For most of the last three years, those of an optimistic persuasion in the US have steadfastly insisted that Donald Trump or, more precisely, Trumpism, doesn’t represent American values.
I draw a distinction between the man and the ideology because citizen Trump embodied (or pretended to embody) many of the attributes Americans typically identify with success. He was rich, or at least appeared to be. He was brash. He made himself synonymous with capitalism. And by his own (in some cases dubious) account, was wildly successful at just about everything he decided to try his hand at.
By now, virtually everyone understands that the myth of Donald Trump, “legendary businessman,” is mostly just a fabrication. But that’s not the point. Rather, the point is simply that prior to becoming president, Trump did, in fact, live a life that was wholly consistent with modern American “values,” as they manifest in aspirations to success in a capitalist society. America is a tacky, arrogant place where “winning” is almost always couched exclusively in terms of wealth. Seen in that light, Trump has always represented American “values.”
Trumpism, on the other hand, overtly embraced what I’ve consistently argued were but secondary inclinations for a man whose first concern is himself. Xenophobia, notions of racial superiority, and pandering to impulses far more pernicious than simple greed, are some of Trumpism’s defining features. But for Trump himself, the choice between, say, going to an expensive dinner with a wealthy African American executive, and going to lunch with a lowly blue-collar worker who wants to have a substantive discussion about the plight of the disappearing middle-class in a globalized world, is no choice at all. He wouldn’t be caught dead at a sandwich shop with somebody making $40,000/year before it mattered politically.
I’d guess many Trump voters know that. They know their president thinks of them as lesser human beings because they’re not affluent. But they embrace him anyway. Why? Well, because for tens of millions of disaffected Americans, Trumpism has two highly attractive characteristics. First, it purports to offer easy solutions to complex problems, like the deleterious effect of globalization on the American middle-class. Second, it implicitly promises to delay inevitable demographic changes and uncomfortable societal shifts that threaten white, male privilege, which is, regrettably, just as identifiable with American “values” as the worship of unbridled capitalism.
I’m not going to mince words. When you combine Trump’s tediously cultivated mythos as the embodiment of the American capitalist dream with Trumpism‘s menu of quick fixes and implicit promise to safeguard what many white males believe is their inherent “right” to occupy a higher social stratum than women and minorities, you end up with a platform that is, unfortunately, wholly consistent with American “values.”
As I write, the results of the election aren’t final. And that’s fine, because my overarching message isn’t contingent on the outcome.
By around 9 PM on the east coast in the US, it was clear that the quick, decisive victory for Joe Biden predicted by many polls (and also by betting markets right up until the numbers started to come in, at which point the odds shifted), wasn’t going to materialize.
While it was true that there were no early “surprises” on the electoral map, the fact that Trump still commands enough votes to be competitive at all should serve as a stark reminder that the president’s tacky, bumper sticker jingoism resonates loudly with too many Americans.
I say “too many” not in a partisan sense, necessarily. Rather, I think it’s important to emphasize that between the inauthentic character of citizen Trump’s manifestly false claims to business acumen and the objectively noxious notions of racial and gender superiority implicit in Trumpism, the overall package is not something that’s healthy.
But that’s just the thing. Americans haven’t been healthy in decades. Not mentally or physically.
As I watched the results come in through the sliding-glass door on the back deck Tuesday evening, I scrolled through various coverage on a half-dozen sites for inspiration. Ultimately, I came across something called “The Choice Between Biden’s America and Trump’s,” by The New York Times‘s
“From the start of his 2020 campaign, [Joe] Biden insisted that President Trump was an aberration, his norm-breaking, race-baiting tenure anathema to the national character,”It’s not who we are. Not what America is.”
t the end of the 2020 campaign, an anxious, quarrelsome country is turning a question back at [Biden]: Are you sure?”
No, we’re not sure. Not at all.