Neil Gross writing in the New York Times suggests that many Americans are suffering from post-election ‘collective trauma’, a term originated by Emile Durkheim:
Durkheim, a turn-of-the-20th-century French sociologist and an architect of the field. argued that norms, values and rituals were the linchpins of social order; they provided the basis for solidarity and social cohesion. Collective trauma occurs when an unexpected event severs the ties that bind community members to one another.Gross suggests that the loss of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump was more than just an electoral defeat:
Those who voted for Hillary Clinton may now be experiencing collective trauma of their own. In the aftermath of the election, they have been walking around in a daze. Some of this is because forecasts based on problematic polling strongly predicted a Democratic win. Some is fear or uncertainty about the future. But there’s more to it than that: For progressives, moderates and “Never Trump” Republicans, the political order they long took for granted — defined by polarization, yes, but also by a commitment to basic principles of democracy and decency — is suddenly gone.
Very true as far as it goes, but the argument misses the point. Idealism ipso facto is bound to fail in a permanently cynical world.
Progressives have always believed in the concept of human progress. Mankind can indeed evolve towards a better, more harmonious, civil, peaceful, and sharing world. We are perfectible, endowed with a spiritual goodness which eventually will out as long as we are deliberate, patient, and above all committed to our ideals.
Conservatives on the other hand believe that man’s actions are dictated by human nature which, as history has amply shown, is aggressive, territorial, self-serving, protective, and acquisitive. There is no such thing as progress; but only the manipulation or reconfiguration of inevitable facts to better suit the individual and the society in which he lives. We are not on the path to a better world, for all worlds will be necessarily governed by the same basic instincts. Our problems and solutions are only temporal and have nothing to do with human moral and spiritual evolution.
Had Hillary Clinton won the election conservatives would have been angry; but their hatred of Washington, Obama, liberalism, and the arrogant, elite Eastern Establishment was already so bitter and defiant that it would only increase. Since no architecture of moral principle or foundation of righteousness ever exists within a deterministic, historical philosophy, their worldview would not have been shaken.
It is hard to feel sorry for overwrought Clinton supporters who bought her bill of goods. It was not so much that she promised more than she ever could have delivered – all candidates do that – but that she set herself up as more than just a political candidate. She embodied a resurgent womanhood and a commitment to universal ideals (peace, the environment, human and civil rights, justice, and social and economic equality). More than anything, she portrayed herself as a Holy Warrior whose defeat of Donald Trump – the very embodiment of the evils of racism, sexism, and homophobia and a satanic destroyer of good – would rid the world of a brutish, nasty, war against righteousness and progress towards a better world.
Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of history knows that such self-anointed spiritual entitlements are a dime a dozen. Holy Wars have been fought since religion’s earliest days. Popes, emperors, kings, and suzerains all believed that God was on their side. Pope Urban II not only wanted to expel the Godless followers of Mohammed from the holy Christian city of Jerusalem. Charlemagne and Roland knew that God was on their side when they defeated the Saracens at Roncesvalles. The Holy Roman Emperor was just that – holy and supreme. The divine right of kings gave the monarchy tremendous power.
Of course beneath all the religious cant was geopolitical interest. Popes, kings, queens, and shahs all used religion as a convenient cover for their military excursions and adventurism. If we have learned anything from history, it is that moral rectitude and purpose are deliberate tools of autocratic manipulation.
Which is why it is surprising that so many progressives bought Hillary Clinton’s righteous idealism hook, line, and sinker. There was nothing evil about Donald Trump who appealed to the anger, frustrations, and resentments of the over 60 million Americans who voted for him; nothing unholy about his challenges to illegal immigration and the muzzling of free speech. Nothing seditious about his desire to recalibrate the scales of race, gender, and ethnicity to favor the concerns of social conservatives and religious fundamentalists. Nothing morally corrupt about his commitment to overturning Roe v Wade; and certainly nothing inappropriate about his economic patriotism.
The reason why there is so much ‘collective trauma’ among Hillary Clinton supporters is because they naively invested so much of themselves in a candidate who, because of her very ambitious, venal, and predictable politician’s nature, was incapable of being anything other than a pedestrian pretender to the throne.
They should have known better.
Politics is and always will be a struggle between candidates who aspire to high office because of their ambition and overweening self-confidence and sense of entitlement. This is not to say that Presidents once in office cannot act according to higher principles. LBJ truly believed in racial justice and the injustice of poverty; but he also so imperfectly understood the nature of American exceptionalism and liberal democracy that he was responsible for tens of thousands of needless deaths in Vietnam. In other words the same sense of righteousness served him well and disastrously.
Jimmy Carter is a man of faith and felt that he had a mission to evangelize. Although he believed that his campaign on international human rights and his hectoring on about American’s materialism and and secular myopia were righteous, his policies have either turned out badly or were ignored.
Ronald Reagan was a man of principle but he never set himself up as a moral savior. His commitment to patriotism, small government, individual enterprise, and a strong military were a result of an accurate reading of the American political zeitgeist, the internal weaknesses of the Soviet Union, and the foundering of an economy based far too much on public sector employment and investment.
By demonizing Donald Trump; by deifying A Woman President; and by promoting the very agendas of progressivism rejected by half the electorate because they represented a higher good, she positioned herself up for failure and set up her supporters for a devastating blow to their self-worth.
Again, her supporters should have known better. The world is not based on ideals, morality, or high principles; but on competing interests. Instead of confronting Donald Trump on the many contentious programs he promoted – e.g. immigration, trade, foreign relations – Mrs. Clinton chose to demonize him for his supposedly immoral behavior. Her campaign chose to focus on his racial exclusivity, dismissal of LGBT rights, encouragement of rigorous enforcement of the law and the restoration of civil order, retrograde ignorance about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, and his obvious misogyny.
Her campaign missed the point that Trump supporters did not and would not believe the charges against him. Nor did they take his exaggerated oratory as fact or policy. In extracting what he meant from what he said Trump supporters were better deconstructionists than any academic.
It is easy to get over electoral defeat, but not collective trauma. Clinton supporters are still suffering and taking out their pain on the rest of America who want to move on.
Donald Trump may or may not be a good President; but he was handed the election by Hillary Clinton who misjudged him and and his supporters; who overestimated the righteous cause of A Woman President; and who clung to a progressive agenda which had had its day.
One should feel sorry neither for her nor for her inconsolable supporters.