I can’t unsee this photograph. I really wish I could. To be honest, it fills me with dread. It documents the end of discourse.
I feel like I should be able to understand this countryman of mine. I still feel like I should try to understand him
Is this man economically insecure? Probably: seventy eight percent of all Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. (Though among white voters who voted for Trump nearly 60 percent were in the top half of the income distribution). Nevertheless, perhaps he feels like he is running on a hamster wheel. He runs and runs and still can’t achieve the financial security he feels he should have (or that his parents had). He works his ass off and he imagines that people with different colored faces from different places are getting something they haven’t earned. Maybe he has moved from home more than once in his life to find work or maybe he has never left his small Western Pennsylvania town though his children have left. His high school buddies who left and occasionally come home seem to be living in foreign lands.
Like the rest of us, he lives in a world that floods him with information. What to believe? Who to believe? With whom should he believe? He is awash with technologies that are useful but operate by a magic he does not understand. He resents his ignorance and his dependence. Maybe he resents people who appear comfortable with the new technologies. Maybe he feels useless to himself.
He has a legion of consumables available to him but no control over the array that he is offered. His only agency is the choice of what to buy with his hamster wheel earnings. His only choices are not really “choices”, they are merely features of the wheel. He understands himself as the individual surrounded by the goods he has purchased. This is how he shows himself to the world. Very possibly he resents those who seem to denigrate the “life style” his purchases advertise. Maybe it is not Mexican immigrants he hates but other smug “white” people. Many of these are the same people who tell him that the plain truths he is holding onto about gender and sexuality are “prejudiced”.
It’s bad enough that he can’t seem to “get anywhere” economically but then he hears from too many sources that he shouldn’t even be proud to be an American. He really doesn’t want to hear that shit. Everything for which he feels pride (or took for granted) seems to make him defensive these days. He is an “old white American”. The “old” is problematic because he is running out of time to become a millionaire. The “white” is just normal for him; he has never hurled a racial epithet and he resents being called a racist. That the “American” part of his identity is called into question is the last straw. If America is not the “shining City on the Hill”, if America is not “exceptional”, where does that leave him?
He has not misplaced his gratitude about his birthright. What he can do is find himself a congregation of folks who also want to Make America Great Again. Now he is part of something larger. Once America is made great again, economic insecurity will depart and we will all be on the same team once more. His team. You are either on the team bus or you are not . Your choice. Fuck your feelings.
I find myself imagining that the message on his t-shirt is meant specifically for me as my feelings of dread are simultaneously incited and dismissed.
I don’t know this person. My attempts to understand him are probably overly reductive. But if I don’t care to try to understand the other person, where does that leave me?
Less than fully human?