By Kevin C. Peterson
For a long time now it has become a rolling cliche among democratic presidential hopefuls that the current occupant of the White House lacks emotional fortitude, mental stability — any scintilla of redeeming ethics.
The candidates at last night’s democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio were relentless in their corporate onslaught upon the Trump presidency, assaying his capacity to lead, insisting upon his incurable political myopia, agreeing that Trump’s tenure in office has been dysfunctional, at best. The clique of would-be presidential candidates have centered much of their justification for being in the race to occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue upon president Trump’s moral inconstancy, his juvenile political practice and the unrelentingly noxious mood he has brought upon the nation.
Trump is routinely described by his democratic challengers as unprincipled and uncouth, as a churlish and imbecilic. Yet, few to date have captured Trump with such unvarnished appraisal than Senator Kamala Harris during — and in the aftermath — of last night’s debate in the Buck-Eye state.
Sen. Harris has never been shy in letting her passion show since she entered the race earlier this January. Most Americans, who have been attuned to the “pre-stakes” of the democratic party presidential run-off, remember how Harris has already evinced her ability to stand out and speak baldly.
Remember the debate this summer where Harris evoked the ghost of race-based busing as she accused former vice-president Joe Biden of being soft on court-ordered bus desegregation? I was that “little girl” she plaintively emoted on the stage to an audience who — at least for that stunning moment — could feel her pain.
Last night Trump was, this time, the target of Harris’ bracing politically-laced emotional ire. While other democrats were on stage blaming Trump for the amateur brand of politics he practices, Harris went all out — calling Trump onto the carpet for his imbecility.
“He’s like a two-year old with a machine gun,” quipped Harris in a spin room interview on the The 11th Hour with Brian Williams on MSNBC.
“The fact is that he is irresponsible. He is erratic… He does not understand the power of his words or his actions in the way that they will actually impact or end other human beings lives…He has shown that he is not responsible enough to self-regulate. He has shown that he is not responsible enough to edit what he says.”
This boils down to what may be called the infantilization of Trump — conveying that the sum total of his presidency is processed through his self-imposed hubris and megalomania. It is not governance that Trump is committed to as president; its protracted self-gratification.
Infantilization is a state of assessment wherein an individual refuses to measure the needs or point of view of others. It canabalizes empathy. It reduces complex categories into simplistic appreciation cloaked in pure selfishness. It is the Freudian id unencumbered by the super ego. Trump is, alas, the Enfant Terrible, a persona marked solely and only by its capacity of continuous, cyclical self-indulgence. He is much like the “Hollow Men,” depicted by poet T.S. Eliot.
The “infantilist ethos,” according to Benjamin R. Barber, in his book Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantalize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole” is pervasive in our culture. It drives our habits, social compunctions and moral proclivities. Hence, the American public may be as much as a picture of Trump as much as he is a mirror of us within the context of postmodernity.
Barber’s book gives stunning insight into what Americans have become in our post-world war cultural and political narrative. It is insight that should cause us to worry about where we will all end as a nation — how devastating will be the state of our collapse?
The sad and trite aspect of Sen. Harris’ analysis of Trump is that it all seems so true.
It is clear by now for many Americans that Trump represents a political perspective that may well extend beyond his ability to control. The upshot is that Trump poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and we must feel compelled to respond to it. How we do this — how we respond as citizens in a markedly Trumpiam world — within the context of our fragile democracy, and within the context of our expressed humanity, is the looming civic challenge before us.
Trump’s comportment is fueled by an inexhaustible supply of vanity which exacts an expensive cost against our civic reality. He is the irrational brat, and unrestrained braggart we have allowed to cause great threat to our almost skeletal democracy.