It is said that the success of Smells Like Team Spirit stole Kurt Cobain’s soul. Nirvana’s platinum-plated, angst saturated teen anthem is an eerie allegory for the Trumpian appeal to the testosterone fueled rage of the disenfranchised. My own fear is that Trump Spirit, even if less successful, will consume America’s soul in the decades that follow November 2016.
The hyperbolic headlines denouncing Trump for his role in the thus far muted violence surrounding his campaign rallies continue to miss the real story. Trump, apparently, is a Hitler or perhaps a Mussolini. Honestly all you hyperventilating media wags, he lacks the intelligence to aspire to such infamy. Heck, he isn’t even a David Duke, much less a an heir to 20th century fascism.
Trump is merely a symptom of a larger problem.
Honestly, I’m getting a bit tired of hearing, thinking and writing about Trump. Yet, like you, I am transfixed by the spectacle as I endeavor to explain this putative apocalypse to myself. It is especially hard wrapping one’s mind around a misogynistic, bigoted megalomaniac having an excellent chance of being the next POTUS.
But a good look at Bernie Sanders helps.
I’m far from alone when I suggest that Making America Great Again and Feeling The Bern are tapping the same well of pent up anger. Decades of low voter turn-out have mostly incorrectly imputed apathy to the disenfranchised. The “politically savvy” crowd, those reliable Red and Blue jersey voters, are perplexed by those who are undecided between Sanders and Trump. But it isn’t complicated: they are sick of the partisan machinery.
It has been over two years since Nick Hanauer issued his famous pitchfork warning on the TED stage. While he was certainly not the first to call attention to the growing unrest engendered by the profound income inequality growth of recent decades, he was one of the most engaging. His talk is worth your time if you have not seen it. Sanders too speaks about this passionately, but in his inimitable way, so does Trump. Sanders harangues us in direct terms, but even when he regales us on social justice, it is still all about the wealth gap: in 21st Century America, money is a proxy for pretty much everything.
The Trumpian appeal is usually much less overt. His campaign slogan implicitly asks the question: America isn’t very great for you, is it? We’ll build a big beautiful wall. Like Sanders, Trump too is in the political blame game stoking resentment against outsiders rather than billionaires. And of course everyone hates politicians.
Am I the only one who hears Cobain’s angry voice echoing in the background here?
I feel stupid and contagious,
Here we are now; entertain us…
The trend of substituting form for substance is a powerful one. Eleven years ago, I wrote about the post-modern trend in Presidential politics:
As reprehensible as all of this hypocrisy may be, the greater concern must still be the trend. The stage has been set where propaganda will likely get the seal of approval by the American people. If this administration and the one before it has taught us nothing else, we know that Presidents learn from the political successes of their predecessors. And if, as is likely, the propaganda thing gets added to the essential toolkit of the executive branch, the next administration will be unconstrained in ways we have scarcely imagined as possible in America.
While I share the fear of what the next four years will bring, that which truly terrifies is that which comes next.
Here we are at next.
Yesterday, Charles Krauthammer echoed my own fears that perhaps the pitchforks are coming, pointing out that the history of political thuggery is owned as much by the extreme left as it is the right. And when you plug in the Sander’s talk of revolution, this is getting downright creepy.
I myself am getting bit angry too. The anger is because I have so often had ugly names cast my way for pointing these things out. Calling into question the artificial two party political axis our politicians and media thrive upon is considered an apostasy of the highest order apparently, while calling for revolution or riot under the auspices of being a major party candidate—that’s OK with many partisans as long as it is their team. While I do not view widespread political violence as likely, as long as politicians like Trump throw around intemperate words skirting the edges of inciting violence, I can no longer rule it out. Cleveland 2016 may be more like 1968 Chicago than we care to imagine.
America’s angst is real. Partisan politics and the devolution in media from real content to plastic forms conspire against us. Our challenge is to collect our wits and rediscover who we are in America’s third century. The question is whether we will answer that calling or allow the political class to carry us into the abyss.
Much as Teen Spirit spoke to angst of that generation, this new spirit speaks to the angst of the disenfranchised. Three years after Nirvana’s anthem was a runaway success, Cobain, tormented by the challenges of success and heroine committed suicide. It is my hope and prayer that America’s addiction to sound bites does not lead it to a similar self-inflicted end.
After all, stupid IS contagious.