By Shariff M. Abdullah
Stop Paying Attention to Trump. Start Paying Attention to the People Who Voted for Him
For the longest time, all during the presidential campaign, I kept telling people to STOP paying attention to the Twitter shenanigans of Donald Trump. He is a sociopath, a charlatan, and will be one of our most failed presidents. Not because of his agenda, but because of his lack of one. His role is to further the continued unraveling of this society. Just stop paying attention. I see no need to feed his ego need for notoriety by paying any more attention to him than the sentences I just wrote.
However, there's a real story here, one that most of the Left and the mainstream media are choosing not to follow. This story is not about Trump. The story is about the people who voted for him, and made him President of the United States.
And no, I don't mean the racist, publicity-hungry sociopaths that the mainstream media regularly parade before our eyes as “representative” Trump supporters. I don't mean the David Dukes, the Ku Klux Klan, and all the other publicity whores who have attached themselves to the coattails of the 21st Century’s equivalent of P. T. Barnum.
I'm talking about the tens of millions of ordinary, average people who are so frustrated with a political system that does not work for them that they would vote for a charlatan like Trump. The media ignores them, the way they have always ignored poor and working-class people. The Left dismissed them before the election and continues to dismiss them after.
I've been paying attention. For a few decades. I know what political frustration feels like.
The Rhinoceros as Candidate
In my first political campaign, in Camden, New Jersey (at 12 years old), I tried to get a black guy named Major Coxson elected Mayor. He was a petty thief and drug dealer, with a flair for style. His campaign was simple: “I'm a crook. If elected, I will steal as much money as possible, for me and my friends. So, you should be my friend!” (It came close to working! He wound up with about 45% of the vote. The guy who won, Alfred Pierce, was “completely outraged” by Coxson’s admissions of criminality. He was “Mr. Clean”: white, church-going, a businessman. He didn't get to finish his term. Pierce wound up in Federal prison on an FBI sting. They both were crooks... my guy was HONEST.)
So, why would I campaign for a known criminal? It was a statement of frustration with a political system that none of us could control, a system that was so hopelessly corrupt and ineffective that it was beyond redemption. It was a statement of frustration with BOTH political parties. Electing Coxson would have been a statement: this is not working.
There are many other examples in the world of this type of political frustration. For example: the people in Sao Paulo, Brazil who were so frustrated by the political choices pushed upon them by the political parties (in collusion with Big Money and the mainstream media), that they started a write-in campaign for “Cacareco”, a rhinoceros in the local Zoo. The rhinoceros WON! It was a landslide, gaining 100,000 votes!
(I am clear that, had the US had the option to vote for “None of The Above” or “Voto en Blanco”, as many countries do, the null vote would have been the overall favorite in the last election.)
I see the Trump win as a defeat for both the Democrats and the Republicans. Despite how it is spun by the pundits on both sides, it is abundantly clear that neither the Left nor the Right have the solutions needed for a future that works for all. (And, of course, neither does Trump.)
The Left knows that the Right is empty. The Right knows that the Left is empty. THEY ARE BOTH RIGHT. And the tens of millions of people residing outside the reach of the political system know that.
Talking to Trump’s Voters -- The Politics of Frustration
For the longest time, all during the presidential campaign, I kept telling people to STOP paying attention to the Twitter shenanigans of Donald Trump. We should pay attention to the tens of millions of ordinary, average people who are frustrated with a political system that does not work for them. The media ignores them, the way they have always ignored poor and working-class people. The Right exploits them, like using images of a poor Iowa farm family to pass agriculture bills that only benefit Monsanto and other agri-businesses. The Left dismissed them before the election and continues to dismiss them after.
I’ve been paying attention.
As a consultant, I regularly help organizations that have challenges regarding inclusivity. Sometimes it is about sexism or homophobia. Mainly, it is around race.
My “trainees” are usually white, male, working-class and relatively clueless. They are NOT “racist” in the classic sense of having an overt bias or prejudice against someone based on their race or ethnicity. (Many of them served in the military alongside fellow soldiers and officers who were black. Many of them have stories where they risked their life for a “brother” who was black or brown.) They put themselves down. They put each other down. And therefore, they have no compulsions about putting anyone else down. It’s just part of the game they play.
They are “good old boys”, hard working, hard drinking, expletive-spewing, back-slapping... you get the picture.
Their social behavior was frozen somewhere in their teenage years. Their cognitive development never made it past high school. The only books they’ve read were forced upon them by the school system. The name-calling, the power plays, the locker room banter, the juvenile sex talk... they’ve never had much excuse to grow up. (And, let me say that the exact same behavior among these “good ole boys” is prevalent in certain segments of African- American culture, also. For liberals, the behavior that is condemned when whites do it is condoned when blacks do it.)
In the past, they’d get a “good” job out of high school, working in a car factory, or in logging, or street repair, long-distance trucking, or catching fish. They’d marry their high school sweetheart, buy a house, a car and a truck, go out hunting and fishing with their buddies...
They have had no reason to grow up, until they get caught. Most of the time, someone not in their “in” group overhears their language and blows the whistle. And then their bosses call me in to put out the fire.
Not an easy task. Most of the time, when they come into my session, they are angry and unrepentant. They honestly don’t see what’s wrong. “Everybody was doing it!” “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it -- we were just having fun!” They put themselves down, so they see nothing wrong with putting others down, too.
The Revenge of the Powerless
Historians recognize that the seeds of World War Two were sown in the hopelessly one-sided “Treaty of Versailles”, where the Germans were made to grovel before the victors of World War One. Similarly, the backlash that Trump successfully exploited was sown when “political correctness” dictated that all of the sins of our society be laid at the doorstep of powerful white men.
Don’t get me wrong. Racism exists. In fact, it’s alive and well in 21st Century America. And whites have been the primary beneficiaries of the imbalance of power and resources in this society. There really ARE powerful white men in this society.
But not these guys. The Left says that my good ole boys are part of the “White Power Structure”. THEY KNOW THEY ARE NOT. They acutely feel their lack of power, their lack of resources. In my book, “Creating a World That Works for All”, I talk about one of my trainees who said, “How can I get concerned about the welfare of some ethnic minorities, when it’s MY butt on the line?” Good question...
They are in trouble, and they know it. They know their lives are marginalized, that their jobs hang on a thread. They know that the “economic recoveries” that regularly get touted on the news never seem to trickle down to their level. They see the Left focused on every interest group... but theirs. They’ve had no one to advocate for them. The Left thought they could be blamed, then ignored. The Right thought they could be taken for granted.
The Left says that these guys are “racist” when they copy the negative behaviors that are regularly shown to them. (Calling a black person a “nigger” in public is completely unacceptable. Calling a lower-income white person “poor white trash” is the standard fare of mainstream media.)
My trainees feel powerless, stigmatized and marginalized. They are told to be “tolerant” of people who have no tolerance for them. They know there's a game going on, and they haven’t been part of it.
And now they are.
Demonizing “The Other”
Here’s a statement made by an organization I’ve worked with in the past. (I’ve removed the name of the organization):
... we acknowledge and actively advocate for groups within our shared humanity who are denied, ignored, and marginalized due to race, sexuality, religion, and class. We are called upon to responsibly join with others to become an active voice for our diverse communities.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Does it sound like the kind of statement that you can accept, that you believe in?
When you think about people who have been “denied, ignored and marginalized”, do you include white lower class and working class people? Hard-drinking guys wearing baseball caps? Nope, I didn’t think so...
Donald Trump and The Failure of Vision: I'm writing this from Northern Thailand. I’m here working on the new book, a sequel to “The Chronicles of the Upheavals”. It's a speculative prediction of what needs to happen to get us to “A World That Works for All”. And, I'm also envisioning some of the stumbling blocks along the way.
In our future, one of the most prevalent stumbling blocks is the failure of vision. Our theories of how the world is supposed to work are failing... and we have not been looking for deeper answers, just re-packaging the old, failed responses.
The people who came out on the Friday Inauguration Day to watch their candidate installed as the 45th President of the United States were deeply committed and passionate to their cause. The people who came out on Saturday to protest the newly-installed Administration were equally deeply committed, equally passionate.
What both groups lack is VISION. Both groups are hampered by the fact that they’ve been trained to think “the Other” is the problem, not a potential ally in finding a solution.
The folks on both the Right and the Left are looking for simplistic solutions – even though that simplicity will not solve our challenges. The folks on both the Left and the Right mistake the articulation of discontent as a statement of vision. As our bus hangs over the chasm, each side believes we can get back on track by blaming the other for the impending doom. And both of them are wrong.
A few years ago, I was speaking on the same stage as former Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. After we both spoke, I had the opportunity to talk with Dennis privately. I mentioned to him (gently) that he didn’t say anything particularly new or challenging. Without batting an eye, he said to me, “Of course not. I told them what they wanted to hear.”
As the bus dangles over the cliff, Hillary Clinton promised to keep us going forward. Trump promised to return us to a mythical (if not completely fantastical) glorious past. We need more than status quo-ism from our “leaders”. If leadership means more than a popularity contest, it’s time that we move beyond the concepts that promise a return to a status quo that is no longer viable for our planet.
What are the steps that we are being asked to take? What is the future history that I’m writing (that WE are writing) right now? If the question is: “Which group can best help us preserve the status quo?” then humanity is doomed to failure.
But, I’m not writing a book about our failure. I believe that there is a path to a future that works for all. ALL. Not just “me and my friends”. Not just “me and the popular minorities”. By “all”, I include the people of Friday and the people of Saturday. It’s time they/we stop looking at each other as “the problem”, and start looking at each other as holders of part of the solution.
Where is Mandela? Where is De Klerk?
I've heard people liken Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler. Not so. And we should be very relieved about that.
Despite his utter failure as a human being, Hitler was a man of deep beliefs and convictions. Most of the politicians running for office in the 21st Century are creatures of the media. Donald Trump has the political convictions of a kitten, chasing every piece of string that’s dangled before him.
Where are the men and women of vision? Where are America’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela, or F. W. DeKlerk? Where are the people who can speak the same language as the revelers of Friday or the protestors of Saturday, yet lead them away from a fantastic, toxic and non-functional status quo?
I believe they are here. They are not the darlings of the mainstream media. They are not known to the forces of the Left or Right who are advocates of the status quo.
You'll have to step out of your comfort zone to find them. And I believe you will be rewarded for your efforts.