The silver lining to Trump and America’s white-patriarchal crisis.
In his recent interview with Bill Moyers, Ben Fountain, author of Beautiful Country, Burn Again, contextualizes Trump’s ascent to power within America’s (popular) culture, clarifying the ways our current political circumstances far from rose out of a vacuum. As an immigrant to this country and a keen observer of its culture, I’ve seen this truth as self-evident since the 2016 primaries. Fountain points to the popularity of J.R. Ewing — a Trumpian, villain proto-type — a character who, in the year I emigrated from England to the US, (1977), morosely captivated what was then still a fledgling, “global” popular culture. His image was so compelling my friends joked that I would surely return one day in a ten-gallon hat. J.R. Ewing and his tough, good-guy counterpart, John Wayne, hold sway as powerful, mythic white, male archetypes — the existence of which, in today’s evolving America, have become deeply threatened to their celluloid core.
Fountain’s analysis begins to touch on the ways the Trump phenomenon is inseparable from the culture in which it was born. I remember hearing the predictions of a famous Vedic astrologer before the 2016 election that “America will get the president it deserves” — and we have. Fountain weaves connections between American popular culture, the failures of the American dream under its waking-life capitalism, and our propensity to escape, exponentially compounded today by the addictive appeal of our “devices”. Fountain is dead on here as he points to the complexity of the problems we face in this country; he makes it clear it will require much more than the time it takes for Trump to leave office to address them. (Assuming he leaves, which I still have some faith will eventually happen.)
However, there is something important missing in Fountain’s analysis — at least as it appears in this interview. American culture, its economic institutions, and this country’s values are infused at their foundation by the impact of a patriarchal worldview. As those institutions are increasingly threatened, the question is begged: What might be able to emerge on the other side?
Intersectional Matrix: Economics, Race, Gender
I do not fault Fountain for not mentioning the significance of the patriarchal context. He has a wise and compelling analysis that is beautifully and persuasively expressed. Rather, I want to add something important to his already worthy account. But before doing so, a word on simply that: When we hear compelling accounts from progressives that don’t feel like they adequately address a part of the story, rather than a “yes, but..” stance, I believe we need to increasingly engage a “yes and”.
After all, we got where we are now in the context of a complex matrix of intersectional, multi-dimensional causes. Within that matrix, we are in a learning matrix with one another, waking up together. As we find our way through this web towards a better, fairer, healthier, more just future, we can’t afford to continue negating one another (identity politics style) when, in illuminating one dimension of the cause for our plight, we fail to adequately mention another. When it comes to tracking the tributaries, there is little doubt in my mind that they all count.
In fact, any writing and talking about culture, power and identity in today’s fraught times calls for us to engage in a challenging game of three dimensional chess. It is objectively hard, if not impossible, to name all the influences/dimensions at once. But we can learn, we must learn, in and from the dialogue.
A Deeper Current of Meaning
To that end, this is my next move on the chess board of America’s present and future: Fountain focusses on the abuses and distortions of capitalism as they intersect with the American psyche, history and its culture of distraction and fantasy. Yes. Yes. Yes. And the #MeToo and Times Up movements are not accidental in our times. As Trump is symptomatic, so too is #MeToo symptomatic of something deeply awry that, importantly, should not be reduced to men’s inappropriate behavior towards women, alone. We fail ourselves as a country (and as inhabitants of our planet) if we do not dig deeper to try to understand this axis.
American culture is built on a patriarchal world-view that ‘sees through’ (and is built upon) the lens of generations of trauma. Woven into the childhood of boys for generations is the humiliation of being taught to deny needs and emotion, live as unnaturally ‘self-reliant’ stoics who, war after war have been taught that ‘real men’ kill other men for country. Contrary to what we have come to believe, the level of violence we are now accustomed to is not inherent to human nature. It is based in trauma and defensively dependent on a separation from nature, from our deeper, embodied, inter-dependent selves. This separation marks a defensive distancing from what I am increasingly choosing to refer to as the deep, or human-feminine. (This ‘feminine’ is distinct from the patriarchal heist of the feminine, projected in diminished ways onto the bodies of girls and women, onto “idealized” behaviors that hinge on the pleasures of men, or onto derisive stereotypes of gay/lesser than “masculine” men.)
The deep feminine holds the split off, diminished qualities of vulnerability, inter-dependence, natural dynamism that live not only in our bodies (bodies of women, trans-bodies, men, children, ALL bodies, regardless of skin color) but also in nature. These dimensions of living experience are not just a source of value they are the source of value — profoundly worthy of our respect.
Until recently, the realm of the human-feminine has been living in the shadow of America’s mainstream culture, marginalized or projected onto the “private sphere”, relegated to the secretive realms of child-birth or the quietly side-stepped territory of hospice care. It lives in the healthcare crisis, which has everything to do with the well being of bodies and the denial of need and the interdependence that is core to the human condition.They live in the forgetting of the oceans, their coral reefs, increasingly violated by plastic ‘islands’ of refuse that then enter and pollute the water we drink which makes up 99% of our own bodies. These living, defining dimensions of life live in the dark, unknown of our country’s collective unconsciousness.
To put it bluntly, in our mainstream, manifest culture, our embodiment, our inherent human interdependence is thrown under the bus. Any mother who has nursed a child knows the depth to which this level of connection is fundamental to the human condition and is exemplified in nature, itself, with its im-measureable currents of relationship, both powerful and delicate and indispensable to life.
We see the negation of all these qualities in the Trump phenomenon — they are the the very value and qualities against which Trump unconsciously defines himself, desperately seeking defensive, self-reification daily (if not, hourly, on twitter!). They stand in the shadows right next to the other shadow cast by white privilege, the second pivotal axis on which our country has defensively, defined itself.
We are wrestling, then, with the damage of white, patriarchal narcissistic entitlement, but as it exists not just in white men but in the ways whiteness and patriarchal values are infused within all of us and throughout our culture, in our institutions, in internalized patriarchal views of gender, nature, and in what is, and is not, seen has having value.
The white patriarchal worldview goes to the core of how America has defined itself and that is why our times are revolutionary for America.
Capitalism is on shaky ground. Masculinity is as well, as is our collective sense of truth, what is valuable and, finally, our planet’s ecosystems. *All these insecurities are related.* Trump could not be a more iconic symptom — he is the meta-defensive-manifestation of these vulnerabilities at the root of America’s hubristic origins.
The Foundational Matrix
At the end of Moyer’s interview, Fountain speaks of a revolution of consciousness, a change in “ideas, vision and imagination” and here, on the chess board of our nation’s imagination, I add the role of the deep, human feminine as a ubiquitous presence in every dimension of this (r)evolution. The deep feminine is the matrix that exists at the foundation of all the matrices of our human culture, and, as such, it unifies us in our humanity.
Truly revolutionary in revealing how terribly disoriented we have become to the real value of life, it is the archetype of compassionate reconnecting. Far from reflecting the “weakness” of the patriarchal feminine, when understood and valued, the deep feminine is powerful beyond measure and, importantly, perhaps most importantly, it is beyond feminism.
The deep feminine does not belong to women. Not by a long shot. Capable of being expressed daily by all of us, in our relationships to ourselves, each other and nature, it belongs to no one. It simply is.
When we let ourselves stand in the center of our despair — and there is plenty of that to stand in today — and let this experience take us, not to defeat, but to a greater surrender to our grief and what it teaches us about what we love, this deep feminine revolution is born in each of us. This ‘stand’ exists in the inward turn that allows us to reclaim the deeper qualities of ourselves and humanity, qualities that have been lost or obscured by a prevailing patriarchal, capitalist culture — a culture’s who’s best efforts got us here.
The courageous stand amidst the despair cannot help but call on us to revisit what we *really* value in life and in this reclamation process, a broader definition of citizenship is calling to us — waiting, simply, with love and a self-knowing awareness, to be claimed. She has been waiting for thousands of years. And the process of reclamation is itself revolutionary: individual, particular, re-connected, one citizen at a time … inhabiting a livable and lovable future.