Monday, July 11, 2016
Permission to hate
Jared Yates Sexton went to another Trump rally:
The first time I heard someone yell “Hang that bitch!” was during a speech by Trump policy advisor Stephen Miller. I heard “hang that bitch” at least twice more during Trump’s speech, remarks that led to the crowd’s calls for Comey to be fired. Trump alleged that former President Bill Clinton had tampered with the FBI’s investigation, and that Hillary had used her position as secretary of state to line her pockets and singlehandedly destabilize the Middle East.
Sexton also wrote a very insightful NY Times op-ed a few days ago that I think explains an important aspect of the Trump phenomenon:
While Trump made the latter case, a man stood up and yelled, “Hang Hillary!”
“Yeah!” another shouted.
A smattering of applause.
Nearly six years have passed since I last heard, in person, somebody call for the death of a politician. I was at a Tea Party informational meeting at the Greene County Fairgrounds outside Bloomfield, Indiana, back when Obamacare was still a dirty word. Speakers equated President Barack Obama with Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. They alluded to the Great Famine and the Great Purge. If Obama had his way, they argued, we should all be ready to report to work camps. After the presentation, I listened to farmers and factory workers alike wonder whether to take up arms and march on Washington. If the time had come, as one speaker put it, to “refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.”
There was a similar mood at Trump’s rally in Raleigh—the notion that extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary means. For bloodshed. Trump himself implied as much when he invoked Saddam Hussein approvingly. “Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, right?” Trump said. “He was a bad guy, a really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists.”
He whipped his fans into a frenzy, and now they spilled into the streets, where media and protestors awaited.
“So let me get this straight,” one man fumed. “They get a fucking safe zone, but we don’t? Where do we get our free speech, bitches?”
When the protestors chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go,” his supporters amended it: “Hey hey, ho ho, (she’s a ho), Hillary Clinton has got to go (to prison).”
Meanwhile, a man with a copy of The Art of the Deal in his back pocket was ranting to a local TV reporter about Clinton’s private email server. He said Clinton should be “shot, executed” for “high treason.”
I walked the streets of Raleigh and heard laugher echoing through the blocks. There were Trump supporters eating food in the plazas. Trump supporters loitering in front of hotels and smoking while waiting for cabs. Some were debating their best insults to the protestors, and how they would’ve liked to have gotten their hands on them.
Later that night, in a frenzy himself, the architect of this bloodlust would tweet that “Crooked Hillary” got away with “murder.”
DEPENDING on whom you ask, political correctness is either an effort to expunge offensive expression from our culture, or it’s a weapon fashioned by the left to brainwash the next generation. If you believe the right-wing media, the next generation’s brains have already been sufficiently washed: The internet is flooded with disparaging articles about “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions” and “safe spaces” where, the right charges, frail young liberals seek shelter from unpleasant realities.
I could not help but think of that idea, the “safe space,” during a recent assignment to cover a Trump rally at the Coliseum Complex in Greensboro, N.C. Inside the auditorium, men gleefully referred to Hillary Clinton with misogynistic slurs; those same smears were printed on T-shirts sold by vendors outside. The men and women sporting them were constantly being pulled into photographs with their fellow Trump supporters, all of them slinging their arms around one another and flashing smiles and thumbs up.
Seemingly emboldened by the atmosphere of serial transgression, a man a few feet away from me answered a warm-up speaker’s call for solidarity with the victims of the massacre in Orlando, Fla., by shouting, “The gays had it coming!”
As expected, Donald J. Trump’s speech that night paid necessary lip service to those victims, but he wasted no time in blaming the tragedy on political correctness, which, he explained, was “deadly” and kept people from talking about the problem of violent extremism. Like most of his directionless ramblings, the rhetoric was short on specifics and heavy on blame, of which there was plenty to go around — Mrs. Clinton, President Obama, Muslims, liberals and pretty much everyone else save for the sort of people represented by that night’s crowd.
When Mr. Trump left the stage and the doors opened, I found myself in a glut of supporters streaming into the parking lot. As vendors hawked T-shirts by yelling, “Hillary sucks!” the people — more than a few of whom appeared inebriated — were discussing such worthy topics as the untrustworthiness of most Latinos, the inhumanity of immigrants and the racial epithets they’d used when Mr. Trump had referred to Mr. Obama as “one hell of a lousy president.”
They were pumped up by the speech, but it was more than that. Their voices were clear and unabashed. There was a noticeable comfort, as if they had been encouraged by not just Mr. Trump’s rhetoric but also their shared proximity to so many people of a similar mind.
And then it dawned on me: For them the arena, and then the parking lot, had become their own safe spaces, where these people, who had long been reined in by changing societal expectations and especially the heavy burden of political correctness, felt they were finally free of the ridiculous expectations of overly sensitive liberals.
At the same time there was an overt hostility to dissent and difference. At one point a man standing nearby looked me over and said, “You don’t look right.” I had no doubt that, had I suggested that Mrs. Clinton was not in fact a lesbian communist, I’d have been forcibly removed, or worse. And I saw cars of supporters hurling slurs at a passing motorist waving a Mexican flag out his driver’s-side window.
For a good stretch of my five-hour drive home, I chewed over the great mystery that is the Trump phenomenon. The media has questioned incessantly why people flock to his campaign. Mr. Trump isn’t particularly magnetic or even that compelling — his speeches are loud, but so dull and tiring that great swaths of his crowds head for the doors early.
Perhaps the appeal lies elsewhere. Maybe all this electoral chaos has been sown as an excuse to gather in public, under the guise of civil engagement, to say the vile, hateful things that the majority of the country has long shunned. It’s not about Mr. Trump; he’s just the cover, the cheerleader, not the quarterback.
In a perverse way, many Trump supporters want what they criticize: the sense of winning that seems to be the sole preserve of the cultural elite, the ability to set the terms of discussion, the freedom to speak their minds and not face criticism. Whether it’s same-sex marriage, the last two presidential elections or the Confederate battle flag (several of which I saw at the rally), they have not won in such a long time.
Commentators have tried to cast Mr. Trump as a master manipulator, using his supporters to carry him to the White House but having no real interest in improving their lives. That may be his intention. But the reality is the other way around: His supporters are using him. Indeed, as I got in my car to drive home, I realized that since leaving the coliseum, of all the things I had heard people say, there was one phrase I hadn’t heard his supporters utter even once: Donald Trump’s name.
To be honest that kind of scares me more than Trump. But it rings true. (I have Trump voting relatives and this is exactly how they talk.)
Trump has a way of channeling the wingnut zeitgeist (and does it explicitly.) And he does share their beliefs about race and police and the need for global American dominance. But what they really like is being in a crowd of other people who hate the same people they hate. It's a relief to them to be able to let their hair down and just be themselves: haters.
digby 7/11/2016 06:00:00 PM