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A Shaming and Shameful Election

Dealing with the Post-Trump Campaign Era

The presidential campaign we’ve just experienced took negative campaigning to a whole new low.  The primary method was not new — color the other candidate as awful with super-sticky paint that is water proof and flame proof.

The outcome of the election was stunning to most people, including Republicans and likely Trump himself, though he will not admit to any insecurity about anything.  Michael Moore, along with a few others, predicted that Trump would win because of the huge number of distressed white working class people in the previously Democratic states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

While it is looking as though Hillary will in the popular vote by a million or more votes, the rustbelt’s disadvantaged pushed their states toward Trump and with it the election based upon electoral votes.

What crucial factors drove this outcome?  There is one in particular that may be the most powerful source of energy:  The unrecognized emotion of shame.  Human beings are remarkably responsive to being shamed and will do (or not do) many, many things in order to avoid being shamed.  Shame is being exposed to the world as flawed, no good.  While all emotions, including shame, can be more or less intense, even a light touch of shame can be overwhelmingly intense.

The curious thing about this emotion is how painful and unrecognized it is. When anyone feels intensely shamed — mocked, humiliated, dissed, put own in some fashion, ignored — the natural, uninhibited response after the first instance of pain is outrage at being treated this way.  If someone puts us down, especially in front of others, we first want to melt with blazing heat through the floor, to disappear; then we shift and want to turn the blazing heat onto those doing the shaming.  Despite this, shame is seldom even mentioned in the overwhelming number of reports on the election and more generally in stories about crimes of violence.

This campaign was filled with inflammatory put downs, more often by Trump and his surrogates, than Hillary and her surrogates.  But both effectively waded into the muck-filled arena to toss huge globs at their opposition.  In those rustbelt states, Trump used his well-honed skills to mock Hillary while playing to his audiences.  People got a sense that he knew how limited and limiting were their lives, to the point they could not begin to compete in the middle class arena for the goodies that say, “We made it; have you?”  

No one likes to feel inferior. Think of all the revolts and revolutions mobilized by those at the bottom.  

Trump, like Rush Limbaugh and others, loves the putdown. So do his audiences. When he speaks about himself, he uses superlatives and when he speaks of others, especially his opposition, he flips to the antonyms of superlatives:  second rate; really, really bad; worst; stupid, and so on.

In the interview Monday night (11/14/16) on CBS with Leslie Stahl, Trump was busy making nice.  He praised Hillary and Bill Clinton.  When Stahl asked him if he was going to prosecute Hillary, instead of saying, “No,” he started in a list of things he hoped to do in the first day on the job as president.  

This niceness is not going to last.  He appears to be surrounding himself with tried and true losers (e.g., John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, & Sarah Palin).  But the one thing we can count on will be more of the same.

David E. Roy




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