Donald Trump is America’s Fault
In the opening to his cover of Patti Smith’s “Rock n’ Roll Nigger,” Marilyn Manson screams “I was made in America, and America hates me for what I am. I am your shit, you should be ashamed of what you have eaten.” At the risk of comparing a doughy windbag ass-clown to one of rock n’ roll’s more intriguing icons, truer words might not be spoken of Donald Trump and his presidential campaign which, while stoking the ire of a vast bipartisan contingent of the American public, has also inspired a groundswell of fanatical support from some of the darker recesses of the American landscape most often regarded during flyovers between New York and Los Angeles.
While much has been said and written about how and why Donald Trump, a man for whom complex thought is as much a foreign concept as calculus is for goldfish, should garner enough support and admiration from millions of supporters and devotees to win the Republican nomination, the answer may rest on three uniquely American features, making the fault for Trump’s candidacy a product of our own collective failing.
Redistricting is an essential component of our political system. Recall that each state, regardless of size, receives two senators, but representation within the House of Representatives is determined by its population. Today there are 435 congressional districts that must be allocated to the states based upon their respective populations, and with each new census, certain districts are redrawn to reflect population changes. Redistricting is therefore a product of having to distribute those House seats such that states with a greater population garner more representation. Because really, who gives a shit about Rhode Island, anyway? It’s not even an island. It’s the state equivalent of Cedric the Entertainer, who by my count has yet to entertain a single person.
But because we’ve so wisely handed the responsibility for drawing up those districts’ boundaries to the sometimes sociopathic politicians who should be their subjects and not their architects, it should come as no surprise that these same politicians tend to favor district boundaries that preserve their party’s interests and ensure its continued dominion over constituents. And although politicians would probably prefer that this not be described as their party’s “dominion” over constituents, the evidence indicates that this is an entirely apt description such that the only better one would involve the constituents’ relationship to a barrel and some unfortunate bending.
Known as “Gerrymandering” for Elbridge Gerry, who as governor in 1812 redrew the district map of Massachusetts to benefit his own party’s interests, resulting in one particular district that was mocked as resembling a salamander or, in this case, a “Gerrymander”, this process of redistricting creates district boundaries that follow no inherent logic apart from including populations favorable to the ruling political party responsible for drawing them and excluding those that are unfavorable. It’s worth noting that this activity is neither exclusively Republican nor Democratic because both parties are equally guilty. However, Republican redistricting has a noticeably more insidious result considering that their constituents are more likely to demand complete and utter allegiance to a set of principles that remains firmly rooted in Piaget’s Concrete Operational stage of development in which nuance and complexity represent a cognitive bridge too far.
Gerrymandering has thus left us with congressional districts that go a long way toward entrenching political centers of power, making the elected leaders of those districts less apt to appeal to a broader political constituency and far more likely to trumpet and adhere to the values of an increasingly narrow and radical one. What’s more, failure to adhere to this hard-line political ideology doesn’t result in a shift of power from one political party to the other but rather a shift within the party from one elected official to another who, in the eyes of that voting constituency, better represents the more radical wing. This shift occurs during the party’s primary election, no better exemplified than when David Brat replaced Eric Cantor in his own district’s primary, and all because Cantor had had the audacity to pursue a deal with the president to avert a government shutdown. Of course, looking like he auditioned for the part of the popped-collar prep-school bully in every 1980s made-for-TV movie probably didn’t help Cantor, either.
So when it comes to amplifying radical ideology and appealing to a more strident wing of Republican voter, it’s hard to find anyone who sells it better than Donald Trump. Except perhaps for David Duke, but he doesn’t have the hot wife and the jet with his name on it. Though to his credit, David Duke probably does have a Toro riding lawnmower and a hypothyroidic wife who shops at Walmart in a little rascal, which is apparently no better testament to the superiority of the Aryan race.
After nearly a year of Bernie Sanders’s campaign rallying cries, perhaps a refresher is unnecessary here. For brevity’s sake, let’s simply recall that economic inequality over the past 40 years has gotten progressively worse, as incomes for the top five percent of households grew by 88 percent while middle-income households grew by an average of only 20 percent. For the top one-hundredth of one percent (0.01%), their average household income is now $27 million, while the average income of the bottom 90 percent of households is $31,244, and the top 10% of households now control two-thirds of America’s net worth. Let’s not overlook too that the 20 richest people in our country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population and that the much touted economic recovery has disproportionately favored the wealthiest, as evinced by the fact that between 2013 and 2015 the wealthiest 14 people’s wealth increased by $157 billion. Nice work if you can get it …
This alarming degree of inequality breeds a certain degree of justified discontent, just as it did during America’s 19th century and pre-Depression era Gilded Ages. And if it seems incongruent that a bombastic self-proclaimed multibillionaire should somehow represent the voice of so many Americans left behind by this economic system, it becomes less surprising when that same bombastic self-proclaimed multibillionaire has made an art of tapping into and exploiting the fears and prejudices of those Americans, thereby distracting them from the real causes of their current economic misfortunes. It’s very similar, in fact, to how Ann Coulter uses incendiary statements and tweets to distract from the fact that she looks like Iggy Pop in drag.
The difficulty is that the “problems” to which Donald Trump pays the most lip-service are in reality little more than simple but effective misdirects. It’s easy to point (small) fingers at immigrants as a cause of economic inequality but not so easy to point those same fingers at trade policies that have moved manufacturing overseas (especially when your own companies benefit from those practices) or financial deregulations that have and continue to concentrate wealth among the most upper of echelons in the country (especially when deregulations benefit you while the supporters to whom you are speaking have labelled “regulation” an enemy in spite of how regulation would benefit them).
Actual causes are complex and difficult to untangle, and they don’t ignite emotional responses in the masses quite so much as portraits of an America overrun with immigrants, terrorists, and MSNBC news correspondents. And when people are both angry (the economy has screwed them) and scared (they may be screwed again by job-stealing immigrants and/or homicidal Muslim extremists), then they’re ripe for the plucking by someone who feeds them simple answers to simple (if erroneous) causes.
Which brings us quite nicely to the last feature of Donald Trump’s American rise.
A Failing Education System
Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes interacting with a millennial cashier at either Target or Starbucks has a firsthand understanding of just how dire the state of America’s educational system has become. This point is only further illustrated every time you phone customer service and find yourself patched through to India, where your customer service representative speaks three languages and holds dual Master’s degrees in biochemical engineering and molecular biology yet has to sleep on a straw mat in a corner of their family’s one-bedroom concrete tenement after working a 16-hour shift spent listening to you bitch about slow internet speeds.
In America, our high school graduates can barely string together a coherent sentence, especially one of more than 140 characters in length, while in other countries, even developing ones, their high school graduates are already working on their second dissertation.
America’s education system is in fact little better than Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist education system, except that instead of producing a brainwashed populace hell-bent on slaughtering infidels, our American system produces an uneducated populace hell-bent on type 2 diabetes, Duck Dynasty marathons, and Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy theories. And of course, the more susceptible you are to the theories of either Jesse “The Body” Ventura or Alex “spacemonkey” Jones, the more susceptible you are to the ravings of one Donald Trump.
The point is that America’s struggling education system leaves its populace subject to manipulation by a malignant narcissist who compensates for an obsession about the comparative smallness of his hands (and other extremities) by building large, phallic skyscrapers adorned with his name. And as much as we’d like to blame stupidity on the stupid, stupidity on this scale is much more a cultural failing because an educated populace is a responsibility that falls upon society as a whole.
Furthermore, education is closely correlated with class. Property taxes fund local school districts, resulting in disproportionate funding of schools between rich and poor districts, and college education is increasingly the exclusive province of America’s rich who can afford its tuition. As a result, blaming the poor for their lack of education and substandard schooling is similar to blaming Native Americans for the Trail of Tears, African Americans for slavery, or Ben Affleck for Batman vs. Superman—they were all unwitting subjects of a broken moral compass that failed to serve the better human good.
And lest we forget, it was Donald Trump himself who famously declared, “I love the poorly educated!” upon winning the Nevada Republican primary, and as easy as it may be to pin the blame for his victory on those “poorly educated” voters cheering him on that night, the shame is neither theirs nor Donald Trump’s but rather all of ours.
Our Collective Shit
Either laughing, pointing, screaming, or a combination thereof at Donald Trump supporters and blaming them for their support of an insecure, occasionally comical demagogue only exculpates our own role, as members of the American social fabric, in creating the Donald Trump phenomenon. That accusatory finger shouldn’t be pointed outward but rather inward, and its targets should include America’s redistricting policies, an economic system that fosters rampant inequality, and a poorly functioning education system that produces a populace susceptible to the bloviating diatribes of an ignorant showman unable to master even the most basic multisyllabic vocabulary and complex thought.
Donald Trump was made in America (even if his ties weren’t), and he is our shit and our shame. And if reflecting upon that floating mass in our toilet is at all troublesome, we should do something to revise our diet by amending our redistricting policies, addressing and correcting the economic structure that produces rampant inequality, and fixing our failing education system.
Sadly, this wide-eyed pessimist knows that we probably won’t. But it would be nice if we could at least pump the brakes on some of the shiting.
Draper, Robert. “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers.” The Atlantic, October 2012, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-league-of/309084/. Accessed 10 August, 2016.
Gilson, Dave. “Charts: Income Growth Has Stalled for Most Americans.” Mother Jones, 18 September 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/charts-income-inequality-middle-class-census. Accessed 10 August, 2016.
Gilson, Dave and Carolyn Perot. “It’s the Inequality, Stupid.” Mother Jones, February 2011, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph. Accessed 10 August, 2016