Bear with me, because this post is a LOT longer. I just have too much of a need to vent.
After I picked Kelly up from work, we pahked the cah in our driveway and walked (in my case, limped/hobbled) down to our polling place here in Winthrop. We had never been there before, but luckily it was even closer than we thought it was. There was a line, but it wasn’t that bad, and we were fortunate in that we got through the line and voted pretty quickly. I know other people around the greater Boston area (and around the country, for that matter) had to wait for hours. So we walked home and I made some dinner so we could settle in for the evening and watch the returns.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is a historic election, and a lot of people are paying their respects at the graves of Susan B. Anthony (the one being reported the most), plus Virginia Minor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragettes and women groundbreakers such as Shirley Chisholm, Sojourner Truth; Rosa Parks; Ida Wells, and others.
But the downside of this election is this: I can’t imagine that all of the ugliness and hatred is going to go away once the election is over. It seems hard to believe that just a few years ago there were quite a few people that labored under the delusion that we now lived in a post-racial society because we managed to elect Barack Obama as our President. I remember having that conversation with people when I still lived in Alabama. There were more than a few white people who wanted that to be true, mostly because I think they wanted a reason to tell black people to shut up and quit complaining. Yeah. Needless to say, I think it is safe to say we can toss that asinine idea of being “post-racial” right out the window. I am hardly the first or only person to say it.
So when I actually sit and think about it, I think I am more concerned about what might happen if Trump follows through on his promise to not concede if he loses. Specifically, I am wondering what his supporters will do if he refuses to admit he lost, and especially if he insists that the election was rigged and thus “stolen” from him. He doesn’t care about doing what is best for the country. He doesn’t even care about his supporters, really. Just today he called in to one of the most worthless and brainless shows on television to tell some of his apologists that, basically, the election wasn’t about creating a movement or anything noble like that. It was all about winning. He said “If I don’t win, I will consider it a tremendous waste of time, energy, and money.”
Does that sound like someone who is going to be a political savior? Someone who is looking out for his supporters no matter what? For example, Bernie Sanders actually created an organization to help further his goals even after he failed to get the Democratic nomination. I am just very skeptical about whether or not Trump would ever do the same. I suspect he wouldn’t.
Why would he? From the very beginning, it seems pretty clear that Trump has always been about Trump, no matter how much lip service he pays to other causes and other people. Leah McElrath over at Salon wrote a great article that even mentions a book I am currently reading (The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker) in its insightful analysis of the way Trump’s brain seems to work. Here’s how she describes Trump in light of his public behavior and statements.
Nonetheless, it is revealing to examine the traits for which it assesses and compare them to the behavior and traits of the presidential candidate who is eliciting primal fear responses from millions of people. With everything we have seen Trump do and say over the decades, but especially within this past year, it’s simple enough to perform your own brief analysis based on his public behavior alone. According to Hare, the key characteristics of a psychopath include both emotional or interpersonal features and socially deviant behaviors:
KEY SYMPTOMS OF PSYCHOPATHY
- Glibness and superficiality. This characteristic includes in particular a lack of concern about being “found out” when they talk about things about which they have, in fact, minimal knowledge. Think here about Trump’s responses to policy questions and his – patently false – assertions that he knows more about ISIS than the generals do;
- Egocentricity and grandiosity. This goes beyond mere arrogance or confidence necessary to succeed at a high level. It is a belief system in which one perceives oneself to be uniquely capable of all things and qualified for all things. Trump’s answers saying he would consult himself about foreign policy because he has a good mind or his pronouncements such as “I alone can fix it” are examples of this characteristic;
- Lack of remorse or guilt about the impact of their behavior on others. Psychopaths want what they want. Period. The fact that the pursuit of their desires might or does hurt others is irrelevant to them. The pain of others – including people they have victimized or abused – is experienced by them as insignificant, much as the buzzing of a mosquito might be experienced by non-psychopaths;
- Absence of empathy. This is a core aspect of a psychopathic personality and refers not to occasional deficits of empathy within the context of a particular situation but rather to a general indifference to the sufferings of family members and strangers alike. Family members, including the children, of psychopaths are generally seen and treated as possessions rather than distinct individuals. One only has to think about how Trump has discussed his wives and daughters to understand he has severe deficits in this area;
- Deceitfulness and manipulativeness. While everyone lies and manipulates at times, psychopaths are pathological liars. Unlike most people, they are usually unfazed when confronted by one of their many untruths, preferring rather to rework the facts to try to make the facts work within the framework of the lie. As a result, their statements are often highly contradictory and leave the listener in a state of confusion.
- Shallowness of emotions. The emotional world of the psychopath is extremely limited. They often must mimic socially appropriate affect, since they don’t actually experience it. This characteristic is linked to their need for constant stimulation, as noted below.
- Impulsiveness. Psychopaths rarely consider the potential consequences of their actions. If they feel like doing something, they do it. As adults, their pursuit of immediate rather than deferred gratification is notable.
- Poor behavior controls and a disregard for social norms. Psychopaths are highly reactive to perceived slights and likely to lash out in ways that are not observant of social behavioral norms. However, it would be wrong to say they’re out of control. They know what they are doing and often will express, as a form of justification, that they could have hurt a target of their aggression even worse than they did, for instance.
- Need for excitement. This feature is related to the shallowness of the emotional experience of their internal world, as touched on above. Psychopaths are often drawn to high-risk situations and behaviors and tend to encourage violence, rather than discourage it as most people do. They seek forms of normal stimulation, such as sexuality, in excess;
- Lack of responsibility. Contracts, promises, pro-social obligations such as those incumbent in marriage and parenthood – none of these mean anything to a psychopath. While they frequently like to say, “Trust me,” psychopaths routinely fail to honor any formal or informal commitments they make to others;
- Early behavior problems. Behavioral manifestations of the absence of empathy and the lack of conscience generally present early in psychopaths, whether it’s persistent lying, cheating and bullying or overt violence and cruelty;
- Adult anti-social behaviors. While many psychopaths are able to avoid criminal convictions, they nonetheless will take pride in skirting the law in their activities, including blaming external systems of control for their own behavior. Trump’s persistent assertions that his failure to pay income taxes is the fault of others because they didn’t catch him or close loopholes he exploited are an example of the type of subcriminal behavior exhibited by some psychopaths.
Stop here and take a minute to absorb what you’ve read here, and what you knew and lived before you read this. It’s a lot. It’s important.
You might even find yourself experiencing a sense of relief at having a framework that makes sense of some of what you’ve previously experienced within the past year with regard to this election (or even with regard to some other experience in your personal or professional life). Your fear is justified. Your fear is important. Your reality is validated: This is not a normal presidential election cycle. You are not crazy. You are not alone.
My own anxiety levels about all this insanity have been elevated for some time. I keep hoping that things will die down and get back to normal, but nothing about this elections has been normal. So it’s nice to know that other people are feeling the same way, so at least I know I am not the only one.
Now, to their credit, some conservatives are still not accepting Trump. Sure, many promised that they wouldn’t support him, and then rolled over immediately once he became the nominee. And even as one horrible reveal after another has taken place over the last few months, there are still SO MANY Republicans that can’t bring themselves to NOT vote for him, even when they condemn his actions and statements. But there are some principled holdouts. Notably, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal recently actually called him a “demagogue” and called out conservatives for not seeing it.
They are busy devising ever-more elaborate excuses for the Republican nominee. A flawed messenger for a worthy message. An agent of mass disruption in an era of secular stagnation. A hollow man who may yet take our good advice and stumble his way to greatness. A jerk who nonetheless compares favorably to Mrs. Clinton.
What all this shows is that most conservative intellectuals have proved incapable of self-examination or even simple observation. Donald Trump is a demagogue. Period. The fervor of his crowds recalls Nasser’s Egypt. His convictions are illiberal. His manners are disgusting. His temper is frightening. It ought to have been the job of thoughtful conservatives in this season to point this out, time and again. If they can’t do that, what good are they?
George Orwell said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” The Big Reveal of 2016 is that most conservatives failed the Orwell test. On Tuesday we’ll learn if American voters can do better.
My personal favorite among the conservative anti-Trump screeds would have to be the one in the New Yorker by Andrew Sullivan. Now, while I disagree with Sullivan on a regular basis (in this article, I particularly disagree with some of his assessments of Hillary Clinton), his descriptions of the fear and anxiety he is feeling over Trump and his candidacy could be descriptions of my own.
Yes, he is an incompetent, a dilettante, a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Many of his moves will probably lead to a nose-dive in support. But Trump cannot admit error and will need to deny it or scapegoat others or divert public attention. Those diversions could well be deeply destabilizing — and galvanized by events. There will doubtless be another incident between police and an unarmed black man under a Trump presidency. Rather than calm the nation, Trump will inflame it. There will be an Islamist terror attack of some kind — and possibly a wave of such attacks in response to his very election. Trump will exploit it with the subtlety of a Giuliani and the brutality of a Putin.
I have long had faith that some version of fascism cannot come to power in America. The events of the past year suggest deep reflection on that conviction. A political hurricane has arrived, as globalization has eroded the economic power of the white working classes, as the cultural left has overplayed its hand on social and racial issues, and as a catastrophic war and a financial crisis has robbed the elites of their credibility. As always in history, you still needed the spark, the unique actor who could deploy demagogic talent to drag an advanced country into violence and barbarism. In Trump, America found one for the ages.
Maybe the worst won’t happen on Tuesday. Maybe this catastrophist possible reading of our times is massively overblown. Maybe this short essay will be ridiculed in the future, as either Clinton wins and prevails in power, or if Trump turns out to be a far different president than he has been as a candidate. I sure hope so. But the fact that we may barely avoid a very deep crisis does not mitigate my anxiety. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we live in a republic, if we can keep it. And yet, more than two centuries later, we are openly contemplating throwing it up in the air and seeing where it might land.
Do what you can.
I just hope I will be able to get some sleep tonight.