- Politics and Social Issues
Donald Trump - Symptom of a Sick Nation
There was a time when a certain standard of behaviour was the norm in first world countries. Those standards included that one was always polite, that one did not cheat, and if one did, one stepped down from one’s position without being asked. In addition, one never raised one’s voice, never insulted others, and if one did, it was done in such a way as to leave one in doubt as to whether one was insulted or not.
The more senior the position, the more strict these rules became. Under no circumstances whatsoever would certain behaviour be tolerated in any sort of leadership position. It was considered crass to talk about money and vulgar to boast about one’s achievements. Those who did indulge in that kind of behaviour were considered to be without class and were called ‘common.’
The Ugly American
In 1958 Eugene Burdick and William Lederer published a book entitled The Ugly American. The book spoke about the inability of the United States Diplomatic Corps to be tactful, of their insensitivity to local customs, and the refusal of American representatives to fit in with the mores and values of countries in which they were guests.
The book was a bestseller with John Kennedy singling it out and sending a copy to each of his ambassadors. The book has been in continual print and is said to be one of the most influential political books ever written.
Donald Trump seems to have missed it.
American movies often depict a man taking a gun and shooting someone else in cold blood. This could just as well be the antagonist as the protagonist. Movies further have a constant theme of Americans saving the world and other countries not being competent to look after themselves.
Authors like Tom Clancy, Lee Child, and Vince Flynn consistently have their ‘heroes’ in their books solve problems with guns. There is no talk. Just a bullet. In all the novels, torture is accepted as a way of resolving issues, and any method that utilizes diplomatic skill is held in contempt and seen as weak.
This macho behaviour of males comprises about half the men in the United States. In other cultures, this would be seen as poor in mind, lacking in refinement, and boorish. Interestingly, the only other nations where this kind of behaviour is acceptable is in Africa. Braggadocio is a way of life for certain African leaders. So it’s of international concern that an American who harbours traits that are socially unacceptable, and who demonstrates vulgar and crass behaviour should be the front runner for the GOP (Grand Old Party).
Differences in behaviour between the classes
Donald Trump is the victim of a particular culture
In order for Trump to become the man he is, he had to have constant approval and acceptance of his behaviour throughout his life. He sees no wrong in the way he behaves, and neither do a great number of Americans. This is because, at its guts, self-aggrandisement, aggression, and the need for more and more, lies at the root of much American culture.
It is no accident that liberal and progressive America reject these traits and Republicans don’t notice them. When one has grown up, surrounded by certain behaviour, it seems natural.
Yet to those who stand outside this culture, it is both abrasive and objectionable.
To quote the New Zealand Herald “Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandisement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis.”
Anti-intellectualism, religiosity, ignorance? Or just a matter of class?
Isaac Asimov famously said that there was a culture of anti-intellectualism in America. There was always something about the statement that bothered me, and I finally understood what it was. In order to be against something, one has to know what one is against. I don’t believe that the people who are said to be anti-intellectual have any understanding what intellectualism is. I think there is a simpler explanation for what ails so many in America.
Do you remember Lisa Doolittle from My Fair Lady? There’s a scene where she screams at other people and behaves in a way that epitomises her class. Henry Higgens takes on the task of bringing her up to class.
I think the roots of the crass behaviour and general ignorance in America goes back to the kind of people who originally arrived – peasants. Certainly, they prospered, but class is about behaviour, not about money.
The Upper Classes
While something can be said about the abuse of power, snobbishness, and the arrogance of the upper classes in Europe, learning how to behave and handle all manner of events starts early. There is a rigid discipline that never lets up. Private (or public schools as they are known in England) install ways of saying things and handling things. So a gentleman would not tell you that you are rude. Rather he might mention that some are less than polite. It is never direct.
Shoes need to be shined, trousers need to be ironed, punctuality is ingrained, bread and butter letters (thank you letters for hospitality received) are insisted upon, the voice should never be raised and epithets should never be used. Words are pronounced in a certain manner, and a code of honour is part of the culture. This is why it is expected that if a leader is caught in something scandalous, he steps down without being asked. Education is also rigorous with analysis and critical thinking being part of the syllabus. In addition, children are exposed early to other cultures as a result of traveling with their parents to other countries during vacation times. Second, third, and forth languages are the norm. That is all part of the ethos of class. And the training begins very young.
Class - a matter of behaviour
What Asimov and others saw as a culture of anti-intellectualism is to my mind simply an absence of the type of knowledge generally held by the upper classes. As Robert Kiyosaki said so eloquently in his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, the children of the wealthy are taught to think about things differently. So while many Americans became very prosperous, they did not necessarily learn the skills and adopt the behaviour that is consistent with leadership.
The same kind of behaviourial difference is seen with very poor lottery winners. Because they were never accustomed to having money, they never learn to use it, and soon the money is all lost because it was never invested wisely.
At a fundamental level, this difference in behaviour affects the way situations are handled. Diplomacy is an art both handed down and acquired, and it is necessary for anyone in politics. The Christian Science Monitor noted in a May 1984 article that while America's response to an incident was military invasion, Britain's was behind-the-scene's negotiation.
Years ago, Peter York wrote a book called The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook. I recall an observation he made that has stuck with me all these years. He said that while there was a particular etiquette amongst these young wealthy people, that etiquette only worked amongst them. It did not work for people who had not been taught their particular way of life. So, for instance, a simple raised eyebrow or a soft word would immediately inform someone that they were out of line, and in line with that culture, people would simply adjust. Everything was done quietly and discreetly.
Traditionally in politics, and all positions of leadership, things are done quietly and discreetly. Mr Trump does not seem to understand the necessity of this.
President of a third world country
Jacob Zuma is the president of South Africa. He left school in his 8th year and is not fit to lead a country. When in court for raping a thirty one year old woman who was HIV positive, he was asked if he used a condom in order to avoid the infection, he famously said, “No, I washed.”
Mr. Zuma doesn’t know any better. Nor does Donald Trump.
Supporters of Mr. Trump
Anyone with the least modicum of etiquette would reject Trump’s behaviour. Those who support him then, can be said to operate at the same level (or a lesser level) than Mr. Trump. They have no idea how to behave, what is acceptable, what works, what doesn’t, and their views are formed by insufficient information. And just as Jacob Zuma was too ignorant to understand that mere washing wasn’t sufficient to protect him against the HIV virus, so Mr Trump and his supporters have no idea of the ludicrousy of their views and behaviour.
That said, just as Lisa Doolittle's behaviour didn't matter in the market place where she was selling flowers, but did matter when it came to mixing with the aristocracy, so Donald Trump's behaviour does not matter in his business but is not suitable for that of a president and the leader of the world's most powerful military nation. His general level of ignorance, his lack of etiquette, his threats to some and abuse of others are not traits that are acceptable on the world stage. That a large section of Americans find them not only acceptable but admirable are symptoms of a sick nation.
© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger