The Communal Mind

Patricia Lockwood in The London Review of Books:

In contrast with her generation, which had spent most of its time online learning to code so that it could add crude butterfly animations to the backgrounds of its weblogs, the generation immediately following had spent most of its time online making incredibly bigoted jokes in order to laugh at the idiots who were stupid enough to think they meant it. Except after a while they did mean it, and then somehow at the end of it they were white supremacists. Was this always the way it happened?

To future historians, nothing will explain our behaviour, except a mass outbreak of ergotism caused by contaminated rye?

The word toxic had been anointed, and now could not go back to being a regular word. It was like a person becoming famous. They would never have a normal lunch again, would never eat a Cobb salad outdoors without tasting the full awareness of what they were. Toxic. Labour. Discourse. Normalise.

‘Don’t normalise it!!!!!’ we shouted at each other. But all we were normalising was the use of the word normalise, which sounded like the action of a raygun wielded by a guy named Norm to make everyone around him Norm as well.

What are you swimming in that you can’t describe – won’t describe, because it’s too ordinary?

Trump Supporters

Trump supporters' truck in Ohio

Fire! Clouds of teargas! Mass arrests! Armed black power militants facing off with assault rifle-wielding white supremacists! Unprepared and nervous police!

This was what I was supposedly walking towards when I decided to wander on foot the 170 miles or so from my home in Detroit to the Republican national convention in Cleveland, where the GOP would be nominating Donald Trump as their party representative – one of the most divisive political candidates since Lincoln.

I’ve lived in the industrial – now post-industrial – midwest my whole life, and much of my family has worked in the industrial economy. I set out walking to hear what my neighbors and fellow regional residents had to say about this man. I wanted to walk because walking is slow and the slowness would give me time to understand. With our ever-churning news cycle spewing quick polls and conjecture, I wanted to get a broader portrait about what it means to vote in the upper midwest in 2016.

I went alone as there’s something about the solitary traveler that brings out the maternal instinct in America, that makes people talk and share in an unpoliticized way. I slept on the side of the road and in the gracious homes of those I interviewed, many found through the Couchsurfing website. In my daily life I didn’t know many Trump supporters, but I wanted to hear what they had to say, to see if their values aligned with that of the candidate who said Mexico is bringing “drugs, crime and rapists” to the US. So I conducted dozens of formal interviews, many of them with Trump supporters.

What I found surprised me.