In my last article, I discussed the importance of having a subjective sense of place in one’s life and the pathological reactions of those people who don’t. I left out one pathological reaction and that is going to be the subject of this article. I’m talking about the dangerous need to support, identify with and psychologically merge with a right-wing populist autocrat like Trump. Paradoxically, if anything, Trump has destroyed his followers’ connection to place by his repeatedly challenging the election that caused him to lose the presidency. Because, by extension, if the election was flawed in so many different ways, then how can one trust the results of any election, particularly one where the conservative republican candidate loses. But if one can no longer find a place in a foundational system like the American election system, there is only one way to compensate and that is to merge with a candidate who not only created a diagnosis for a problem (Too much corruption, incompetence and bad policies) but offered himself as the only person who could get rid of the problem. To the extent that people believed in him, and a lot of people believed in him, they found a place for themselves on Trump’s bandwagon. That which defines Trump’s movement as a solid place is that he has frightened practically the whole Republican Party to move there and root within it.
On one level, I know this seems to contradict what I have said about Trump in previous articles, about how his unpredictable changes of opinion and policies shocked his followers out of their numbness in what was for them an enjoyable way. Perhaps a good metaphor to explain this contradiction is that if his followers are like riders of a bucking bronco, it’s not a real bronco they are riding, but rather a mechanical bull where there is padding all around the floor to prevent anyone from getting hurt. So, the riders get shock therapy but with a certain amount of padded grounding at the same time. A defined discrete padded grounding that gives them a sense of place.
This contrasts a lot with the kind of place the Democrats are presenting to their members. Biden and the Democrats are also presenting shocks, but these are not shocks that they had planned to create. I am thinking of two matters. First there was the disorderly departure from Afghanistan. Most Americans wanted to leave Afghanistan, but not the way it was handled. The Afghan army collapsed, the Taliban took over much faster than anticipated, and too many Americans and Afghans who worked for the Americans have had difficulty leaving the country. This was not a planned shock for the democrats. Rather it was like a big unplanned dizzying fall. A fall into an experiential vacuum.
Then there is the matter of the two major bills Biden wants to pass: the hard infrastructure bill (roads, bridges, etc.) and the soft infrastructure bill (climate change, free childcare, etc.) Unforeseen I’m sure when these bills were created, there are two senators – Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – who have been gumming up the works by refusing to support the soft infrastructure bill as presented. Other moderates in both the Senate and the House have some concerns, but not to the point of impeding the passage of this bill. At any rate because of the resulting friction that has been created, the Democratic Party is increasing appearing to be a fractious unstable party, where the shocks created are simply uncomfortable rather than invigorating and the notion of the Democratic Party as a place to ground in is diminishing more and more. So many people who wanted an alternative to Trump are psychologically having difficulties doing it with the Democratic Party.
For years, the Democrats have promoted themselves as the big tent party, the inclusive party that can hold people of many different variations and shifts from the major ideas and beliefs that supposedly give Democrats a certain coherence. But at a time when modern society threatens to fragment over many issues, at least partly as a result of the numbness in which people of modern technological society are immersed, people are desperate for leadership to act as a focal point, a beacon that can pull them forward and help eliminate this sense of numbness, and help to mold them into a modern organic group. Trump is able at least to pretend to that. He gives people a strong though intermittent sense of life through the shocks he creates from abrupt changes as well as a sense of bonding through the sense of personal connection that emanates from him. I hope the Democrats get their act together and create a subjective sense of space, a place that is vibrant and coherent for their supporters. If not, either Trump or a Trump wannabe could become president in the U.S. again. And then, as our country falls apart from racial, ethnic and class divisions, the last thing we will be worrying about is life being too frictionless and mediated.