Sunday, March 6, 2016

Trump's Ejection Rituals

   A pattern has emerged at Donald Trump's rallies. The Ejection Ritual has become a central, not an incidental, feature of the rallies.  It may be that the Ejection Ritual is actually attracting anti-Trump protesters, but it is also clear that if no one is disruptive, a non-disruptive person or group will be selected.  The Ejection Ritual has now evolved to the point where is has a clear structure and cooperation between Trump and the crowd: Trump stops his speech at the sound of a heckler (or perhaps someone with a Bernie Sanders hat, or perhaps a group of black students) and says, "Get 'em out!"  The crowd chants while the person/people are, usually more or less roughly, ejected.

OK.  This phenomenon is being widely reported.  What is striking to me is the very clear, very deep symbolic structure of this behavior.  It gets to the identity of Trump voters and the way that Trump is appealing to them.  It is not enough to denounce these people as uninformed and/or racist and ignore the larger context.  Here I want to keep it simple and just sketch out the symbolic structure of the behavior. 

First, who are these Trump supporters?  They are mostly white, working class, and uneducated (non-college).  That is not, at this point, surprising.  But they are also measurably disenfranchised (they report to pollsters that they feel they have no voice), xenophobic(they believe that immigrants are responsible for high unemployment among poor Americans)  and racist (they believe that most blacks don't work and live more or less comfortably on government checks).  Somewhat more puzzlingly they include many evangelical Christians.  All of these factors, including the last, are symbolized in the Ejection Rituals.

Like populist nationalism, evangelical Christianity tends to be messianic: a leader will appear to cleanse the polluted, expropriated community and restore virtue.  The disenfranchised will be restored to their rightful place.  Trump says he will build a Wall.  It is positively Biblical both in its proportions and its other-worldliness.  There is no real possibility of such a Wall, but Trump repeats again and again that he will build a great Wall that will keep the foreigners out. The Ejection Ritual is a  physical acting out of the wish for purification: the expulsion of the Demonic Other.  And it is a call-and-response routine between the people and the messiah: the strong man gives the order and the people respond.  It must be terribly cathartic for these angry, confused, frightened people to take part in the ritual behavior that acts out symbolically the purification ritual and Trump, a grandiose narcissist, has quickly adapted and begun emphasizing the ritual.  He has begun asking that people raise their arms as they pledge their loyalty, although I can't imagine the campaign continuing that.

Finally, I have questions about the behavior of the police and the Secret Service at these Ejection Ritual rallies.  It's no surprise that trump is hostile to the press.  What is surprising is to see the level of violence from public law enforcement.  Perhaps it is difficult to resist the emotional pull at a mass event both symbolically enacting violence and inciting actual violence.  But it does not bode well for America under president Trump.

1 comment:

Don Thieme said...

Great analysis. I witnessed one of these ejection rituals here at VSU last Momday night. The students, faculty, and community here have been reacting and commenting as if this was somehow unique and related to activism by either students, faculty, or both. This happens almost anywhere he goes!