It is November 9th as I write, and I (like many Americans) am reeling from Donald Trump’s astounding and audacious success in seizing the most powerful political position in the Western world. What happened? Like many people, I believed that Trump’s racism, xenophobism, misogyny, and nativism would result in his failure to attain the presidency. But quite the opposite has come to pass: as it turns out, Trump’s notable failures to attach himself to a humanistic vision of the nation as a compilation of diverse cultures and subgroup agendas had no meaningful effect on his electability, and, truth be told, seem to be the reason for his success.
So what are we to make of this? First and foremost, it seems that Hillary Clinton’s handlers seriously misunderstood the degree and depth of dissatisfaction among the populace with the federal government, particularly vis-à-vis its apparent inability to get things done through the usual processes of negotiation and compromise with opposing views. A large number of American citizens feel that they have been rendered helpless to influence their government and its policies, while Washington “insiders” argue ad nauseam about policy issues, and/or roll the dice with their lives. That is to say that, correctly or not, this sector of the American public feels excluded from the participatory democracy that they were told constitutes the heart of the American social ideal. These citizens feel isolated and persecuted, struggling vainly to influence a government that they once were told will be responsive to their needs and attentive to their well-being. So, it appears that Trump has harnessed what Melanie Klein called the “paranoid-schizoid” dimensions of many of our psyches.
And what do we do now? Well, though I have jokingly threatened to depart the United States should Trump become our leader, I cannot in good conscience sever ties with the people who have supported, nurtured, and taught me. This place is my home, and I feel an obligation to help move it toward the future, one which I hope is more just and equitable.
However, for the time being, we are now saddled with an administration that evokes all the worst qualities of the human animal. As Americans, it is incumbent upon us to mount challenges to this worldview. I understand Trump’s election as merely a delay in the course of what Martin Luther King, Jr., optimistically called “the arc of the moral universe”, by which he meant the tendency of human groups to slowly but surely transcend their exclusionary and antidemocratic qualities.