“We are witnessing the politics of humiliation” - Siri Hustvedt, Joyce Carol Oates and more on the US election
There is an old phrase often credited to the American demagogue Huey Long, but which was actually written by an obscure American professor: “When fascism comes to America, they will call it Americanism.” It has come, and it has come by public vote. I am convinced that we are witnessing the politics of humiliation. People who grew up with a powerful sense of white, masculine privilege (as well as others who sympathise with that image of power), people for whom that sense of superiority was always precarious and always needed protection, found in Donald Trump a figure for their own fantasy of the restoration of an era now gone.
The demographics in the US have changed. Growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian people, as well as a larger black middle class and more women in positions of influence, serve as an affront to the fantasy. “Those people” are held responsible for the white man’s fall from grace, just as the Jews were blamed in Germany. Obama, a highly educated, elegant, moderate and well spoken black man who was president for eight years, fed the racist fear of the Other. His very presence was an offence. From this point of view, electing a woman would add insult to injury.
The role misogyny played in this election should not be underestimated. Hillary Clinton lived squarely in the world of realpolitik. Those who voted for Trump are living in a state of vicarious narcissism. The man’s grandiosity, his sense of entitlement with impunity, his open cruelty toward women, minorities and disabled people were adopted by identification. Policy did not matter. Reality did not matter. He made humiliated, emasculated white men (and the women who identify with them) feel better about themselves. Now all of us will pay for a collective fantasy that belonged to only half of us.