Genu-Whine: Authenticity as Complaint, an Americanism
by Sam Eagles
Donald Trump is famously on record for saying, at a rally after a big primary win, "The poorly educated! I love the poorly educated!" He has also gotten into—arguments?--with his fellow presidential contenders for the GOP nomination over whose wife is hotter or who has the bigger set of "hands."
At the same time, Trump has been the only presidential nominee to openly say that "We need to figure out what the hell is going on" with Islamic terrorism, but that it's the intelligence and decision-making prowess demanded of the business world that makes him the most qualified person to be for the job. Yet this same prowess has been questioned, most cogently and easily accessed by Dylan Matthews writing in Vox, who notes that Trump would have been worth about as much if he had invested his inheritance in an index fund in 1974 and never gone into business at all. In other words, his wealth is not due to his intelligence and decision-making powers at all but rather follows market trends at best. At worst, Matthews notes, Trump may have harmed his own success by going into business, had he invested with someone else in 1984 when he was worth about $200 million.
Plenty of pundits both on the Left and the Establishment Right have spent plenty of time explaining these issues for partisan and political purposes. As usual, the punditocracy is missing the point. We will never understand the Trump phenomenon until we can understand how Trump's seeming contradictions add up to the "genuineness" and "He tells it like it is" qualities so valued by loyal Trump voters.
Rather than being a bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, self-contradictory mess, The Donald is both a perfect reflection of the zeitgeist and a distillation of America Himself. As far back as Henry Gadsworth Dangfellow, American poets and writers have
Graced the Land
With mighty hand,
The buzzy taint
Of loud complaint (10-14).
The Founding Fathers, while duly noted for their compromises on the matter of African Americans, are less well known for their attempts to create an Office of the Complainer that would not merely receive but actively solicit the petty grumblings of American citizens, giving special priority to those "landed gentries, smalle farmers" and "those for whome their lives have fallen belowe their station" as a way of placating the male, the disgruntled, and the White (Lemoncock 14).
Thoreau himself noted with some degree of wistfulness the passing the "the great New England tradition" of "the grouching pole," a column, often of stone, but generally "turned of oak, colonnaded and placed upon a dais" in the town's center, at which the semi-privileged would "several times a fortnight assemble" in order to make known their complaints "no matter how petty or inane" (404). By tradition, those at the pole would be "feted with cake, wine, spirits, and ale" until, sated or too drunk to move, they ceased complaining (407).
The sad state of affairs that has led to the passing of such formal traditions of American complaint can be attributed to not only the rise of women and the non-White, but also to pressure placed upon those at the top of the Great Chain of Being to be seen as not merely Prime Movers of American social and economic forces, but also as paragons of a sort of stoicism in its Platonic form. Of this tendency the great economist and thinker Guiltman Frehloder wrote as early as 1965 that "post-colonial expectations to take the exceptionalism of the American job-creating class as a matter unneedful of gratitude have carried over to this day to the detriment of the economic progress of freedom-loving people the world over" (294).
And herein arises both the authenticity and the danger of suppressing the public lamentations of naturally dominant citizens: without the ability to be both successful and angry about it, the natural drivers of our social and economic engines are likely to sit on their laurels, plunging the nation into just the sort of malaise we have found ourselves in over the past half century. The spectre of "political correctness" is not merely an annoyance to those whose rights of free speech are assured by their Creator; it's a drag on the need for privileged, semi-successful people to gin up their own dissatisfaction to levels necessary to sustain American Exceptionalism for the next two centuries.
The constant whining against feminists, Mexicans, and Muslims, rather than evincing simple sexism, racism, and xenophobia, represents the internalization of market forces expressing themselves in those most suited to drive them forward. At this point in history, those people happen to be under-educated White men with guns, as lamentable as that may be to those who happen to find themselves outside that group. This is the same group, notably, who built American industry, subdued the Western frontier, and supplied the bulk of combatants for both sides of the War Between the States.
When Trump says he "loves the poorly educated," what he means is the same as when a plantation owner says that he loves his slaves: upon these backs rides it's-gonna-be-greatness, its pomp intact, its hair perfectly aloft, its circumstances ennobled, no matter how the slippery the downtrodden trials beneath.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is "telling it like it is."
Dangfellow, Henry Gadsworth. "A Pitch Upon the Pine." The Complete Works of Henry Gadsworth Dangfellow. New York: Scribners. 1962. 104-106. Print.
Frehloder, Guiltman. "The Inability of Minorities and Labor to Appreciate All that We've Done for Them: an Analysis of the Last 200 Years." American Traditionalist 44.2 (1965): 290-305. Print.
Lemoncock, George. "A Proposal to Create an Office of the Complainer in these United States." (1789). PU Online Archive of Colonial History. Purewater University. 13 Nov. 2009. Web. 18 March 2016.
Matthews, Dylan. "Donald Trump Isn't Rich Because He's a Great Investor. He's Rich Because His Dad Was Rich." Vox. V1.4. 30 March 2016. Web 29 May 2016.
Thoreau, Henry David. Observations Not Otherwise Noted. Boston: Harvard Classics. 1955.