Oh, where do I begin?
Other, better minds than mine will do the job of analyzing the inaugural speech of Donald Trump. I read an annotated transcript and saw so many red flags I hardly knew where to start. Like the world-shattering demagogues in whose footsteps he follows, he resorts to nationalistic speech, broad strokes of bleakness that conveniently forget the fact that he is one of those who has enriched himself ruthlessly at the expense of pretty much everyone with whom he’s come in contact. He talks of unifying the country, completely omitting the fact that he has just appointed some of the most divisive, hateful, and self-serving nightmare creatures imaginable to his new cabinet.
I suspect that his (and his cabinet’s) vision of “unity” has less to do with coming together across social divides and more to do with silencing dissent and difference. That’s not unity; that’s oppression. He wants a country peopled with compliant women and brutal men — a nation of Stepford Wives and their owners.
This, then, is where I will begin.
The burden of a tiny dick in modern society
Not long ago I was taken to task on social media for making “tiny dick” commentary. There have been many, many jokes about the size of the incoming President’s genitals, and I’ve had a private laugh or seven about the topic myself. I’m not above a personal insult now and again, and this one seemed appropriate — but not for the reasons many might think.
It’s time to unpack why the issue gets raised at all.
For centuries, we have labored under the burden that men must be “manly”, rough-and-tumble, and women must be “feminine”, demure and compliant — idealized and hypersexualized portraits of how members of a strictly gender-binary society should look and behave.
This has its roots in various iterations of patriarchal society that have plagued us since pretty much the beginning of human history. Patriarchy, in turn, has its roots in institutionalization, which seems to be our sole human superpower — the eventual crystallization of any good idea into something stagnant, corrupt and immovable as the people in power turn away from creativity and instrumentality, and toward the consolidation and expansion of their own power within the existing structure.
How is this relevant?
As a third wave feminist, I continue to study and try to understand the impact that toxic gender-normative definitions have on all of us, male, female, genderqueer, and all who defy labels. What many people miss again and again is how toxic these expectations are to everyone, not just to women. Just as women are supposed to have perfect breasts and be utterly compliant (and grateful to be so), men should be hung like horses, never show emotion, be strong, follow sports, shoot animals, etc., etc., etc. And we all must be one or the other, never something in between.
At the root of most of Trump’s erratic behavior seems to be a deep fear that he simply doesn’t… measure up. He — and his voters — are most certainly the inevitable result of centuries of a religiously rooted patriarchal dominator culture.
He is reactionary, self-obsessed, and dangerously volatile. He is so concerned with making himself look good that he constantly reacts to perceived slights in an infantile attempt to do some sort of damage control, but which makes him look more and more desperate and ridiculous.
I recognize the type. In corporate life, I have worked with them, those terrified children even in management (especially in management) who are so concerned with keeping their jobs that they end up losing them because they lose sight of the fact that they have teams they must support, and business and ethical standards they must uphold.
The thing is, Donald Trump is a symptom of a far greater ill, and not the disease itself.
I do not think that word means what you think it means
The word “patriot” gets thrown around a lot in modern political discourse, particularly in conservative circles. In many ways, Trump is not a conservative, despite running on the Republican ticket and appealing to the extreme far right. But he makes the same mistake that many people do when using this term: confusing patriotism for nationalism and isolationism. Patriotism in this country does — and must — include dissent. It’s written into our foundational laws. It does not mean blind compliance; we are obligated to speak up when we see the ship is about to run aground.
In military service, dissent is widely understood as necessary to the effective functioning of a unit, and of the military as a whole. Unquestioning obedience results in a reduction or even loss of individual executive function, and can (and often does) result in the catastrophic failure of a mission. There are rules and consequences around dissent, and self-regulation and discipline are certainly critical features of an effective member of the military. But dissent most certainly has its place.
Donald Trump and his ilk, those bought-and-paid for puppets he’s brought along with him, fear dissent because they know that they’re wrong, that their actions and beliefs are morally insupportable. The Emperor has no clothes, and will do all he can to avoid being called out for it.
And going back to this idea that Donald Trump is a product of (among other things) toxic, systemic, gender-normative pressures, he personally fears and suppresses dissent because he knows, deep down he knows, that he doesn’t measure up to his own press.
Ironic, isn’t it, that like Hitler (yes, I’m going there), he talks good game about how pure and perfect he is, when in fact he’s exactly the thing he despises, which brings me to my next point.
We never learn
My mother was born in the midst of World War II. My grandfather, a documented and decorated war hero, fought in that war, and nearly lost his life many times over in so doing. Hitler roamed the earth, spewing his generation’s version of bigotry and nationalism that had as its basis the fear of “other”, and was responsible for the death of millions.
The parallels between the language that Hitler used to rise to power, and the language that Donald Trump continues to use, are chilling. There have been many articles comparing Trump to Hitler and Mussolini. Setting Godwin’s Law aside for a moment, this is reason for true concern. Historians have weighed in around the world, expressing dismay at the fact that the pattern is repeating itself.
And we never. fucking. learn.
Why? Because we have been conditioned over decades now to believe that economic prosperity is the only measure of success. People who voted for Hitler are exactly the same people who voted for Trump: they have been convinced that their ruin is the result of the “other” taking their jobs, their money, their women, their whatever.
Do not confuse pathology with incompetence; Trump has been masterful at pushing all the right buttons of his base, publicizing his personal brand along the way. But he’s incompetent to hold the highest office in the land. Yes, he’s a sociopathic, self serving buffoon, but he knew exactly what to say, exactly how to harness the very real fears of those “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” (which is how most Americans who are not filthy rich have been conditioned to think of themselves). That doesn’t make him fit for office, only for getting to office.
The fear his voters feel about their own economic survival has short-circuited their executive function, allowing them to overlook a host of ills to achieve what they believe will be their rescue from ruin .
Financial insecurity is terrifying — I know this from experience. I and many others have written about the adverse effects of competition and unregulated capitalism on a society. We’ve been conditioned via advertising (which has its roots in WWI propaganda and psyops techniques) to consume, to fear the absence of that next shiny object because we must keep up with the Joneses. We have purchased ourselves into oblivion, wrecking our own bank accounts to quell that fear. We’re cornered now, because the moguls of Madison Avenue gambled against us.
There is no reasoning with people who feel cornered. We can’t merely hold hands and say, “It will be okay,” or “Let’s just wait and see.” The flames of fear and hatred have been fanned for so long that they have burned into our very bones, and entire generations have been born to it. People are frightened; people will be hurt.
That said, it’s time — past time — to have difficult conversations. Trump enters the White House with the lowest approval ratings in modern history; his supporters are already experiencing buyer’s remorse as they realize that the ACA has been gutted, and other programs on which they rely are not far behind; Trump has already backed away from so very many of the promises he made on the campaign trail. Understanding that bigotry and xenophobia have their roots in the fearmongering that’s been shoved down our throats for so long nevertheless does not excuse that bigotry and xenophobia.
The theory of the divine irritant
Years ago, I escaped from a truly surreal domestic abuse situation. It took years to learn to function in society again (and my connection to normalcy is still tenuous at times).
Along the way, as I was processing what happened and how to assimilate the experience, I began to wonder if that person, like Loki, Coyote, Satan, and all our other mythical demons, was some sort of catalyst for something better.
Rather than wrapping myself in victimhood, I decided that I needed to come away with lessons, with an arsenal of responses that would protect me and others from the same sort of thing happening again. Hard lessons indeed. But I like to think that at least some of it sank in.
The Trickster archetype is a common theme through most of human myths: the bringer of chaos, so necessary for precipitating catastrophic change.
Trump may well be the Trickster, the Divine Irritant of this age. He’s a hot mess, and will likely cause massive destruction in his tenure as President (if he isn’t impeached and chucked in prison first — and if he is, I don’t know that Pence and behind him Ryan are any better). At the same time, he has galvanized not only this country but activists all around the world to #resist the slide back to fascism and oppression.
That resistance is taking many forms (and here’s hoping it continues to gain momentum and focus, and not fizzle as the too-vague #Occupy movement did), and has already started. It doesn’t show signs of stopping any time soon.
I’ve seen many Trump supporters, or bots, or paid trolls, comment on posts commenting “If you don’t like it, just leave!”
Oh, was I tempted. I’ve thought seriously for a full year about picking up and leaving the country. The idea still teases my mind viciously. There are so many who simply can’t, and it would have been another in a list of privileges I enjoy for me to do so.
But you know what? I’m going to stay, and get up in your face.
Every. Single. Day.
My decision not to leave the country has to do with patriotism and also with a sense of necessity. U.S. citizens are far less free than we like to think; it’s gotten far worse over the past twenty years as economic disparity has further eroded those freedoms.
I was sure I’d leave, but goddammit, I will not be chased out of my home.
Annnnnnnnd apparently I’ll be also running for office in the future.
2 thoughts on “Day Zero”
Woo hoo. Well said.