What we talk about when we talk about Trump: Part 2
It’s taken me a little while to collect my thoughts about the election. Like everyone else, I didn’t think that a Trump victory was possible. And yet, here we are.
Here in Toronto we’ve lived through our Trump – the joke candidate who capitalized on fear and uncertainty and prejudice and somehow managed to win – and while I wouldn’t say the city is exactly thriving, it is still a fun, vibrant, exciting place to live and I’m grateful to be here. Ford, may he rest in peace, succeeded insofar as he derailed transit expansion and scrapped a symbolically important, but insignificant, car registration tax, but did nothing to change Toronto’s heart and soul, such as it is. There’s every chance that in 4 years America will still be America, whatever that means, and whoever comes next in the presidency will muddle along in the same frustrating, incomplete way all of the presidents do.
However, while Ford was pretty bad for Toronto, the power he wielded – as leader of a city of 4 million running under a weak-mayor system – was miniscule compared to the power wielded by Trump as president of the world’s most powerful nation, nuclear arsenal and all. America has allowed a very volatile and, forgive me, unintelligent man into a position of extreme power. The hope that the soul of a nation may be maintained in the face of incompetent or even malevolent leadership is a small one compared to the very real danger that leadership poses to its bodies.
Searching for a psychoanalytic explanation, I could cite the death drive, or connect the media’s collusion with Trump’s deceptiveness with –K (the desire not to know), or I could find parallels between white American’s backlash against the new civil rights movement and the need to preserve the ego at all costs. I could argue that Trump’s gleeful disregard of social norms allows his followers to indulge their ids without risk to their own social status. I could posit that America as a whole has an unresolved Oedipal complex or, to put it crudely, has some massive daddy issues. All of these theories could be right, or none of them, or the truth could be irrelevant.
As with my own unsuccessful psychoanalytic grapplings with Trump’s victory, I’ve watched this past week as the activists and allies I know spiral around each other, trying to find an appropriate response to this situation. Do we take to the streets? Do we look inward and focus on self-care and our small personal responsibilities? Do we act like the old 60s radicals and retreat even further, building the new society in the shell of the old?
My feeling is that there is no appropriate response – at least not right at the moment. There is no saving the human race, because the nastiness that infects our politics, our relationships with each other, goes down to the core of us. There is no way out of it. That at least some of us continue to work to minimize the impact of systems of oppression in our societies is the best hope we have. But, perhaps most terrifying of all, we can’t know if it’s ever going to be enough.