Saturday, August 6, 2016

Can Hillary reach Trump's America?

In a Salon piece entitled, "Trump's suicide mission: He's not trying to destroy his own campaign — the destructive urge he represents is much bigger than that", Andrew O'Hehir observes that Americans love to talk big, love to thump our chests and proclaim our exceptionalism (well, I don't but then, I'm an outlier), but we also have deeply self-destructive impulses.

He argues that suicide and obesity rates, along with political polarization that results in closed information bubbles, have created

... a health crisis on an enormous scale — a crisis that is simultaneously physical, psychological and spiritual and is hardly ever understood in holistic terms. If Trump is the most prominent symptom of this systemic disorder at the moment, he is not its cause or even its leading indicator.
Or, putting it less abstractly:
I’m saying that the state of borderline psychosis produced by electronic consumer society leads to OxyContin addiction and Baconator Fries and a suicide epidemic and Donald Trump. Those things are not all the same, but they are interconnected.
It's a vast argument and no little Web article could hope to make it effectively, so although he didn't succeed in convincing me I'm willing to chalk that up to insufficient space.

Given my skepticism that he's onto something, I would not have mentioned this piece except that he makes a troubling point in passing:

I’m not sure the Clinton-Obama-Clinton leadership of the Democratic Party has the slightest understanding of the physical and psychological dislocation of so much of America, the loneliness and desperation that has found its voice, for the moment, in Donald Trump. Why would they, since they are every bit as complicit in the political economy that made all this possible as the Republicans are?
A Trump victory in November would be a blind cliff jump for the country: we might fall into water and live, but there's a substantial risk we'd break ourselves beyond recognition or even recovery. (That's what I think a lot of Trump supporters hope: that the country will change from what it is, a multicultural stew of many hues and opinions, to a place that looks and feels a lot more like Pleasantville before Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon started messing things up.)

Yet even if Hillary Clinton wins, Trump's supporters aren't going away. Forget the immediate aftermath, which Trump, by talking darkly of rigged elections, is already setting up to be nastier than Bush v. Gore. What's going to happen when we get past that Constitutional crisis? Trump's supporters are going to be in the same economic and cultural places they are now, and those places led them to support him and despise her (if they didn't already). They represent too numerous a constituency to be ignored. More to the point, I think a lot of them are genuinely in need.

If their need is a job or substance abuse care or something else altogether, is Clinton ready to do something about it? Does she have even the foggiest idea what to do? Can she find a way to break through their hostility toward her, both to hear how they genuinely feel and to get them to understand her position? Can she, in short, plant the seed for even the most basic national consensus on how to move forward?

(And yeah, I know she would face as uphill a communications battle as any president ever has, considering there's a genuinely vast array of right-wing media whose business model is inextricably tied to fostering distrust of anything to its political left. Well, them's the conditions that prevail. Nobody forced her to run this year.)

Assuming she can design a reasonable plan of action, does she have a plan for enlisting Congress to act on it? Can she break through the partisan logjam, knock heads together and make our legislature actually do its job instead of obsessing over securing one party's supermajority so that party's platform can steamroll over the other's? (I'm sorry to say that nothing short of a Moe Howard-ish clunking of heads together is going to focus our major parties' Congressional leaders on actually passing meaningful legislation.)

By the way, if you're thinking that it would be really nice if these Trump supporters just left the country (jumped into the ocean, were taken by aliens, whatever), you're part of the problem. If we can teach ourselves to find the humanity in refugees 10,000 miles from here, we can damned well teach ourselves to find the humanity in someone 10 miles from our home. Maybe in the process, we can reach out to him and figure out how to get him to see the humanity in us. We're in this together, people. We need to act like it.

It's an open question whether anybody can ameliorate the conditions that have fed the political rise of Trump. The thing is, if Hillary Clinton becomes president, she's going to have to try. Does she recognize the challenge? Does the famously calculating HRC have a plan?

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