A no-holds-barred look at the American presidential race
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Image by Kusi Okamura
The Cleansing Fire of the Orange Cataclysm
By Maria Behan
Like most women, I know that male egos can be trouble. Sometimes they’re merely a source of pity or amusement, as in “Doesn’t he realize that everyone sees the insecurity behind his swagger?” Other times, a male ego can represent real—possibly existential—threat: “If he suspects that I’ve done or even thought one of the many things that undermine his paper-thin confidence, he’ll lash out.”
As the embodiment of male ego, Donald Trump encompasses both ends of that danger spectrum. His transparent bluster about things like the quality of his steaks and the size of his manhood would be funny were it not the tip of an iceberg of pathology that could potentially damage the U.S. government, violate fundamental human rights both inside and outside the country, and launch nuclear weapons. The man may be risible, but what he might unleash is terrifying.
Maybe it’d be more accurate to say that male ego embodies Trump, since he seems to be 100 percent ego. No intellect, no compassion, no humor…just pure ego. I suspect a Freudian might detect a fair amount of id in the mix, too—without a speck of superego. Freud himself would have been thrilled to have Trump as a case study: a man more hysterical than poor Dora; more infantile than his “Wolf Man” patient, the Russian aristocrat fixated on the white wolves from a childhood nightmare.
Trump probably isn’t haunted by white wolves, but duskier ones might make him uneasy. Based on actions and statements going back to the Nixon administration’s charges of housing discrimination in the 1970s, it seems that Trump is a textbook racist. But for many of his supporters, it’s more complicated than that. Many of them come from a group that’s failing and flailing in America today: people of limited education with shrinking job prospects who have no claim to status or authority beyond their white skin. They may not actually hate or distrust people with more pigment—or at least, not all that much. What really drives them is a longing to return to a time when a high-school education and a willingness to work in a factory, mill, or mine was enough to take care of one’s self and one’s family.
Thanks to the forces of economic globalization, that era may be over. But opening up new manufacturing sectors; investing in infrastructure; retraining workers for job sectors that are growing, not dying; and finding ways to make higher education more accessible to people of limited means will all help keep the American Dream alive. What won’t work is slapping on a baseball cap that says “Make American Great Again.”
But Trump and his supporters have no time for complexity. Their definition of a “great” country is a 1950s fantasyland complete with an economy unscarred by globalization, security untroubled by terrorists, and a homogeneous population way paler than that of today’s United States. Instead of presenting policies and programs, Trump stokes his supporters’ rage, their resentment, and above all, their wishful thinking. By putting up “a big, fat, beautiful wall,” acting “tough,” and being “smart,” he’s the strongman who’ll polish America’s luster until the country gleams like one of his gilded casinos.
Dispiriting as Trump is, he may turn out to be the laxative that unblocks the constipated U.S. political system. That was the position I took in my first column about the current presidential election, and I still strongly believe it. I’m also pretty confident Trump won’t become America’s next president.
When Barack Obama was running for office in 2008, many believed that Americans weren’t open-minded and smart enough to elect the country’s first black president. Today, some think we may be closed-minded and stupid enough to elect “Cinnamon Hitler,” as South African comedian Trevor Noah dubbed Trump. Just as those people were wrong eight years ago, I think they’re wrong again today. And in that spirit, I present:
Five Good Things About Donald Trump…and One Really Bad One
- Donald Trump is the cleansing orange flame that will rid the United States of the Republican Party within a generation.
- His bluster transforms the ignored into the unignorable. Thanks to his campaign, some of the people being ground up in the gears of America’s plutocracy are no longer invisible.
- Trump distracts Bernie Sanders supporters from the pain of watching their champion fall to Hillary Clinton. Terror is a surefire antidote to depression.
- He makes Hillary Clinton look honest and principled by comparison.
- Trump may divide, but he also unites. He is compellingly repellent to important—and growing—sectors of the U.S. electorate. One recent poll says that only 20 percent of millennials support him. And only about 1 percent of African-Americans.
- He may be ushering in a new white nationalist party in the United States.
That last possibility is truly frightening. But given Trump’s bratty propensity to pick up his marbles and go home as soon as there’s even a hint he might come off as a loser (as if everything from his limited vocabulary to his farcical hairstyle hadn’t settled the issue already), he’s likely to exit the political stage in November, if not before. I’m skeptical about almost every statement Trump has made in his lifetime, but I fervently hope he’ll follow through on the pledge he made this month: “You better elect me, or I’ll never speak to you again.”
Do you promise, Donald?
Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, and Northern California Best Places.