The most admired American virtue is not giving a shit. There is something about the brash, fearless loudmouth that we can’t get enough of. My father (a frequent topic around here) loves to claim that, now he’s an old fart, he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do, he can say whatever he wants, and he can walk around with his fly open because he’s no longer obligated to give a shit.
I’ll admit it. There is something exhilarating about Donald Trump saying the unspeakable: we should have never gone to Iraq. Our international trade agreements were made by people who would never have to live with the consequences, and the consequences are a gutted middle class. Simply for saying these two things, these two unspeakable things, with no apparent regard for the opinion of “the establishment,” Trump has won the loyalty of a large number of Americans.
We love the truculent. The obstreperous. The fearless. The reckless.
The horror that the coasts feel about what the world might think of us isn’t shared by a sizeable chunk of the country. What difference does it make if the English find us crass. Or the French think we’re unsophisticated in our understanding and our manners. Or the Germans believe we’re undisciplined. What does it matter to a culture that doesn’t value method, or philosophy, or decorum? We like our guns big and our mouths bigger.
Of course Hillary is failing. She’s a rational choice: clearly intelligent, practiced in the halls of governance, knowledgeable about the world, pragmatic, predictable… Exactly what Wall Street and the International community want out of an American President. Exactly the opposite of everything America celebrates.
We celebrate cowboys. Rugged individualists. We like intuition over intellect, gut over head, and all the things that the professional watchers of American politics thought were important turn out to be supremely irrelevant. I’m not for Trump in any way shape or form, but there is a reason why Heath Ledger’s Joker casts such a long shadow: some part of us all just wants to see the motherfucker burn. The Joker would vote for Trump.
But there is a conflict built into the value system here. Maybe two conflicts.
The first is that we’re all free to buck convention because we just don’t give a shit, but no one is free from the consequences. This is the first and most basic rule, my entry for consideration in the search for the grand theory of everything: there must be balance. Everything costs something, every cost confers a benefit. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. If you take a big helping of glee in telling everyone to fuck off, you can be sure that no one will be there to assist you when you find isolation isn’t as glorious as you thought it would be. As a country, we can throw a giant temper tantrum (Trumper tantrum?) and have the immense satisfaction in watching the resulting bonfire, but that satisfaction is bound to be temporary. Sooner or later, we’ll have to come to terms with the wreckage. Pretty fire and all, but what are you going to do with the cinders?
The second is that we genuinely do care. So maybe world opinion doesn’t matter too much to a healthy chunk of Americans, but we love our families, our tribes, our people. We care about eating and being pain-free and how long we’re going to live, and who we’re going to have to bury along the way. We worry about protection and safety and comfort. We’re the exact opposite of fearless: we’re terrified. Terrified that our kids will fail, scared of the disconnect we feel from our communities, afraid of the future, wary of all of the changes that are pouring in on us… Trump isn’t a solution–inserting an unpredictable quantity with a thin skin doesn’t seem like a good methodology for improving things–but Hillary isn’t selling a viable alternative. Even if she came baggage-free (and no one comes free of baggage), she’s still not making a compelling case for … well anything. At least not as far as I can tell.
And for the record, I do give a shit.