“Just as a magnet attracts iron filings,” conservative columnist and former Republican George Will recently wrote, “Trump attracts, and is attracted to, louts.” Will is being civil. One can think of other substances capable of attracting loathsome creatures to which to compare Donald Trump. In this sense, Trump is, in more ways than one, our lord of the flies.
The collapse of civility and the rise of louts is the theme of William Golding’s eponymous classic,in which a shipload of British schoolboys shipwrecked on an uninhabited isle shed the veneer of civilization and revert to savagery. Golding’s novel presents us with a decidedly male dystopia where preadolescent boys are thuggish agents of cruelty and abuse.
Golding presents bellicose cruelty as a decidedly male trait. By the 1960s, when the film version hit theaters, theories of innate human aggression were beginning to be used to justify the Vietnam War in particular and other atrocities, as pop anthropologists such as Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey and behaviorist Konrad Lorenz put forward the idea that that humans were essentially “naked apes” programmed by evolutionary imperatives to be aggressive and territorial. Left to its own devices, they argued, mankind would regress to a Hobbesian state of perpetual war. However, the current administration, perhaps more so than any other, has proven that these traits are not the preserve of men.
Today, as Trump increasing flaunts his incompetence and turpitude, few, least of all conservatives, want to take responsibility for our reigning lord of the flies, preferring instead to scapegoat others for his rise. On ABC’s The View recently, Megan McCain suggested that the 13% of blacks who voted for Trump were responsible for his victory. Co-host Whoopi Goldberg was taking none of it, pointing out that 53% of white women did the same, to the clear benefit of their conservative elites. As Lyz Lenz wrote her in the Huffington Post article “Women Are Evil,” under Trump it has been privileged white women who have “use[d] their bodies and social positions as wives and mothers to mediate how to handle monsters in our society,” noting that several (mostly white) women have been appointed to positions of power in his administration.
Nonetheless, pundits continue to portray Melania Trump as a shell-shocked Stockholm syndrome survivor of her spouse’s relentless political ambition, as if this explains her decision to plagiarize Michelle Obama (twice, and without consequence) or – when she is not stealing the words of others – to purchase them to make/not make a fashion/political statement during a visit to a detention center for victims of Trump’s latest power tantrum. (Apparently, she learned from her visit to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to leave her heels – or is that heel? – in the White House.) Meanwhile, back in D.C., Trump gropes an American flag as if it were a Miss Universe contestant, an act his supporters apparently countenance because, in the words of their Dear Leader, people will “let you do anything if you’re a star.” Indeed, with his on-again/off-again travel ban and current internment of children, Trump has already goosed Miss Liberty numerous times and gotten away with it. Perhaps, now emboldened by his 500-plus days in office, he will eventually tear her down and salvage the pieces to build his precious Wall. But then that would be too unequivocal a stance to take for the Great Equivocator.
The American update of Golding’s novel is reimagined as a never-ending episode of Survivor where every week a new scoundrel is voted off the island (this week Scott Pruitt). Still, given the requirements of reality television, our bullies stand tall, comfortably poised before the cameras for their extended 15 minutes of infamy: Ivanka Trump smiles her patented vacant Barbie smile in Jerusalem, while 60 miles away thousands Palestinian demonstrators are wounded and at least 60 killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. Sarah Huckabee Sanders frowns ever so telegenically before the press corps, her brows knotting as she concocts yet another lie in which to cocoon her boss’s transgressions. Nikki Haley, who has pledged that she “will never shy away from calling out other[my emphasis] countries for actions taken in conflict with U.S. values and in violation of human rights and international norms,” resolutely announces the U.S. will pull out of the Human Rights Council, all the while remaining silent on Trump’s “tender age shelters” and the brutalities of America’s blue-shirts. Elsewhere, vulpine commentators and spokeswomen Laura Ingram, Ann Coulter, Kellyanne Conway, and Kirstjen Nielson, the Nordic-looking Four Horsewomen of the Albescent Right, contrive to find new ways to justify the unjustifiable.
What Golding’s fictional fable got wrong was that the flitting agents of barbarity that swarm to their master are not always preadolescent boys or, as the case may be, adult males. Flies come in two genders. And Trump attracts both.