dropping in an extraordinary manner. Some minorities have even less than poor whites in material terms, but nevertheless, for the communities who have been slipping ever-further behind expectations, it really hurts.
Coming so soon after the reckless Brexit vote, Trump’s win may provoke some to doubt whether reason-based governance can any longer be squared with democracy: Brecht’s line about dissolving the people and electing another comes to mind. Brecht was mocking an arrogant Stalinist elite. Today’s progressives will deserve ridicule, too, unless they can stop sneering at angry voters, and instead start finding ways back into the ballot box game. That means explaining some hard truths, to be sure, but also figuring out how practically to alter some ugly realities. Progressives must, in sum, analyse, argue and then find answers too. It will be grinding work, but there is no other way to cool the rage.