There are many reasons to recommend Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” but this is not a book review, so I offer this single, searing paragraph:
“I have said before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”
Could there be a more perfect description of that failed human strategy? If we feel good about ourselves only by comparison, we are forever on the hunt, setting our sights on innocent others so that we can stomach who we’ve become.
“So what?” one might ask. If this game of mental gymnastics is an interior job — if we keep our darkest motives to ourselves — what harm comes of this way of thinking?
Well, there’s this: When storing our insecurities, the mind is the worst place to stock the shelves. Eventually, the monster festering and growing in the dark demands its freedom — or, in the case of the Republican presidential race, an audience.
This week Sarah Palin, who refuses to go away, endorsed Donald Trump, who insists he is here to stay. The public response was rapid and, many would say, often hilarious. Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled “Palin Endorsement Widens Trump Lead Among Idiots.” The New York Daily News‘ cover headline: “I’M WITH STUPID! Hate minds think alike: Palin endorses Trump.”
A few months ago, I would have snickered along and maybe shared links to this coverage on Facebook, but these past few months of relentless Trump coverage have changed me. To laugh is to play along with this notion of my superiority, and I don’t like that version of myself. I was raised to be better than this.
Some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — white, working-class males who fear they are on the brink of extinction — are the same Americans who would suffer most if he were the Republican nominee and could continue this farce of a campaign to Election Day. These are the people I come from. I have reached the point where I am more worried for them than embarrassed by their choice of candidate. I’m not proud of either sentiment.
It is perhaps the most depressing fact of this current primary campaign that Donald Trump’s extremism — so much of which swirls around his assertions of superiority — has fueled his momentum. Every speech is one long brag-fest about his fictional superiority, not just to other candidates but also to a growing list of entire groups of people: Mexicans and Muslims, women and black people — and now members of the media, too, who dare to defy his coverage directives. He mocks them, all of them. The more he bellows and belittles, the louder his crowds roar.
And now he has been joined by Sarah Palin, who resigned her job as Alaska’s governor to pursue her hobby of willfully uninformed trolling in the arena of public discourse. During her endorsement speech for Donald Trump, she made up a new word — “squirmishes” — to describe the complexities of the violence in the Middle East:
“And you quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil-rich. We’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries, where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allahu akbar,’ calling jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.”
And this, comparing Trump to President Barack Obama: “And he, who would negotiate deals, kind of with the skills of a community organizer maybe organizing a neighborhood tea, well, he deciding that, ‘No, America would apologize as part of the deal,’ as the enemy sends a message to the rest of the world that they capture and we kowtow, and we apologize, and then, we bend over and say, ‘Thank you, enemy.'”
Thanks (I think) to The New York Times‘ Michael Barbaro for transcribing those chunks of Palin’s ranting.
Most major news organizations in the country sent out breaking news alerts when she announced that she was endorsing Trump. Think about that, but whatever you do, don’t dwell on it. No good comes of it, I can tell you.
There was a time when too many of us saw Trump’s climb in the polls as so temporary, and evidence of our superiority. Look how stupid those people are, we said, chuckling.
Who’s laughing now?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump thanks the crowd after receiving Sarah Palin’s endorsement at a rally at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.