Becca Balint: The Badlands and wrestling with scarcity


As I read the Super Tuesday election analysis on the Washington Post, Politico, and The Hill, a lyric from the old Bruce Springsteen song "Badlands" slipped out of a long shut hatch in my mind: "Lights out tonight/Trouble in the heartland/Got a head-on collision smashin' in my guts, man/I'm caught in a crossfire I don't understand." I imagine Springsteen, the original Jersey boy, is just as bewildered as I am at New Jersey governor Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump.

Christie denounced Trump on the campaign trail. Now he's eager to trade whatever credibility he once had for a bald-faced, opportunistic endorsement that could lead to future political ascendency in a Trump administration. The New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper took the unusual, and perhaps unprecedented step, of retracting its endorsement of Christie. And several New Jersey newspapers have called for Christie's resignation. But still the Trump train rumbles on.

A longtime acquaintance, and someone I thought I understood, voted for Donald Trump in the primary. She said what many have said repeatedly: "He tells it like it is. He seems like a good businessman. He doesn't care what people think." What leads otherwise outwardly reasonable people to fall back on superficial, simplistic reasons for their votes?

A huge swath of the electorate voted for George W. Bush the first time because they "liked" him and would feel comfortable having a beer with him. Conversely, Al Gore just didn't seem to have the right mojo or charisma to seal the deal with "regular" guys. But in this instance, Trump's obnoxiousness is not seen as off-putting but as refreshing. His staccato bursts of insults and name calling on social media bolster his poll numbers, and it doesn't seem to matter that he constantly lies, fibs, tells halftruths and has flipflopped on nearly every major issue in this election. What's going on here?

I think it has everything to do with fear.

I reference the work of Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social Work. She is a three time New York Times bestsellling author, and Brown's TEDx talk on vulnerability is one of the top 5 most watched TED talks in the world.

In Brown's book, "Daring Greatly", she writes, "Worrying about scarcity is our culture's version of posttraumatic stress. It happens when you've been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we're angry and scared and at each other's throats." Brown asserts that our "scarcity culture", in which "never enough" dominates, has created fear as our fallback position it has become second nature.

Trump, a master of the media, simultaneous attempts to soothe these fears while whipping them up further. Even his slogan, "Make America Great Again", goes to the heart of our fears that we have had something taken from us. Like others before him, Trump deftly taps into a powerful sense of nostalgia: Things used to be so much better.

Brown's work is shaped by the ideas of Lynne Twist, author of "The Soul of Money". Twist asserts, "We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying that we don't have enough...This internal condition of scarcity...lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life..."

However, like Brene Brown, I think we're tired of being afraid I believe we'd rather be brave. But we need to change the conversation from "What should we fear?" to "How can we dare greatly?"

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.


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