Manners, Value… and the Appeal of Trump

For the most part, the manners of the first half of the twentieth century have been “modernized,” ignored, trashed, or updated. Which word describes one’s assessment depends on the individual and background, and there may well be additional terms better suited in the minds of others.

The social upheaval that began in the mid-1960s focused on manners as hypocritical and dishonest, among other things, and while that doubtless wasn’t the only factor, it was likely the most significant. What the downgrading or even disposal of manners and social custom ignored or disregarded was the role manners played in affecting individual self-worth.

Hypocritical as manners may be and often are, they require effort on the part of individuals. When people say “please” and “thank you,” when they address or refer to people as Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss and the appropriate last name, when they don’t crash or crowd lines, when they open doors for people who need help, when they address letters and emails with names and titles, rather than “Em” or “Bob,” it tends to send a message that others have worth. And when millionaires and billionaires dismiss the concerns of the poor, the working class, and minorities or when political figures call the supporters of an opponent “deplorables,” it’s neither accurate nor useful. More important, such behaviors send messages of devaluation.

How does this tie into Donald Trump and the polarization of the United States?

Both “sides” feel that they’re being devalued by the other side, especially by the leaders of the “other side.” There’s no sense of polite disagreement. The other side is “the dark side,” to be attacked and trashed for their “values” or lack of values. The large majority of Trump supporters, in particular, feel that they’ve been devalued and disregarded and that no one was speaking up for them. Ironically, many of them are willing to overlook Trump’s total lack of manners because they didn’t see anyone with manners able to articulate their views and feelings strongly enough.

Hillary Clinton was more mannered, but far less passionate, and it showed. As a result, too many Democrats drew the conclusion that she needed to be more of a gutter-fighter. Add to that the fact that many people seem to equate crudity with honesty, and manners as a trait of the self-serving elite, and she came across to too many of the undecideds as manneredly dishonest. Trump has proved, rather conclusively, that crudity doesn’t mean honesty. Politeness doesn’t, in itself, mean honesty either, but politeness has a far better record in allowing people to talk over controversial issues.

The more someone feels devalued, the less they’re going to listen to the other side, and the only way to even begin to bridge that gap is for the name-calling and vulgar and incendiary epithets to stop, and for people to address the issues politely. Being polite and mannered doesn’t mean giving up passion. Whether one liked Martin Luther King or not, he was both passionate and fought for his goals in a mannered fashion. The same can also be said of our greatest Presidents.

Like most social conventions, manners are a tool, one devalued in false service of “honesty” and one whose employment would be most useful today.

2 thoughts on “Manners, Value… and the Appeal of Trump”

  1. Frank says:

    Excellent discussion. I agree with your point and feel that this is very central, both as symptom and cause, to a good deal of our current malaise.

    I would add another term that seems to have been forgotten of late: “the loyal opposition.” I find that term, and the relationship it describes, as very “American” in the sense that the framers of our constitution came up with a form of self government that allows for the passing of power from one group to another, both of whom can be totally at odds with the others’ politics, without undue violence and upheaval.

    As to the 60’s, having lived through them, I felt that the most drastic and ill mannered actions were about the War. It seemed at the time as if the government, business leaders and machine politicians were actually telling the boomers approaching and at the age of the draft, that they should go fight a war that made no sense to them, and that they should have no say (couldn’t vote). In retrospect the fact that this condition wasn’t “new” or exceptional was lost on the young.

    I was lucky enough to have a family that had already imprinted the need for and habit of manners on me. Not everyone was that lucky.

    Thanks for the post. And thanks for your books and stories, which are of great value to your readers, especially this one.

  2. Tim says:

    The mixture of respect, honesty and manners in politics can be interesting though. The UK Parliament’s Wednesday Prime Minister’s question time sometimes produces brilliant exchanges, and oh so politely done.

    I feel your descriptions of high holder ruthlessness done according to a strict ethical (to that class) standard are probably the best I have read.

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