Kevin Doyle watched Trump's entire rally in Jacksonville. And he read and looked at all the posts of Trump's critics and concludes that all they are doing is further compress. And it is this compression that Trump is immune to, even more: it makes him thrive.
Watching an entire Trump-rally
I did something the other day which I don’t think anyone else in my circles has done – except maybe the writer Thomas Frank (founding editor, The Baffler). I actually watched a Donald Trump rally-speech in it’s entirety. It was over 2.5 hours long. It was from early August 2016. It took place in Jacksonville, Florida – a place I know fairly well and have visited over half-a-dozen times in my life. I wanted to see what it was all about for myself – in real-time – the actual spoken words uttered in the space by Trump himself, his audience and his introductory speakers.
I am compelled to say this clearly – to all the friends and colleagues in North America and the European Union who post clips and gifs and photos and links about Trump – making fun of him, attacking him, satirizing him, exposing him, whatever.
You don’t get it. Your posts don’t get at it.
I’ve sat back and watched them all for weeks and months now. They don’t illuminate or inform. Regardless of how valid and legitimate the points you are making. If anything, all these posts do is further compress. It is this “compression” that Trump is immune to. I think this “compression” is one of the factors that feeds him and makes his phenomenon possible; makes it thrive and spread and grow.
This guy can still actually win. Even with the events of the last few weeks and the supposed dive in poll numbers. This guy can still win.
In the video I link to – Trump is introduced by six speakers – three of whom are African-American and/or Female – three of whom are White Men.
There is something happening in this video when you hear these people speak. You can hear it in the structure of people’s sentences – both the introductory speakers and Trump himself. You can feel it in the thinking process that is articulated here, what the American poet Robinson Jeffers would call a “thickening center” – there is a compression, a thickening, a congealing around a way of talking and speaking and thinking – that I suspect all these Facebook posts and commentary are missing.
The 15,000+ people packed into this stadium in Jacksonville, Florida are immune to “our” posts. They are immune to the arguments “we” are making.
I don’t think it can be captured or reflected in polling numbers. I don’t believe that journalists or the media or MSNBC or the HuffPo Crowd are capable of getting at it. If anything, what I saw in the attached video is a phenomenon that is immune to polls or journalism. Like some newly evolved drug-resistant virus, I suspect it is even immune to satire.
I don’t have a word for this. I don’t have a phrase for what it is. But I know it when I see it and hear it.
And I know that “we” – meaning the posts I see every day – “we” are missing it. Completely. And whatever “it” is – “it” has been cut loose now – “it” has been unleashed upon the country to such a degree that countervailing options which might combat or displace “it” have been eroded.
I have been writing about “it” in my plays for the bulk of my adult life.
The spread of "it"
As a teenager and in my 20s, I recall hearing and sensing the shift in the way people talked. There was a difference spreading – I could hear it in the way people talked with each other, in their sentence structures, in their speech patterns, in their thinking patterns. I can distinctly recall when and where I was when I started to hear this shift. I was a teenager in Long Island, New York. Something changed and shifted in the musicality of the way people were talking. Something was changing, but it was not yet a permanent constant. The change was discernible – was still more incidental, still traceable, still possible to differentiate.
By the early 2000s it had evolved – it became the dominant method/mode of communicating. It was so present in every conversation I overheard in bars and cafes all over New York City – that I had to leave town and go to Québec City for several months just to get away from it; from the sound of it spoken, from the sound of the English language itself. Leaving helped. I was able to write several plays that I think capture it happening, unfolding and functioning in real-time dramaturgically – old plays like Compression of a Casualty, or not from Canada – or a new one called “consolidation” completed last year.
It is now the dominant method and mode by which Americans communicate with each other. When you travel abroad and you hear Americans speaking English – you can discern “it” so quickly and easily. It is a stark difference from other English speakers. Americans now speak in a terse, constrained structure and they all sound universally the same. It is as if they ape and mimic the exact musicality and structure of sit-com rhythms, soap opera dialogue, morning talk-show banter, or the perfectly timed brief dialogue transposed and ingrained from 20+ years of watching seasons of Law & Order (and all it’s infinite, derivative spin-offs and imitators). Any ideas or structure or emotions that cannot fit within these terse systems, patterns or rhythms is not expressed and cannot be vocalized.
Trump thinks and speaks in this veneer, within this method. Trump gets it. He’s from Queens, New York.
As “it” usurps other methods and modes by which we used to talk with each other – all bets are off. Anything is possible. The baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. Leonard Cohen said it best on his album THE FUTURE – “Things are gonna slide // slide in all directions // Won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore.” It is not just some coincidence that Cohen’s album was written, composed and recorded during 1991-1992. The time period overlaps with Roger Waters writing and recording his masterpiece concept album AMUSED TO DEATH. Both works created partly as a reaction to the first Gulf War, the bizarre and disproportionate waves of patriotism that followed in its wake, and the emergent 24/7 cable news cycles that cradled and coddled and cultivated it all. It is around this time I began to hear the shift, began to notice “it” – even as a kid, I heard it. Something was up. Something was off. Something was changing.
I think what you see in this 2.5 hour Trump campaign rally-speech is evidence of a large segment of Americans who for the last 26+ years have been growing up and attempting to carve out a life within this phenomenon – without any other reference point in their lives that might refer to another way of talking or speaking or thinking beyond this “thickening” “compressive” way of communicating.
Trump communicates this way. Trump thinks and speaks in this veneer, within this method. Trump gets it. He’s from Queens, New York. My mother is from Queens, New York. She talks and thinks and speaks the same way. My immediate and extended relatives talk and think and speak and frame sentences in this way. I have a crazy theory that this way of communicating actually originated in the Queens County / Nassau County regions of Long Island; that this new emergent, now dominant, method of American communication and thinking patterns had its origins in the Queens-Nassau area – some sick perfect mix of swill resulting from what is the origins of suburbia during the 1950s and 1960s – and the foundations of TV culture and the logic of the remote control perfected during the 1970s and 1980s.
The late American communications theorist, Neil Postman, postulated something similar to this repeatedly throughout his life’s work. Perhaps this “thing” was simultaneously manifesting itself in similar areas around the country during the same period? The suburban sprawl nether regions outside Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Detroit. Pull up a beach chair sometime on the shore of Robert Moses State Park, or plop down at a plastic table inside a mega-sized rest stop center on the Ohio Turnpike – and just listen to people talk sitting all around you. It is a manner and method of speaking that cuts across race and gender. It is a terse way of talking that feels constrained, compressed, and consolidated. It is neutered and safe – like fabric softener or Kraft Singles – while also sprinkled with a sense of fear, uncertainty and insecurity. It feels distinctly American.
The master of "it"
To me, it makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would emerge as the perfect master of employing “it” to his advantage; exploiting “it” to such a degree that now he is well-positioned to win the White House. And mark my words, Donald Trump can still win this 2016 Presidential Election. Easily.
I suspect he already has. And “we” – those of us living within trendy and informed urban enclaves – just don’t know it yet. “We” can’t see it yet, like an iceberg whose bulk is submerged beneath the surface. The last three national election results – the 2010 mid-terms, the 2012 election and the 2014 mid-terms – (combined with declining voter turnout figures) – all indicate a Trump victory will arrive come November. Obama barely won last time in 2012. It was a lot closer than people realize. Combine that with massive Democratic losses in the U.S. Congress, state houses nationwide and in gubernatorial races in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – combine that with massive Republican voter turnout in several key states during the primary campaigns this year – and all signs point towards Trump winning in 2016. Regardless of what outrageous things he said and did last week and regardless of what outrageous things he will do and say this week and next. This pattern and process became our new normal a long, long time ago.
Watch the video in its entirety. Listen to the words and sentences. Listen to how they are spoken. Watch the body language of people in the crowd as the camera pans around the stadium during long breaks in speakers.
Please. I urge you. There is a great deal to learn by doing so.
The 15,000+ people packed into this stadium in Jacksonville, Florida are immune to “our” posts. They are immune to the arguments “we” are making. They cannot hear “us” anymore because something has shifted. I fear that this shift cannot be undone – a shift in thinking and communicating and processing information that has taken 25-35 years to unfold. I fear that this shift cannot be addressed or combated during the next weeks. I fear that it is too late.
This is a country...
Don’t believe me? Think I’m crazy? Am I way off-base?
This is a country that elected Richard Nixon. Twice. The second time in a landslide. This is a country that elected Ronald Reagan. Twice. The second time in a landslide.
This is a country whose Top Three Beers are Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite – consumed in vast quantities each year by tens of millions who just think it’s the greatest.
This is a country whose most popular and profitable sport is medically proven to cause brain damage and brain disease in 79% of all its players, and induce an unprecedented wave of suicides among former players – yet the sport is still celebrated as sacrosanct; watched and attended by hundreds of millions annually who have no problem with those medical facts.
This is a country that willingly made Wal-Mart into a retail behemoth with the purchasing power of its own citizens’ dollars, its own citizens’ consumer choices – even as Wal-Mart was actively destroying the nation’s Main Street districts by putting thousands of family-run stores (people’s own neighbors) out of business. Even as Wal-Mart destroyed citizens’ own factory jobs by demanding that its suppliers secure cheaper and cheaper labor costs overseas in China. This is a country that chose Wal-Mart. And still does. Daily.
This is a country whose financial and housing sectors fed and gorged upon its own people in a predatory and at times illegal manner – for over a decade – to eventually lead to the second largest financial collapse in the nation’s history (after the Great Depression). And yet still – after eight years – hardly anyone of significance or responsibility in those two sectors has been charged and successfully prosecuted. This is something that has happened here. It is a recent thing. And it is accepted.
This is a country that has no problem with transforming our education systems and our health care systems into dual engines of profit for the few and debt for millions; instead of serving the public good. This is a country that has no qualms about transforming its municipal police forces across towns, cities and states into militarized armies, instead of serving the public good. A country that has no problem with the fact that on an annual basis its own municipal police forces kill more of its own citizens than terrorists and foreign armies have been able to kill over the course of decades.
News reporters and media pundits will analyze, discuss or mock a 30-second snippet of something Trump says at the August Jacksonville rally – but ignore the remaining 140 minutes of the event; overlooking the bulk of what has actually transpired in the space.
This is a country that illegally invaded Iraq in 2003. An action that has unleashed an unfathomable scale of horror, suffering and destruction upon the entire region – directly leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings, the displacement of millions more, the wasting of billions (if not, trillions) of dollars, and created the unstable conditions for not just one, but two, ongoing genocides currently taking place side by side of each other. Right now. In full view. And we’re all kinda just ok with that.
Taken in this context – which is not really “a context” at all – but rather is simply reality, our reality – the reality of what America actually is – this is who we are – but for lack of a better phrase, “taken in this context” a Donald Trump presidency is not a far cry from being placed on the list above. If anything, it kind of fits. It belongs.
This is who we are. The totality of an iceberg already present. One we have been living with in our midst for quite some time, but refuse to fully notice or comprehend.
The media mocking Trump
There is a stark difference between the way news reporters and media pundits speak and sound on television or the radio, and the way Americans converse with each other in public spaces or during brief moments of exchange at a cashier counter. News reporters and media pundits will analyze, discuss or mock a 30-second snippet of something Trump says at the August Jacksonville rally – but ignore the remaining 140 minutes of the event; overlooking the bulk of what has actually transpired in the space. In-depth articles and news reports posted online that dissect contradictions in Trump’s words and (what passes for) policies – are cited and shared amongst friends and colleagues as evidence of how Trump will not and cannot win. Yet they ignore the hundreds and thousands of comments attached below the posted story; comments from users mocking the article’s author, compressing logic, conflating facts and re-stating support for Trump – regardless of the journalistic reality presented.
I believe it is too easy and too convenient to dismiss the Trump phenomenon as a manifestation of racism and bigotry in America. (Although clearly there are strong elements present). If you watch and listen to the Trump rally I link to, it becomes clear that something more akin to a “thickening” or a “compressing” has taken place. I suspect that what is going on is more complex, runs deeper, and requires more time to examine and explain than we have the patience for at present. We prefer to post and/or like and/or share quickly – the impetus of our emotional reaction sufficiently spent, or the self-evident logic and correctness of our stated positions so clearly expressed – and then move on through our digital day to comforting pet videos, or the next impending Superhero/Star Wars movie.
The process I watch online daily from friends and colleagues in my social media feed in regards to Trump, is nearly identical to the daily online process I witnessed earlier this year from friends and colleagues in regards to BREXIT. The two terms “Trump” and “BREXIT” can actually be superimposed upon each other; so similar the usage applied and employed. In the same way I doubt it would ever dawn upon someone in my “BREXIT” feed a few months ago to actually sit down and talk with a chip shop owner in Lincolnshire – I doubt it would ever occur to someone in my “TRUMP” feed today to actually sit down and talk with a convenience store cashier in Schenectady.
My time in upstate New York
Many years ago I was fortunate to be awarded a residency at a major American institution in upstate New York. It was a magical place to work – quiet and calm – I was incredibly productive. The dialogue with colleagues was inspiring and the friendships made there last to this day. A few years ago, I was invited back for a return residency. I was still productive, but something was different. Late at night – in fact, all night – there was noise. The steady, incessant sound of cars off in the distance – the roar of cars traveling on the nearby interstate highway, their engines and tires echoing and reverberating back and forth then up and down the valley – the roars washing over the residency grounds in sound waves that would crash and then recede in an endless rhythm during the night. At first, I couldn’t understand how it was possible. Nothing had changed. The interstate highway had not moved. The residency buildings had not moved. I inquired if trees had been cut down in the nearby forest that separated the residency from the interstate. I was told that all of the trees were still present. Everything was the same.
For several days, I pondered what could be different. I asked a fellow resident who had been here years before, if he noticed the difference as well. He said, “Yes, it’s louder now. More traffic.” But what could be causing such an increase in car traffic during the night? And then it dawned on me. This was the fifth or sixth year of the Great Recession. People were going to work. Even at 2:00am – people were still going to (or coming from) work. People in this upstate New York region were forced to travel further and further in their cars to get to work. Many were working a collection of two or three full-or-part-time jobs just to get by, just to survive. And they were forced to travel greater distances in order to be at those jobs. This was the source of the sounds that kept me up at night. The roaring sound waves washing up, intruding upon the coastline of my residency, originated from people desperate to make ends meet and stay afloat. How do they get enough sleep to function? Did they have enough time to spend with their kids? When was the last time they saw their spouse or partner? What happens to them if their alternator dies? If their carburetor malfunctions? What do they do in their spare time? Do they still know what spare time is?
I laid in my bed, trying to drift off to sleep listening to the roaring waves from the interstate. They never stopped. There was never a lull or break. When one receded, another came to replace it. I tried to sleep by imagining that the roaring of engines and tires were actual waves from the Atlantic Ocean washing up on the coastline. But it didn’t work. Every time I tried, I only saw images in my head of people – tired people hunched over the steering wheels of their cars.
I think of those people now. I wonder if anything has changed for them three years on. I cannot shake the image of them behind the wheel, their faces illuminated by the soft glow emanating from their dashboards. As I sit here now writing this – somewhere deep in the woods of middle America – I hear a roar make its way through the forest, weaving its way between trees, snapping off branches and trampling over the underbrush. This roar is different somehow. It doesn’t subside like a passing car. It is faint still, but steady and constant; as if it is covering ground, traversing space and time. I have an image of an iceberg – moving of its own volition across the landscape – it slowly emerged from the sea and came on land – its full size and height revealed to the naked eye, no longer concealed by the ocean depths. I see this iceberg moving slowly at its own pace – picking up people, objects and ideas who cling to its frigid texture as it lurches over the plains. I hear the dull roar from the iceberg’s base grinding its way across the fractured earth and I wonder. Is it possible the iceberg will ever melt? Or is it destined to become a permanent fixture when it finally stops at its chosen berth?
This article first appeared on The Wave Maker Faltered