Now what happened was…
February 10, 2020
Posted in Meta
There is an African American narrative tradition in which a story begins “Now what happened was….” Once you hear this you know you are about to hear a long, convoluted tale that tells the story from the perspective of the storyteller and which only occasionally (and possibly never) has a connection to what actually happened. Here is a hilarious example of this storytelling tradition by Tiffany Hadish. The clip itself is about 8 minutes long but is so funny the time just flies by, however if you can sample just a minute or two you will understand the narrative tradition. Enough of the things happened to make you think that all did, but some things are elaborations, fabrications or commentary. Like a great jazz player an excellent storyteller employs all of these things in their craft. At its best these stories can tell you what is going on behind the surface of events; at their worst they are self serving rationalizations of one’s behavior. Ms. Hadish is an entrancing storyteller and demonstrates this tradition at its best.
I am reminded of this tradition every time I hear Donald Trump speak. I am trying to understand his appeal, particularly to people for whom his actions are not in their best interests. Unlike Hadish however he is not a great storyteller. He should start all his speeches with “Now what happened was…” and we should expect a disjointed, self serving, rationalization that has only the most tenuous connection to reality. Some media has called him out on his lies, that is, the fact that many of the events he mentions or the inferences he draws are not true. Right wing media like Fox News although they occasionally fact check, propagate his stories as if they represent a reality. The fact that most of his pronouncements are true or false is really beside the point to his followers. What matters is that he is spinning narratives they want to hear, telling stories they want to hear and to believe. Like a great jazz player it is not how well he sticks to the truth of the melody, but how well they perceive his elaborations, restatements, improvisations, and commentary on the truth (melody.) His statements about his “exoneration” by the Mueller report, the transcripts he released, or his acquittal in the Senate provide evidence of this phenomenon. Although a careful reading of all these things shows that their is no “exoneration,” he boldly claims that they do. The truth of his exoneration doesn’t matter; it is how well his performance of it is received.
The problem for his supporters is that they can’t live in his dream world forever. Reality always comes to bite one in the ass. Just ask his supporters whether his term as president has made any material difference in their lives. For some it has. If you are a member of the top 1% it has increased your income or your wealth. If you own a business that was beset by government regulations passed to protect the public, Trump’s deregulation has helped. If you are a member of his family or inner circle your wealth has probably increased. However, if you are a member of the middle class or a blue-collar worker it probably hasn’t. Has he stopped the exportation of your job abroad? Has he raised wages enough so that you can make a decent living? Has he cleared out the “swamp” in Washington or just changed the names? Has his immigration crackdown or planned border wall materially improved your life? How many of the promises he made during his campaign have come to pass? All you have gotten is the “psychological wage of whiteness.”
Indeed, I could spin a whole narrative that puts his ascension in a new light. Now what happened was this con man who is neither as smart, as rich, as good a businessman nor as good a negotiator as he said he was, harnessed people for whom the system isn’t working well and rode them to victory for himself and his cronies. He keeps tell them how much he is set upon (a condition to which they can relate because that is how they feel too) and promising them that he is working on their behalf while fattening his own wallet from the government trough. And so on and so on…
Let us change the narrative come November.