Joe Bageant was a remarkable writer, the author of “Deer Hunting with Jesus” as well as “Rainbow Pie.” A self-confessed “redneck,” he worked his way into the middle class as an editor, but he never forgot his roots in Appalachia and the subsistence farming of his Scots-Irish family. Bageant had a brutally honest and unadorned way of speaking and writing, and also a great affection and deep respect for traditional communal values in America.
The other day, I was reading an old essay Bageant wrote, “Live from Planet Norte” (June 2010), long before Donald Trump was even remotely considered to be presidential material. As usual, Joe nailed it:
[I]n the process of building our own gilded rat-cage, we have proven that old saw about democracy eventually leading to mediocrity to be true. Especially if you keep dumbing down all the rats. After all, Dan Quayle, Donald Trump and George W. Bush hold advanced degrees from top universities in law, finance and business.
The head rats, our “leaders” (if it is even possible to lead anybody anywhere inside a cage), have proven to be as mediocre and clueless as anyone else. Which is sort of proof we are a democracy, if we want to look at it that way. While it is a myth that virtually anybody can grow up to be president, we have demonstrated that nitwits have more than a fighting chance. During my 40 years writing media ass-wipe for the public, I have interviewed many of “the best of my generation,” and, believe me, most of them were not much.
Naturally, they believe they are far superior by virtue of having made it to an elevated point in the gilded cage, closer to the feed, water and sex. Because they believe it, and the media–sycophants waiting for quotes–echoes their belief, discussing their every brain fart, we tend to believe it, too. Nothing shakes our belief, not even staring directly into the face of a congenital liar and nitwit like Sarah Palin, or a careening set of brainless balls like Donald Trump or a retarded jackal like George W. Bush.
Americans are unable to explain why such people “rise to the top” in our country. We just accept that they do, and assume that America’s process of natural selection – the survival of the wealthiest – is at work. These people are rich; therefore, they should run the country. God said so. It’s a uniquely American principal of governance, which in itself, makes the case for our stupidity.
Donald Trump is best at selling a certain image of himself: the self-made billionaire, the savvy deal-maker, the populist patriot who sides with the little guy. But Joe Bageant had him pegged: a careening set of brainless balls is maybe the best, and certainly the most colorful, descriptor I’ve come across for Trump.
Bageant’s larger question is clear: How did Americans come to value such nitwits, halfwits, and dimwits? Just because they have money? Just because they have a veneer of “success” about them, when this “success” is evidenced by nothing more than money or fame and the sly charm of grifters?
Americans, who worship at the altar of success as measured by the almighty dollar, are kneeling to pray before the empty suits of men like Donald Trump. Bageant knew better than to join that mindless cult; so should we all.
13 thoughts on “Donald Trump and America’s Confused Values”
“Americans are unable to explain why such people “rise to the top” in our country.”
Not at all. “Shit floats.”
There. Fixed it.
Of course, another (and less vulgar) explanation exists for why oil slicks accumulate on the surface of a stagnant pond and why Americans will believe literally anything that “explains” to them why their drinking water doesn’t really taste as foul as they think it does:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.” — Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)
I had thought about posting the above citation in the previous discussion thread about “memory” and memorials to (at least some) dead “warfighters” (i.e., “bullet catchers”) in America, but then I realized that it applies to those “confused values” mentioned in this discussion thread, as well. I can’t speak with any authority about so-called “American values” — especially the kind that usually accompany exploding ordnance over some hapless peasant village somewhere — but as to the consciously constructed confusion, its sources, and usefulness to the ruling oligarchy, I recommend reading The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations, The Conversation (July 9, 2015).
In short, Americans do not think what they think they do, remember what they think they remember, or value what they think they value. Someone else does all the thinking, remembering, and valuing for them. Chris Hedges, in his book Death of the Liberal Class, goes into much greater detail about this mass marketing of “mis-education” in America — what I like to call Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification — stretching from World War I to Afghanistan, 1917-2017, the real First Century of Corporate Commercialized Credulity. The Second Century begins next year with Donald Trump, “billionaire populist,” careening from one side of an oxymoron to the other — and back again — keeping us out of the wars he only gets us further into, while cutting the taxes of the rich who never have enough of anything because the “undeserving” and “unsuccessful” poor have too much of everything. Schizophrenic Fascism, I think, has long since triumphed in the United States, with the doublethinking country now having its perfect living symbol for a President: an orange game-show host with a yellow raccoon on his head.
“Confusing”? Why, yes. And deliberately so.
Good point about mis-education, Mike. Perhaps indoctrination is the right word here. One thing I’ve seen as a professor is the idea of education being reduced to training. Job skills are extolled even as critical thinking skills are devalued. Who needs to think critically when it’s all about making money?
Spot on about the “undeserving” poor. As my dad told me, the rich couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the poor.
And from Chris Floyd at his blog Empire Burlesque we have this regarding the recently fired FBI director:
Meanwhile, under cover of the carnival noise, Trump’s generals are getting ready for a new “surge” in Afghanistan, arming the Kurds (threatening conflict with Turkey), massing tanks and material in on the Syrian border in Jordan, massacring more civilians in Yemen and Somalia, and in general getting ready to make major murderous mischief across the planet.(Even more than the usual never-ending bipartisan-backed belligerence, I mean.) Not to mention setting the berserkers of our militarized police loose on the populace, under the watchful eye of the tiny Confederate general Trump made Attorney General. And preparing to transfer $5 trillion from the public purse to the super-rich. And seeking to strip millions of people of healthcare in order to … give tax cuts to the super-rich. And so on and on and on.
The poet in me I loves those two alliterative phrases, “major murderous mischief” and “bipartisan-backed belligerence.” There you have it, fellow Crimestoppers, American values not just in the Time of Trump, but pretty much for the last hundred years, beginning with Woodrow Wilson and his oxymoron for the ages: “War to End All War.” He kept us out of what he plunged us into. Sound familiar?
Donald Trump IS NOT A “SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MAN”. This is verified by the fact that he is ‘credited’ with having LOST more money than he is worth currently. If he were a gambler at one of his own establishments, he would be granted complementary accommodations, with free Champaign, because when he ‘goes to the tables he is a BIG loser’.
Casinos are allowed to “ban winners”——they only cater to those who lose.
The fact that so many Americans allowed such a fool to make it to the primaries in the first place is, if nothing, a tribute to the Oligarchies steadfast dedication to “dumbing down the general population”——they are easier to control when they are so easy to entertain and fool.
“If the USA were any other criminal nation the ‘Americans’ would invade the USA to keep the world safe.”
It’s a good point: Trump’s success as a businessman is questionable. But in America, image often trumps reality. The image of Trump, carefully nurtured by him, is one of “success,” and it seems most people have come to accept it in the sense of not looking too closely.
Another word for “carefully nurtured image”: the “brand.” Absolutely the case with all things Trump. The American voters just elected Coca Cola for their president. The Democrats, unfortunately for them, ran Pepsi as their candidate. As President Harry S. Truman used to explain things: “Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican every time.” Clinton and Obama “me-too-ism” has produced its logical conclusion, a formerly anti-war, working-class party now dedicated shamelessly to War and Wall Street. In other words: to complete irrelevance. I would recommend that someone brand that utter irrelevance as political “poison” but You-Know-Her, Bubba Bill, and Barack Obama already did that — without even noticing that that had spelled the label “Democrat.”
Luckily for Donald Trump, as Barbara Tuchman wrote in The March of Folly: “People tend to accept a successfully dramatized self-estimation.”
Lincoln’s comment about the nature of fooling people is still appropriate. Presidential elections leave me cold because I can never understand what people see in the contenders, all of whom are cardboard cutouts created for mass consumption, though of course Trump insults a cardboard cutout. I though Bernie Sanders was a bit different until I heard him recently interviewed about Israel. The same BS came out of his mouth that has come from everyone else on the subject who runs for high office. The “third rail” of politics is quite real. Political discourse is calculated. We never can know who we are getting and, once office is achieved, a new set of constraints apply to whatever real person is inside the image that we elected. Trump is floundering because he hasn’t been trained though holding previous political office to behave by inhibiting impulse, just as a child’s behavior could never pass for that of an adult.
But to the question – how are we the people so easily swayed? I’m reading Daniel Williams God’s Own Party and have been fascinated with the relationship of Billy Graham and Nixon. Graham was a long-time supporter of Nixon, golfed with him, spoke with him frequently in the White House, they even read the Bible together. They were truly friends. Nixon frequently consulted Graham for his take on issues over a period of years. Graham told us that Nixon was a “solid churchman”. Then, with Watergate, the spell was broken, Graham felt used and from then on stayed clear of politics and kept to saving souls, encouraging other religious leaders to do the same.
Nixon. Tricky Dick. He of the enemies list. A solid churchman? The guy gave so many people the heebie-jeebies with his dour demeanor, paranoia and insecurity, but Billy Graham, admired by so many people, thought Nixon was a fine man. My point is that even close association and social intimacy with a person can fool. Is it any wonder the citizenry as a whole can fall for someone they know only through superficial imagery and sound bites? Trump in a way is the perfect candidate because he is nothing but hype with which he fools himself. But what a joke was the “hope” of Obama who was a really cool, really eloquent seat warmer. Democracy beyond the local must by nature be a circus. It must follow Lincoln’s line that you can fool some of the people all of the time. Those some of the people being the roughly 60% that vote.
And yet I vote. Go figure.
Great comment. Thank you.
“But what a joke was the “hope” of Obama who was a really cool, really eloquent seat warmer.”
Obama the “seat warmer.” Excellent.
Athough, since Obama inherited only two wars from Deputy Dubya Bush and departed from office eight years later with seven (that we know of), it would seem that he left the presidential seat quite a bit warmer than when he first sat down upon it. So perhaps we could even call Obama the “seat heater.”
Professor Cornel West has called Obama “the black mascot of Wall Street.” I’ve heard others call him “the black lawn jockey for the One Percent.” I prefer to call him “the black Goldilocks of mission-creep militarism.” You know: “Not too much mission-creep militarism, and not too little mission-creep militarism, but just the right amount of mission-creep militarism.”
And now, in addition to Obama and his wife raking in obscene amounts of money — in record time — for books they haven’t written and only a few select speeches to Wall Street bankers and international investors, our most recent President has taken to poor-mouthing American voters for not selecting his chosen successor, You-Know-Her, when they had the “choice”. Jimmy Dore has a predictably profane response to that on his YouTube comedy show: Barack Obama Sh*ts On American Voters While In Another Country. In other words, according to Barack Obama, Americans could have “chosen” even more, deliberate militarism from You-Know-Her than Donald Trump has managed to stumble into through accidental incompetence, despite his voters wanting no part of any such thing. Here we go again with that “change” thing that always winds up looking just the same. No thanks for the “choice” Mr seat heater.
I don’t think your link works, Mike, so here it is, for anyone interested in what Jimmy Dore has to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hne-hG4raHI
Amen, brother Murry
Always happy to read Joe and know that he still matters. Thanks.
Comments are closed.