Many of the insults lobbed at President Trump by the opposition are quite accurate: he’s unpolished, he’s brash, he’s thin-skinned and petulant; he’s a shamelessly narcissistic separatist. And he’s either being controlled by or is a white nationalist. There’s one claim often lobbed in his direction, however, that doesn’t really hold water. Some say Trump is un-American, that he’s an inaccurate representation of our country. And while he may be an unflattering reflection of America, there’s no disputing the fact that he’s ours. To have and to hold. We crafted Donald Trump, and we paved his golden path to victory. He’s a direct by-product of egocentric capitalism and a fame-first culture.
The first few weeks of the Trump administration has been calamitous by any measure. There was the Spicer intro/press berating, the subsequent alternative facts debacle, a series of contentious executive orders including the Muslim ban which was recently halted by a federal judge, phone arguments with allies, the stupifying Bowling Green Massacre lie, 50 lawsuits, and large-scale demonstrations around the world. Plus, he’s still tweeting like a whiny middle school student.
Many denizens of our apple-pie patriarchy think Trump’s ego and his particular brand of isolationist fear-mongering are un-American—they’re not. And therein lies the bigger problem.
Trump’s persona was formed through tabloid culture and solidified by capitalism, greed, and fame. We’ve always had an obsession with the rich and famous in this country, but a shift occurred recently. At some point in the last decade, fame became an entity unto itself. Notoriety was suddenly untethered from the entities that precipitate it. Being known for being known became a distinct, self-sustaining goal.
Fame is no longer an extension of success, it is the success.
We watch shows devoid of art, we put people on pedestals for aesthetics, for being anti-intellectual disasters, we revel in the vapid insanity of the rich, we ignore data and turn our backs on science, we value notoriety over substance.
These are things Americans do and love.
Now many of you reading this are thinking to yourself, “I’m not one of those Americans. I don’t do any of those things.” Perhaps you don’t. But whether you’re an active participant or not doesn’t change the fact that these are central tenets of American culture in 2017.
It’s also important that we remain keenly aware that America was not some sunshine-soaked, free-love utopia before Trump took office. We are a nation founded on slavery and the slaughter of natives. There are many dark periods of American history we’d love to scrub from the record. And yes, we’ve come a long way in certain regards, but we still have a government that tends to abuse its power at home and abroad, and we still have pervasive and systemic issues regarding race and class. America has far more years under its belt functioning as a white nationalist nation than anything else.
We can’t afford to simply paint Donald Trump as un-American. Pushing this narrative sidesteps the overarching issues that extend far beyond the hateful rhetoric of a buffoonish despot-in-training. As a culture, we are not innocent in all this; we don’t deserve to be let off the hook.
Oxford Dictionaries word of the year in 2016 was post-truth. This is the world Donald Trump thrives within. He’s been in the public eye for decades functioning as a generic and cartoonish rich guy (the pompous demeanor, skyscrapers with his name garishly plastered on the side, all gold everything—that hair) and he never had much time for facts when they weren’t directly complimentary. He created a character and used that character to fuel a successful reality series. We watched it, we gave him attention and thus, money. We tuned in to watch him fire people—escapism via shameless capitalism. We have a reality TV star for a president in part because we’re obsessed with reality TV.
Yes, Hillary Clinton was a very flawed candidate and the democratic party thoroughly mismanaged her campaign and ignored large swaths of the country. But Trump’s rise has a lot more to it than that. If Trump tried to run in 2012, he would’ve never won the primary. The stage wasn’t set for him yet.
Our news organizations gave him a platform when he began to spew his racist, entirely unfounded birtherism claims, which was, coincidentally, the birth of his political career. And part of the reason networks gave him the airtime was because they thought we would watch. And we did. As a collective, we were interested in what he had to say. We shouldn’t have been, but we were, that’s the problem. Many of us thought of Donald Trump as a ridiculous creature far before he ran for president, but we still gave him attention. The media bowed to his fame and consumers of media tuned in—we all bought tickets to the circus.
This public’s obsession with Kanye West is no different. We used to pay attention to him because his music was incredible, now we pay attention to him because he’s a catastrophe of fame.
By ignoring our role in creating a vacuum wherein-which Trump could be sucked up from the bowels of reality TV to assume the most powerful office in existence, we are doing ourselves a disservice. This white nationalist administration is attempting to roll back the clock; they are a regressive regime, and America knows all about regressive regimes. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan isn’t new. Reagan used it in 1980.
We’ve been here before. The achievements of JFK and LBJ significantly altered this country. With significant change comes significant push-back. A side-effect of progression is regression—so, Richard Nixon was elected. He ran a campaign against social programs and centered around law and order and toughness. Sound familiar? His presidency was one of the most disastrous in U.S. history—sans some particularly impressive environmental policies.
You can say that Trump is a lunatic, that he’s childish and unprofessional, that’s he’s a tyrant or a narcissist. That’s fine. It’s certainly not inaccurate. And yes, Trump’s immigration executive order (accurately referred to as a Muslim ban by many in the media and the man himself) violates the first amendment and thus, could be considered un-American. But a recent poll found that 48% American’s supported the ban, while only 41% opposed it.
This is America.
As much as we may loathe to admit it, Donald Trump is a distinctly American brand. He’s an egomaniacal capitalist, and America loves egomaniacal capitalists.
You can say that Trump is a lunatic, that he’s childish and unprofessional, that’s he’s a tyrant or a narcissist. That’s fine. It’s certainly not inaccurate.
But Trump is only un-American if you hold a view of our country that is blindly idealistic.
We live in a country that thought/ thinks a Donald Trump presidency was/is a good idea. We are shamelessly nationalistic, self-centered and obsessed with fame. We need to pull away from this. We need to get back to substance. We need to make America read and think again.
The problem of Donald Trump is much bigger than Donald Trump.
Trump is un-American compared to the America many of us want to live in.
But we’ve never actually been that America.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.