Solveig Torvik

“Hurt people hurt people.”
– Leon Wieseltier, Brookings Institution fellow

Let’s change focus, people.

Enough of Trump already. Nothing more can be said about him, or said by him, that will change what we know him to be: unfit for office.

But what about those who think he is fit for office? They should compel our attention more than Trump himself. (See Brexit.)

It’s apparent that many, though certainly not all, of Trump’s admirers feel they’ve been trampled by a system that’s rigged against them. Their grievances are not only financial but also cultural, religious, racial. And they don’t seem to care if their remedy for their pain is uncivil and un-American.

How did we get to this awful place? By indifference to the plight of others, for one thing. By rapid social change, for another. Beware when people feel displaced in their own country.

“What does economic wretchedness have to do with the appetite for authoritarianism?” Leon Wieseltier asks in the Washington Post. A lot, it seems.

Trump “would be nowhere, and we would not be facing a grave historical crisis, without the enthusiasm of these despairing and deluded millions,” Wieseltier writes.

“These downtrodden demand sympathy, and they deserve sympathy, but they do not give sympathy. They kindle, in the myopia of their pain, to racism and nativism and xenophobia and misogyny and homophobia and anti-Semitism. They swoon over an ignorant thug who promises to deport 11 million immigrants from a country built by immigration and to close the borders of a religiously free country to an entire religion,” he writes.

Well, maybe we as a nation are getting what we’ve earned. Certainly the Republican Party is. Its leaders have spent decades setting the table for the arrival of Donald Trump.

The ethical rot at the party’s core becomes ever more painfully apparent as its craven leaders capitulate to Trump’s unhinged, undemocratic agenda. They’ve chosen party, or personal political career, over country.

Don’t crow about this if you’re not a Republican. The Republican Party’s disarray and disheartening abandonment of integrity is bad news for the republic. We need a reality-based Republican Party; Democrats don’t have an exclusive patent on good ideas. And who wants to live in a one-party state?

The first sign of trouble was when Republicans showed up for the presidential debates with 17 candidates. This embarrassment of choices confirmed the obvious: the party had no viable candidate. The last candidate standing is simply the loudest — and most outrageous. And, alas, the most newsworthy.

(Mea culpa, if you insist. I don’t admire much of the news media’s Trump coverage, either. That said, our duty as journalists is not to hide presidential candidates’ behavior from you. Trump understands our dilemma all too well.)

But why did the Republican Party need 17 presidential candidates? Because it’s desperately casting about for ways to survive inexorable demographic and cultural changes that may spell its doom.

It’s a leaderless, shakily cobbled-together coalition — business, rural, suburban and evangelical factions. Their self-interests don’t fully align. What’s good for Wall Street has not always proven good for Glover Street; quite the contrary. Awkward, to be sure. But no one speaks of it.

It seems counter-intuitive that anyone would vote against their own economic interests. But the poorest members of the Republican Party have reliably supported a party that has made the rich richer at their expense.

Why? “People in adversity turn not to economics but to culture. They are fortified not by policy but identity … They seek saviors, not programs,” Wieseltier writes. Ominously.

Republican party leaders do realize that they must enlist young people and citizens of color. The newest generation of voters, the millennials, are 80 million strong. But 44 percent of them are racial minorities. And what they hear from the Republicans’ presumed presidential candidate is that non-whites are alien, suspect and scary. Not a promising party-building strategy.

Neither is the party’s dalliance with religion. Many younger voters regard much of what’s issued from that sacred-secular, god-in-government union over the years as little but tacit approval of “church-sanctioned bigotry,” writes Robert P. Jones in The End of White Christian America.

Things have changed on the nation’s religion front, but the party has not. In 1993, when President Bill Clinton was sworn in, 51 percent of the electorate was white Protestant. In 2014, it was 32 percent, according to Jones.

Much has been made of disenchanted blue-collar white male support for Trump. Perhaps that’s happened because nothing sensible was done to prevent it?

In 1964, 97 percent of men aged 25 to 54 with a high school diploma or less had a job. Now it’s 83 percent. Automation and globalization have caused many blue collar jobs to vanish, but immigrants get the blame. Convenient. But delusional.

And then there’s the unemployment and community-wrecking blowback from our nation’s scandalous system of “justice.” Few employers hire ex-cons, so former prisoners continuously swell the ranks of the unemployed.

The United States deems it necessary to imprison 700 out of every 100,000 of its residents, by far the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. (Israel is next highest with 250.)

Are Americans really this shockingly more prone to crime than other people? If so, why is that? Hello?

To me, that our nation must imprison so many people is a red flag shouting: “Failed state!”

Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.