My sense of loss at what might have been in this last election has not abated. Kevin Baker, writing for the New York Times, put my feelings into eloquent words:
“The populists after the Civil War, faced with the collapse into peonage of American farmers — then about half the population — built nationwide lecture and correspondence networks, and eventually won the reforms they needed, even though it took them more than 60 years. The first wave of feminists fought for more than 70 years to win their biggest demand; Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were dead by the time women got the vote. African-Americans battled ceaselessly, in every way they could, against their enslavement and Jim Crow, training their own lawyers to take their cases to the Supreme Court. The struggles for labor rights, gay rights, Hispanic rights, civil liberties, religious toleration, women’s control over their own bodies — all these battles and more took decades to win. They are the glory of our civilization.
Today’s passive, unhappy Americans sat on their couches and chose a strutting TV clown to save us.”
I have allowed myself to think that when the reality of what Trump plans to do sinks in for his angry white voters, they will feel betrayed by the cuts that fall heavily on them and realize they’ve been conned. Writing for Slate, Alan Levinovitz says that isn’t necessarily so. Levinovitz has long studied snake oil salesmen in American culture, and he says:
“This is wishful thinking. Trump’s rise to power has followed a similar trajectory to that of quacks who peddle panaceas to the desperate—a bizarre and heartbreaking world I’ve long studied. Just like them, Trump will fail to deliver. But his supporters will find a way to exonerate him. Consider the ability of one “Archbishop” Jim Humble—a former gold prospector who claims extraterrestrial lineage—to persuade parents to pump their autistic children full of Master Mineral Solution, even though MMS, when activated by citric acid, becomes a dangerous form of industrial bleach. Or “Gerson” therapy evangelists, who talk cancer patients into paying thousands to detoxify with organic juice at a Tijuana, Mexico, clinic, despite studies showing the therapy is ineffective (unsurprising given that it was developed not by oncologists, but an early 20th-century Viennese doctor named Max Gerson as an unsuccessful tuberculosis treatment).
When people make big bets on miracle cures that fail to work, they rarely turn against the treatments or their merchants. Instead, they rationalize their misplaced faith, in order to save face, remain hopeful, and preserve an identity that’s defined by their courageous ability to reject the status quo.”