Friday, January 06, 2017

Mourning in America - Part III: Disowning The Shadow

In exit poll after exit poll, white voters, particularly those without college educations, explained their vote for a monster with these words: “He says what I think.” There are two aspects of this revelation worth considering. 

Imputable Bigotry

The first is that while this sentiment did not represent the view of a majority of Americans votes, it did reflect the views of a significant number of those who went to the polls in enough of the right electoral states to insure Trumpland’s rise to power. Perhaps unwittingly, by their support of a monster, they have outed themselves as bigots whose targets include women, immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, people with disabilities and LBGTQ people. At the very least, they have outed themselves as conspirators, those willing to place demagogues who exploit misanthropy into power. 

Florida law defines the crime of conspiracy as follows: “A person who agrees, conspires, combines, or confederates with another person or persons to commit any offense commits the offense of criminal conspiracy.” To convict someone of conspiracy the state must prove two elements beyond a reasonable doubt: 1. The intent of the defendant was that the offense would be committed; and 2.That the defendant agreed, conspired, combined, or confederated with another person to cause the offense to be committed by either of them, or by one of them, or by some other person. FS §777.04(3)

Indeed, Florida is one of the states that applies strict liability to offenses in which death results, the Felony Murder Rule. In states with this Rule, if one drives the getaway car to a bank robbery and one of the robbers is shot and killed in the process while the driver waits outside, the driver is charged with murder and can be put to death in those states that continue to insist upon killing their criminal offenders. 

Under strict liability, all of the lethal results are imputed to any participant in the crime no matter what role they played or how close to the proximate cause of death they were. If they assisted in putting the series of events into motion, they are responsible for any and all of its consequent results. 

To apply this understanding to the voters in question, it is hard not to see them as co-conspirators with a candidate whose bigotry was routinely broadcast on the public airwaves and the web. At the very least, the role of being a conspirator in the election of a monster makes one partially responsible for that monstrosity. 

Not only did these voters know who and what they were voting for, they justified that vote with a ratification of what Trump was saying: “He says what I think.” They intended to vote for him and actually did so thereby insuring his ability to win the election. Their assistance proved vital to the success of the campaign.  

You don’t get to knowingly place a monster in office and then deny any culpability for his destructiveness with any degree of intellectual honesty or good faith.

Of course, it is hardly surprising that many of these voters after the election have sought to distance themselves from Trump’s misanthropy, vigorously denying that they are bigots themselves. No one ever wants to own up to being a bigot even as they wish to exercise the privilege of voicing and acting upon their disowned bigotry. The same Halo Effect that prompted many who ultimately voted for Trump to dissemble in their dealings with pollsters prior to the election drives the desire to be seen by others as fair-minded human beings after it. 

Ultimately that only compounds the culpability by adding dishonesty to bigotry. As Jung observed, the brighter the persona, the darker the shadow.

 Loosed Demons Come Out to Play

While refusal to own up to one’s shadow is hardly newsworthy (think Bill Clinton, “I did not have sex with that woman,”), the second aspect of “He says what I think” as an explanation for one’s vote for a monster is ultimately a lot more troubling.  

Until recently many Americans have been inclined to deny they had problems with race, sex, class or ability even as prophetic figures sought to focus our attention on these problems from pulpits, lecterns and occasionally from the floors of Congress. This election marked a disturbing turn in that pattern. 

The social pathologies that America once denied are now increasingly engaged openly with abandon. The Shadow is not only not being repressed, it is being celebrated as the demons of America’s psychic sewer come out to play. 

A survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center of teachers across the country a month out from the election provides some of the first evidence of what the SPLC calls the Trump Effect. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors responded to an informal online survey inquiring about how the election had impacted the lives of children in their schools. The results are frightening:

Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families. Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

The Center acknowledges that the results of the study were not scientific because “[t]he respondents were not selected in a manner to ensure a representative sample; those who responded may have been more likely to perceive problems than those who did not.’ Even so, the survey resulted in a large collection of educator responses evidencing  overwhelming confirmation of what has been anecdotally reported in the media.”

Indeed, the school incidents reflect a pattern widely observable after the election which has  hardly been confined to schools. The Center released a report three weeks after the election which documented hate incidents all over the country gathered through news media reports and incident reports to the Center’s website. The data reveals 867 reports of hate incidents, about one third of which were focused on immigration, but have also included verbal and physical attacks on Muslims, women, LGBTQ people, people of color and anti-Semitic incidences. 

This data is well illustrated by high-profile cases of members of targeted groups being publicly accosted by aggressors invoking the name of Trump as justification. A man who came onto a Delta flight loudly demanding that “Hillary bitches” identify themselves has since been barred from ever flying with the airline again. In Columbus, OH, a man banged on the car window in which a Muslim woman was driving her children and elderly parents, and told her, "C--t, you don't belong in this country." And in the suburbs of Raleigh, NC, a parade of Ku Klux Klan members staged a Trump victory parade down the streets in pick-up trucks bearing both American and Confederate flags, apparently missing the inherent contradiction therein. 

There have always been hate incidences in America beginning with the genocidal relations between European colonists and indigenous Americans and America’s predatory relationship with enslaved Africans and their descendants. But the way these relationships and incidences are understood in Trumpland is very different. 

At least in my lifetime, Americans have known that their prejudices were prejudices even as we were loathe to consciously own up to them.  White dominant legislatures encoded them into our laws to preserve white privilege even as the ideals of our Framers indicted us for doing so and have ultimately provided the means of dismantling overt discrimination. When we spoke in racist terms, we often did so in private, a disingenuous practice which allowed us to feel good about ourselves even as we projected our own prejudices onto the caricatures of high profile misanthropes like the George Wallaces of the world.   

But this is different. Asaad Traina, a Muslim and a 25-year-old public health student at Harvard, put it well in an article in the Boston Globe: “[Trump is] not racist in coded language, like we’re used to, he’s overtly super-racist and sexist and anti-Muslim. The scary thing is, all the people who share his views now legitimately feel like they can be open about that.”

With the doors of the psychic sewer of the Shadow thrown open, the demons have come out to play. Misanthropy has been made socially respectable and bigotry is coming out of the closet. 


There is a word for this phenomenon. I learned it in Latin America where those who slaughtered the poor - old people, women and children alike - at night as paramilitaries also served by day in uniforms of the government. None of the immediate players in that deadly drama – and particularly not the American “security” and corporate interests they served - would ever face any kind of accountability for their murderous  rampages. 

The Latin Americans called it impunidad, impunity. What it meant was that there were no limits to the depravity one could engage under the rubric of the one true ideology. Such ideologies inevitably construct the true believer as incapable of wrong and the targets of their depravity as less than fully human. Once you begin down that slippery slope, anything is possible. Perhaps more importantly, there can never be any accountability for the misdeeds committed thereunder. 

Impunity is hardly a stranger to the United States. Ask the families of the dead civil rights workers in the Deep South. Ask the parents of Trayvon Martin here in Florida and the survivors of now uncountable examples of young black men dying at the hands of the people constitutionally appointed to protect them from harm. 

Ask the many rape victims who do not come forward for fear of being traumatized a second time in a trial where their word is almost always seen as unreliable vis-à-vis that of their male assailants. Indeed, some of them have named the soon-to-be crowned president of Trumpland as their assailant. 

The difference is that up until now, those events were seen as aberrations, eruptions of the Shadow, defects in a democratic republic capable of being rectified. Americans could still muster some level of righteous indignation in the face of such indignities. But the election of a monster has emboldened his followers to engage with abandon attitudes and behaviors that Hillary Clinton accurately– but politically inexpediently - described as deplorable. 

The result is much more than impunity. It is the empowerment of pure evil. 

[continued in Part IV]

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)
© Harry Coverston, 2016

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