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El Paso – the United States’ descent into xenophobic barbarism (part 21)

By Europaeus *

Continued from Part 20

Between the two editions of The dangerous case of Donald Trump, books on Trump have been published by the shelf-load.

One of them, particularly interesting carries the title of Fantasyland, and it explains: How America went haywire: A 500-year history, Random House, New York, N.Y. 2017).

Published on 5 September 2017, it is by Kurt Andersen, a journalist and satirist, well-known for having coined the notable insult “short-fingered vulgarian” for Donald Trump. (J. Kelly, ‘How Donald Trump Became the Short-Fingered Vulgarian’, Vanity Fair, 7 March 2016).

If, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus claims that history is a nightmare from which he is trying to awake, the premise of Andersen’s ravenously exhaustive book is that United States history is a nightmare from which its citizens, at least those privileged to be smart and rational, have never been able to awake.

Over the course of five centuries, from the Pilgrims at Salem to Phineas Taylor Barnum, an American showman, businessman and politician, who is remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus, and more recently to Scientology and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, the reader is presented with a ‘new history’ of what was and is happening to the United States, up to and including President Donald J. Trump at Washington.

With good reason, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails.

The question for anyone who still cared remains: “Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America?

Another psychiatrist weighed in. Also published on 5 September 2017, Twilight of American sanity: A psychiatrist analyzes the age of Trump, Morrow/HarperCollins, New York, N.Y. is by Allen J. Frances, formerly a professor at Cornell University Medical College and since chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine. A past leader of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM – ‘the bible of psychology’ – Dr. Frances is regarded as the world’s leading expert on psychiatric diagnosis, and “one of the world’s most prominent psychiatrists” (The Atlantic, June 2017) for his ability to analyse the American national psyche, viewing the rise of Donald J. Trump as darkly symptomatic of a deeper societal distress, and finally to make sense of present day America and charting the way forward.

“It is comforting to see President Donald Trump as a crazy man, a one-off, an exception – not a reflection on us or our democracy,’ writes Frances. “But in ways I never anticipated, his rise was absolutely predictable and a mirror on our soul. … What does it say about us, that we elected someone so manifestly unfit and unprepared to determine mankind’s future? Trump is a symptom of a world in distress, not its sole cause. Blaming him for all our troubles misses the deeper, underlying societal sickness that made possible his unlikely ascent. Calling Trump crazy allows us to avoid confronting the craziness in our society – if we want to get sane, we must first gain insight about ourselves. Simply put: Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.” This is Frances’ main thesis.

Dr. Frances explores at length the many societal delusions which have given rise to Trump. The delusions include a false belief in fast, easy solutions to complex problems, such as global warming: “God will fix it”, guns: “They do not kill people – people do”, dwindling resources: “There will be a high-tech fix”, and so on. Exploiting this societal sickness, Trump, a “skilled snake-oil salesman selling quack medicine…won power because he promised quick, phony cures for the… real problems burdening the significant segment of our population left out of the American dream.” As far as unyielding unemployment – in the so-called ‘rust belt of America’, for instance – Frances writes that “most of the jobs were lost to automation, not globalization, and sadly they will never return.” In the election campaign, Trump, a lifelong con man, displayed the common touch, while Hillary Clinton proved “remote and inaccessible, assuming she could rest comfortably on her long lead and past laurels.” Frances makes no secret of his deep abhorrence of Trump: “we have placed the future of humanity in the hands of someone indifferent to facts, proud of scientific ignorance, and ready to act deceitfully on whim and spite.” Still, while Trump “doesn’t qualify for a mental disorder… he does present with one of the world’s best documented cases of lifelong failure to mature.” He is “a distillation, mouthpiece, and terrifying living embodiment of all the worst in human nature and societal delusion.” In a final ray of hope, Frances envisions the possibility of a rational post-Trump world informed by progressive populism. For the time being, Frances worries that Trump has “a particular gift for bringing out all the worst irrational thinking and impulsive actions in his followers.”

While this essay was being revised once more, three events occurred, by sheer and yet significant coincidence on the same day: 14 November 2019.

The first was the news that the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch had reported – on the basis of over 900 emails between the editors of the right-wing news organisation, Breitbart and President Trump’s senior advisor for policy Stephen Miller – on the deep connections Miller has to racist ‘white nationalists’, and on how Miller has promoted ‘white nationalist’ publications and conspiracy theories of right-wing, fascistic tendency.

Miller, born in a Jewish family, happens to be connected with anti-Semitic groups. As a speechwriter for newly elected Donald Trump, Miller helped write Trump’s inaugural address. He has been a key advisor since the early days of the Trump’s presidency. An immigration hardliner, Miller was a chief organiser of President Trump’s travel bans, of the Administration’s reduction of refugees accepted to the United States, and of President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents. Miller has prevented the publication of internal administration studies which showed that refugees had a net positive effect on government revenues. Miller reportedly played a central role in the resignation in April 2019 of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, whom he believed was insufficiently hawkish on immigration. (White Nationalists are running the White House, therealnews.com, 14 November 2019).

Next came the news that a 16-year-young person, later identified as Nathaniel Berhow, had stormed into Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, just before classes began, killed two students and injured at least three others with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol before turning the gun on himself. He did all that on his birthday. It seems that he survived and was taken to a hospital where he was in ‘grave condition’. A classmate described Berhow as a ‘quiet kid’. “You wouldn’t expect anything like that from him,” he added. (J. Cowan, N. Borel-Burroughs and J. Fortin, ‘Student kills 2 at California High School,’ The New York Times, 14 November 2019); (G. Fonrouge and K. Garger, ‘Santa Clarita high school shooter identified as Nathaniel Berhow,’ nypost.com, 14 November 2019).

On 14 November 2019 the much-expected work by Jeff Sparrow: Fascists among us: online hate and the Christchurch massacre, Scribe Publications, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia was released.

Continued tomorrow … (Part 22)

 

* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.

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