Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Driving in to work following the first Presidential debate, I heard a commentator describing the different views of the United States that he'd heard the night before.  Of Donald Trump's he said that it was "negative" and "dystopian," and that it was as if he saw the US as "the skinny kid on the beach with everybody kicking sand" at them.  And a light bulb went off.

None of these are new thoughts, but that image both clarified and anchored something I've heard others saying.  A lot of people in this country feel as though they've become that kid at the beach.   And while not all of them have been used to being one of the most popular kids, they may not have been the big-shot bullies who were busy kicking sand into other people's faces, they were at least in the crowd enjoying the show.  Or, even if not enjoying it, at least knowing that they were safe there, in the crowd, and not down on the sand.

The economy not only crashed for some of these folks, but it has long been transforming in ways that have moved them closer to the country's margins.  And as feminism, and multiculturalism, and a whole host of other challenges and changes to the status quo have come more into the mainstream, these folks who have been used to being near the top of the pile find themselves being more and more relegated to the fringes and the lower areas.

Values, perspectives, understandings that once gave this group clarity, grounding, and a sense of both identity and pride, are increasingly being replaced with confusing new ways of seeing and living in the world.  And "the old ways" are not being outright replaced, they're being challenged or, perhaps even worse, held up for ridicule.

And so the beach no longer feels so safe.  Some of these people believe that they are, now, the ones getting sand kicked in their faces.  (Whether that's unequivocally true or not doesn't really matter.  It feels true to them and so, to the extent that our perceptions are our realities, it is true.)  Others are afraid that they soon will be down on the beach, the place for "losers."

The bullies, of course, are bullies.  We know about bullies.  Very often, perhaps most often, underneath their outward behavior lies an inward fear.  And there are those who actively support the bully -- the bully's "crew."  These folks will crowd around the bully's target, jeering ... sometimes daring to throw in a kick or two of their own.

The majority of the gathered crowd, though, would never dream of actually doing the bullying themselves, and they don't even join the taunting.  They might even think that what they're witnessing is wrong.  But they don't step in to do anything to stop it, rationalizing their inaction with the assertion that nobody's really getting hurt, that the person with the sand in their eyes just can't take a joke or, maybe, for some reason deserves it.

I am coming to believe that it's these people who make up the bulk of Trump's supporters.  They may never have liked what the bully did, but they, themselves, felt safe when the bully was calling the shots.  Everybody knew their place.  The hierarchy on the beach was clear and predictable.  And we feel so much safer when things are clear and predictable.

But now these folks who were once in the crowd either feel that they've become the "skinny kid" on the beach, or fear that soon they're going to be.  And having always given tacit approval to the bullying, they can't help but expect to now be bullied themselves.  And so they look for a bully to come to their rescue, to return things to the way they were before, when things made sense and where they felt safe.

Donald Trump is a bully.  And this bully has surrounded himself with a loyal crew, no question about it.  But it's the people in the crowd -- and not just the ones egging him on but the ones who aren't saying much of anything -- who I really worry about.  I think I can understand their positions, and to the extent I'm right about all of this I can empathize with them.  But they're the ones we have to reach.  They're the ones we have to wake up to the fact that bullies never provided them with safety.  That bullies only care about themselves and that they'll just as easily turn on their friends as they will their "enemies" in order to ensure their own sense of safety and superiority.

As I said, nothing new here.  This analogy has just made it clearer for me than before.

Pax tecum,


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