Thursday, November 3, 2016

If the Glove Fits, Mr. Trump…. by M. Nilson

It seems that nearly every week, Donald Trump says something hurtful or does something despicable. Taken separately, each of his offenses is barely tolerable; taken together they are revelatory. They proclaim that the man who covets the presidency has made assailing and assaulting us his modus operandi. Women, the disabled, Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims, anyone who dares to criticize him -few escape his angry rhetoric and aggressive behavior. But we should use a more exact description of Donald Trump’s behavior. Mr. Trump hawks dehumanization. The man who purports to stand for making America great again has only succeeded in weaponizing anger.

The rhetoric of Mr. Trump's campaign to make America great again suggests he has a certain perception of what a correct social hierarchy would look like. In Trump’s authoritarian view, some groups are inherently superior to others. Those people should be, quite naturally, at the top of the social hierarchy. To keep Trump's fantasy going, the rest of us cannot have a real voice or any power. If we speak our minds, we will be bullied, belittled, intimidated, objectified, and demonized. For, in Trump’s twisted view, we are inferior – read “less than human.”

The Donald Trumps of the world are not new and they are not rare. They fill our history books and populate our literature. At the Roda Theatre at Berkeley Rep, an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, is currently playing (September 23rd through November 6th). The production was, I imagine, motivated by the ugliness unleashed by Trump’s campaign and some uncanny similarities between Mr. Trump and the demagogue who becomes president in Lewis’s novel. Senator Buzz Windrip also runs a ‘Make America’s Hate Great Again’ campaign. He foments fear and hatred while touting patriotism and family values. With the aid of an angry and woefully/willfully ignorant electorate, Winthrop establishes a fascist dictatorship and abolishes civil liberties. Chaos, riots, and finally civil war consume America.

Can it happen here? If "it" means the rise of a demagogue, a hater, a man who demonizes his opponents and legitimizes dehumanization, then it has happened here. Whether Mr. Trump gets elected or not, his hatred spewing speeches, his incendiary and insurgent remarks about election rigging, and his desire to keep certain groups at the bottom of the social hierarchy suggest he will not go away. So yes, it has and will continue to happen here.

Fast forward from the publication of Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel to 1965. The place is Czechoslovakia and a short, animated film called Ruka, The Hand, has been released. Though its creator, Jiri Trnka, was not a political filmmaker for most of his career, The Hand is an overt attack on Stalinism and a poignant allegory about the impact of tyranny on the lives of ordinary people. 

One of the main characters, a gloved Hand, is a master of dehumanization. He relentlessly tries to coerce a vulnerable potter into creating a likeness of himself, instead of making the small flower pots, which the little man cherishes. The potter is bullied, intimidated, and ultimately imprisoned by the Hand, who sees no value in the potter’s work or life. In the Hand’s view, the potter exists simply to glorify him and fulfill his wishes.

From the moment the Hand enters the potter’s life, he creates chaos and terror. In the beginning of Trnka’s film, the Hand appears dressed in a seemingly benign white glove. (Think Trump’s initial shtick about being one of us.) However, the Hand cannot tolerate any opposition. Soon his true nature appears. The white-gloved Hand ultimately shows himself to be an angry, dark-gloved fist. (The real Donald Trump cannot be handled by his campaign managers. His outbursts and vituperative rhetoric define his campaign.)

Though Trnka was reacting to a different political climate when he created his film– his country already
threatened by Russia, who would invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 - The Hand still has a chilling lesson for America 2016: democracy is fragile because, within its boundaries, the Trumps of the world are allowed to exist. The hand that bullies, that gropes, that threatens, that assaults, and that dehumanizes us already lives among us.

-M. Nilson

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