For decades Republicans have turned out so-called family values voters but none have excited these people more than Donald Trump. These are the people Barack Obama referred to during his 2008 presidential campaign who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” The people Hillary Clinton referred to during her 2016 presidential campaign as a “basket of deplorables.” Both candidates backtracked but their assessments of an angry, fearful, ignorant undercurrent in America – turned outright riptide of naked hatred by Donald Trump – is, unfortunately, spot on.
These so-called family values voters don’t actually act in the interest of preserving their traditions as the euphemism might suggest nor are the results of their choices designed to improve their own lives so much as they are intended to destroy everyone else’s. These are the vengeance voters who simultaneously fear and feel superior to anyone and everyone who doesn’t share their appearance, beliefs or lifestyle. The weak who are obsessed with an ideal of strength. Who conflate rights with privilege, who earnestly feel entitled to special treatment hearkening back to a delusional golden age that never existed yet believed to be lost, unfairly taken from them and for which some scapegoat or another must always be to blame and therefore punished. Who cry discrimination whenever they aren’t just given their way with others or when others are allowed to share in what they happen enjoy.
So completely lacking in self-awareness are these impoverished souls, they tell everyone they look down upon to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” while failing to do the same, waiting for someone to save them and restore their utopian fantasy for them. That savior, Donald Trump — a bloviating, presumptive billionaire playboy who isn’t a social, fiscal or religious conservative of any kind, who shares none of their presumed values but who made them feel special again, who cynically exploited and promised them salvation from their fears that he fed into if they’d only grant him the power to do so. And so they have.
For the vengeance voter, Trump was elected for a single purpose: to punish. He is their revenge made manifest against all those from whom they feel powerless against merely by not having power over them. Against art and the essential freedom of sincere expression that gives voice and vision to our concerns. Against women who reject being mistreated like property. Against people who exercise the liberty to consume or abstain from whatever they choose without violating the same rights of another. Against those of us who value clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems as a greater measure of wealth and well being than numbers on a ledger. Against our darker skinned neighbors, minorities, immigrants, foreigners and anyone who dare tolerate, much less advocate and celebrate, the diversity of culture, perspectives and knowledge all peoples bring to prosperous, self-governing society. Against curiosity and pursuit of greater understanding and better living through science and technology, the very human thing that’s literally produced light in the darkness, gave rise to civilization as we know it and made us unique from all other creatures on earth. Indeed, the vengeance voter dreams of razing all civilization to shattered, smouldering remains only to raise it up again with themselves lording above all others.
This is what bully is, Donald Trump is a bully and the vengeance voter identifies with that same dark urge to dominate or destroy by any means regardless of cost in order to feel safe and secure. This is how the the paranoid Second Amendment enthusiast who stockpiles an arsenal of firearms is still more afraid of the world than their unarmed neighbor. This is how the religious zealot who believes they will be received by a favorable afterlife remains more afraid of death than their non-believing counterpart. And, without irony, unwell people like this seek to impose their hellish personal beliefs about reality on others in self-fulfilling prophecy because they are otherwise afraid of being shamed for being perceived as wrong to fear in the first place.
Labels like Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal are inadequate and misleading. Whatever they might call themselves, the vengeance voter is an invader, a divider and conqueror. They perceive only differences between themselves and others who appear superficially different and they would gladly sacrifice a limb if it costed the life of another they happen to hate. Sadistic, unprincipled and wholly immoral, these damaged individuals revel in the fear, pain and suffering of others. And all this, Donald Trump provides and gives sanction to.
Being an agent of chaos is pretty much the only thing Donald Trump has demonstrated that he can actually accomplish. In the tabloid entertainment industry that inspired him this chaos is called drama, appeals to our most savage impulses to generate interest and sells advertising. But in the real world it generates actual conflict. Not that war isn’t profitable or dramatic for some, like the vengeance voter — just that it’s all bad for most. And anyone else duped into voting for Donald Trump out of desperate hope that someone who sells himself as a wealthy person could somehow improve their quality of life is as doomed to disappointment as well-meaning people who made the mistake of working for him, the victims of Trump University or anyone else scammed by this insatiable con artist now president elect — because he’s almost certainly not anywhere near as wealthy as he claims, appears to owe on a shit ton of debt, and, if patterns hold, will probably have an overall negative effect on nearly all of our lives if not deliberately then through sheer incompetence.
While Donald Trump and the vengeance voters who fellate him aren’t constructive in and of themselves, they can be instructive — catalysts for changing the very toxic environment, this divided nation that gave rise to them in the first place. This is test of the very institutions we’ve taken for granted and a chance to reaffirm or revise them. Donald Trump’s crass dismissal of feigned decency, his shredding of the social contract, lays bare what it means for each of us to be a member of society with each other and the practical role that the government we create plays in our lives. Trump provides an opportunity for us to discover and be mindful those aspects of ourselves that we share with each other. To respect, reach out to and work with one another for our common good even as we disagree on other things.
It’s said that politics makes strange bedfellows, that the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend. I don’t know about friends but I’ve found myself in occasional agreement with the likes of Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and delighted in Megyn Kelly’s vicious, relentless hammering of Trump’s misogyny. And it’s not just me. Hell froze over when Samantha Bee and Glenn Beck sat down in ugly Christmas sweaters to have an uncomfortable conversation about what they now have in common.
By embodying the worst in us, Donald Trump may yet bring out the best.