I spent the better part of five years as a technician for a telecommunications company, repairing mobile phones at a retail store just outside of St.Louis. In an effort to squeeze as much possible value out of this position, they saddled ‘lead’ technicians with the additional burden of inventory management. One afternoon, a sales representative handed me a case he had retrieved from an endcap, and instead of the newly minted, $50 case it was supposed to contain, inside the packaging was a dirtied and yellowed iPhone case. A customer had performed their own quick upgrade on the cheap.
“Looks like he did the ol’ okie-doke.”
I chuckled at the phrase he turned, (pronounced properly, by the way, as oak-e-d-oak) and I’ve never been able to forget it, which is a testament to its accuracy and quality. We had been duped, distracted by one pressing issue or another, and underneath our noses, someone, more motivated, cunning, and creative than us, found a way to get what they wanted without arousing our suspicions or capturing our attention. It is with this lens – not with outrage, not indignation, not shock, nor horror – that I have chosen to view the future words and deeds of Trump’s administration. The game of American politics has been changed forever, and with it, comes a new set of rules worthy of study.
There aren’t many things on this planet that I loathe more than the conspiracy theory. It’s obsession disguised as intellect. It’s a refuge for irreparably bland souls in need of a cheap identity. It irritates me to no end, and doubly so, when I hear the distant crinkle of tin foil in my own words. Deceit and politics are inseparable like peanut butter and chocolate, but within the opening salvo of Trump’s Executive Orders, I cannot ignore my intuition when it says something more sinister is at play.
Trump lies for no reason, or perhaps lying is so innate within his vocabulary, that he simply does it unconsciously, or without intentional malice. The kerfuffle over the size of the inaugural audience, for instance, could well become the greatest debate over a non-issue in the history of mankind. Why did Trump’s press secretary waddle to his podium with his now infamous set of ‘alternative facts’ in the first place? President Trump’s electoral victory put him in unique company. Only five Presidents have been elected after losing the popular vote, and by a margin of several million votes, indisputably, Mrs. Clinton had won that meaningless battle. Even if we are to grant Trump’s insane allegation that ‘millions’ of illegal votes were cast in her favor, he would still have to admit that the result was a close one. If he needed any further evidence to the truth of this reality, his disapproval rating – the single lowest of any human being who would go on to hold this office – is hanging over his head at all times. Why didn’t Spicer walk to the podium and say that such a contentious election was bound to lower attendance, regardless of result, and simply move on? There is literally no utility to this lie, unless the purpose of it was to sow discord and division.
Incontrovertibly, many Americans did not want him elected. This is not a remarkable statement, nor is it untrue of any other President in American history. Yet, President Trump rambles on about the length of his standing ovations, or the fact that he has ‘papers’ on his desk, or any number of inane and superfluous comments that are neither unique nor noteworthy, and often, flatly and provably untrue. What, simply, is the reason for this type of baseless chatter?
“There is nothing subtle about Trump’s behavior. He lies, he repeats the lie, and his listeners either cower in fear, stammer in disbelief, or try to see how they can turn the lie to their own benefit. Every continental wiseguy, from Žižek to Baudrillard, insisted that when they pulled the full totalitarian wool over our eyes next time, we wouldn’t even know it was happening. Not a bit of it. Trump’s lies, and his urge to tell them, are pure Big Brother crude, however oafish their articulation. They are not postmodern traps and temptations; they are primitive schoolyard taunts and threats.
The blind, blatant disregard for truth is offered without even the sugar-façade of sweetness of temper or equableness or entertainment—offered not with a sheen of condescending consensus but in an ancient tone of rage, vanity, and vengeance…Starting this week, it’s vital that everyone who is trying to maintain sanity understand that this is so—that it is a myth that reason, as normally undertaken, is going to affect this process or that “consequences,” as they are normally understood, will, either.
Whenever there is an authoritarian coup rooted in an irrational ideology, well-meaning people insist that it can’t persist because the results are going to be so obviously bad for the people who believe in it, whether it’s the theocratic revolution in Iran or the first truly autocratic Administration in America. Tragically, terribly, this is never the way it works. There is no political cost for Trump in being seen to be incompetent, impulsive, shallow, inconsistent, and contemptuous of truth and reason. Those are his politics. This is how he achieved power. His base loves craziness, incompetence, and contempt for reason because sanity, competence, and the patient accumulation of evidence are things that allow educated people to pretend that they are superior. Resentment comes before reason.” [The New Yorker]
The left – your humble author fully included – leaped as high and as hard as we possibly could to condemn and fact check, and recoiled in confusion and horror as the blows failed to land. Couldn’t Americans with a brain figure out he was lying? How can they listen to him blabber about jobs when he outsources his own business to Mexico? We couldn’t figure out how to break the spell, but as the smoke cleared, it became obvious that we fell under its dubious power, too. People like Trump because of the lies. People like Trump because of the insults. People like Trump for all of the reasons that we were jumping up and down to tell every person on the planet about. We gave him the gasoline of free publicity, and threw up our hands in angry confusion when it fueled his campaign to success. When a good friend of mine sent me a link to the New Yorker piece above, it was a revelation. It said everything I had wanted to for months – we’re taking him literally and amplifying his appeal.
“This is the problem with the media,” says Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager. “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it.”
Earlier that week, Mr Trump unleashed a series of tweets condemning Mrs Clinton for taking part in an electoral recount in Wisconsin and claiming he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”.
I admit I fell straight into the trap of taking him literally, puzzling over whether he actually believes some of the crazy conspiracy theories doing the rounds on the internet, or whether he is happy to spread stories he knows are not true. Now I suspect there may be a deeper motive behind some of Trump’s more erratic Twitter outbursts. He knew that journalists would respond to his unsubstantiated claims with banner headlines attacking his total lack of evidence for these wild assertions. That may be just what he wanted them to do.
In previous years that kind of news coverage would have been deeply damaging to a president-elect trying to win the confidence of the nation. But now, his supporters are outraged that their guy is once again being attacked by a biased and hostile press. He is effectively turning the media into the opposition, therefore neutralizing their criticism of other, more serious issues, such as how his business interests could pose a very serious conflict of interest once he takes office. [BBC]
The ol’ okie-doke strikes again. Trump and his cronies agitate the same old fault-lines that have consistently divided humans since the Crusades, and both the left and the right take their eyes off the ball. When’s the last time you even heard anyone say anything about campaign finance reform? (Something most everyone agrees on, since Congress currently enjoys a 14% approval rating). The distractions are working, and every ounce of vitriol we spew at him only galvanizes his supporters against us. Our approach has to change. Our approach gave us Trump. Our approach didn’t work, and it won’t work again in the future. All of our academic confidence, all of our facts, all of our rationality, all of it was outweighed and outgunned by a seven-month whirlwind of sensationalism.
Not to say – as no sane person would – that the seemingly limitless outrages perpetuated by Mr.Trump and the Grand Ol’ Party aren’t doses of pure evil, they are egregious, but to claim that we have lost our empathy as a political movement is not to condone the policies of our opponents, nor does it make us complicit in their hateful actions. Far from it, and if we are to win back power, it won’t be the cities and the universities that make the difference. Our choir has been thoroughly preached to, and our audience must expand. We had the metropolitan vote, we had the intellectual vote, and it wasn’t enough.
Overlooked in the new national obsession over Trump is the disconnection between the rural America and the Democratic party. If the popularity of a reality television host with fake hair is enough to usurp your party from power, somewhere down the line, you have failed in a serious and significant fashion. Our new lexicon – now stuffed with fresh phrases like post-truth and alternative facts – reveal a glaring hole in our philosophy. Facts, figures, charts, academia, intellect, and truth didn’t speak to half of our nation, for better or for worse.
“Frustration led some steelworkers to break from their union, which supported Hillary Clinton for president. They were drawn to Republican Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on unfair trade and put steelworkers back to work.
Halbrook, a steelworker for 27 years, always voted for Democrats. But this time he went for Trump. “A whole lot of people are getting tired of the system,” he said. “This is the second time I got laid off under the Democrats.”
Ballentine also picked Trump. “I know he’s against unions, but unions don’t matter if you don’t have a job,” he said. [Post-Dispatch]
When push came to shove – rightly or wrongly – those who supported Trump didn’t see an ally in us. Hang on while I play the world’s tiniest violin for dopes who fell for the lies of a bigot, you might be saying to yourself. Well, no matter what caused this fissure, nothing is helped by pretending it doesn’t exist, or by blaming the depth on the chasm on the people who inhabit the other side.
What if the Democratic platform came to campaign stops with humility? What if they parked the bus outside the churches of the Midwest, stuck a microphone in front of the steps, and asked people directly what they thought of eight years of Democratic rule? What if we admitted – up front – that it was impossible to get everything right, and that we’re only human after all, and why not help us find the blind spots that we’re missing? What would it have hurt to listen? Perhaps this idealism is all well in good, espoused from the comfort of my quiet apartment, but after seven hours of abortion-related yelling, sure, I’d be out of patience and open-mindedness. Maybe when I travel to Colorado Springs, the still-beating heart of the fundamentalist, right-wing neoconservative Christian movement, I won’t be able to agree with the Focus on the Family hawks on policy, and maybe that’s alright. Maybe, hidden somewhere within their shivering fear and moral browbeating is a desire to participate without being shunned. Maybe they care less about changing laws, and more about being heard. Maybe we haven’t struck the right balance, and Trump is the consequence of our polarization. Maybe – after four years of Trump or Pence at the helm – we’ll understand their perspective with stunning clarity and have the good sense not to repeat the mistakes of the past.