It’s Time To Be Honest About What America’s ‘Values’ Really Are

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.


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36 thoughts on “It’s Time To Be Honest About What America’s ‘Values’ Really Are

  1. Absolutely right. Even if Biden squeaks a victory from here, and it isn’t contested, the biggest takeaway for many of us will be that after 4 years of his presidency, there are actually more people in America willing to vote for him than there were in 2016. We can no longer claim that this is an anomalous anti-system experiment that people will abandon when they see its results up close.

    As he would say, ‘SAD!’

  2. The US is a fundamentally broken society. Perhaps it always has been. Tonight the new Confederacy rears its head again, based on the same basic issues as always. These are insoluble conflicts. Reconstruction was a failure led by a Southern president who assumed power after an assassination. A new de facto system was formed and continues to this very day. A change of form, not substance. The problems remain at the base level of racism and ‘faith’; around secular religious identity and beliefs that are prior to rationality. Trumpism is best understood as an evangelical cult, the most American of religions for a country that has always, gullibly, loved the huckster. Like “Elmer Gantry” (read Sinclair Lewis to understand America). Like “The Master”. These hucksters and cult leaders understand that belief is foundational (“easy solutions”). Like all organized religions do. Like all autocrats do. Wittgenstein showed very convincingly that belief is prior to humans qua rational beings. The Democrats are just as much to blame for this. A historic failure. Again. By using the same “third way” strategy that was only viable for Clinton in the first place because of strong third party conservative candidates splitting the vote.

  3. By those standards, was America ever a healthy nation?

    It’s still down to wealth/income inequality. The 50s and 60s weren’t a great time to be Black, gay or a woman (or indeed a man with non standard hobbies and ideas). But inequality was less pronounced and, it seems to me, you could count on people voting their class/voting their interest ie voting rationally rather than on feelings and angsts.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I’m finding it hard to wrap my brain around the realization that, after 3 years and 9+ months of a Trump Administration, nearly/maybe a slim majority of the electorate wants more. I vacillate between feeling sobered and sickened.

    A related observation/question: whither the Progressive wing of the Democratic party? It strikes me that of all the electoral subsets, their vision has suffered the loudest dismissal.

  5. This country that I served makes me want to throw up in my mouth. Even if, somehow, Democrats squeak out all 3 branches (I am NOT a Democrat), does it matter? I’m not sure there is anything left of this society left to salvage.

    The lasting impression of the American experiment seems to be that a society built on the backs of slaves can’t ever stop believing that ethnic and gender hierarchies are a requirement. And, eventually, that lack of moral and ethical guardrails will be it’s own undoing.

  6. I thought I was too old to have my soul crushed anymore. But last night, watching county after rural county across the electoral map announce openly “yeah, we weren’t just fooled – we’ve seen four years of trump’s multi-faceted evil, and we just don’t care”; suburb after suburb announce “well, the market’s up, and that’s all that really matters”… well… Even if Biden pulls it out, I really can’t stomach what I learned about americans last night.

    But, hey, pre-market’s up… the worst case now is split government, Biden without any Biden agenda. A nation filled with Covid and hatred for each other means that social media and big tech will keep roaring… what’s not to like?

  7. It is ugly. The only thing that might save this country is demographics. But that takes a long time. Trump will probably lose the election, but Trumpism- jingoistic racist nationalism is still ascendant. Great post H

  8. Trump supporters will gladly choose to live under a bridge as long as they can vicariously experience their boot on the necks of anyone they can be convinced is lesser than themselves.

    1. It is nine AM on the West coast as I write and I have not looked at results since ten PM Pacific time last night. Last night the notion was advanced that Trump had expanded his base. Yet this election outcome is about white supremacy? I can’t abide the man. But your conclusions are simplistic.

  9. You want to know America park your car at a stop sign for an hour and see how many people follow the rules. Very sad and this guy we got says don’t worry about the rules except when I tell you different. There may be no “I” in team but America isn’t a team. And as the theme for the Sopranos ended, “… you got yourself a gun …”

  10. This is a good post H…. and the comments as well…I think the conventional Trump seen by his base is the belligerent reflection that they see in the mirror in the morning..It is not the real Trump ,who is a fabrication , not the true American who is telling this system (that disappoints everyone for a different reason) to go to Hell… Trump is a Chameleon a figment of the imagination..
    I trace the issues back to Americans and the self centered attitudes and lack of compassion for each other that fails to perpetuate moral values and thus fails us all. When one looks at the destruction of the labor movement (outsourcing ) and later the failure of campaign finance reform the system was left wide open for what we are observing today… What we are seeing is business buying Government !! We have been painted int a corner by ourselves and the alternatives to salvage all this rest on issues like MMT , where the strongest proponents never discuss the obvious potential flaws of throwing a so called ‘hail Mary pass ‘.

  11. As unpresidential and douche-baggy as President Trump’s behavior has been, the fact remains that huge numbers of our countrymen and women have an angst for something that elitist, “small-L” liberalism / progressivism / socialism doesn’t provide. The Occident has a whole broke away from the nasty-brutish-short expectations for life when it erected the pillars of modern statehood over the immediate and capricious expectations of the million warring tribes. And then its peoples went on to dominate the arc of history like no other, and in so doing dragged the rest of the world up the ladder along with them. Fealty given to God or to a universal Law create a higher floor under the feet of those faithful, increasing the worth of a Human life relative to the sliding-scale whimsy of blind loyalty given to Tribe or Emperor or Chancellor or Party. Democrats, having institutionally rejected both God and the Law, offer up only a cold shoulder to cry upon as the fading ideals of the West are devoured by the rising tide of tribalism, Balkanization, and ultimate ruin. Trump became a thing because he tapped into the anger created by this loss. The rage of seeing their once prosperous machine being leveled into the soft despair of 3rd-world equivalence won’t fade anytime soon. Liberty doesn’t mean as much to people born into it that never knew any different, that never had to literally fight for it – thus the migration of the softer, more privileged classes into the new Democrats, and the simultaneous transfer of the harder, less privileged heirs of Western exceptionalism to the new Republicans. The left’s superior means will enable them to out-maneuver their foes for extended periods as they vie for absolute control over the sinking ship, whereas the right’s superior mettle will provide for vastly superior lifeboats when Leviathan finally sinks…

  12. While it was sickening to watch the votes come in with the “Red wave such as we’ve never seen before’ I was really feeling depressed at the thought of ‘Four more years’ as i went to bed last night. By mid-morning I was starting to think Biden just might squeak out a victory. I agree that it is tragic to think that just under half the country like the a’hole. Thank goodness the other half seems to have come out with vigor to vote him out. The next four years will be crucial in determining whether America has a future or not. A stress on better education because we need citizens who can think with clarity, Try to find a way to develop a manufacturing industry to fill our military and consumer needs which competes successfully with the third world. Get our farmers back on their feet. Address the climate change crisis before it kicks our collective butts. Get on top of the virus and be ready for the next one. Include all people in the recovery and keep an eye out for outbreaks of racism. We have a chance with the Democrats. It will be a real challenge if McConnell and the Republicans are still in charge of the Senate. Have to try.

    1. The fundamental problem – currently unsolvable – is the binary choice given to the electorate by the 2-party system. There are millions of people (tens?) that find Trump’s behavior to be repulsive, and who cringe whenever he tweets something stupid or inflammatory, but, given the binary choice between that and the much more disgusting behavior of Democrats, are forced to hold their nose and pull the lever for a guy that they would never dream of having a beer with. And it sucks! If the Democrats would actually support the ideals that the country was actually founded on instead of relentlessly attacking them, they would have swept this election at every level. A lot of us despise Trump, but still love our country and voted to stop tearing down our statues and murdering our police. The French Revolution descended into bloodthirsty madness because the aggrieved despised the institutions they hoped to reform – seeing too much of that on the American left to trust them any actual power.

      This was a terrible choice given to the electorate – pick one divisive, contemptible, corrupt old man – or pick the other one.

  13. My brother watches all the Fox News and Hannity and it drives me up the wall. I can’t convince him that he’s being fed a load of manure being passed along as truth. I suspect I would be wasting my time and energy to also try to convince you of the same. Ever thought about watching CNN or CBS instead of Fox News and the other right wing fringe newscasts . Two completely different countries and peoples.

    1. Fox is the primary media arm of the Republican Party, true, and their bias is pretty clear. The Dem media operations are much more pervasive, though, including CNN, NYT, waPo, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc and the uniformity of their collective bias is also crystal clear, and thus nothing they produce is credible either. The analysis here at Heisenberg is only slightly left of center and is generally not extreme for no reason. There is an anti-Trump flavor, but that’s probably because Trump is an idiot. WSJ also will call BS on both sides. Epsilon Theory also extremely good for actual critical thinking.

      1. Fox is pure, unadulterated propaganda and is in no way, shape or form comparable to CNN, ABC, NBC, let alone The New York Times. The idea that “nothing” CNN, ABC, NBC or NYT produces “is credible” is patent nonsense. The New York Times is among the most credible news sources on the planet. Have they ever been wrong? Well, sure. Haven’t you?

        I have never — and will never — sit by while commenters here compare Fox to other news outlets and pretend they are somehow the same thing, just biased in different directions. That is not true. If you know anything about Fox’s history, you know that it isn’t true. Fox is straight up propaganda. It simply is not comparable to other news outlets. It’s a different animal. It exists to entertain and to incite. “News” is secondary, if it’s even a priority at all (a questionable proposition).

        I have been in the literal room when Fox Business is producing a segment. It’s not real. It’s literal “fake news.” As in, nothing to do with “fake news” in the sense that we use the term in the Trump era. What I mean is that Fox is actually fake. In the most literal sense of the word. It’s contrived. It’s like cartoons for adults. The anchors are actors. I have seen this in person, while accompanying a guest on a segment, and I am telling you unequivocally that it isn’t real.

        Please, folks, if you don’t know anything (or much) about Fox, then just don’t comment on it. Seriously. It’s not a good look.

        (Also, WSJ is credible on the news side, but not on the editorial side. They run Stephen Moore editorials for God’s sake.)

  14. There is a solution to the problem – and it exemplifies the contrast between something being “simple” vs “easy”: since there is a bitter and somewhat irreconcilable divide over whom should be pulling the levers of power and in what direction, the only way to ease the tension is to vastly lower the stakes for all concerned. Reduce the size and power of central government back to what was originally intended, and return every social issue outside of national security and statecraft to the individual states. The acrimony comes from one side or the other trying to impose their vision on the other 50% that are unwilling to accept it. If the central government was reduced to a rump and the states set free to largely pursue their own policies, the people would be set free to vote with their feet and filter themselves into the social contracts they could live with. The states would compete for the populations best adapted to their cultures (which are extremely diverse, wouldn’t you say?) and the stakes for “losing” a national contest would be less devastating. Like Mom always said: “if you kids can’t stop fighting over it, I will take it away and none of you will have it!!”

    1. Most states themselves are narrowly divided, split mainly along rural/city demarcations. A lot of people living in rural areas are not likely to be mobil, tied as they are to the land, family and local tradition. Their relative lack of education holds them to the region where they grew up. Conversely, the better-educate people in cities are more willing to move, usually for a better job, and they will go to other cities, not to rural Ameria. But poor people of color living in cities are mostly stuck and can’t afford to “vote with their feet.”

      1. If the past is any indicator, southern and/or rural states will continue to “compete” by slashing taxes and “funding” the revenue losses by cutting spending on education and healthcare.

        In some cases that does attract business investment, as long as the managers don’t have to send their own kids to the gutted public schools or their family for care at the shrinking number of rural hospitals. (Exhibit One: the great Brownback experiment in Kansas.)

        But doesn’t that further condemn people in those regions to further economic failure? Which, of course, they will blame on unfair foreign competition and immigrants, legal or illegal.

        1. Oops – forgot to mention the massive (make that-ultra-massive) tax and other incentives handed out to try and lure in manufacturers from other states.

          We often lambast politicians in cities and states for approving deferred pension and healthcare benefits for government employees. “It’s so short-sighted!” Yep = win votes via handouts since the politicians in questions will be long gone when the bills come due.

          But what is the difference with right wing states slashing corporate taxes and offering big-time relocation incentives? The politicians get to cut a ribbon before moving on, leaving Mr & Mrs Taxpayer to pay.

        2. Freedom does quite often lead to failure. If a state or region is atypically corrupt, or chronically underinvests on the priorities of its people, then it will suffer comparatively to its peers and will either correct course or fall behind. None of this is an argument against decentralization and restoring political power to states. The relative decline of rural America has been caused by centralization of control, not in spite of it. Cities have grown massively in population and influence, and urban political machines direct policy according to the mandates of urban voters, muting the inevitability of comparative advantage. Decentralizing political power would be a boon to rural communities, since cities need food more urgently than farmers need broadband. Without government to put its thumb on the scales (water rights, subsidies, etc) and the population centers started having to pay competitive rates for the commodities that keep them alive, rural communities would awash in riches – the Saudis used to be fairly backwards shepherds back in the day, until their land started providing something that the world really needed.

          1. What percentage of rural America is actually involved in food production? Outside of dairy, it’s mostly corporate agriculture nowadays. An extreme example is meat packing, but most field crops are produced by large, commercial operations, not the hallowed family farms of yore. That train left the station years ago and the tracks were torn up behind them.

          2. The gross numbers of humans working the fields has plummeted, and nobody is dense enough to argue that the money will ever be equally distributed between people. The argument is that the total pie available to carve up will tend to find a more natural equilibrium between regions based on comparative advantage and comparative need. Without centralized interference in markets, wealth will flow naturally to the guy or the region that is solving somebody else’s problem. Hypothetical: if the cost of simple food, water, and energy in LA was 100x what it is now, wouldn’t a least some skilled/educated Angelinos migrate to a lower-cost, lower density environment, taking their skills, education, and cultural expectations with them? I live in a low-density part of E. Washington, where we are witnessing an explosion of wealth pouring in from the coastal part of the state as a wave of professionals flee the more left-leaning counties. A small sample size, for sure, but anecdotally showing that in some cases the mega-trend can die of exhaustion or even be reversed. At SOME point, and I am way too dumb to know where that point lies, Malthus is right, and the product of the land, and then the land itself, will be all that really matters.

            When that day arrives, the cities will take up arms against their country cousins, and we’ll probably end up back where we are now…

  15. Sipping I’m amazed that you think CNN, NYT, WaPo, ABC, CBS, NBC and any etc.s out there are all toeing some Dem party line like so many sheep. My impression of them is that they are all trying to increase their audience size with their digging for the truth in stories and for the most part the better organizations have an edge in viewership. That would lead to an increase in revenue and stock value which is the whole idea. I’M curious as to what evidence you have that they’re all part of some Democrat media organization. If it is as simple as the consistency of their message. That isn’t an answer that would stand up in any court. A train wreck is a train wreck is a train wreck. Even you admit Trump is an idiot. Maybe you’ve seen the clip H. has showing Lindsey Graham holding his head in his hand and saying ‘Trump is an F’n idiot’. I apologize to H. if this is getting off topic. And when looking at the polling results of all the states that voted for an F’n idiot I wonder at the wisdom of letting each state independently choose it’s own destiny.

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