Permit me an anecdote from my personal history to illustrate a point. A little over a couple dozen years ago I took a white collar consultant job in an office in Orange County, California. The wall of passive-aggressive hostility that greeted me there from my first day forward was a puzzle. Obviously I had done nothing wrong, yet there it was, palpable yet inexplicable, quiet hatred. My new coworkers would hardly speak to me, let alone invite me out to lunch.
Fortunately I was able, without too much difficulty, to secure a new position elsewhere. Before leaving I learned the reason for the hostility. It turned out I had replaced a permanent employee who was chronically ill and had missed a lot of work on that account. Management decided to fire her and replace her with me.
Naturally the hostility I incurred was misdirected and unjustly applied. The true villain was management, not me. But I was an easy target for the anger of the rank and file. Taking their frustrations out on me was safer. I was in no position to discipline or fire them for it. The odd thing was, something told me that they weren’t really all that incensed or indignant about the woman’s firing after all. They were merely unhappy with their lives and they needed something to hate and blame for their unhappiness. I was handy.
This personal anecdote illustrates a common and symptomatic reality of the human condition. People are prone to irrational hatreds and it’s easy, pathetically easy, for people with power to channel the hatreds and frustrations of people without power toward the blameless, the voiceless, the innocent.
Donald Trump has corralled the shapeless anxieties, frustrations and hatreds of millions of people toward a common fictional enemy of his own invention. The “brown hordes” are innocent people fleeing hardship and tyranny, whom Trump insists are drug dealers and rapists and murderers, coming to steal your jobs, but in reality, are just people. Like you and me. They are hated, thanks to Trump, by millions and millions of people whom they have never met and whom they have never harmed.
I was lucky. My small encounter with this ugly human trait was small, easily negotiated and laughably simple to fix. The people Donald Trump has vilified are not so lucky. They have nowhere to turn. They want the same things you want and I want, a peaceful place to live, to feed their families, to be productive. They are not monsters. Donald Trump is a monster.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.