The Women’s Marches and the Politics of Care: The Best Response to Trump’s Inaugural Address

gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_mn_4x3_992The Women’s Marches across America and the world were peaceful, family-oriented, and cooperative. They required energy and effort, along with the devotion to travel, gather, and march.

The marches had a single, overwhelmingly positive focus: care. Care is the hallmark of what women give to their families day after day. Not that men don’t, but it is care that we rightfully associate with taking care of a family. The women who marched understood instinctively that America is their family and that the world is their community.

America was founded on the idea that citizens care about their fellow citizens, that they contribute through their government to provide resources for the benefit and fulfillment of all. Democracy is more than voting. Democracy and citizenship require us to care about each other.

Kamala Harris said it well: the issues were not about one constituency, because women’s rights are human rights. And women’s issues are all issues — from economy to ecology and from equality to fulfillment. Diversity is strength, and international cooperation is national security. Every issue voiced in the march was ultimately about care.

The intensity of the marches was stoked by the inaugural address on Friday of
the least-popular President in US history, the loser of the popular vote by nearly three million votes. After taking the Oath of Office, he proceeded to give an inaugural speech that showed that he intended to turn America into a version of himself:

• Trump first is to become America first.
• Trump’s interests are to become America’s interests.
• Trump’s lack of empathy, his lack of care about others, is to become
America’s lack of empathy, America’s lack of care about others.
• Trump’s view of worth as money is to become America’s view of worth as
money.

It is the antithesis of care – and the antithesis of the most fundamental American values.

The speech was carefully crafted to deceive, which is a nice way of saying that it was framed to sound like the opposite of his intentions, to make lies sound nice.
It was also an excellent example of extreme conservative framing. The author of the speech, Stephen K. Bannon, is an expert propagandist. Every word and idea contained in the speech was chosen for a specific reason.

The speech was centered on a single Big Lie: that Trump is a populist, a “messenger” of the popular will.

Trump’s speechwriters laced the speech with populist rhetoric. They tried to position Trump as a man of the people who would lead the charge against wealthy elites who have amassed too much power. The speechwriters attacked the “establishment” and promised to remember the “forgotten” people. These parts of the speech sounded more like Bernie Sanders or Robert Reich than Donald Trump. It sounds nice until you remember who Trump really is: a businessman infamous for making money on bankruptcies, for ripping off small business people and refusing to pay workers on his projects. Trump is a billionaire who wants to lower wages for working Americans.

His actions as President-elect revealed an agenda that is the exact opposite of returning power to the people. He’s filling his Cabinet with corporate establishment billionaires who have nothing in common with American families. After losing the majority vote by 3 million, the minority president is handing our government over to Wall Street. He’s chosen people who have always, and will always, serve corporate interests. For instance, Trump nominated Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. And he nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt — who famously hates the EPA — to head the EPA. The aim is to use governmental authority to destroy all aspects of governmental care.

What does Trump mean when he talks about “forgotten people”? He’s talking to his base. He’s talking to angry white males who felt uncomfortable in a country with a black President. He’s talking to people who want to blame immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and people of color for everything they don’t like. If he can keep their anger focused on innocent people, it may take them a while to notice that Wall Street is (once again) pillaging our nation.

Trump’s attempt to speak for “the people” also underscored his central anxiety: he lost the popular vote by an historic margin. He’s a loser — and, deep down, he knows it.

To understand why Trump represents the antithesis of care, we need to understand the Strict Father view of the world.

Trump is a textbook example of Strict Father Morality. In a Strict Father family the father is the ultimate authority. Father knows best. He gets his authority from the claim to know right from wrong, and what he says is by definition always right. His word is law and needs to be strictly enforced through strength — swift painful punishment. Even a show is disrespect deserves to be punished.

There is a Strict Father logic: Discipline needs to be imposed. Children need to learn not to do what feels good (like “feel-good liberals”), but to do what they are told. If they do, they will become disciplined and go out into the world and become prosperous. What if they are not prosperous? That just shows that they are not disciplined, which means they cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. In short, the poor are poor because they’re lazy and so it’s their own fault. Responsibility is individual responsibility. There is no social responsibility.

This logic is taken as a matter of nature. It imposes a natural ‘moral’ hierarchy, of who is better than whom. By nature, the winners have deserved to win. The hierarchy goes like this: God above man, man above nature (it’s there for us to plunder), the strong above the weak, the rich above the poor, employers above employees, adults above children, Western culture above nonwestern culture, America above other countries. Then the hierarchy extends naturally to: men above women, whites above nonwhites, Christians above non-Christians, straights above gays.

All of the policies of the far right follow from this hierarchy. When taken to extreme, you get Trump’s worldview, the worldview of the ‘alt-right.’ There is a reason that Bannon is now in the White House.

All of this is reflected in the details of the Inaugural Address.

“I will never, ever let you down,” he said, describing a completely hierarchical world in which America always comes first, and where the “winning” will never stop. In this parallel universe, Strict Father Trump will give the orders, the good will be rewarded, the bad will be punished, and victory (and jobs) will grow on trees. No American company will dare create jobs in other countries because Father Trump has commanded them otherwise.

Of course, this is a lie. Trump’s own trademark red hats are manufactured in China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. When it comes to putting “America First,” he has already betrayed the trust of his followers. There is no way he can keep the promises he’s made, and Trump supporters have already started to realize that he thinks nothing of breaking his word.

Trump wants to be seen as a Strict Father, but he’s breaking the cardinal rules of the Strict Father: he is a betrayer of trust. A Strict Father cannot be a betrayer of trust.

When Trump says to ordinary Americans that he’ll never let you down, here’s what he really means: I’m already letting you down. I will always let you down. But he means it literally when addressing rich conservatives.

The most memorable phrase of his speech was “American Carnage,” which he blames on liberals and on government officials in previous administrations. He is using it both literally and metaphorically. Literally, it means, as Merriam-Webster lists, “great and usually bloody slaughter or injury (as in battle).” Its synonyms are “butchery,” “bloodbath,” “massacre,” “death,” “holocaust,” and “slaughter.” He is using it literally to frame gun deaths in big cities. Metaphorically, he is using it to blame liberals and Washington bureaucrats for the loss of jobs and income among white working people, for inadequate public education, for failing infrastructure. Of course, in his universe, none of this had anything to do with corporate greed or Republican policies over the years.

But “carnage” is exactly what a large number of Americans fear will happen during Trump’s Presidency. That’s why millions of Americans have taken to the streets to make it clear they’ll stand up for democracy, freedom and civil rights. If we wish to prevent Trump’s visions of carnage, these marches must be the beginning of our movement, a movement centered on the politics of care. When citizens care about other citizens, and manage to use their government for public resources, America benefits because Americans benefit.

Persistence is the best resistance — moving from the marches to the everyday politics of care on all levels. Communicate care. Teach care. Pressure your existing officials. Send emails. Make phone calls. Tweet. Elect officials who care at all levels. Run for office. Work in campaigns. Be positive. Positive.

Fortunately, not all conservatives are total conservatives — by no means. Many are “moderate,” which means that they have some progressive views. Many conservatives show in-group care: care for their own church members, or military units, or community groups, or neighbors. When you talk with conservatives, as you should, find out where they express their care — what they are most proud of for helping others selflessly. And then keep talking with them about arenas where they are committed to a life of care. They are your fellow citizens after all.