Sunday, November 20, 2016

Xenophobia in America does not originate with Trump...it has a long history

Contempt for those who are different, in its latest iteration, may have been triggered by the rise in immigrants and refugees from many Islamic countries where war and poverty, disease and hopelessness abound.

However, contempt for the outsider, someone who is different, named “alien” has been a long-standing attitude in the United States. Alien, for the Americans, is a person who was not born in that country. And having worked in their country for nearly four years, while wearing the epithet “alien,” I never felt welcome, often experienced a different look or even a sarcastic comment about my accent, and deliberately refused to do things that would more fully “embed” me in a culture that exhibits fear and contempt even for those of their own country who are not like them.

Let’s start with the shocking question from one white person who felt she had to inquire if a black relative from a large city, in state, would be welcome at an event we were both looking forward to attending and celebrating. Of course, the black person was also an American, and I was incredulous that such a question was asked. And then, let’s recall some of the other comparisons, subtle racist attitudes that emerged when I was confronted by the phrase, “you are too eastern for us”….meaning too “Ivy League” and “too sophisticated” and too “citified” illustrated even comparisons within their own country provided all the examples they needed to exclude this “alien.”
For a country that brags to the world about being the “best” country with the most powerful military, and the best universities, and the most advanced discoveries in science and medicine, in space and digital technology, this is still a country masking her fears. Recall one of Trump’s earliest lessons from his father, that the world is not a nice place and enemies abound, presumably from a motive of parenting a “strong” offspring who could face the world and successfully compete. Forged in revolution against the monarchy in Great Britain, and nurtured in their own civil war, adding on a list of smaller and larger world conflicts, animosity, and “shaking hands with their elbows” something I experienced daily in my stint working in the United States, Americans simply love a really down and dirty fight, whether that fight involves principles worthy of the engagement or not. Like a dysfunctional family raised in crisis, that (crisis) is what they know best, and what they seek to replicate in their political rhetoric, in their political competitions, in their street gangs, in their corporate take-overs, and in their athletic prowess.

Crisis is, after all, the epitome of exaggerated drama, out of which some kind of hero must emerge, and out of which some “loser” must also emerge. When the entertainment industry, and the marketing industry and the education sector, and the political demographic is fully immersed, engaged and motivated by the effort to win, at all costs, whether it be the scholarship, or the emission test for new cars, or the best “ratings” for its service or product, all components of the culture are reduced to just another transaction.

And when the tools and the instructions and the culture are all dedicated to winning, and thereby eliminating losers, mostly by creating them in their own minds, the country verges on the culture of the elementary and middle school play-yard. Power, often in the form of the biggest, the loudest, the most handsome, the best figure (for the females), and certainly the most popular (stereotypically the football quarterback and the head cheerleader), as the goal of individual lives, is reproduced in extrinsic examples.

All of the examples of power in the school yard are visible, audible, and measureable. Intrinsics like insight, creativity, compassion, faith, collegiality, and even ethics all give way to the expressions of physical/sexual/popular power.

And herein lies a significant danger, not only for those in the playground, but also for their parents and their children, decades later. Failing, losing, being cast out (from the inner circle) is never considered as a significant component in the engine that drives the culture.  Not only is their a two-pole kind of dichotomy about this reductionistic kind of culture, there is also a kind of split in the kind of attention dedicated to the winners and the losers.

The former are lauded, in all of the many venues available in the community; the latter are quite literally ignored, spurned, spat upon, and even kicked and punched by the bullies who find their own path to power, dependent on their own kind of neurosis.
And when the hard times come, as they inevitably will and have, there will be no cultural resource on which to rely, other than turning winners into losers (or the enemy) and seeking the “revenge of the deplorables” a phrase tailor-made for the millions who voted for the president elect. Combat, then, once again based on the collusion of the compliant who are just like us, another variation of the conformity/exclusion of the school yard, and the exclusion of those who are not like us.

It may well be that Obama’s entry onto the national stage championed not blue and red states, but the UNITED States of America. And for political rhetoric delivered by a young black state senator from Illinois, it brought the Democratic National Convention to their feet, and eventually elevated Obama to the White House.

At the same time, over the eight years of his presidency, it is not incidental to note that white supremacy hate groups have increased in both numbers and in size. The Republican members of Congress, in both Houses, conspired to block Obama’s every move, and whether or not the “moral license”* concept articulated by Malcolm Gladwell has been operating will be the subject of many doctoral theses over the coming decades. It is not accidental, nor incidental, too that the KKK is alive and well and living both physically and inspirationally among the racists who supported the president elect, without his ever rejecting the support from that quarter.

Those who are not like me must be by enemies, would be both expected and addressed directly by school teachers and administrators who would be doing their jobs. In the “adult” world, there are no teachers and administrators to carry on the kind of education, enhancing horizons of both perception and attitude, from exclusion to welcome inclusion. And, in a culture that has placed law enforcement, along with the military at the top of its “icon pole” this education and transformational process is unfortunately left to the police, and to the social service agencies, most of which are underfunded and unprepared to spend the time, and dedicate the resources in “prevention” and prefer to build their case load of crises.

As a national modus operandi, crisis management is completely at odds with a healthy anything (family, school, hospital, corporation, government). Paradoxically, however, crisis attitudes, and crisis rhetoric and polar opposite epithets (including character assassinating name calling fit for the school yard) that garner public attention for their shock value have essentially drugged a ratings-driven media, thereby promulgating a kind of violent campaign of hollow and crisis-conceived and delivered rhetoric that has become the latest political kool-aid for the nationalist, populist, jingoist, xenophobic “movement” that is best compared with a bowel movement. (However, this “movement” is unlikely to remove the waste products from the political intestines that have been blocked for the past eight years.)

All of the evidence suggests that the president elect is conducting a hubristic parade of ring-kissing sycophants (like a newly elected pope) while deliberately holding his cards very close to his vest, as if the archetype of “enemy” now includes both the “people” and the “media”….when his job is to “serve” the people and in order to accomplish that responsibility, he needs the media.

However, if the insularity, and the xenophobia and the jingoism of the president-elect are so concrete that only those permitted inside the inner circle matter (leaving the people and the media deliberately outside, begging for crumbs of irrelevant information) then democracy itself is under threat, not from outside the country, but from the very heart of the republic, the White House itself.

And this threat to democracy did not start with the recent presidential campaign. It goes all the way back to the revolution. There is an old saying, “we become what we hate”….suggesting that hate itself is a kind of imprisonment that so captures its bearer it transforms that hate-monger into the very object of the hate. Americans quite literally hated the “oppression” they believed they experienced under the monarchy. And their hate, contempt and rejection was so strong they fought their revolutionary war to escape. It may have taken well over two hundred years; however they may have come to the point where they are now ensnared in the trap of their own xenophobic hatred, not of the British this time, but of the “aliens” in their midst and the “aliens” who have “robbed” them of their jobs, and the potential “flood” of aliens from other countries. All of these “aliens”  have an implicit “mark” of a danger and a threat to America simply because that “mark” has been projected onto their foreheads by the frightened, yet heavily armed, and heavily sedated populace by the drug of xenophobia.

I was once one of those aliens, and I once felt that I bore such a mark, in a community in which the alien was so denigrated and so despised and so abhorrent that those in charge were compelled to accept, however superficially, such an “alien” because a native American would not accept the post, after two years of national advertising. (That significant piece of information was denied to me by those ‘filling the hole’ on their roster, once again, as another example of the contempt for the alien ingrained in the hierarchy.)


*“Moral License” is the permission that accompanies, for example, the election of a black president, for one to declare “I am not racist” and then proceed to demonstrate the very racism previously denied, with impunity. The vote for the black president gives “license” for the ensuing racism that was always present, and may now be even exaggerated in its newly licensed stage.

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