Seeing Red in Trump’s America

So! It happened. Hillary Clinton failed. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th of the United States. His election marks an earthquake in American politics – one that the seismic monitors of Big Media political pundits, data heads and op-ed waxers all failed to predict.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

On January 20th, 2017, Trump will take the helm of a “broken system” and lead a scarred and divided nation—fractured along lines of race, gender, and education.

Feelings of disenfranchisement and neglect were the ruling sentiments for a majority of Americans on election day. 72% of the voting electorate reported in exit polls that “the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.” And 68% said that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”

Our guests this week provide us with a prismatic view of America standing at a precipice.

Noted Roman historian Mary Beard reminds us that democracy has always been “more than putting a piece of paper in a box.” That it’s a process, a way of thinking. “Democracy can’t function if people don’t have information.” Later, civil war historian Eric Foner locates the seeds of the economic and cultural discontent Trump has parlayed into his victory. He argues that the cultural resentment stems from the social changes in the 1960’s, the progressive movements of feminism, civil rights and immigration reform. Also joining us in the studio: Ron Suskind, Randall L. Kennedy, Kathy Cramer, and Nathan J. Robinson.

Guest List
Mary Beard
award-winning historian and presenter, and author of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.
Eric Foner
DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
Ron Suskind
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of A Hope in the Unseen and The One Percent Doctrine.
Nathan Robinson
founder and editor of Current Affairs magazine
Randall L. Kennedy
an American Law professor at Harvard University
Kathy Cramer
a political science professor at University of Wisconsin and author of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Related Content

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Who can say with confidence that the American electorate actually voted for Trump? I am personally very skeptical that the results of the election are trustworthy? What evidence do we have that the results — as presented — are valid, that the result actually and accurately reflects the activity of real voters? I have not yet heard anyone raise the prospect of fraud by hackers not of Russian ilk but of a native variety.

    • Who can say?
      I can say.

      The last time I voted in the Presidential election, the VFW was full of African
      Americans and upscale young whites.

      I voted at 6:15 AM. When I walked in my jaw dropped, this time it was mostly blue-collar
      people. I knew before I even voted that Hillary had blown it.

      People who said they would hold their nose and vote for Hillary gave those on the fence a free pass to stay home.

      With that cynicism and lack of enthusiasm, you got what you deserved.

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Perhaps the reason many eligible voters do not participate in elections is they have become convinced their vote won’t matter because they are Blues living in a Red state or vice versa?

    • Kento

      Some must surely also be blue state voters in very safely blue states, and vice versa.

  • Pete Crangle

    I will probably have more to say about this conversation. In the meantime, here’s a link to a comment I wrote for ROS in January, 2016. It seems germane in it’s forecasting. Though I should note that Trump’s ideas of trade still seems bombastic and muddled, and wed to the idea of the US as the unipolar center of power.

    An Empire can be measured in a glass of tap water. Inspired from the line: “A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” — Lucy Larcom

    • Yeah, doesn’t it seem like the end of the empire?

      The crazy Cesare is at the helm as the ship of state careens towards the rocks.

  • Potter

    In recovery mode. I am seeing red. Appalled and shocked, and somewhat afraid. We need a lot of commiseration and enlightenment to weather the disaster that is (will surely be) unfolding. I placed my trust in the polls and the belief in the collective wisdom of the American people. Now I see we are a country filled with people who hate, who are racist,filled with resentment and who are ignorant, not interested in truth i.e. gullible, ready for lies. This has been legitimized,is now out of the closet, is parading around in open daylight. Roaring crowds of them, like Hitler’s Germany. As well there are the sweet people that Kathy Cramer describes who hold these feelings in secret. I am seeing red. I can’t look at or listen to “L’ orange” any more. He asks us to come together. ( For him?)

    Randall Kennedy expresses my emotions best here but all of your guests are helpful. Thank you for this, again such a well put together show.

    Though I had lost a lot of respect as well for the NYTimes sadly (a once great paper), I found and find a lot of solace and wisdom in their reader’s comments. For two days straight now I have been addicted to reader’s comments and tidbits from here and there on the internet.

    Do we have to understand it, to empathize? I have read so many reports from Trump country. I get it I think. I was for Bernie. But these Trump supporters are everywhere- even here in blue MA. They are not all hurting in the rust belt or coal country. Some are educated and well to do. Even the educated are ignorant. As Mary Beard and others say and know, for democracy to work an educated electorate is essential. But how about a common morality or even a agreement of principles ( like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights)? We are still fighting the Civil War it seems, only it’s worse. How can we talk about combatting climate change if people and their leader-elect do not believe it is happening?

    How do we stop this, how do we deal with this train disaster coming at us?

    • Pete Crangle

      I feel you Potter. Thank you for sharing this. There is a palpable grieving process going on across the country, and in various locations across the globe. For many of people out there, this is not their first rodeo. They’ve been on the losing side of electoral decisions before, and in the aftermath, they recover, cope, endure, and commit to either doing better next time, or checking out completely — somewhat secure in the knowledge that civil institutions are not going to be co-opted by a demagogue, or exposed to stresses beyond their institutional capacity to endure.

      Trust has been breached. Credibility damaged. This is the pathway to nihilism. I don’t see a fix, but I’d love to be blindsided by one.There may be an impending train wreck in the making. We are all on the train now. Bummer.

      • Potter The poison that was unleashed has reverberations and consequences. I awoke this AM to “On Being”, that ever sunny radio program, you know, in the spirit of “we go high”. I am still with this feeling in the pit of my stomach. Tippet, always on the high road, had Vincent Harding on, ” a voice of calm and reason”. He wrote “Is America Possible?” I like the question. I am not ready for the myriad anecdotes to make the case yes. No I am not ready for calm and reason. This ugliness is and will keep producing a counter-reaction inside and is rolling out into the streets. who are the winners?

  • An indictment of this country….yes, and on both sides.

    A little guy against the elite trope…of course this must be by proxy. I wonder if
    the winners are aware of the duality – whether they understand how power works.
    Power is not necessarily applied in a literal way, which I think is what people
    are hoping. They hope Trump will crash the system, something he is powerless to
    do alone. (The losers hope that the Republican house and senate will war with
    Trump over the cost of his ideas.)

    The sly thing is that Trump speaks non-literally (illiterate?), but hidden, is the low
    probability of literal action. This is how the working class speaks: words have
    no real meaning, words are for ‘made-up’ stuff. Eventually a fist fight ensues
    – very Nietzschean, very Dionysian – they drink, they dance, they fight (cf
    Béla Tarr films) and nothing changes – the eternal return.

    The swellheads will never get this, 10 minutes is all I have to devote to this
    show. GL&GB with the analysis.


    Someone asked me who I voted for and I said not with a gun to my head would I have voted
    for…. They seemed to like that answer but they are from Egypt. Now I’m not sure…. most Egyptians
    really like Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and apparently Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was the
    first to congratulate Trump.

    I’m gonna ask who they would have voted for with the difference for an argument between
    Egyptian democracy and US democracy being pluralism.

  • Pete Crangle

    Our various institutions — political, economic, technological, media, military, education, religious — have been playing a deadly game for a while: kick the can. There are now many, many cans and an approaching dead-end on a one-way street. In the US, both professional political parties have relied on a mixture of good fortune, as well as, the working class, and the working poor to kick those cans for them upon an endless supply of road that nature has supplied gratis. Eventually, the jig is up. We run out of road and/or there are too many cans. It is that simple. None of the candidates were going to provide the magical fix for this. And because there is no magical fix for this, people have become enthralled by magical thinking. As Mary Beard points out, we’ve been losing the means to grapple and articulate an understanding of cultural and physical reality. We’ve either suspended or lost a means of retaining and accessing important cultural memory and empirical evidence. Thus, we have descended into a cocoon of media spectacle. Plato’s cave with a big-screen TeeVee and surround sound.

    There is an idea floating around that the electorate understood Trump in the following way: one side thought his words mattered, and his presentation buffoonish and trivial, while the other side felt his words were unimportant, and his emotional passion relevant. Words and presentation both matter; it’s not either/or, it’s both-and. And, words must be backed up by transparent action. FDR made this clear. So, did Adolph Hitler. Different sides of the same coin … words put into unified, collective action.

    When the intoxication of abstraction becomes too overwhelming, it’s best to dredge up an anecdote. So, I’m going to relay one about my voting experience this year: I live in a rural, southern hamlet that is sort of a dump. There is a small library, but not a bookstore for miles. There are business properties that sit with ‘for lease or for sale’ signs prominently displayed in vast swaths of the business zoned infrastructure, and small to medium sized industrial property that sits both empty and idle with ‘for sale’ signs — the recovery hasn’t caught up here. There are Christian churches in abundance. The confederate battle flag flies proudly on pick-up trucks that have novelty testicles hanging off their rear bumper — Truck Nuts.

    In this election season, there were a few voting signs for GOP candidates, a few signs for Democratic candidates, a few Trump/Pence signs, and almost no signs for HRC. The region voted overwhelmingly for Senator Sanders in the primary, and Senator Sanders got more votes than both HRC and Trump — I’m not exploring counterfactuals, nor extrapolating a general proposition, just relaying some local context.

    At the polling place, I got in line for early voting. In this line was a sea of Caucasian, pigment challenged human beings, ages ranging from 35 years old to geriatric. A sort of slow moving parade of broke down, conceal carrying dead-enders enjoying the weather, a couple of smokes, and catching up with friends and acquaintances with quiet conversation and laughter. There were also two tables with information about the parties and the candidates. Two very nice, older gentlemen worked these tables — low key, polite. While we waited, the Trump table guy went over to shoot-the-breeze with the HRC guy. Very jovial, bored conversation to pass the time. When the Trump table guy walked back to his table, the guy in front of me asked him, aggressively: What are you doing? The response, ‘Oh, just talking with the opposition’. To which the following happened: ‘The time for talk is over. We’ve had enough talk. Talking hasn’t gotten us anywhere, and never will. No, the time for talk is over.’ Others joined this refrain. 30 minutes latter, by the time I got to vote, a low temperature verbal putsch was manifesting in this line. When I finished, I walked out and found the line had grown, and so had the temperature and amplitude of the putsch.

    This told me something that comported to what I learned by going to several tea party rallies, across a couple states when that movement was flowering a few years back: people are pissed (they always kind of are, but this seemed a bit more urgent), and they are wanting to dial up the culture war a few notches. Troubling. Expected. Depressing. I relay this because Mary Beard and others should understand, as Robert points out: words have little to no value. Which is a dangerous situation for a democracy, because democracy relies upon verbal and written communication to function — which must be backed up by transparent and understandable action.

    I’m not going to flog these people, they’re my neighbors, co-workers, customers, family, people I see when I go out and run errands. However, I can recognize and understand their pain and disappointment and frustration, and still expect better from them — it is in fact, mandated by a Christian ethos, particularly in the gospels that teach the Sermon on the Mount. Those words were a teaching to be actively integrated in one’s life, not to be observed in an eschatological, frictionless world … those words were to be observed and practiced at the most brutal and difficult times. If it were easy, it wouldn’t have had to be taught at all as part of a moral system. Do to others as you would have them do to you, is not only ethical, it’s practical. If the cultural dynamic happens to be asymmetrical, the ethics are not suspended.

    Consensus is not merely general agreement, it is the absence of sabotage. Powerful forces torpedoed our recovery and repair for cynical means. The election of Barack Obama was a test case, of sorts. Could the rhetoric of repair match and overtake the disrepair of the system in a post Nine-Eleven world. It didn’t. It couldn’t. I blame no one in particular — why bother when there are so many people willing to do this for me. In the wake of a failed executive and a series of horrible congresses, the Bush/Cheney-Contract-with-America era, the professional political classes could not pull it together when a clear and unequivocal mandate to do so was handed to them. Shame on them. Shame on us for not turning the ask, into a demand.

    But the political elites were not the only failure. The corporate class failed, as well. Corporate entities could have suspended foreclosures, could have given loan repayment holidays, worked with people to help them manage their way out of a global fiasco. Other companies outside the housing and financial sectors could have stepped up. Corporate leadership could have actually redeemed itself by stating unequivocally that they wished to be integral members of the community, not tyrannical extraction entities, vampire squids (Taibbi), that view citizens as flesh fodder to be squeezed dry. Corporate entities could have stepped up and said: we get it, we screwed up, we screwed you who are not only our customers, but our fellow citizens for whom we share a mutual interest in a healthy and robust society. Corporate entities could have used the bail-out money to help their customers/citizens. Could have done this without regulation or public pressure. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t. It’s absurd to even suggest such behavior.

    The market, like all institutional forces, ends up calling the tune and running the show, not human beings, not even the elite and powerful; they merely suck off the profits. Thus, we have observed a case of massive structural breakdown, while the spectacle has focused on cult-of-personality issues of the most trivial banalities. People want to ascribe blame or success to particular personalities of celebrity stature, because that is what is paraded before them, and that is what is easy to understand. They seem unable or unwilling to grapple with the structural forces and the inertial pressure that have created their misery.

    Trust has been breached. Credibility damaged. This is the pathway to nihilism. I don’t see a fix, but I’d love to be blindsided by one.

    • Potter

      Bravo. Runaway capitalism?…corporate greed, the failure of the corporate class. This leaves a lot for government (you know, we the people) to make up at the same time that the government and social programs that could help are being demonized and threatened by Republicans such that people who need help don’t get it, don’t want it, feel ashamed to take it etc. People used to feel that the company they worked for, that they gave, in many cases their entire lives to, cared about them, that there was an appreciation of them and then a responsibility towards them.That ethic, that caring is missing everywhere now it seems. It’s the culture and about class more than ever. Terrible.

      By the way, the description of your small southern hamlet, except for a few maybe important differences, could also describe certain aspects of Worcester MA, the 2nd largest city in New England after Boston.But it’s been struggling to reinvent itself as a biotechnology and medical center for over 20 years and succeeding. Even so, the downtown is vacant. But it’s a multicultural city..working class.( I love seeing Muslims everywhere! but there are many churches too). There are many colleges and a very decent main library and struggling bookstores. Trump got 27% of the vote, not nothing. Clinton 66%.

      My little town nearby voted for Sanders in the primaries. Our congressional district ( 2nd MA) favored Sanders. Yet our congressman, Jim McGovern, admirable by far compared to others in the Congress, was a superdelegate at the Democratic Convention and he voted for Clinton over Sanders. We and others protested.

      We still ride around proudly with our Bernie stickers.

      • Floyd C. Wilkes

        Here in Utah, a vivid red state, you rarely see a Trump sticker, altho you certainly meet supporters in the cafes and bars. However, they are a stark minority compared with Sanders’ stickers (and would be supporters) that are most prevalent by far (in my experience and observations). Bizarre, unlike anything before (such as 2012 and Romney). Only occasionally do you see a HRC bumper sticker or yard sign sprinkled in the mix.

        • Potter

          Here in central MA there was hardly a Hillary sticker as well- maybe more Trump stickers, years signs I mean. But there were very few signs at all, so I am talking about nothing much out there. That was lack of enthusiasm and I think, though we are very “blue”, people secretly going to vote for Trump.. ashamed to say so. One yard had a Trump sign out right at the beginning.As Trump got worse and worse I kept waiting for it to be taken down. Then they put up another- 2 signs! On the way to vote, we saw a 3 foot by 6 foot Trump sign shouting it out.

    • Floyd C. Wilkes

      Well said as always Pete.

      The absurdities of the present cultural predicament (severe inequality, deepening dystopia, a prevailing psychosis of distemper and dis-ease, etc.) seem — in retrospect — an obvious and predictable eventuality of a corporate-controlled state wherein executives seize the reigns of power and privilege while persisting in their fiduciary responsibility to corporate shareholders as opposed to becoming authentic public servants and stewards of the commonwealth. As citizen-voters we are franchise holders in the commonwealth. If we enjoy equity in the commonwealth it can be fairly said we live in a just society. We do not IMO.

      The present situation is characterized by injustice upon injustice and iniquity upon iniquity. In reality our system dictates for the benefit of a very narrow class of private equity interest bearers. This is neoliberalism, its scope international and scourge deplorable. And yet, ironically and paradoxically, we, the people, as consumers, are implicated into the very fabric of the situation and bear a significant measure of the responsibility for the current travesty.

      However, I see a means of escaping the vortex and vertigo of the vicious cycle that currently enthralls us: quiescence. Quiet, frequent introspection, in sufficient critical mass will re-secure, rectify, resurrect, make fast, quicken the comports of dignity and genuine contentment, the antidotes of delusion. Dignity and contentment are, IMO, the ground and means of worthy happiness. Emerson has it right when he recommends just sitting on a rock fence and relaxing! Or was that Thoreau?

      • Potter

        Yes of course ( your last paragraph) but, the mournful feeling is hard to overcome especially as the drip drip drip of more outrageousness continues.

  • TPO62

    One glaring omission from this otherwise stellar episode: a deep discussion of any sort of propaganda model.

    Hard to see how we make progress unless we develop a strategy for dealing with the effects of both right wing media and the false equivalency crowed. Like Chris, I’ve also been tempted to cancel my NYT subscription, but not for the reasons that Chris enunciated. Until the NYT (and similar outlets) figures out how to not be the most worked refs in the world, they are a significant threat.

  • PI Mack

    As others have postulated: Bernie/Biden/Webb/O’Malley could have beaten HRC.
    No core . . .
    HRC was a terrible candidate. Remember the DNC rigging the primary outcome. Remember the rope lines around her. Remember her changing position on trade, based on politics. Remember dodging bullets in the old Yugoslavia. Remember GOLDMAN-SACH speeches. Remember leaving the White House broke. Remember her attacking Bills’ ‘bimbos.’ Remember ______, _____, ______, and _______.