(For Part One, click here.)
We (Not You), the People
Everywhere we look, cultural institutions are dissolving. What’s the best way to participate in this chaotic historical moment without losing our sanity?
Or, to put it in more spiritually ambitious terms, how do we express ourselves from the center of our charts while a shit storm rages around us?
First of all, let’s press into service a raw truth about life that we’ve learned from physics, from astrology, from gardening: breakdown entails the release of power.
Astrologer Lynn Bell has this to say about the catastrophic storms upon us:
Nature has now delivered a mirror for the destructive energies in the collective psyche. Hurricanes north of the equator spin counterclockwise, a direction in many indigenous traditions for the undoing of things, the dissolving of what has been built, the destruction of order.
Out of the mess
It’s just as true when obsolete social structures die as when anything else dies: out of the mess arises tremendous creativity. Of this we can have no doubt, if we believe in Plutonian law.
What is not certain is how we will respond to it. It is not yet known in what way, precisely, each of us will negotiate the death/ rebirth transition our world is in. The question is whether we want to handle it gracefully, or from a place of fear and reactivity.
Is our intention to hold onto our humanity in the face of inhumanity? Then we must first confront, with curiosity and honesty, the process of devolution happening on our watch.
Viable responses to these fractious times begin where exasperation and incredulity leave off.
Don’t try it at Thanksgiving dinner
To discover what our own creative response might be to the American culture war, we need an understanding of The Other Side.
It should be clear by now that there is no point trying to win over Trump’s supporters by appealing to their logic.
It won’t help to point out that he’s appointing, hiring and golfing with the very billionaire donors and lobbyists he promised to drain out of the swamp.
It won’t help to explain that his tax cuts will only go towards benefiting these guys, and himself, while hurting everybody else. It won’t help to point out that he lies, or that he is repulsive. They know already know these things.
Civility and moral character have never been what this is about.
Astrologically, these last years before 2020 represent the tail end of several cycles. Waning cycles, like all organic entities in their death throes, sometimes thrash around unbecomingly. Where awareness is lacking, the last dregs of long cycles are notorious for fostering confusion, desperation and hopelessness.
The writer Ian Sinclair has characterized the current mood in Britain in similar terms. He sees the UK right now as lacking the life force for constructive solutions, stumbling round in a “suicide-note delirium… burning our bridges, starving hospitals of funds.”(1)
When energy runs low, reactivity tends to run high.
Where human reactivity is concerned, Trump has proven himself an adept student. With Machiavellian genius, he has identified something in the reptile brain of his audience even more powerful than financial self-preservation.
To wit: the human dread of changing places with people one notch below us on the social totem pole.
Trump’s scapegoating of immigrants exploits this dread in a couple of different ways. Most explicitly, it capitalizes on economic insecurity. He and his minions at Fox warn their audiences over and over that new arrivals will steal their jobs away, even though the idea is factually groundless (here’s Sam Bee, debunking the Lump of Labor Fallacy).
In between the lines, the Donald is promising his audiences to…
…take the country back to another era, when factories were full of well-paid workers instead of robots, when there was little worry over international competition or environmental destruction and when everyone knew their place in society. — San Francisco Chronicle
The “knowing their place” part of his message is its essential piece. A good many Trump supporters believe that giving a leg up to even-more-vulnerable groups will cause their own status to slip. (See this article by Ta Nehisi Coates.)
Trump knows this because, as a chip-on-the-shoulder kid from the outer boroughs, he is motivated by the same defensive rage (Saturn conjunct Venus in the 11th house: fear of social inferiority).
With a little help from his campaign vizier (Steve Bannon, like Karl Rove before him), he figured out how to turn that rage into votes.
Like all false populists, Trump makes a lot of noise about “the people.” Remember Sarah Palin in 2008, singling out “the real Americans?” If you weren’t a fan of hers, apparently you were a fake American.
These phrases attempt to suggest that the speaker’s audience comprises great heaving masses of humanity (e.g. Spiro Agnew’s “the Silent Majority.”) Just as Trump lies about the size of his audiences, he likes to flatter his supporters with illusions about their vast historical and cultural predominance.
But Trump’s core base is in fact relatively small. White Christians without college degrees constitute only about 20% of the population. The fact that it’s small — and getting smaller — is not lost on them, of course. That’s why they’re so pissed off.
In their own minds, they’re still the majority.
Everyman no longer
Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed.
— Ta Nehisi Coates
Traditionally, the kind of white American who thinks of himself as an average guy (and it is, always, a guy; the fiction of averageness in a patriarchy is male by definition) could always count on his superiority of numbers.
Granted, there have always been uppity races and genders making distressing inroads. Every time he looked around, the white everyman saw ball-breaking females, job-seeking foreigners and weird religions intruding on his turf.
Forever nipping at his heels, these pesky Others were an incessant threat to his position on the totem pole. But at least they were still minorities.
Not for much longer.
Even the numerical superiority of Trump’s everyman is being stolen away from him, by population mobility and intermarriage. And in the absence of white supremacy as a numerical fact, white supremacy as a racist delusion is coming out of the closet.
We have elected the enemy, and we are his.
— Tom Toles
What is depriving these angry white Americans of their presumed entitlements? Social scientists might say that it is the impersonal forces of a globalized, multicultural world.
But the Trump propaganda declares that it is not a what but a who: “liberals,” or specific individuals among that group, are robbing them. The victim mentality prefers a specific, personalized enemy.(2)
None of the GOP candidates who preceded Trump was able to play the aggrieved victim as convincingly as he does. This is because his self-image, like that of many narcissists, is genuinely that of someone under siege (Blumenthal, op cit)
As such, Trump can be far more persuasive than Romney or McCain when he stands at the podium pumping up the paranoid fantasies of insecure white men. He is typecast to reassure them that blacks, women, struggling immigrants and handicapped journalists are victimizing them, not the other way around.
But as many of his critics have pointed out, the traits that served Trump so well on the campaign trail have become a double-edged sword. The compulsion to goad one group of citizens into seething hostility against another doesn’t work so well if you’re supposed to be leading the whole citizenry.
Now that his branding exercise has morphed into a presidency, Trump’s psychological complex is more than a personality problem. It is a political problem.
As historian Thomas Meaney has written, “Instead of trying to gain more recognition from more people, he has shrunk the imaginary number of those who count as ‘the people.’ The first task of resistance to Trump will be to expand it.”
To be continued: The Other Side, Part Three
Trump graphics: Edel Rodriguez
Thanksgiving dinner: Norman Rockwell
1) What is especially ironic about the U.K. situation is that “’taking back control’ from the E.U. doesn’t extend, for many Brexit voters, to taking back control of the country’s foreign-owned infrastructure.” Migrants may not be welcome, but migrant capital has made Britain “a tenant of overseas landlords in every sphere of its economy.” (James Meek).
2) As Coates points out, “The fact of a black president seemed to insult Donald Trump personally. He has made the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own.” (ibid)