Trump the symbol


It’s highly tempting to join the post-election Brexit-style hysteria and despair. The tune is simple – we, those against Trump (or Brexit), are the enlightened—liberal, feminist, LGBTIQ-friendly, green, you name it. All for Trump – plain fucking dumb.

Yet the “stupids” seem to be winning and that’s something we find hard to swallow. It’s terrifying to see how most of the reactions I see on my Facebook feed follow the post-brexit script: anger, despair, memes, jokes, and all flavours of apocalyptic predictions. This is coming from university educated, middle-class, cosmopolitan progressives. What’s often missing is the simple why. Why did so many people vote Trump? Labelling them stupid, racist, mysoginist, homophobic, xenophobic doesn’t get us closer to understanding how we got here. Rather the opposite, it reinforces the already high wall between us and them

One of the key pillars holding this wall is the continuing death of quality journalism fuelled by the unstoppable rise of social media and declining profits for traditional press. Based on our and our friends’ behaviour, which includes hundreds of different parameters, complex algorithms decide which posts to show us. The goal - more time spent inside Facebook’s walled garden which results in more clicks and, in turn, increased ad revenue for Facebook. We are more likely to click on what we like and what we agree with. Welcome to the technologically assisted confirmation bias loop

The lack of ‘why’ is so disturbing, because it emanates from the progressive side of the wall. From the very people who preach tolerance and understanding, from people who have degrees, people who read. The educated, urban, cosmopolitan progressives seem to have comfortably fenced themselves from the daily realities outside their hipster neighborhoods, tolerant friends, and eco-conscious vegan restaurants. The very act of our education brought us into a club with its own worldview. A worldview which doesn’t save us from believing climate change is a hoax, or from voting Trump, or leave. It’s a club with its own walls and the responsibility of a critical liberal mind is to look beyond and across.

Seeing Trump for who he truly is, it was hard to take him seriously and even harder to understand why would anyone ‘normal’ vote for him. At one point I fell into the same trap by underestimating Trump and theoretically playing around with the idea that his candidacy migh be just a way to prop up Clinton. A racist mysoginist sociopath vs the experienced, the professional, the liberal, the feminist. The traditional Holywood script of good vs evil. As this Wikileak shows (PDF), the idea wasn’t too far-fetched as Clinton’s team were actively using Trump in their PR manipulations and, it turns out, highly and painfully miscalculated. 

For many a progressive, Obama’s days bring a romantic nostalgia. Days of eloquent speeches, charming photo-ops, wilderness treks, an occasional tear… the list of virtues goes on. It’s hard not to fall into the trap of thinking that he’s somehow different. A little digging in the less mainstream press and one discovers a very different Mr. Charming. Obama is the epitome of a well-mannered, well-read, well-behaved and increasingly much despised elite that Trump and Brexit voters are so disiliusioned with. Trump on the other hand is the embodiment of the values which the media and advertisers make us desire. Money, ruthlessness, narcissism, entertainment, luxury, extravagance, lavishness, individualism. Strip that which makes us human—compassion, empathy, generosity— and you get Trump. For a progressive it’s easy to get carried away by the inescapable revulsion that comes from listening or watching Trump. It’s all too easy to forget that Trump’s star rose during Obama’s watch. 

There are many answers to the why, but a good place to start with would be the skyrocketing and mindblowing inequality, a direct result of neoliberal policies devouring all areas of public life. The levels of inequality not seen since the Roman times and already over that. It’s a stretch to attribute all the ills befallen the West on one factor only, but inequality tends to manifest itself in a variety of social ills. Something went seriously wrong if to live the American dream Americans need to move to Denmark. People are understandably angry and most can’t put a finger on the reasons for their distress. Fully understanding the current political and economic situation is difficult, time-consuming and often requires specialised education in the field. Instead, simple solutions based on primal intergroup psychology carry the day. 

As much as I despise Trump and as much as I’d like to join the trumpocalypse orgy on social media, I can’t help but smile. Not a sick “americans are stupid”, “we/they deserve this” kind of smile. A somewhat ironic and cynical smile, but one softened by a glimmer of hope. Hope where most of us only see despair. 

As Mao said, “everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent”. A flawed system in crisis might be better than a fundamentally flawed system working without a glitch. The most dangerous lack of freedom is where one doesn’t realize one isn’t free. The most dangerous enemy is the invisible one. Instead of fundamental change we’re thrown an occasional bite to make us happy – legal marijuana, LGBTQI rights, eloquent speeches and public tear displays, but the economic and political fundamentals do not change. 

Now we at least have a face to put to the enemy, it’s no longer invisible. And the face couldn’t be more fitting. Trump personifies everything that’s sick with the system we live in. He even goes as far as to outright deny the single biggest threat to our existence as species – climate change. The single most defining feature of politics and wars of today is the built-in ambiguity. From Putin’s hybrid warfare and propaganda campaigns aimed at muddling the already confused minds of our global village to Obama&Clinton’s support for Saudis while fighting their baby ISIS. The idea is simple – if we can’t figure out what’s happening, how can we organize to fight it. 

Let’s ask why, let’s use Trump as a symbol, as a point of departure. Let’s get angry not with the person, but with the system that produced him and catapulted him into the most powerful position on the planet. 

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