It’s been quite a week hasn’t it? Trump returned from his trip to visit Mexican President Enrique Peña Nietohis[i] and doubled down on his Alt-Right, “America First”, McCarthy era immigration plan, including the ridiculous wall that only exists in Sci-Fi B-movies. He continues to make offensive, racist, sexist remarks about anyone and everyone who opposes him, while ranting like a spoiled teenager about his health and superior intelligence. Its hubris and obnoxious, plain and simple. One of the seven deadly sins, if you go by the Judeo-Christian mythos. I don’t, but the hubris of religious belief is a whole other nut to crack. I’ve watched the progress of this election with slack-jawed terror. Trump stands for everything his voters despise but desperately want to be. He’s elite, wealthy, and above the law. He’s been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl and yet he still has supporters who would otherwise stone a pedophile over allowing the accused a day in court. So why are there so many Americans (Christian and otherwise) responding to Trump’s chicanery and arrogance with their money and their votes?
So why are there so many Americans (Christian and otherwise) responding to Trump’s chicanery and arrogance with their money and their votes?
Hubris. Trump has it and his voters feel deprived of it and entitled to it.
Hubris is an excess of pride and certainty, disdain and pretension. It is the curse of the pseudo-modern era in which we live and dangerous because it focuses on the protection of the “I” to the detriment of all others. It is a grasping, frightened child who wakes from a nightmare fearing the loss of their very existence and barricades itself in its room, refusing to come out.
The postmodern distrust of grand narratives trumpeted a reality that was constructed and contextual. Moral relativism was a part of the postmodern narrative which, in hindsight, was as grand and encompassing as narratives from the preceding eras.[ii] There were positive trends that came from postmodernism. There was the trend toward acceptance of an individual’s social and cultural contextual reality. Conversations about the impact of destructive social norms on the oppressed (people of color, women, & the LGBTQ community) became part of internal and external dialogues regarding the self. The postmodern era gave us microaggression theory, which has advanced discussions of racial prejudice and oppression in both individuals and institutions.
Microaggressions are automatic mechanisms of disregard and oppression that are used in verbal and non-verbal communication to support oppression from the dominant culture.[iii]
However, there were also, what some, myself included, considered negative outcomes, such as the acceptance of cultural practices like legislated discrimination against the LGBTQ community couched in the language of moral relativism. The Huffington Post recently published an article about an East Pennsylvania High School freshman who claims she will “not pass high school” because she fears there may be a transgender person in her school. She contends that her religion forbids her from changing in front of a person who is “physically male” until she is married.[iv] Although it is not identified specifically in the article, it is clear from the girl’s statement that the religious doctrine to which she ascribes does not draw a distinction between biological sex assigned at birth and gender-identity. However, the American Medical Association, a leading physicians organization in the US, acknowledges the difference between biological sex assigned at birth and gender identity and has adopted non-discrimination language in its policies on LGBT issues.[v] All 1st amendment arguments aside, a postmodern moral relativist would contend that both the teenager’s and the AMA’s beliefs have equal weight, when rationally, we know that is a false equivalency. One belief is based on a religion that worships a Bronze Age war god and one is based on rational inquiry.
We know it’s a false equivalency. One belief is based on a religion that worships a Bronze Age war god and one is based on rational inquiry.
The world has moved on and this pseudo-modern era in which we live defines the self by the information that it takes in and its impact on the individual.[vi] There is no benchmark for accuracy, no weight or measure to identify what is based on fact and what is fiction. The pseudo-modern mind thrives on the hubris that accompanies ignorance in its most divisive form. This is the era of the “I” in whose fertile soil the powerful, like Donald Trump, have nurtured fear, nationalism, and religious extremism. They sell the promise of safety and freedom from the barbarism the average American sees on the internet and the evening news.
Let’s turn again to our high school student who doesn’t draw a distinction between biological sex assigned at birth and gender identity. The pseudo-modern society places no onus on her to approach her beliefs with critical thought or rational inquiry. Her “belief” finds traction and is bolstered by the glut of misinformation and bigotry available on the internet and within modern media. Her fear then feeds into the narrative of the religious right that the LGBTQ community is out to take over America. Those in power, like Donald Trump and his cadre of Evangelical advisors, push for the adoption of a political platform based on that narrative. The leaders, to endorse their platform, then create even more misinformed, bigoted propaganda to feed the beast. And around and around we go.
Based on the example above, is it a surprise that Donald Trump’s narrative of xenophobia sells to a frighteningly large number of Americans?
A speech Trump delivered in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday is indicative of the heady mix of fear and nationalism that whips his followers into a frenzy. He trotted out anecdotal stories about wholesome American citizens being murdered by rabid, freedom-crazed immigrants.[vii] Trump then proceeded to deliver a 10-point immigration plan that is buoyed by false information and reads more like a plan from any number of the white nationalist organizations that support his candidacy.[viii] Donald Trump knows his supporters won’t look up the facts because he’s given them something much better. He’s given his followers permission to be like him and embrace their hubris. He wants to promote the narrative that the non-existent white, Christian America of the 1950s has been stolen from his followers and they deserve to have it restored. It’s a sham. The ultimate bait and switch, because Trump’s version of the good old days never existed and his vision of the future would be the death knell of American democracy.
His base believes it all, because it’s easier to believe the lie than confront a complex reality.
Trump’s message, at its core, is about selling his brand of disdain, pretension, and certainty, his hubris, to others. He revels in the worst behavior of his followers because he knows how to exploit it for his own gain. Trump gives license to hate under the auspice of progress. He’s Owen’s Mordecai Jones, a flim-flam man to his core, but instead of leaving a guileless rube holding the bag, in the end it’s going to be the country.
About the Author: Jenn Kowalski is a Licensed Social Worker with a Masters in Social Work from The Ohio State University. She writes about living with chronic illness, politics, health, and social issues in her blog 2 for Take Away. She is a white cis-woman who identifies as pansexual. For more about her please click here and for more about Jenn’s experience with Lupus & Fibromyalgia click here
[i] Elise Foley, “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto And Donald Trump Are Now In A Twitter Fight”, The Huffington Post, 9/1/2016. Retrieved 9/2/2016.
[ii] Alan Kirby, “The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond”, Philosophy Now, Issue 58, 2006. Retrieved 9/2/2016.
[iii] Daniel G. Solorzano, “Critical Race Theory, race and gender microaggressions, and the experience of Chicana and Chicano scholars”, Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol. 11, No. 1, 121-136. Retrieved on 9/2/2016.
[iv] Curtis M. Wong, “Teen Says She’ll Fail High School If Trans Students Use Her Locker Room”, The Huffington Post, 8/31/2016. Retrieved 9/2/2016
[v] American Medical Association, “AMA Policies on LGBT Issues”, American Medical Association, nd. Retrieved 9/2/2016.
[vi] Alan Kirby, “The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond”, Philosophy Now, Issue 58, 2006. Retrieved 9/2/2016.
[vii] Alex Pappas, “Donald Trump’s Speech in Phoenix on Illegal Immigration”, The Daily Caller, 8/31/2016. Retrieved 9/2/2016.
[viii] Linda Qiu, Miriam Valverde, “Fact-checking Donald Trump’s immigration speech in Phoenix”, Politifact, 9/1/2016. Retrieved 9/2/2016.