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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

 

Pride and privilege

by Tom Sullivan


Photo via Dave Massey.

Marion: You can't do this to me, I'm an AMERICAN.
— from Raiders of the Lost Ark

It's the sort of line we've seen in many a forgotten film. Old films. The kind of films portraying a time when America was "great" in the Trump ball cap sense. It may be its namesake's greatest appeal.

The New York Times has examined a revealing trove of interviews with Donald Trump. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Michael D’Antonio made the tapes in 2014 for his Trump biography, “The Truth About Trump.” Michael Barbaro writes:

The recordings reveal a man who is fixated on his own celebrity, anxious about losing his status and contemptuous of those who fall from grace. They capture the visceral pleasure he derives from fighting, his willful lack of interest in history, his reluctance to reflect on his life and his belief that most people do not deserve his respect.
Frankly, that might describe a lot of us.

Trump likes to cite Gen. George S. Patton and likely remembers (from the movie, of course) Patton's speech to the Third Army, "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser." What Trump truly fears more than anything is being that loser, "being ignored, overlooked or irrelevant." Falling from grace is unpardonable:
There is little trace of sympathy or understanding. When people lose face, Mr. Trump’s reaction is swift and unforgiving.
Through much of this election cycle, the Trump phenomenon seems to have been driven by his wealth and celebrity. Americans are attracted to it like moths to a flame. But we might wonder if wealth and celebrity are mere stand-ins what wealth and celebrity really confer: privilege.

"Make America Great Again" says as much about his followers as it does about Trump. He was born into privilege and never lost it. In Trump, many Americans see a promise to restore a greatness — and privilege — they feel they have lost. To foreigners and foreign powers, and to racial and religious minorities, to be sure. But what we also crave is the cocksuredness to insist again, "You can't do this to me, I'm an AMERICAN."

Writing for Slate, Susan Matthews wonders if the focus on Trump's narcissism is misdiagnosis. It is comforting to put a name on the monster, but what needs treatment, she writes, is not his mental health. He seems to excel in spite of it.

What enables him to, psychologist Nigel Barber wrote in Psychology Today, is that "his birth to money and life as a plutocrat that guarantee contact with high-status persons and being fawned over as a VIP.” Matthews writes:
I’d go further than Barber: I think the privilege into which Trump was born has exempted him from the operating rules of civilized society. Whether he’s bragging about sexual assault, denying reality during the debates, or promising to reject the democratic process itself if it does not happen to favor him, the thread that connects them all is privilege. The impunity he has enjoyed is chilling, and so is his blithe certainty that it will always be there for him. The privilege he derives from his gender and his fame and his father and his class and his race seems to have granted him a lifetime pass. The result of such a life is a man whom we cannot help but pathologize.
Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi (1970):
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
'Till it's gone
Trumpsters want their lifetime passes back. Sure, they would like to be Trump, to have his wealth and celebrity. But they will settle for the privilege of swaggering down the street with large guns, just to show you they can. They will settle for their country engaging in torture while condemning other countries for it, to be exempted from the rules others must follow. They will settle for screaming at "foreign-looking" American-born neighbors to go home to wherever they came from and protesting, "You can't do this to me, I'm an AMERICAN" while traveling abroad. Trumpsters bristle at the idea they benefit (or benefited) from any sort of white privilege. But they seethe at seeing it slip away to people they look down on. In Trump, they see what they have lost and a promise of restoration. Trumpsters will follow him, star-spangled, to the ends of the constitution to get their mojo back.