I have suggested symbolic, cultural, business and corrupt motives for promoting the building of the wall on the Mexican border of the U.S. But that is not enough. I have railed against politicians and hangers-on who grow even richer by themselves railing against the elites they claim control everything as they themselves fatten themselves like turkey vultures on the carcass of democracy. The issue remains of how to fit the two parts together, the manipulators and the manipulated. How do they become congruent?
What remains is to explore the psychological and sociological factors that facilitate this integration. This morning and tomorrow morning, I will, focus on the psychological. In an ensuing blog, I will offer a sociological thesis. At the core of the psychological thesis, I find hatred. After all, it was Henry Adams who defined politics as the “systematic organization of hatreds.” Even more important than the hatred of Hillary Clinton by Trump supporters was their hatred of refugees entering, or trying to enter, the U.S. from the south. The central point of my psychological thesis is that, in some very fundamental and unconscious sense, the haters reject what they despise about themselves and project those traits onto what they regard as radically other.
This is a thesis. Or, more accurately, a hypothesis. I find it convincing enough to offer it up for examination without the confidence to claim that it has truth value. It is an exploration, a probe. I very much welcome comments and criticisms. But please wait for the two mornings that I need to articulate my position.
What did they hate?
Why did they hate?
Most important, what was the nature of that hatred?
Instead of Donald Trump himself, let me begin with Trump’s former Attorney-General, the A-G Trump loved to despise, Jeff Sessions. Jeff was even more determined and focused on deterring Mexican and Central American arrivals into the U.S. than the president. As Andrew G. McCabe put it in his new memoir, How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. “He didn’t read intelligence reports and mixed up classified material with what he had seen in newspaper clips. He seemed confused about the structure and purpose of organizations and became overwhelmed when meetings covered multiple subjects. He blamed immigrants for nearly every societal problem and uttered racist sentiments with shocking callousness.” (my italics) One might believe the reference was to Donald Trump, but it was to Jeff Sessions.
Why is a person a racist and why does one blame immigrants and refugees for all social problems? Why is that hatred translated into violence against immigrants and refugees?
For years, Francisco Cantú was an American border agent working on the Mexican/American divide. His just published book, The Line Becomes a River, explores how violence against Mexican and Central American migrants became normalized and valorized. For a border, such as that between Mexico and the U.S.A., serves as the frontier of a surveillance society which, at its centre, harvests billions of bits of personal information voluntarily surrendered in exchange for access, for crossing into the ethereal world of the internet and connectivity. The fee – reading advertisements. In turn, that interconnectivity becomes largely colonized by the sensational and the salacious, the divisive and the diversionary.
In this surveillance society as it manifests itself on the borderlands, it is not just that electronic and human eyes are seeking out migrants trying to cross the border illegally, but the border guards themselves actually experience it even more intensely. And the guards are on the periphery.
In the borderlands, you become conditioned, above all, to living with an ever-present sense of unease, of being watched, of moving through a landscape that has been resignified as a transitional terrain – a place made to exist, literally and figuratively, at the margins. To inhabit such a place is to inhabit a space of in-betweenness, a space where the ground is aggressively claimed, but the people who belong to it, and those seeking to cross it, are rejected.” (NYRB 17 January 2019, 4)
To live as if you are being observed all the time. To live with an ever-present sense of unease. To live on a territory that is transitional rather than permanent and secure. To live on the margins. To live where you are convinced you belong, but where you are rejected. To live in a place claimed by others. This is not just the experience of border guards, but the experience of those who live in those parts of America that have become economically and culturally marginalized.
The inhabitants feel they belong, but also feel that they do not and have been left behind. They feel that they are living on the borders of a society about to be invaded by aliens wanting their space. They live in a place where they feel displaced, feel out of place, where they feel unprotected and exposed, where they feel there are no real boundaries. In a land that they once owned and governed, they feel they have become the enemy and they turn themselves into “enemy combatants.”
That is why they project onto others at the crossings the label of “terrorists,” even though there are none to be found in reality. That is why in their fantastical world, those others become rapists and criminals. The borderlands, both the interior ones and those between the U.S.A. and Mexico, become the New Frontier, outside the reaches of the law, but where the law is used to reach out and seize and search with no regard to due process and the rights of man. It is a place where law becomes lawless and those appointed as officers to guard and protect grow inured to the death of the thousands, tens of thousands, who tried and continue to try but largely fail to cross a territory branded as a “wasteland,” a land of open graves where lives are wasted.
It does not matter that the numbers trying and the numbers dying have drastically dropped in recent years. What matters is the picture of those migrants imprinted on the minds of the haters. What matters is the increase in marginality of those far from the border. Identity on all levels is central both to being in this state and being rejected by the state. It begins with the absence of passports and visas or any legal document that will allow them passage. Those living in the hinterlands of America also lack a means to get out and move on.
I recognize that this is a perverse argument. The reason some Americans hate, despise and fear immigrants and refugees is because they identify with them, but reject this identity, ‘other’ that identity and project that identity onto others who lack the key elements of identity in the modern world, a passport that allows them to pass and a visa that allows them to remain. In failing to recognize the same in difference, they join the “culture of indifference,” the culture of self-centred inhumanity and avariciousness in which most people around the world are forced to live.
The modern world conceived five hundred years ago distinguished individuals, each with an ori ode that was material and an ori inu that was spiritual and interior. The ori inu was the authentic self, the true self of the ori ode which appears, which shows its face. This is a distinction that Jean-Jacques Rousseau would totally secularize. On the surface, we find a festering material corruption. But beneath, on the inside, we find festering emotions, resentments and hatreds. Periodically, the waves and swells turn into a tsunami to drown the tainted landscape in deep water.
Instead of a civilization where institutions have been created and developed to both protect rights and secure the good, society disintegrates into a Darwinian search for self and the quest for a leader who will restore personal government and individual financial management in place of bureaucratic and rule-based formalized structures and procedures. In other words, to restore the pre-constitutional absolute monarchy.
The masses and ignorant monied elites would combine to squeeze out expertise and meritocracy in the name of participatory democracy, a democratic polity to be led by a leader with erratic and unpredictable behaviour and subject to whims and rages to prove once and for all that government itself was impossible and anarchy must reign. For as soon as such a leader is accused and convicted of treason and heresy, then tolerance as the central motif of a liberal society will be replaced in fratricidal fights over that which characterizes treason and that which constitutes heresy.
I will write on tolerance as the core character of liberalism in trying to reconcile liberty and equality, freedom to and freedom from, rights and the good. That clarification is sorely needed in an era when populism and demagoguery threaten representative democracy and the latter is conceived as the weak link in the chain in failing to protect the hard-working and unrecognized native citizenry from the migrant hordes threatening to cross the borders. And, to anticipate, it will not be by locating the roots of democracy in the French Revolution and in Rousseau’s secularization of ori ode and ori inu where the latter, the inner, is the authentic self, while the self, developed by habits and restricted by the rule of law, is treated as dispensable.
For the danger does not only come from the right in search of a personalized elected absolute monarch, but from the left that opts for participatory rather than representative democracy in order to overcome the crises of identity in our contemporary world. (I will explore that crisis in my next blog.) Neither the right nor the left, of course, can address the most pressing crisis of our time, climate change. That requires a global response. Neither can address the need for enhanced political participation to battle the secrecy of governments and corporations and the suppression of information required to make responsible decisions. Engagement in that real battle requires a respect for rather than demeaning of governing institutions.
Neither the right nor the left can address the need for enhanced protection of rights, for both revert to “natural” rights, either rooted in a tooth-and-claw nature or rooted in the mediaeval tradition of natural law, and ignore the reality that rights always depend on citizenship. There is a similar tension over equality as over rights, the right extolling the least restrictions to award the equality of opportunity while the left extolls the use of governance to compensate for disadvantages and seek a society where the least inequality is the desired end.
However, I am getting ahead of myself.
In this current kleptocratic realm in which leaders and their acolytes brazenly lie, brazenly commit fraud, brazenly steal from the public treasury, both of foreign disintegrating realms and from their own, while advancing conspiracy theories of aliens born in Kenya posing as Americans, of a country in which every major crime in the history of the republic, every inexplicable incongruency, is the result of plots and cover-ups. They become fixated on monstrous patterns ultimately out to do them, and America, in. And the most monstrous and fearsome of them all are the invading hordes clamouring at the southern border. In this “scenario of shadows and invisible hands, of eyes that spy and voices that whisper…where the causes of events are silenced for reasons nobody knows,” the enemy becomes the wretched of the earth, literally emerging from the earth like zombies to destroy their world.
Of course, this is a portrait of flawed humanity. What else can be expected in such a world? Of course, it is a world of those obsessed with the pursuit of success who are defeated, largely by themselves, largely by literally shooting themselves in the foot. Of course, it is a world of characters buried in nostalgia for a world that never was that has been betrayed and that is daily being betrayed. Of course, it is a world in which fiction and fact become indistinguishable as the blood-stained furies turn cities into cemeteries of waste and detritus as poisonous deceit is exuded like a gas from the centre.
Stephen Holmes in a recent NYRB article called it, “The Identity Illusion.” I will begin with that analysis tomorrow morning.
With the help of Alex Zisman