A few months ago I walked into a Whole Foods less than an hour before closing time, maybe 9:30ish. We were in the suburbs and it was cold, so there were not many people there besides the folks stocking shelves. I recall walking into the produce section and thinking “How do they make it look so perfect?” An appalling abundance lay there before me, everything neatly – and fully – stocked. Diverse leafy green, organic horseradish, apples that looked like they had just been picked off a tree in the Garden of Eden or something. It felt a little ridiculous. There are plenty of people who could probably benefit from all those fruits and vegetables, the choice meats, and so on. Plenty of people not 25 miles from that Whole Foods. It makes me think grocery stores perform abundance for us, besides being a distributor of sustenance. Americans waste a huge amount of food – and I think that the role of grocery stores and restaurants and so on as the provider of the illusion of material abundance – they are a voice that says “Do not be afraid, we have delicious imported organic cheese, fresh baked heritage grain sour dough bread, smoked wild caught lake trout, and bottle of Chilean zinfandel for you and your loved ones. Enjoy and be happy.”
Keeping that illusion going all the time is expensive, although I don’t think most people understand it that way. In general I think most people resist definitions of ordinary life that may interfere with how they go about daily living. For example: I think cutting fossil fuel utilization is an important goal, but not so much that I’ll stop driving when I need to, which is daily, and amounts to roughly 350-400 miles a week. Its just how it is. Do I feel guilty about it? No. I’m doing the best I can. I think that’s what most people are doing.
President Donald Trump is persuasive because he is an authentically average American white man. He drinks diet soda, eats McDonalds, and watches Fox News. Just like your average old white dude. And he likes to get all worked up and yell at the people on the news, except, unlike the average white guy, Donald Trump can call in and actually talk to the people on TV. And now that he’s President, he even gets to set the agenda.
One of the best descriptions I ever heard of Donald Trump was that he is the poor person’s idea of a rich man. I think on his popular television show, he played the average person’s idea of a boss. He’s a domineering asshole, duplicitous and cruel. He never admits he’s wrong, never admits defeat. Are real bosses terrible people? I don’t think so. But the appeal of the fantasy of a terrible boss is the idea of having consequences apply to everyone except oneself. Of being allowed to be as critical as one likes while simultaneously being above reproach.
Just so, I think Donald Trump was a successful Presidential candidate because he can play the role of what the average person thinks of as a politician: a callous, cynical, and thoroughly corrupt government operative. Its easy to believe politicians are crooks because its easy to imagine oneself being crooked. As a person who has felt plenty of humiliation and shame, I can tell you how easy it is to construct a revenge fantasy. Real authority, however, comes with responibility.
Donald Trump is really good at portraying the guy your average older white guy thinks of when he thinks about authority. Blogger Damon Young has written about how Donald Trump exemplifies the phenomenon of American white supremacy in the way that he claims every success and disavows every failure, and insists on the narrative no matter what. Facts don’t matter, reason doesn’t matter, and so on. This world belongs to grumpy old racist assholes, and the rest of us are just living in it.
And it turns out this vision of America is appealling enough for…well, for enough people that Donald Trump got elected President. And that he’s fucking terrible at being President is not merely a hilarious circumstance but, I think, a central feature of the Trump administration. Remember Cliff Claven, the lovable idiot hanging at the elbow of (symbolic everyman) Norm (get it? he’s an average guy) at the bar in Cheers? He’s a mail carrier, and he symbolizes the government. He’s consistently inept, oblivious to others, emotionally unstable, intolerant, and narrow. The Trump administration is, in its way, a representation of how the average American views the government – as inept, oblivious, inefficient, etc, etc. Its a government you can love to hate. The protesters have something to get angry about, the libertarians have a talking point about government inefficiency, and conservatives have a reason to go on diminshing the power of the Federal government.
The Republican Party, by running a shit show, are doing just what they ought to: advancing the idea of the minimal state.
There’s so much to say here I think, but I just want to touch on one thing: the vote on legislation regarding DACA and the Dreamers this past week is a good reflection of how Republicans are succeeding politically. Americans don’t want to expand the political franchise to people who have been exploited for the last 30 years, but they don’t want to actually admit it, so instead there’s just a lack of decision. The status quo holds and everyone can feel good about it (except, you know, all those undocumented folks who have to go on living without the provision of law or public services).
The budget vote that passed prior to the failure of immigration reform is a further example of how the status quo is affirmed – deficits will be allowed to rise (so that nobody has to make cuts in government spending that might rock the boat while simultaneously cutting taxes) and public services extended for the time being to Democratic constituencies. Democrats will have a harder time firing people up in the fall to vote against Republicans. And I think the status quo is likely to hold in this falls elections.