Posted Wednesday night, August 16, 2017.
“Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin speaks at a rally after endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.” January 20, 2016. Photo by Alex Hanson via Wikimedia Commons.
In the one thing leads to another way of internet searches, I came across this old post of mine, “Wearing their resentments like badges of honor”, from late summer of 2009. The Tea Party was on the rise and Sarah Palin was the Republican Right's new heroine, touted, betted upon, and feared as a potential front runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. And what I wrote about her and her fan base sounds like I could have been writing about Donald Trump in 2016. Which it turns out I was. I just didn't know it yet.
Who did? Who could've?
Trump himself, I guess.
And this leads into what rang bells for me in [this article, Sarah Palin: The Sound and the Fury, by Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair].Palin and the crowd might as well be one. She’s glad to be here with the people of Independence, Missouri, “where so many of you proudly cling to your guns and your religion”—the first laughline in a 40-minute stump speech that alludes to many of the perceived insults she and her audience have suffered together, and that transforms their resentments into badges of honor. Palin waves her scribbled-on palm to the crowd, proclaiming that she’s using “the poor man’s teleprompter.” Of the Obama administration, she says, “They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies. And I so want to tell ’em, and I do tell ’em, Oh, we’re plenty smart, oh yeah—we know what’s goin’ on. And we don’t like what’s goin’ on. And we’re not gonna let them tell us to sit down and shut up.”
“Wearing their resentments like badges of honor.”
This has always been the dark side of American populism. It’s a perversion of pride in which people don’t seem so much angered by their grievances [as] ecstatic at having them. They like feeling injured and insulted.
It gives them permission.
To be selfish.
“I’m going to get what I got coming to me.”
To be self-righteous.
“How dare they treat me so unfairly.”
To be afraid.
“They are out to get me! It is as bad as I thought!”
To hate. To lash out. To indulge fantasies of violent retribution.
“They’ll be sorry. They picked the wrong guy this time.”
And this is why so many reasonable people on the left and the right see populism as dangerous. There’s the possibility of no end to a populist uprising because that ecstasy of resentment is addictive. Take away the supposed cause of resentment by solving the stated problem and a new cause appears out of nowhere because the addiction demands to be fed.
It’s not enough to be right on the issues. You have to deliver the fix.According to almost everyone who has ever known her, including those who have seen the darkest of her dark side, Sarah Palin has a great gift for making people feel good about themselves. Her knack for remembering names and faces and the details of her interactions with people—and for seeming to be present to the person in front of her—constitute an extraordinary power of engagement. Now she is using that power in a fundamentally different way. In part she is using it in the service of her own ambitions. But she is also planting the idea with audiences that they might not be good enough, by telling them she thinks they’re plenty good, no matter what anybody else may say. (“They talk down to us… They think that if we were just smart enough … ”) To some, the message sounds like an affirmation. But is it really? Or does it seed self-doubt and rancor among her partisans, and encourage them to see everyone else as malign?
All in a day’s work for a demagogue, selling the mob the magic elixir of anger and paranoia they already own.
After reading the article, though, I see Palin selling them something else, a magic ingredient of her own concoction. She’s selling them her unhappinesses and resentments, her sense of injury, her insecurities based on her sense that she is not what she ought to be.
She is selling them her own self-loathing.
And here's Trump today, feeding the addiction, delivering the fix, infecting the crowds with his own unhappiness and insecurity, his own sense of injury and self-loathing. And there are his fans, unable to get enough, gulping their double and triple doses of the snake oil and rushing the stage with their cups held out for more---wearing their resentments like badges of honor.
Palin self-destructed. She was seduced by her own celebrity, brickwalled by her ignorance which she did not know how to hide, finally undone by her lack of self-control and self-discipline and her inability to focus and keep up herself energized---possibly, as Gross' article implies---symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder. Whatever was going on inside her, on the outside she wound down. After not that long a while she just seemed to be going through the motions, a career killer for any successful demagogue. Eventually many of her fans became bored and lost interest and drifted away, as she seemed to do herself. But Trump was paying close attention, apparently. He knew what sells and he had a good idea on how to improve upon the product, and he refined the sales pitch.
Palin was racist and nativist. She had an Us against Them world view. But she was more broadly populist. Her hatreds and resentments were anti-elitist but she was anti a generalized elite. There weren't a lot of individualized enemies in her catalog of villains. She could be as mean and nasty as all get out, but the only person she clearly hated with real passion was Barack Obama and there was an aspect of a junior high schooler's crush in that. It was as if she thought that was the way to get him to notice her, and, humiliated when that didn't work, she intensified her anger. It was embarrassing.
And then there was the fact that she was, for want of a better word, feminist. That is she did see that the personal was political and women have interests and concerns that need to be taken seriously and addressed. Bread and butter issues, literally. She couldn't find Russia on a map, let alone see it from her porch, but she could find her way around a grocery store and knew what it cost to fill up a cart. In other words, when it came to domestic issues she actually talked about things domestic. And, unfortunately, things domestic are seen as things only women care about. And her base was mainly men.
Women didn't much like her.
Donald Trump talks only to men. And he doesn't waste their time with rants about the high cost of eggs. And he gives them specific enemies to hate. That's important to bullies. It's much more satisfying, at least momentarily, to single out and pick on Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas, Chuck Schumer with his "fake tears." When he targets a more generic Them he tells stories about scary stereotypes---bad hombres and nasty women---and conjures up nightmares as vivid and cliched as old movies his audiences can cast with stock villains out of their dark imaginations to keep them up at night.
Trump's hatred of Obama is weirdly personal too and also has aspects of a junior high crush. But his attacks on Obama are more explicitly racist, playing on the idea that the black man is weak, lazy, incompetent, stupid, and unfairly the beneficiary of attention and advantages that belong to white men.
One more thing. Trump hates and fears women. So do the men who identify with him. Probably because they suspect women have them figured out. It's another expression of their self-loathing, pre-empive rejection.
Trumpism is Palinism repackaged and marketed more directly to men.
He gave Palinism macho swagger. He cleared the rhetoric of cartoonish folksiness, made the vituperation more explicit, and brought the undercurrent threats of violence to the surface. He talked openly of retribution and punishment. He sounded more active than reactive. Make America Great Again. Drain the Swamp. Lock Her Up! A definite to-do list. Men like to think they're doing things even---especially---when all they're really going is wallowing in self-pity and watching other, stronger, more accomplished men at work and play.
He kept the basic formula with its chief ingredients of resentment, self-pity, self-loathing, and promise of vindication through revenge. But he added a secret ingredient of his own.
Not the promise of it down the line. Now! Through identification with the super rich guy.
To vote for Trump was to share in his wealth.
Trump made Palinism even more attractive to men. He made it a men's movement. A white men's movement, it almost goes without saying. And he set himself up as a boss. Palin wanted to be a queen. And as a wannabe queen, her obvious desire was to be loved and admired. Trump is even needier in his desire for love, and unlike Palin he can't reciprocate. In the right situations he can fake it, but in truth he sees it as flowing one way, towards him, and as his due. He's owed. But his public character is that of a boss, the one he played on The Apprentice. He gives the orders and you'd better hop to. You can see how Trumpism would be attractive to Nazis.
Is he a fascist himself? Who knows? As I've said countless times, who knows what goes on under that weave? To be a fascist would require systematic thought he doesn't seem capable of and an understanding of politics, history, and economics he's never shown any interest in acquiring. To the extent that he has a world view, it's that the world is out to get him, which puts him in sympathy with every other fascist. And he's certainly willing to have their support and to let them treat him as their leader. But he's the same with white Right Wing Evangelicals, and that doesn't seem to mark him as a Christian.
Trump didn't create his base of angry, racist, know-nothing yahoos. Neither did Palin. They're natural grifters who saw suckers eager to be fleeced. But they aren't just grifters and their fans aren't just suckers. The best cons are those in which the con artist and the mark share the same dream and in the moment of sale the dream seems real to both of them. The dream is that of a white Christian nation in which the "little guys" get to lord it over those who remind them they're little and why they're little, in which the "forgotten" men and women get to forget those whose achievements make them feel neglected. Better yet is the dream of a white Christian nation white Christians have all to themselves. White Americans have been dreaming this dream since they first came here and discovered there were bronze people already here who didn't see it as their responsibility to get out of the way.
Over the last hundred and twenty years or so, this dream has become exclusively that of the American Right, which over the last fifty years has taken over the Republican Party.
I've written before about how the political media was slow to take Trump seriously because they didn't take Republicans seriously. They persisted in covering them as jess plain folks, maybe more conservative than Democrats, but somehow more...real. And nicer. This allowed them to overlook their racism, xenophobia, and general selfishness. They didn't see Palin and Trump as offering themselves as leaders of a white nationalist movement. Didn't allow themselves to see it. To them Palin and then Trump were news because they were entertainment. They were good for eyeballs and clicks. That they were vicious and unfit for high office, that their appeal to voters was their nastiness, that they incited and exploited the worst in people didn't affect the way they were covered, which is as celebrities.
Trumpism is in crisis. And with it is our Mr President Trump. He's in the worst position a con artist can be in. People are on to his scam. It's not just that the majority of Americans who knew better than to buy his snake-oil are even more adamant that he be run out of town on a rail. It's that there are signs that the list of dissatisfied customers is growing. Charlottesville exacerbated the problem for him. What's happening is that the it's becoming all too clear how beholden Trump is to his most loyal customers. He doesn't dare risk offending them because he knows there's not another crowd lining up outside the tent. But in going out of his way to mollify them and keep them coming back for more, he's offending most everyone else.
Nobody likes Nazis except other Nazis.
He gave his little speech Monday perfunctorily and his heart clearly wasn't in it. Even more clearly he resented having to give it. And as is his habit, he couldn't resist making a bad situation worse by throwing a fit on Twitter.
Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied...truly bad people!
---6:29 PM - 14 Aug 2017
As usual with him, the real victim was Donald Trump.
And if that wasn't enough to make a bad situation worse, he came back Tuesday and on camera made sure everybody knew where his real sympathies lie. Again, with himself.
But to the deplorables who identify with him, who have melded their senses of self and self-worth with their worshipful idea of their leader, his self-pity is pity for them, his resentments are their own, and his rage to hit back is their revenge in the making.
There's grim satisfaction, although very little of it, to be had in watching him sinking and flailing and in seeing the some of the same things pulling him under that holed Palin at the waterline, but I'm not predicting anything except Trump and his neo-Nazi/KKK/Other assorted White Supremacist fanboys are going to get meaner and more spiteful and resentful. The swastikas will show up with more frequency. The rebel flags will fly from the backs of more pick-ups and at the heads of more torchlight parades.
More people will get hurt. There's a good possibility more will die. And the President will take furiously to Twitter or throw another tantrum on TV assuring his cadres that it's not his or their fault, that he and they are once again the real victims here. And away they'll goosestep together deeper and deeper into ignominy and ill-fame, heil Trumping all the way, wearing their resentments like badges of honor, while Sarah Palin waves and gives the double-thumbs up from her porch, putting up a brave front but full of resentments of her own and wondering where she herself went wrong and why it's not her leading the parade.
If you want to read the whole post from 2009---and I sure hope you do---follow the link to “Wearing their resentments like badges of honor.” Some of you might be surprised by other things I said in the post, particularly those of you who were Bernie people.