The Loudmouth in the Bar

Remember Archie Bunker, a television avatar who became not a laughing stock, but a symbol of resistance for the common man.

There’s a fascination with a loudmouth know-it-all in a bar.  He’s the guy who treats the world like the male to male competition among certain species of birds or other animals: instead of beaks, and claws and physical combat, it’s all about the display of feathers. His goal is not to solve problems, but to preen and prance and frighten competitors away by drawing attention to his display. While the rest of us may have to make do with the quotidian compromises of life… jostling with neighbors, negotiating to secure an independent, yet cooperative place in the scheme of things, the loudmouth has only to be concerned with the symbolic value of each gesture: he can squawk and beat his chest with apparent strength and fury without ever really having to answer for the consequences.

I have an instinctive revulsion to such loudmouths: they live in a bubble; they speak with a different notion of truth and/or consequences from more serious-minded people — communicating at a different level than normal discourse. Yet, especially if what they are posturing about has elements of perception that somehow connect it to a lived reality, it is hard not to be fascinated, and drawn instinctually toward this assertion of dominance, this gaudy protector of the flock.

Could this be why the Donald Trump escapes, for many of his most fervent supporters, the usual foothold for critical examination? And why his symbolic made-for-TV “executive order” flourishes and flashy militaristic saber-rattling have apparently substituted well enough for his very minor legislative achievement in the eyes of his devoted following? Could he be communicating through a kind of mystery language of symbolic display and choreographed strutting, without bothering to “lipstick” it up with reasoned discourse?

He loves his flock (and his flock loves him) so much that he will fight and rage against what everyone knows in their secret heart is truth, and yet, his flock will take up his call and soon be acting as if his symbol and claim of righteousness is actually being right! That he will show an unreasonable willingness to fight against tall odds — against, even, the truth — seems to be more important to his adherents than what he is fighting about, or even whether he “wins.” He wins with his followers by having (or making up) an enemy (muslims, the press, immigrants, Obama, democrats, political correctness, the Clintons, etc.); then puffing up his chest and putting on a rigorous symbolic display of expressing the grievances of his flock, and fighting against those who would diminish it!

Discovering the imbedded racism of the Obama-haters while he was working to de-legitimize Obama with the fake  “birth certificate” controversy, Trump has draped himself with the flag of reversing the “vile” “socialist” policies of our first black president (actually, the most centrist Democratic politician imaginable) as a substitute for any policies of his own. And for his base, it seems he doesn’t need any policies — only anger, resentment, grievance, and his unrelenting “tough guy” symbolism.

Remember Archie Bunker!  A television avatar that in spite of the best efforts of geniuses Norman Lear and Carroll O’Connor became not a laughing stock, but a symbol of resistance for the common man.

Yes, all political leaders provide these kinds of clues and symbols in order to be perceived as a strong defender. Trump, however, has fully perceived that the modern distrust of institutionally-delivered truth allows him — without any draw-down of popular support — to divorce his posturing from any serious connection to reality, truth, or accountability.  At least until World War III beckons, or people begin losing their health benefits.

Comment in the blue box below or respond to question: What is the policy basis for Trump’s observable actions, if there is one? Has he been effective as a symbolic communicator?

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