Love Trump’s Hate

In my initial reflections on the election result, I said that I felt ashamed. I was not the only one — anecdotally, that word showed up a lot in people’s gut reaction. In some ways, it’s a strange thing to say, especially when we look closely at the phrasing. I didn’t notice anyone saying that they were “ashamed to be an American” or “ashamed to be part of a country that could elect a man like that.” They were just “ashamed,” full stop.

From a psychoanalytic perspective, the presence of shame indicates that enjoyment has taken place. And oh, how we loved to hate Trump! And how we loved to perform that hate! It gave us every kind of political satisfaction. He was at once a horrible danger to the republic, meaning we were righteous and even brave for denouncing him, and a clown, so that linking regularly to his hate speech functioned as a kind of joke. It’s like we were all living in an episode of Family Guy, where racist and misogynist rhetoric is flying around and the audience is expected to laugh at it (i.e., to enjoy it on some level) while maintaining the plausible deniability of disapproval. Can you imagine? In this day and age? Best of all, we could indulge this hate more and more, because it was what would guarantee us victory. We wanted, needed him to go further — no matter how much it coarsened an already appalling public discourse, no matter how much it risked legitimating the very sentiments we hoped would delegitimate him.

After the initial shock, a similar cycle seems to be starting up. There are important differences, of course, now that it appears that he will actually assume office — though we get to continue writing our Electoral College fan fiction, hoping that the hated and antiquated institution will somehow save us. Now we point and laugh at his ignorance of what the presidency even entails, at his utter lack of planning for winning, etc. All of his transparently incompetent cabinet picks and advisors serve an analogous function — they show how he is simultaneously a horrible threat and that he’s an incompetent who can’t achieve anything. His promise to deport millions of people is at once the definitive proof that he’s a racist who means what he says and a logistical nightmare he can’t possibly carry out.

In a weird way, it’s as though the way we deal with him hasn’t fundamentally changed. And I bet we will one day look back at this reaction, at the ease with which we were able to fall into the familiar pattern of Trumpertainment, with shame.

12 Responses to “Love Trump’s Hate”

  1. Katie Grimes Says:

    This is a really insightful take..one that had not occurred to me. How do you think we can keep ourselves from feeling pleasure at his ineptness? Or is that not even the point?

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Yeah, I don’t think it’s a matter of policing our emotions and reactions. I try to implicate myself in this as clearly as possible — I’m certainly not exempt. I don’t know what to do, but I’m worried about people getting pulled back into that stupid useless Daily Show “point and laugh as politics.” And some people even seem to be almost wishing for Trump to do evil things, to prove that those lukewarm Trump voters were in the wrong, etc. It’s like muscle memory at this point.

  3. Katie Grimes Says:

    yea, i hear that, especially on the Daily Show point. Hard to discern the line between catharsis that creates space to breathe and letting all the air out of the balloon, if that weird analogy makes sense.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    And to be clear: I think we are right to hate Trump and to find him buffoonish. I’m just worried about how that gets tied up in performing an online identity, with nothing else going on.

  5. Christopher Galtenberg Says:

    The wider response is more likely to be apathy, disengagement, and actively looking the other way – mainly as a coping mechanism.

    Will we be equally ashamed at our disregard? Is “shame-free” the criteria for evaluation of our social participation?

    The root question may be: how to even participate in a culture where Trumpertainment seems simultaneously (a) a natural manifestation, and yet (b) invulnerable to that culture’s irony, cynicism, goodness, and courage. Is there any good social “move” left to make? Clearly hopelessness is also a path to shame, but neither are there intimations of hope.

    (I guess Oakeshott would counsel simply remaining observant and open to intimations which will certainly appear.)

  6. Will Says:

    A part of me felt shame, because on some level, some of the stuff which he said resonated with a part me. Which is horrific.

  7. Adam Roberts Says:

    At least the election result has created a mini golden era of ‘Trump’ related headline puns. Here’s another: ‘Trump It Voluntary’. Keep up the good work.

  8. Mark Wallace Says:

    Spot on. It seems the enjoyment was only briefly interrupted, if at all, by Trump’s actual victory. I’d also love to hear an explanation for the apparent shock that Trump’s victory was met with. From an outsider’s point of view, it made no sense: it was a two-horse race, it had been close in polls (also, following recent UK developments with the “shy tory” phenomenon, the right swing from poll to election always looked on the cards) – how were anti-Trumpists so able to isolate themselves from the idea of a Trump victory as to be shocked by its occurrence? Or, maybe, why was the profession of shock such a popular discursive move after the election?

    Also, re shame: isn’t it a very safe and somewhat insincere profession of shame, given that all those who made it were quite clearly not Trump voters, so they were effectively feeling shame for their compatriots?

  9. mattintoledo Says:

    I was among the shocked, mostly because I had convinced myself that Nate Silver had called each state correctly over the past two elections and his website’s margin for error seemed to be small enough that even getting a couple swing states wrong would’ve allowed for a Hillary victory.

    I was also shocked because I had read so many things about how disastrous and horrific Trump’s plans coming to fruition would be, I think some part of me had just decided it was too terrible to imagine.

    The only shame I felt was about my inaction. Literally the only things I did to combat a Trump presidency were vote and complain/RT/Like on Twitter. My reaction to that shame has been to try to formulate a plan to combat the effects of a Trump presidency as much as I can. Luckily, I work for a city as a planner, so there are very concrete things I can do for my job.

    Away from work is a bit harder. I’ve seen so many people talk about fighting but I literally am not sure how. I’m at a point in my life where I’m honestly not all that willing to do things that could lead to arrest or losing my job. So I’ve tried to focus potential action on lessening the harm to people who will be hurt most by a Trump presidency. It’s going to take a while to figure out what those acts will look like.

    One unexpected effect the election has had is essentially ruining Twitter for me. I’ve found myself disgusted – probably tied to the shame mentioned earlier – with the performative outrage there. I’m not saying outrage professed on Twitter is all performative, or that using that medium as an outlet for genuine outrage is even bad. I’ve just lost my taste for it. I don’t feel like posting there anymore. RTs, linking to smart articles, making the perfect point, wearing safety pins, signing online petitions, it all just feels like useless acts designed to make us feel like we’re doing something without actually having to do anything.

    One challenge I’ve faced is breeching this topic with my wife. I haven’t talked with her yet about what she’d like to do as a result of this election, or even whether she’d like to do anything at all. I sense she’s very fatigued by the last, what, 18 months and getting all “rah rah” and “we have to fight” probably wouldn’t be all that well received right now. So for now, I’ll sniff around for possible routes of action, opportunities to better connect with my community, and when possible actions present themselves, talk to her about what I’d like to do and why.

  10. bob mcmanus Says:

    Robert Samuels,

    Psychoanalyzing the Left and Right after Donald Trump: Conservatism, Liberalism, and Neoliberal Populisms (Critical Theory and Practice in Psychology and the Human Sciences) Kindle Edition

    PM, October 8, 2016

  11. A God Damned Communist Poet Says:

    Great take but all are missing the biggest shame of all- that of the Trump voter. Shame drives the Trump voter- my first encounter with a Trumpite began with him saying, totally unsolicited, “I hate to say it, but I think Trump’s going to win”. Then he went on a misogynistic, xenophobic screed like that which you might expect. Then I began hearing about Trump voters who were ashamed to admit they were voting for him, as if it might reveal their unsophistication but the real kicker was when I heard a guy being teased by anotherguy for voting for Hillary (it was obviouslyan inside joke, between Trump fans) and after a few minutes of silence the second guy say: “I’m not important enough to vote for Hillary”. That floored me, and took me beyond the realms of racism and “economic anxiety” and into the arena of shame. I do not feel this shame; I know the things I do and say matter and have meaning, but the hundreds of Trumpites which surround me do not have this sort of developed mental muscle. I am not bragging, I am lousy at my job and have alot of things to feel bad about, but this sort of working class political shame is something I detoured around, something I look upon in amazement , stupefied. That might’ve been me.

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Intriguing. I have had very limited contact with Trump voters, so I missed anything like this.


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