The Age of Fetishist Disavowal

Every so often, I get emails from America which give me an insight into what is going on in the minds of Trump supporters. The latest in this series is entitled “Rowboat for You”.

The email’s title is based upon an old parable in which a someone trapped by a flood is passed by a series of rowboats. The protagonist refuses them, saying God will save him. He eventually drowns, and then in the afterlife asks God why He never came. God replies that He sent those rowboats, what did the man want?

This long and rather tediously written screed suggests that Trump is the “rowboat” in this instance. It suggests that he is the only life preserver which will help America float against the tide of radical leftism which will destroy the country. I had difficulty picturing Biden in a Che Guevara pose, but nevertheless, this was the stance the author of this email was taking. Biden, and those around him, represent a fundamental threat to America’s way of life and its “Judeo-Christian Values”. This election, apparently, is America’s last chance to save itself. I have heard this before: I heard it in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and so on. Substitute “Bill Clinton” or “Barack Obama” for “Biden” and it reads much the same.

The author initially admits that Trump makes him cringe. He confesses that Trump often says daft things. However, he also states that Trump is a “fighter” and a “patriot”. It then goes on to denounce the virtue of niceness, saying that Romney, Paul Ryan, et al were “nice” and “gentlemanly” and it didn’t get them anywhere. It even suggests that God isn’t always nice, look at World War 2. We needed “vicious SOBs” like George Patton to win it, apparently. Indeed, Trump is not just a “rowboat”, he is a “battleship”.

I am certain that this email circulated to a mainly white, middle class and definitely male audience. I am sure that many were nodding their heads in agreement with the text. They say to themselves: why, life isn’t nice. Trump is coarse, but he represents my values. We need to take the lifeboat and give him a second term; maybe the Democrats will wake up and become Republicans. Make America Great Again, despite it being brought low by the man in charge and his party.

This more than delusional email is perhaps the most egregious recent example of what’s called “Fetishist Disavowal” – a state which be summarised by saying, “I know very well but”. I know very well that Trump is crude and awful and a dreadful human being and not an avatar of Christian values, but he is the rowboat. Or battleship. He will protect my way of life, they say to themselves.

As this example suggests, Fetishist Disavowal is a cop out, an excuse. Previous political examples include Brexit. Many MPs know the truth, it will hurt the economy, damage Britain’s prospects and its standing in the world. I know very well, but….I have to do what Nigel Farage says because Brexit supporters might vote against me. Or worse.

The release from the coronavirus lockdown is another example. We know very well that a premature ending of lockdown will kill people, but….we have to re-open the economy. Or we have to send children back to school. Or these people would die anyway due to co-morbidities. Anything, just so we don’t actually have to look at the fact that an economy that can’t adjust to a global pandemic and allow lives to be saved is one that is deeply flawed.

The failure to tackle climate change is also another example. We know very well that climate change is the biggest issue facing the planet, but…we don’t want to increase unemployment. We don’t want to face into the costs of decarbonising the economy. We don’t want stop eating meat. We would rather be deluded than have a future.

If there is a commonality between all these examples, it is its reliance on conspiracy theorists, reality deniers, and keyboard warriors with Caps Lock firmly stuck in the “On” position to spread them. More perniciously and significantly, it offers a reason not to do what is right.

Yes, the more intellectually stunted may not know very well; but there is a significant portion which does know better. However, there is always that “but”. It is a very big “but” indeed: it allows the strictest of fundamentalist Christians to justify to themselves voting for a serial adulterer who had an affair with a porn star, or grants them excuses for continuing to destroy God’s good Earth.

Trump is not some sort of “battleship” or “rowboat”. He is not a patriot; as his current and former wives can attest, his only loyalty is to himself. Everything else is secondary. He is also not some sort of fighter just because he is rude to journalists. When he was called to serve his country, he developed bone spurs. He cannot withstand the tiniest pinpricks to his ego; he lashes out at anyone who dares suggest that he is doing anything other than winning or is anything less than superb. He even went so far as to denounce Fox News for questioning him recently, and expressed his sadness that Roger Ailes, a serial sex abuser, was no longer running the channel.

Trump’s Cabinet, full of intellectual pygmies unable to do anything other than flatter and abase themselves, is testament to his weakness. The author of the email should know this. It would not take much examination to see it. He may know very well, but….

I am not suggesting enthusiasm for Joe Biden is warranted. I’ve stated this election is a choice between “Argh” and “Meh”. Having said that, it is also a decision about whether or not we want to continue to indulge in fetishist disavowal. We know very well but…can we not linger in dreams longer, in which science is unimportant, and reality can’t touch us? The problem is, the dawn always comes, and with it, reality. We can either face into it, or be crushed by it once we can hide from it no longer.

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