The New Yorker July 11, 2016 by George Saunders
Enjoy some excerpts from Saunders’s great longform essay. Remarkable how this reads… think back to everyone’s ur-texts of gonzo journalism campaign reporting: Norman Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago in 1968 and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972. Nixon as a cartoon– a feverish haunted lizard creature– went mainstream. But here we are in 2016– stranger than fiction, scarier than a drug induced cartoon monster –a real mainstream Gonzo Trump, that the moderate pen of Saunders could not even conjure, except literally.. ver fuckin batim!
He is who he is. So sue me, O.K.? I probably shouldn’t say this, but oops—just did. (Hillary’s attack ads? “So false. Ah, some of them aren’t that false, actually.”) It’s oddly riveting, watching someone take such pleasure in going so much farther out on thin ice than anyone else as famous would dare to go. His crowds are ever hopeful for the next thrilling rude swerve.
“Wow, what a crowd this is,” he begins at Fountain Hills. “What a great honor! . . . You have some sheriff—there’s no games with your sheriff, that’s for sure. . . . We have a movement going on, folks. . . . I will never let you down! Remember. And I want to tell you, you know, it’s so much about illegal immigration and so much has been mentioned about it and talked about it, and these politicians are all talk, no action. They’re never going to do anything—they only picked it up because when I went, and when I announced, that I’m running for President, I said, ‘You know, this country has a big, big problem with illegal immigration,’ and all of a sudden we started talking about it. . . . And there was crime and you had so many killings and so much crime, drugs were pouring through the border.” (“stop it!” someone pleads from the crowd.) “People are now seeing it. And you know what? We’re going to build a wall and we are going to stop it!”
If you are, as I am, a sentimental middle-aged person who cherishes certain Coplandian notions about the essential goodness of the nation, seeing this kind of thing in person—adults shouting wrathfully at one another with no intention of persuasion, invested only in escalating spite—will inject a palpable sadness into your thinning, under-exercised legs, and you may find yourself collapsing, post-rally, against a tree in a public park, feeling hopeless. Craving something positive (no more fighting, no more invective, please, please), forcing yourself to your feet, you may cross a busy avenue and find, in a mini-mall themed like Old Mexico, a wedding about to begin. Up will walk the bridesmaids, each leading, surprisingly, a dog on a leash, and each dog is wearing a tutu, and one, a puppy too small to be trusted in a procession, is being carried, in its tutu, in the arms of its bridesmaid.
It’s clear enough to those of us who don’t like Trump why we don’t like him. What isn’t clear is why it isn’t clear to those who like him. The Trump supporter is your brother who has just brought home a wildly inappropriate fiancée. Well, inappropriate to you. Trump support, nationwide, stands at around forty per cent. If you had ten siblings and four of them brought home wildly inappropriate fiancées, you might feel inclined to ask yourself what was going on in your family to make your judgment and that of your siblings so divergent.
As for Trump’s uncivil speech—the insults, the petty meanness, the crudeness, the talk about hand size, the assurance, on national TV, that his would-be Presidential dick is up to the job, his mastery of the jaw-droppingly untrue personal smear (Obama is Kenyan, Ted Cruz’s dad was in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, U.S. Muslims knew what was “going on” pre-Orlando), which he often dishonorably eases into the world by attaching some form of the phrase “many people have said this”—his supporters seem constitutionally reluctant to object, as if the act of objecting would mark them as fatally delicate. Objecting to this sort of thing is for the coddled, the liberal, the élite. The ability to shrug off the mean crack, the sexist joke, the gratuitous jab at the weak is, in some quarters, seen as a form of strength, of “being flexible,” of “not taking shit serious.”…. This willingness to gloss over crudeness becomes, then, an encoded sign of competence, strength, and reliability. Above all, Trump supporters are “not politically correct,” which, as far as I can tell, means that they have a particular aversion to that psychological moment when, having thought something, you decide that it is not a good thought, and might pointlessly hurt someone’s feelings, and therefore decline to say it.
In the broadest sense, the Trump supporter might be best understood as a guy who wakes up one day in a lively, crowded house full of people, from a dream in which he was the only one living there, and then mistakes the dream for the past: a better time, manageable and orderly, during which privilege and respect came to him naturally, and he had the whole place to himself.
A bully shows up, is hateful, says things so crude we liberals are taken aback. We respond moderately. We keep waiting for his supporters, helped along by how compassionately and measuredly we are responding, to be persuaded. For the bully, this is perfect. Every fresh outrage pulls the camera back to him, and meanwhile those of us moderately decrying his immoderation are a little boring and tepid, and he keeps getting out ahead of us. He has Trumpmunity: his notions are so low and have been so many times decried, and yet they keep arriving, in new and escalating varieties, and the liberal imagination wilts.
From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, Be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal. The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed, and that violence has infused everything we do—our entertainments, our sex, our schools, our ads, our jokes, our view of the earth itself, somehow even our food. It sends our young people abroad in heavy armor, fills public spaces with gunshots, drives people quietly insane in their homes. And here it comes again, that brittle frontier spirit, that lone lean guy in our heads, with a gun and a fear of encroachment. But he’s picked up a few tricks along the way, has learned to come at us in a form we know and have forgotten to be suspicious of, from TV: famous, likably cranky, a fan of winning by any means necessary, exploiting our recent dullness and our aversion to calling stupidity stupidity, lest we seem too precious.