Saturday, December 16, 2017
The Death of Guilt Politics?
Trump won because a lot of Americans are tired of feeling guilty about everything.
Today on National People's Radio, a sob-story about Eskimos in Alaska who are upset that the permafrost is melting and that the graves of their loved ones are sinking out of sight. At first, when I heard the headline, I thought it was going to be the opposite - ancient coffins bobbing to the surface. Of the two, I think sinking is the better option.
But it was one of these weepy pieces that NPR likes, and full of Indian (excuse me, Native American) mojo. You could hear the tom-toms beating in the background almost. We are supposed to feel guilty about the Indians, because we "stole their land" it is said. Although I never stole anyone's land, and no Indian alive today had his land stolen - at least not by me, anyway. We are supposed to feel guilty about historical events we had no control over.
And if you are white, middle-class, and worse yet, male, in this country, you are suppose to be atoning for a lot of bad shit you did, or you are responsible for by dint of your ancestry. The whole slavery thing, natch, is your fault, of course. You are to blame for the mistreatment of any minority group - it goes without saying. And as a big-bad evil male, you are by definition, a sexual predator.
The latest aspect of this is, of course, the hysteria we are going through with regard to sexual harassment. Now, granted, sexual harassment isn't a good thing. Neither is bullying. Both have been around a long while. We seem to like talking about them, but rarely do anything about them. Today, sexual harassment is just another thing added to the list of guilt politics for which white men should be ashamed of.
But is this the dawn of a new era of liberation, or merely the last dying throes of guilt politics? I think it could go either way. And how this will play out we will know in the next few months. Because while a lot of people who did horrible things are being taken to task, a lot of other people who did less horrible things - or things that 30 years ago were not considered horrible at all - are being pilloried for no reason.
If you look at a lot of old movies from the dawn of the movie era until fairly recently, there is a consistent trope if you will. The man pursues the woman, the woman resists the man, he finally grabs her and forces a kiss on her. At that point, one of two things happens. If he is a cad or a bounder, she pulls away and slaps him across the face, as illustrated above. Or, if she really wanted him all along, she melts in his arms and stops resisting his advances. Either way, the normative cue that the movies were selling was that if you want to score with women, you have to force yourself on them.
Sean Connery, as James Bond, was king of the forced kiss. Today, would this be allowed?
Today, this of course, would be deemed heresy. And I wonder if we will have to go back through all those old movies and censor them or something - or at least put warnings on them. Standards have changed in 30 years, to be sure.
And yes, maybe this is a good thing, as no one should feel pressured to have sex, or have rude comments made about them, or be forced-kissed in the office. Maybe this is progress.
But on the other hand, I can see a different outcome. The reason why Trump was elected President, I believe is that - at least in part - many people felt fed-up by this narrative put forth by the Democrats that we all need to feel guilty about something. In addition to all the standard guilt-trips I described above, we are told that as Americans we need to feel guilty about the rest of the world in general, and of course global warming, which of course, is all our fault.
And while we have screwed up a lot of things in this world, so have a lot of other people. Yes, our intervention in Central and South America has resulted in the installation of brutal dictatorships. Our intervention in Iraq didn't really make life better for many - and the resulting "Arab Spring" and our inaction there, resulted in more suffering. But we are not alone in this world. Russia was in Afghanistan long before we were - and continues to meddle all over the world. They only wish they had the reach we did. And China pumps out far more pollution and carbon that we do, yet gets a pass on Paris climate talks. If there is a guilt here, it is a collective guilt.
But even assuming all this guilt-talk is true - that Americans should feel guilty about the world in general, and that white, male, heterosexual men (boo! hiss!) should feel the guiltiest of all - where does this sort of politics lead us? And by the way, I don't think any of this is necessarily always true - that this guilt-trip is based on a lot of bullshit, and yes, Russian trolls use this against us.
But where does this lead us? Into the abyss, I think. Because eventually people get tired of feeling guilty all the time. And they will vote for the first charismatic leader who comes along and tells them they are not guilty but instead should feel good about themselves. And history has proven this to be true. Whether it is Putin in Russia, Duarte in the Philippines, or Hitler in Germany, leaders who sell national pride end up getting elected (or otherwise take power)
The stereotype of the Trump supporter is that of some right-wing under-educated redneck, who drives a monster truck, has a cache of guns, and harbors some racist and misogynist feelings. The mainstream political parties tell him he is a bad person and moreover, that his situation in life is all his own damn fault. And along comes Trump, who tells him that he is beautiful and moreover, all the problems in his life are the result of someone else's evildoing.
It is a heady and toxic cocktail that the masses will gulp down, one red solo cup at a time. He is telling them what they want to hear, to be sure - the oldest game in politics. But better yet, he is telling them - giving them permission - not to feel guilty all the time.
Now look at what the Democrats are selling. Like some chastising old schoolmarm, they are telling everyone they are bad, bad, bad. Even if you never did anything wrong in your life, spent every waking hour helping the homeless (another thing you are guilty of creating, by the way) and donating every nickel you make to charity, you are still guilty, just by dint of being an American. Maybe - maybe - if you were a transgender Lesbian homeless Eskimo "indigenous person" in the middle of a "transition" you might get a pass and not have to ride the guilt train. Of course, if you transition to male, then oppression of women is now all your fault. Think hard before you go under the knife!
I am not sure where this is going, other than I think the idea that the Democrats are going to "take over" in the 2018 elections is a lot of wishful thinking. The Democratic party is moving further Left to appease a person who isn't even a Democrat - Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, the men are being hounded out of the party and more and more women are being nominated. The castration of the Democratic party is nearly complete.
The problem is, America just isn't that liberal. Sure, a majority of Americans support some form of gun control or background checks - they also support the right to bear arms. Americans are compassionate and support various forms of public assistance - but only for people in real need. Americans are very tolerant of people of different races, religions and backgrounds - but that doesn't mean they support "Black Lives Matter," Islamic fundamentalism, or the right for little Johnny to "transition" in the third grade.
Americans will vote for a Republican candidate who they perceive to be moderate for the most part. The only mistake the GOP has made is the same one the Democrats are making - embracing the extremes and forgetting about the "silent majority" of the middle-of-the-road middle-class.
Guilt Politics won't win in the long run. Rather, it will result in more extremism in the future. It is how we ended up with Trump in the first place.