There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with. (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale #1)
Chris Kofinis, Democratic pollster, talking to Carol Off last night, on CBC’s As It Happens, bemoaned the tragic failure of his colleagues in the polling business in the U.S. for having gotten it so wrong AGAIN (remember 2016?), and called many of them out for trying to “tilt the news story” in the direction of their own personal (professional?) preference. Kofinis believes it is his job to listen to each person in a focus group and attempt then to figure out not only where they are coming from but what they are thinking. In other words, Kofinis believes it is his job to practice an art/skill/science in which the American public (and likely many other contemporary cultures) does not believe, does not adhere to, does not practice, and does not consider it even relevant to their private, family, community and national health: ACTIVE LISTENING!
All the psychobabble opponents will already have closed their laptop/tablet, given their utter disgust that this piece is about to launch into a defence of listening. It is not only the literal words, sounds, gestures, and even body shifts that are available to anyone who is “listening,” it is also the “person” inside all of those expressions who, if we are even to begin to honour the adage, all men are created equal and deserve both respect and dignity…that is so prominently and proudly proclaimed as political rhetoric in most democracies. And the “person” currently has become either an ally or a foe. The former is a potential client/customer/voter/parishioner/fixer or lender while the latter is a potential ideological nerd/religious fanatic/gender warrior/ethnic polluter/trickster/ignoramous…both lists could continue interminably.
And each of these “persons” are transactional agents of some agenda….And, baked into the ‘cake’ of each person is the notion that full disclosure of opinion, thoughts, feelings even if they are tentative, spontaneous, experimental, nonchalant and/or trivial and socially-motivated is unacceptable, immature, naïve, simplistic, too intense, and/or reductionistic.
Long ago and far away in another life, I free-lanced as a cub reporter, covering an earlier iteration of the trump archetype who left a legacy as a perennial mayor of a small northern city. The word on the street, following each and every election in which this man was victorious ran like this: “Surprising how he won, given that whenever I asked someone how they voted, everyone denied voting for him!”
Denial of any even meagre form of attachment to this man was so abhorrent to the “political class,” to the elite, to the educated, to the upper middle class of the city that they/we refused even to acknowledge any participation in his electoral victories. His own public, often-repeated adage ran something like this: “I don’t’ care what you say or write about me, as long as you spell my name right!” For him, any and all publicity was more beneficial than none.
Along about the same time, I was mentored by a wise owner-operator of a car Intdealership who, upon hiring me to prepare and produce some of his advertising tutored me: “Don’t ever believe any of the opinion polls; people will lie to pollsters! And never prepare an ad targeting teachers, lawyers or doctors; they are the cheapest people on the planet!”
There is a fault-line peering out from under the rubble of Tuesday’s American election for the White House. The “over-performing Republican red-mirage” as it has come to be dubbed, turned what the polls and the national media had twisted into a landslide for Biden into an extremely tight, nail-biter of a race, the outcome of which is still up in the air. And as results trickle into newsrooms, various media outlets are continuing to ‘shade’ their version of the numbers in favour of their preferred (and their audience’s) preferred candidate.
There seems to have been almost no voter attention paid to the nuanced version of tax policy, environmental policy, immigration policy. And as for presidential malfeasance, given that the election was considered by many to be a referendum on the trump first term, only the Democrats waded through that swamp, while 67.5 trump voters decided he was their ‘man’. “I cannot stomach the man, but I like his “policies”….were words that spewed from many voters in interviews. And when asked about which specific policies, the interviewer heard silence or some version of ‘he is a man of action and not words like the other guy.’
Image, slogan, deft manipulation of reality, by the master-magician, rolled off the minds of those 67.5 millions as they likely privately cursed his person, his personal values and his language and his sexism, racism, homophobia, and his outright disdain for everyone of those thousands who risked their lives in attending his mask-less, crowd-crushing rallies.
And the intimate, and even mutually seductive enmeshment of the trump voter with their ‘man’ could well wear the mantle outlined by Margaret Atwood above. There is a delicious, seductive, hideous, nefarious, secretive, thrilling quality to cursing a monster in private, behind his back, and then trumpeting his “action-accomplishments” blindly and willfully ignoring everything else. Bring him ‘down to the common denominator, while deflating him, and then exaggerating how “the effete elite, political class are “picking on him” evoking a lever-pull in sympathy for the victim of this political chicanery is only one equation that attempts to unpack the mysteries of this week, and the last four years, and the potential for the next four, should he cling to power.
We already know about the political incest rampant in the Republican-trump ‘party’ in which sycophantic hugging and clinging to the president not only did not “do them in” in the eyes of the voters; it actually pummeled them into victory. And yet, is there also another facet of political incest among and between trump-voters and the trump-man himself?
What is it that he “knows” or “intuits” or “smells” or “touches” about the people who vote for him that the “public” discourse cannot and will not penetrate?
There seems to be a “devilment” that motivates, infects, stimulates and undergirds both the voter and the president. They share both a capacity and a desire to wreak havoc, as mutual-cohorts in a war various described by Breitbart, Bannon, QAnon, the white supremacists, the law-and-order devotees, People of Praise, evangelicals, the KuKluxKlan, the nationalist/populists, Foxnews, Barr, Jack Nicklaus/BobbyOrr, with the ultimate ‘saviour’ from all the carnage and evils that dominate the list of deep neuroses currently infecting the various participants.
Deconstruction of the “traditional establishment” was one of the original battle cries from Steve Bannon, in aligning himself with the trump candidacy. “Draining the swamp” was another of the guiding slogans of the campaign….seemingly not only cognizant of but also riding the wave of angst, fear, disassociation, alienation, and despair then impacting a rather large segment of the American public.
Singling Obama, the intellectual, the articulate, the circumspect, ‘no-drama-Obama’ as the target of much of the energy for this anti-establishment drive, while convenient for those needing a glib excuse, only masks the depth, the danger and the toxicity of the 67.5 millions.
When Iago becomes the “hero” of Shakespeare’s Othello, the world has indeed turned upside down. When Al Capone becomes not the villain of the twenties, but the hero, at least in deviousness if not in the object of his villainy, then the “treasured” tradition of history and pride in the legitimacy, the integrity, the authenticity, and the trust-worthiness of the American experiment in the constitutional democracy is turned on its ear. When the moon-shot, and the Peace Corps, the AIDS-Ebola-Swine-SARS victories, the New Deal equalization, the Voting Rights unleashing millions of African Americans from demeaning poll taxes…when these are overshadowed by a few paper towels tossed in disdain to the literally drowning people of Puerto Rico, the caging of hundreds of children as deterrence to other potential immigrants, the disavowing of COVID-19 and then the heroic ‘recovery’ by ‘superman’ trump….then everyone on the planet can see the sun setting on the promise of the American commitment and dedication to their own well-being, not to mention their protective instincts for us all.
There is some hint of morning sunlight in the historic number of voters who mailed, walked, levered, and posted their voice/vote in this election, even if that glimmer has yet to reap any of the potential benefits from a release from another four years.
However, even if after all the votes have been counted, and even if Biden moves into the White House (still very much a suspect prospect on Thursday, November 5, two days after election day), the Senate appears to remain in Republican (McConnell’s) hands, thereby potentially thwarting legislative initiatives that might rise from the White House, and pass through the decreased majority of Democrats in the House. And, we are all left to ponder the myopia, the politically-correct narrowness of the design of the Mueller investigation, the apparent lack of equivalent (or perhaps more venomous) energy of the trump voters, and the Republican/trump leadership, on the part of the Democrats.
Decency, honour, the adage of “bringing a knife to a gun-fight,” not to mention ‘car-rallies’ and a refusal to knock on doors (to protect both canvasser and elector from COVID-19), in a contest with the devil, do not replace or substitute for a much more muscular, even frenzied attack, against an enemy the scruples of whom are not only lacking, but twisted.
In athletics, it is known as ‘the killer instinct’…A real-estate professional, when asked what he especially liked about his career, replied instantly and passionately, “I just love the chase!” There is an instinctual, (and perhaps more attributable to men) aspect to the political war, also dubbed a “blood sport” (also in highly masculine terms). And the rise of a high degree of sensitivity, compassion, empathy, and the obvious decency that accompanies those traits, (all of them embodied and celebrated in and by Biden, while totally missing from the trump camp) for many reeks of the feminine.
This is in no way to paint Biden with a feminine brush; however, even in the middle of a pandemic from which 400,000 Americans might die, before the end of 2020, the concept of “caring for one another” (by social distancing, wearing a mask, rejecting large crowds and parties) has been not merely flaunted, but virtually destroyed throughout the campaign and also throughout the trump presidency.
The triumph of greed, narcissism, mis-representation of reality, and the appetite to devour the sugar-high of these cotton-candy “treats”, and thereby endorse and participate in this political orgy can only be considered appalling by the rest of the world, as it most certainly is by those who voted against trump and for Biden, in whatever equation of that mixed motive applied.
Atwood has much insight to offer the public opinion industry, (as did that car dealer), and also to the political guru’s whose lives have been twisted, as has the life of the republic, by the tornado that wears a blue suit, a red tie, a red MAGA hat, and nevertheless, sees every moment as another in which to inflict vengeance, to instill and to unleash fear and doubt, while promising “greatness.”
Is he a student of Orwell or, more likely, a clone of those operating the government in Orwell’s 1984, where the Peace Ministry conducts war, and the truth Ministry continually re-shapes and re-tells history so convincingly that today’s enemies are tomorrow’s allies, and vice versa?
In any case, we are all entrapped in a universe whose foundational footings of truth have been eroded and concussed by rhetoric that cannot be put back into the vault of the archives. These footings need a totally new “crew” as well as at least a decade of truth-telling, accountability, decency, and honour in order to public the public “square” back into structural security.
And it will take more than throwing paper towels to recover from the trumptsunami!