Adam Haslett: Donald Trump, Shamer in Chief: "In an essay on King Lear... Stanley Cavell describes... Regan... thusly: (Live from Trumpland)
She has no ideas of her own; her special vileness is always to increase the measure of pain others are prepared to inflict; her mind is itself a lynch mob.
A year and a half into Trump’s incitement of a campaign, this seems the most concise formulation of his character: He has no ideas of his own; his special vileness is always to increase the measure of rhetorical violence others are prepared to inflict; his mind is itself a political mob. How can we resist?... We have to start by letting go of... two beliefs[:]...
The first is that Trump... is some radical anomaly.... [That] hides the far deeper continuity between Trump and the development within the American right over the last two decades of precisely the strategy of political vandalism and brinkmanship that he has used to fuel his rise.
The second... is that the emotion driving our present politics is anger, when it would be more accurate and far more illuminating to say that it’s shame—economic, ethnic, and personal shame.... At a time of gaping inequality and an ever-more-freelance labor market, economic insecurity—absolute or relative—is a general condition for the vast majority of the population, regardless of what the official unemployment numbers tell us. For all the political rage on display in this election, the deeper, more private, and more pervasive feeling animating our current political misery is the shame that has always accompanied poverty... or—in this second Gilded Age—simply not being rich....
The real divide comes in how this shame is used. Trump has weaponized it... create[d] an entire national theater of shame in which he induces that very emotion in his followers, on the one hand, while on the other saving them from having to acknowledge its pain by publicly shaming others instead. This has been the central action of his campaign from the outset. He tells people that “we don’t win anymore,” that we are losers, losers who “don’t even have a country,” because it has been overrun and “raped” by immigrants and foreign powers.
This summer, in Erie, Pennsylvania, he dropped the pretense of including himself among the losers and told his audience directly: “You people don’t win, that’s for sure.” But yelling at people about their degraded state is just part of a larger performance in which he gives them the means to avoid the shame of their condition by enjoying, live or online, his shaming of others: opponents, journalists, protesters, disabled people, and, often most virulently, women.... Despite all the attention to the rage supposedly being channeled by Trump’s campaign, it isn’t anger that has made this theater of his hypnotic. It’s the more primal pain and pleasure of public humiliation.
In contrast, the Democratic Party that Clinton now leads is grounded in the opposite, ethical response to shame... to acknowledge the existence... and the suffering,... and then to seek its political repair.