Feeling the spirit of the good Dr. Thompson tonight
I'm in the mood to get a bit more personal here. Yesterday I felt myself suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of dread about political life in America.
Much, but not all of it, has to do with the rise of the Trump phenomenon. Ever since the late 80s I've viewed him as the avatar of America's post-Reagan vulgarity. He has always represented a corrupt and selfish values system utterly corrosive in its search for fame and lucre. He has now added to it racism, sexism, and noxious nationalism. His flacks assault journalists and his fans sucker punch protestors, but more people vote for him. He lies constantly, his mouth an open sewer of bigoted mendacity, but more people vote for him. He uses time in a presidential debate to talk about his dick size, and more people vote for him. It is dawning on me that the vulgarity Trump has so long represented has a lot of fans, and they vote.
I also just don't understand these people. Perhaps the kid I worked with detasseling in the corn fields of Nebraska in high school who joked about nuking Mexico is a Trump voter now. I sure as shit didn't understand people like him when I was surrounded by them, either. Hell, it's part of the reason I fled my hometown. And please spare me the talk of Trumpism as the angst of the dispossessed. Plenty working and middle class folks who've fallen on hard times, both white and not, have avoided blaming their plight on immigrants.
I can't stop thinking about the fact that there is a significant chunk of this country, including prominent elected officials like Chris Christie, who actually support Trump. Celebrities and athletes have started endorsing him publicly. When Trumps speaks he just talks out of his ass, and the only coherent things he says are hateful garbage. Who is impressed by this? As far as I can tell, a large number of Americans are political nihilists. Even if Trump gets slaughtered in the general election, they'll still be around, waiting for some other demagogue to rally them.
For beneath this I see two major reckonings. The first is the unresolved consequences of 9/11. The response to that attack included an unnecessary war in Iraq, and generally the United States has failed to win a lasting victory against Islamist terror. As with Vietnam, the sense of defeat and wounded nationalism leaves many vulnerable to narratives of national renewal through violence. Reagan exploited it then, Trump exploits it now. The other major reckoning is with the economic shift of the last forty years, which has left the rich richer, the middle class shrinking, and the poor in desperate straights. Neither party has adequately responded. The Republicans have doubled down on the very policies contributing to income inequality, while Democrats have been too chickenshit and weak to move the needle the other way. The failure to change this problem though normal means makes it easy for a man like Trump to flourish, and things aren't getting any better.
Beyond the rise of Trumpism, I despair at what's being done to education in this country. Public higher education is being gutted even worse than before. Even in flush times states are slashing budgets because schools are being starved of funds by governors hell-bent on protecting the wealthy from taxation. States like Louisiana and Kansas are making drastic cut-backs at all levels of education, and in Illinois some schools might not be able to stay open until the end of the academic year due to a budget impasse. Netflix billionaires give their money to education "reform" initiatives aiming to further limit and degrade teachers. When I was an academic and now that I am teacher I feel like I am part of a group of people who is absolutely loathed by the powers that be.
It doesn't matter who's elected president, tinpot tyrants like Sam Brownback and Bruce Rauner will keep gutting education so rich people can buy another yacht. There doesn't seem to be any way to stop the Republican juggernaut on the local or state level. The Democrats are too weak, and the post-Citizens' United reality means big money can make a huge impact, and that money is usually coming from conservative ideologues.
My dread and loathing keeps welling up. Young black people are murdered by the police, and despite the massive movements in protest, it keeps happening. State legislatures vote to legalize discrimination against gay people, and call it "freedom of religion." A fascist demagogue approaches the presidency, and most people treat it as humorous as much as anything else. Some day I fear my daughters will take me to task for having brought them into such a world.