By Mohammad Mazhari

Many Americans still cling to Trump as their savior: anthropologist

March 5, 2022 - 11:20

TEHRAN – Despite his hypocrisy, Donald Trump is regarded as a savior by many Americans, an associate professor of anthropology says.

“Donald Trump took on the role of ‘populist,’ and became regarded as the ‘voice of the people’ – the disenfranchised, the victims of economic change brought about without their consent,” Phillips Stevens Jr. from the State University of New York at Buffalo tells the Tehran Times.

“Most people in America recognize that Trumpism – selfish, arrogant, and deceitful - is not the ideal version of Americanism.  But many Americans still cling to Donald Trump as their savior, and, although popular acceptance of this aberrant political ideology is declining, its future is uncertain.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: The American society is suffering from problems such as racism, xenophobia, violence, etc. However, some politicians add fuel to these problems. How do you see the future of democracy and freedom in the U.S. in light of such socio-cultural challenges?

A: America has undergone great change over the past 5 years, since 2016.  The two strongest agents of change have been Trumpism and the COVID-19 pandemic.  America exemplifies the inherent weaknesses of liberal democracy, of the sort shared by smaller and less complex democracies elsewhere in the world. Liberal governments, liberal values, loose socio-cultural restrictions, all allow for expressions of discontent.  

“America is an extremely complex and extremely heterogeneous country.”America is an extremely complex and extremely heterogeneous country and with increased immigration, it is becoming more complex and heterogeneous.  Even in good, prosperous times lots of people are unhappy with something.  The campaign and election of President Donald Trump in 2016 tapped into and aroused and gave a collective voice to many dissatisfied people, especially in rural areas.   Cities can have areas of squalor and poverty, but - as in all parts of the world - folks in rural areas develop grand but unrealistic ideas about life in the cities, the centers of commerce, education, arts, health care, and government.  And they are envious of the imagined life of urban people.  They are certain the city-dwellers are getting much larger pieces of the economic and cultural pie.   When a universal stressor like a pandemic of a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease sets in and permeates all aspects of life, the expressions of unhappiness intensify and scapegoating and conspiracy theories become widespread.  That happened in the 15th century with the bubonic plague (“The Black Death”) and in 1918 with the Spanish Flu. The same kind of social response can occur with other broad causes of social stress and anxiety-like environmental disasters – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods - or war, economic depression, etc.  These are historic and universal trends that have happened to many societies under similar conditions, and they generate social scapegoating reactions like racism, anti-Semitism, general xenophobia, domestic violence; and individual pathologies like alcoholism and drug abuse.

Q: Do you think racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia are rooted in American society or it is policymakers who promote hatred? For example, Trump and certain Republicans, directly or indirectly, provoke racism or discrimination against minorities.

A: American conservatism has valued individual accomplishment and was wary and suspicious of different lifestyles; values, government, and outsiders, and such values have intensified and have been the bases for new forms of defiance.  “Gun rights,” based on the felt need to defend conservative values, has been a dominant theme in American culture and politics.  Sexuality is central to human concerns; and with recent advances in medical science and the recognition of certain aberrant sexualities as natural human variations, the rapid liberalizing of sexual attitudes became another conservative reaction to liberal values.  Conservatives tend to be more actively religious than liberals, and religious conviction has always been strong in American popular values.  Abortion has been an especially divisive issue, and religious belief underlies anti-abortion activism.

Q: American history is a witness to deep-rooted racism against Blacks and other minorities. Apparently, the political system has failed to tackle these issues that can turn into threats against national security and values. Where does the problem lie? 

A: As an anthropologist, I conclude that racism, deep-seated antipathy toward people of different ethnicities, especially those whose differences are displayed in physical features, is rooted in an inherent suspicion of outsiders which had a clear adaptive advantage over the course of evolution, but which is easily changed in early childhood and through socialization.  American racism, however, is unique, deep, intertwined with the nation’s history.  It is different from but has been compared to the Hindu caste system.  America’s early dependence on Black slavery is an extremely painful legacy for both Blacks and whites.  History is important in all cultures and provides grounding for identity and relations with others.  Like many nations with histories of inhumanity toward specific groups of people, America is still in the process of confronting, understanding, and reconciling its history.

Q: Given Trump's big social base, what will be implications of his possible re-election in the 2024 elections? 

A: Donald Trump took on the role of “populist,” and became regarded as the “voice of the people” – the disenfranchised, the victims of economic change brought about without their consent.  Most people in America recognize that Trumpism – selfish, arrogant, and deceitful - is not the ideal version of Americanism.  But many Americans still cling to Donald Trump as their savior, and, although popular acceptance of this aberrant political ideology is declining, its future is uncertain.
America is still an enviable democracy, as evidenced by continual immigration and the people’s demonstrated concern for and largesse to those whose rights are threatened.  As a current example, Americans loudly join most of the rest of the world in our praise of and concern for the Ukrainian people, and huge gifts of money, food, and material are being donated now.



 

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