Shame on You, America

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In the PBS series Frontline’s “The Choice 2016” special President Obama’s roast of Trump at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner was described as “a bitter public humiliation” where “he is being treated like a piñata by the President of the United States.” Roger Stone, a political advisor to Trump, described this as “the night that he resolves to run for President.”

The author of The Truth About Trump, Michael D’Antonio explains how “Donald dreads humiliation and he dreads shame. And this is why he often attempts to humiliate and to shame other people.”

He goes on to say that “Donald Trump’s fantasy is to be the guy who takes the key to the Oval Office from Barack Obama’s hand in 2017. And it’s personal. This is a burning, personal need that he has to redeem himself from being humiliated by the first black President.”

Viewing the Donald’s Presidential campaign and eventual victory through this lens reminds me of the criminological exploration of shaming and particularly, the distinction between stigmatic shaming and reintegrative shaming. The former being that type of shaming or labeling that can ruin for life while the latter allows for those shamed to be reintegrated into the group whether that be family, friends, society, etc.

It seems to me that the work of Jock Young in The Exclusive Society is also informative here, since this election and its aftermath harshly illustrates how “the needle spins and points to some vulnerable section of the community to whom we can apportion blame, and who can be demonized.”

In reflecting upon how a human hand grenade like Donald J. Trump could find his fantasy of taking the key to the Oval Office from President Barack Obama fulfilled, there is plenty of blame apportioned, but perhaps not enough self-reflection and shame. Perhaps a short musical interlude might help here:

In March 2016, Thomas Frank released a sequel to his bestselling book What’s The Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won The Heart of America. This one was titled Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? In it, he detailed how the Democratic Party had failed or perhaps even ceased to work toward traditional goals of social and economic justice favoring instead a kind of cultural elitism abandoning the working class in favor of the professional and corporate class.

This is similar to the sentiment described by the late Joe Bageant in his Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War . Publishers and publicists projected a thesis upon Bageant’s book, insinuating that he was “trying to explain why the white working class consistently votes against its own interest.” Bageant never particularly cared for this assessment as he explains here:

This phenomenon was further detailed more recently in an article by Emmett Rensin titled “The Smug Style of American Liberalism.” Rensin writes, “There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.”

This paternalistic attitude was on full display in the Democratic primaries.

Rather than remembering the advice of political strategist James Carville who in 1992 consistently reminded the Clinton campaign never to forget “it’s the economy, stupid,” the powers-that-be within the Democratic Party colluded against Bernie Sanders to ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

Polls conducted throughout the primaries consistently indicated that Sanders would perform more strongly in a general election against Donald Trump and several other GOP hopefuls. Still, as an examination of internal emails illustrates, the Party was willing to err on the side of cultural elitism and risk it all in favor of those professional and corporate interests and to the exclusion of the interests of the working class, or the People.

In many ways echoing the evisceration of Donald Trump by President Obama, Clinton’s campaign, expertly aided by much of the media, doubled down on the smug condescension and a public humiliation of those unconvinced that Hillary should be the next President of the United States.

Confirmation bias reigned in the mainstream media as every primetime comedy show selected the most hilariously uninformed, overtly racist or sexist passengers on the “Trump Train” to skewer relentlessly. Deemed guilty by association, millions of conservative and independent voters were vicariously ridiculed and publicly shamed for even daring to consider any alternative to the Democratic Party’s anointed candidate.

They were labeled racist, misogynistic, homophobic and otherwise stigmatized for having the audacity to consider Hillary Clinton to be in any way problematic.

Those of us who rallied relentlessly for the Bernie Sanders campaign know this feeling well. We were called “Bernie Bros” for months and even got a shout out for “being ridiculous” at the convention by comedian Sarah Silverman.

The divisions within the Democratic Party are so deep at this point that some have declared it dead with an air of “good riddance.” Of course, similar claims that the GOP is embroiled in a Civil War that might be fatal have also been offered.

Personally, I believe that my friends and family who chose to vote differently in this election did so not because of the appeals to racism, sexism, nativism and a whole host of other –isms maneuvered and manipulated by the Trump campaign, but in spite of them.

I am ashamed of them and angry with them for having voted for this man I view as an example of everything wrong with American culture. But, I am similarly angry at and ashamed of my more liberal friends who refused to consider the Achilles heel of Hillary Clinton, that she personifies everything wrong with American politics. Here too, I think that they voted for her not because of her many faults, but in spite of them.
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Perhaps I am even ashamed of myself for not doing more to resist the dehumanization of so many of my friends, my family, my colleagues and coworkers on both sides?

Throughout this campaign season, I have met a few people who were wholeheartedly in favor of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but know many more who report feeling nauseated by both options this election. This seems to reflect and reinforce the record-breaking levels of distaste for both candidates , apparently the least liked in U.S. History.

I suppose we could all be ashamed of ourselves for letting it get to this point.

We could lash out with blame for all those who think, act, look or, God forbid, vote differently than we do. Or, we could consider the way such a divide-and-conquer strategy has historically benefited the powers-that-be throughout human history.

I am reminded of the words of Dr. Gary Potter posted on May 4, 2015 here as a critical essay :

And then there are those who blame everyone but themselves for everything that happens. Instead of confronting contradictions within capitalism, racism and sexism, these folks worry about contradictions among the oppressed and contradictions in the movement. If we don’t win tomorrow these other folks are to blame. No, it’s capitalists who are to blame. It’s not the ignorance of the masses, consumerist frenzy, social superstition and the like that is the problem. Even the dumbest, most superstitious, person standing in a line for a new Apple Watch didn’t make this system. They don’t control this system. They too are victims of this system. We can educate them but we dare not vilify them.

It is my sincere hope that those of us feeling some kind of shame after this election are able to channel it toward political empowerment even half as effectively as did our next President, Donald J. Trump.

Likewise, I hope that we will use this potentially motivating effect not to further vilify and degrade one another, but rather to reintegrate, rehumanize and reorganize in order to alter or abolish this awful system that we should all be ashamed of.

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