The Summer of Trump: Vulnerability and the Social Contract

Several days ago I went ocean fishing with a friend and colleague. We looked forward to a glorious day out in the Atlantic--blue skies, calm seas, and a good catch of flounder and sea bass to take home. As soon as we left the Indian River Inlet just south of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the sea got choppy.

"It's always rough at the mouth of the inlet," my friend said to me.

We were in a small boat--two eager fishermen a seasoned boat captain and a young mate. As we moved out away from the shore, the wind picked up and the sea tossed the small boat up and down and rolled it side to side. To stabilize ourselves, we hung on to the edges of a large cooler--our seats. My friend had a patch that protects you from getting seasick.

I didn't.

After an hour of rolling in five-to seven-foot swells, we anchored in an area where bottom fish like to congregate. Our lines went to the ocean floor--some 90 feet down--and we waited. As the waves rocked us, I got very seasick. As we swayed back and forth, I hung my head over the side of the boat and retched into the sea. In a few minutes, I recovered and tried to fish anew.

More vomiting. What's more, there were very few nibbles out there in the ocean's vast emptiness.

At that moment, I felt completely vulnerable. Nausea had taken control of my body. My woozy mind drifted into thoughts about how our exposure to the brute power of nature can make us feel small and insignificant. A large wave could easily capsize our small boat casting us into rough seas--never to be found or recovered.

As we turned around and headed back to shore, these feelings of vulnerability compelled me to think about the fragility of our social contact, which, during this election season has also drifted into rough seas. The GOP has nominated a candidate for president, Donald J Trump who, besides his demonstrated racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, gender bias, homophobia, religious intolerance and penchant for telling lies, seems to have little to no respect for our democratic processes. In his paranoid world of fantasy, everyone is against him. The media are unfair. When members of his own party question his egocentric judgment he says they are horrible--nothing more than weak losers who viciously attack him, which in his warped view of world, means he has to hit back. There are no rules of decorum or decency in the summer or Trump. Indeed, most of his followers don't seem to care if Mr. Trump is telling the truth. They don't seem to be bothered by his childlike outbursts that break all the rules of long established political decorum.

Mr. Trump's reality television version of a political campaign has dominated the media. His irresponsible and inappropriate talk has finally precipitated a sharp drop in Mr. Trump's poll numbers. Threatened with a humiliating loss, he now contends that the election is going to be rigged. They (whoever they are) will steal the election. In the real world this assertion is ridiculous. States and municipalities govern our elections. Cases of election fraud are quite rare. Sadly, chants of election rigging take us back to the world of conspiracy theories, back to the fantasies of the birthers and those who believe that President Obama is an ISIS secret agent, all of which is an embarrassment for our electoral processes and for our country.

If Mr. Trump does lose election--even by a wide margin--will he have the decency to concede the election to Secretary Clinton? He fails to do so he may shred the social contract established by the founders of our republic and maintained throughout American history. Our social contract relies on a deep respect for the common good as well as the belief that we must adhere to democratic principles. In our social contract, we accept the people's mandate--no matter the outcome--and ideally work together to fashion a more perfect union. These principles are the foundation of our society. They create a sense of order. They promise a better future for our children and grandchildren. Without the social contract, we slip into the fetid swap of dysfunction, chaos and disorder.

As my fellow anthropologists well know, the social contract is fragile. The social order is vulnerable to the fears that despots like to spread. No one knows what will happen in November. It hard to predict what Mr. Trump might do if he, in fact, loses the election. Will he contest the election on the grounds of his fantasies and try to destroy our social contract? Will the media finally decide to ignore his ranting and condemn him to obscurity he deserves?

Time will tell.

Although the social contract may appear to be fragile it has weathered many storms at sea, and I would like to think that just as my fishing boat tossed and turned its way back to calmer waters, so we, too, will once again renew our social contract and slowly move forward toward a better tomorrow.

Shaken by the mighty power of rough seas, I managed to steady myself as we returned to the tranquility of the Indian River Inlet. Although the tide was going out to sea, which makes it difficult to catch fish, my friend beat the odds and unexpectedly caught a large flounder, which we brought home for a delicious dinner.