VERY LITTLE on this earth can match the agony of being trapped inside your own skin. To be aware that you are not what those whose opinions you respect wanted you to be. Your parents, your family, your pastor, your teachers, your boss, your friends: all of them at one time or another believed in you; thought you had what it took to succeed. Except you didn’t succeed, you failed. You are not a winner, you’re a loser. A loser trapped inside his own skin.
America is full of losers trapped in their own skins. Angry, lonely, unwell, poor, white and male: and many of them beholden to people they despise. Like the petite, close-cropped, college-educated public servant whose good opinion the unemployed, former-warehouse-worker who never graduated from high-school has to retain in order to remain fed and housed. Like the overweight black woman at the second-hand clothing store who gives him “that look” whenever he enters the building wearing his coat with the confederate shoulder patches. Like the Latino dispenser of the pure “black tar” heroin he’s become addicted to ever since the supply of prescription opioids dried up. These are the people who make up the loser’s cast of “Them”. Until recently, there had been no “Us”.
But things have changed for this American loser. Now he understands the reasons why he failed. Now he knows that it wasn’t his fault. The game was rigged from the start: designed to make losers out of people exactly like himself.
Was it his fault the factories and warehouses either moved offshore or got automated? Was it his fault the badly-assembled scaffolding on the building site failed to prevent him falling and wrecking his back? Was it his fault the big pharmaceutical companies convinced so many doctors that opioid painkillers like Oxycontin were non-addictive? Nothing he did caused any of these things to happen, but he’s the one who was left to pay the price. He lost – but he’s not a loser. Thanks to Donald Trump he’s become something much more acceptable – a victim.
It’s why he loves Trump. It’s why he’s willing to forgive his President just about anything. Because Trump has made him feel free in his own skin. His own male skin. His own white skin. His own straight skin. His own “poorly educated” skin.
What’s more – much more – the President has alerted this guy to the way in which the system has been rigged to the advantage of just about everyone except him. Look at how much help has gone to women and minorities. Look at the way the college-educated have grabbed all the best jobs for themselves and their kids. Look at the faces of these “professionals” whenever you step into one of their bright, airy offices. How do they make you feel? Like you belong to a whole different species – an inferior species? Just think of the way the media makes all this seem right and proper. Think of how the hero of just about every TV series is a woman, or a black, or a gay, or all three at once! And how the bad guys in all these dramas tend to be white, working-class males: rednecks, trailer-trash, deplorables. People just like himself.
That’s why the media hate the President and are always telling lies about him. Because he’s seen through their game. He knows whose interests they serve. He knows who’s picking up the tab. He knows how far they’re willing to go prevent him from telling the Americans they’ve branded losers that they and their country can be great again. When he calls them “enemies of the people”, the people know exactly what he’s talking about.
Making America great again: that’s what it’s all about. Except Trump has done much more than that. Not only has he transformed the losers into victims, but he has also turned them into Americans again. Real Americans. Small-town Americans who live in the states that the privileged fly over on the way to the “left coasts”. Americans who can strip a car engine down to its component parts, figure out what’s wrong, and reassemble it again all on their own, or with the help of a couple of buddies. Americans who can track a buck through the woods and fell it with a single shot from their daddy’s deer rifle. Americans who still know all the words of the Lord’s Prayer. Americans who served their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Who looked their country’s enemies in the eye – and pulled the trigger.
In short, what Trump has done is create for the angry, the lonely, the unwell, the poor, the white and the male the “Us” that had been missing from their lives. Not forgetting the “Them” they had always known to be out there but who, until Trump, had been little more than the vague and indistinct shapes featured in Republican Party attack ads. By bringing the losers back into the “Us” and by bringing the “Them” into much sharper focus, Trump has created an extremely powerful political force.
Oh sure, it is possible to defeat Trump’s candidates at the district level and reclaim control of the House of Representatives. But, as progressive America discovered to its horror on 6 November, the real power lies not in the districts but the states. It is the state which is entitled to two senators – regardless of whether it contains four or forty million voters. And, in 2020, it will be the states dispatching their electors to the Electoral College – which chooses the President of the United States of America.
Trump’s “Us” may not be as numerous as the “Them” he has created for his followers to hate, but, as he demonstrated in 2016, they don’t have to be. What counts is where your supporters are located and how determined they are to cast their votes. Having freed so many white, poorly-educated American males from the agony of perceived personal failure: having cleared their consciences; restored their pride; and stoked their fears; Donald Trump has the American Republic exactly where he wants it – and needs it – to be.