Saturday, November 19, 2016

To see or not to see

During the 2015–2016 election cycle, it was not unusual to see Donald J. Trump characterized as a fascist or as a Nazi. Such labels rarely help clarify what is happening, because in stressing similarities they overlook important differences. One important difference between Trump and the Fascists, to give just one example, is that the Fascists had a clearly worked out ideology and an agenda for carrying it out, which they did with brutal efficiency, whereas Trump does not. People who have worked with him say that he has a remarkable ability to “read” people and to know what to say to persuade them or intimidate them or play to their basest instincts, but having the ability to spot people’s vulnerabilities and to take advantage of them is not quite the same thing as having policies for a nation and a plan for how to implement them. Donald Trump is no Nazi. He is much too capricious and unstable for that epithet.

While the candidate who became the president-elect cannot accurately be described as a Nazi, he can be described as being one who does not see. This squib will outline a few of the ways in which Donald Trump and the Trumpistas do not see.

  • Trump apparently does not see that his broad-brush negative characterization of some sectors of the population sets an example that others feel justified to follow. All over the country since the November 8 election there have been reports of Muslims, Hispanics and Asians being singled out and heckled, humiliated and told to leave the country. When this was pointed out to him by Lesley Stahl in an interview broadcast on the program 60 Minutes, Trump said he had no idea that such things were going on and was very sorry to hear it. One cannot help wondering how he could not see that his inflammatory rhetoric, repeated loud and often for more than a year of campaigning, would enflame people and encourage some of them to act out on the implications of what he said.
  • Trump apparently does not see that by kindling the fiery passions of his followers, he has made a substantial segment of the population feel less safe, less welcome, less included, more fearful, more unwanted and more vulnerable.
  • Trump evidently does not see how his frequent remarks on the appearances of women, his characterizing them as either “hot” enough to be ranked as a “10” or as not being capable of satisfying the sexual needs of their lovers or as “not looking presidential” has the effect of trivializing women, making them feel their only value is in their most superficial characteristics and overlooking their real accomplishments.
  • Trump clearly does not see that the underemployment or unemployment and the consequent precariousness of thousands of industrial workers has less to do with “disastrous” trade deals and an influx of immigrants “taking jobs” away from citizens than with increasing mechanization and reliance on robotics. He does not see that even if tearing up NAFTA and imposing high tariffs on American corporations that manufacture goods abroad resulted in those corporations returning to Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, only a fraction of the people who used to work on assembly lines and in mills would regain employment. If one observes a modern automobile assembly plant and compares it with films of assembly lines in the 1950s, one sees that a process that used to take hundreds of human workers now takes hundreds of robots programmed and maintained by a handful of highly specialized technicians. Trump does not see that he cannot possibly fulfill his promise to bring jobs back to the rust belt.
  • Similarly, Trump does not see that the former workers in the extraction industries have not lost their jobs because of burdensome governmental regulations aimed at protecting the environment, but because of a variety of other factors. As long ago as 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was meeting with coal miners in West Virginia about increasing unemployment following in the wake of increased mechanization. Slowdowns in the fossil fuel industry have far less to do with environmental regulations than with increased technological efficiency that has resulted in overproduction; when supply exceeds demand, prices fall, and when prices fall, production slows down.
  • Trump does not see that abandoning, or refusing to enforce, the many environmental regulations that have been in place for the past few decades will surely result in the further degradation of a planet, the consequences of which will be both immediate and enduring for generations to come. He apparently does not see that a healthy biosphere is of inestimable value and surely far more important than the short-term financial superabundance of a handful of shareholders.
  • Trump apparently does not see that the focus on “Law and Order” (which is usually a euphemism for “Surveil and Punish”) has rarely produced the desired results. Prisons are already overcrowded and woefully inept at providing inmates with the resources needed to prepare them for being reincorporated into society on the outside. When the emphasis is on being tough on criminals and punishment and isolation rather than training and reintegration, it is no wonder that the recidivism rate in most American prison systems is unacceptably high when compared to prison systems in Europe. Very little in the American prison environment is either physically, emotionally or psychological healthy. (I will never forget one prisoner writing to me, “I cannot imagine hating anyone so much that I would make him eat the food we are served in this prison.”)
  • There is not yet reason not to believe that Trump does not see that being President of the United States is nothing at all like being a king, that a presidential cabinet is not a collection of loyal courtiers, that cabinet posts are not sinecures for one’s friends and relatives and that firing off angry tweets is no substitute for fielding questions from seasoned political reporters in a press conference. He also apparently does not see that newspaper and television editorials can provide valuable feedback that can help the captain of the ship stay a good course. Unless the future president can escape the gravitational field of his own ego, he will not see how much he, and the country he governs, stands to benefit from the humble act of listening to others.

In many ways it is not surprising that the United States is about to find itself being governed by a Not-See executive branch and a Not-See Congress, for all those people in office have been chosen by a Not-See electorate. The privileged too often do not see how life is for the poor, the marginalized, the different. Americans as a whole society as a rule do not see how people in other nations and the indigenous people of their own nation experience the world, and far too many Americans do not see that there is much to learn from the way that the overlooked peoples in their own country, and neighbors in the rest of the Americas, and Europeans, and Asians, and Africans and Antipodeans have found to make life sustainable and fulfilling for their populations. There are far too many Americans who do not see that the United States of America is not the greatest country in the history of the world, or even the greatest country in the present world, or even that the very idea of any country being the greatest country is an absurdity, a bankrupt conceit that precludes the possibility of being great, good or even adequate.

The time is still here—it has been here for my entire life—for the United States to stop being a Not-See empire and to open its eyes and minds and hearts and to join the rest of the human race.


City Mouse said...

Excellent commentary. However, with respect to this statement: "One important difference between Trump and the Fascists, to give just one example, is that the Fascists had a clearly worked out ideology and an agenda for carrying it out, which they did with brutal efficiency, whereas Trump does not." Trump may not have an agenda, but Mike Pence, Paul Ryan and other Tea Party and/or super conservative Republicans certainly have: decimate every governmental and social program that provides a safety net for those in need. They will carry it out with brutal efficiency. This election has been the perfect storm: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government are now in the hands of Republicans who do not see beyond their narrow ideology and do not see the havoc they will wreak on future generations. As Maurice Chevalier sang in GiGi, "I'm glad that I'm not young anymore." I would not want to be first growing up in this new world. City Mouse