Right now, despite the doubts of America’s pundit class and the economic elitists representing the Republican Party, I think there is more than an even chance that Donald Trump will get the nomination and possibly become our next President. If that happens, other than the disasters this man could potentially bring upon us, his election might see the ritualized establishment of the type of aristocratic class that the ideals of our American Revolution fought against.Let’s first look at that highly rated FOXNews “debate” that Trump dominated with bluster and see where his appeal lies in the minds of many Americans. I must admit that I watched it for the promise of comedy, but in its’ aftermath found myself stunned by Trump’s performance and not may I say in a good way. The punditry of America are as a whole, too locked into the mythology of this country as the epitome of the American Dream. This “dream” is a myth which I wrote about in “American Dream Not American Reality”. Blinded by their mythological view of America and by their being beholden for the most part to large corporate entities, these pundits find themselves unable to see what is literally going on before their eyes, much less comment effectively on it. As we’ve seen for many years the journalistic attention, among those deeply embedded in “Beltway” culture, pays attention to the “horse race” and cynically avoids real issues.
From the standpoint of the standard cliches of Republican politics, Trumps performance was outrageous and off-putting. His chest pushed out, he was figuratively strutting around his platform exuding the false macho that seems to ring so true to so many Americans. He was actually expressing basic truths about the prevalent mindset of the Republican partisans, but these are truths are never to be said openly, but are usually expressed in coded euphemisms that are clearly understood by all.
Patrick Smith of Salon, discussed it in “Donald Trump’s Biggest Crime Is His Honesty: How He Exposes the Sickening Rot At the Core of the GOP” . Smith writes:
“All that marks out Trump from other Republican aspirants is his presentation, the too-blunt-to-bear crudity of his prejudices against too many things and people to count, his hollowed-out presumptions of American primacy, his impossible promise to lunge backward to “make America great again.”
In a word, Trump comes up with the wrong affect. And there is no understanding the spectacle American politics has become, or why this nation conducts itself so recklessly abroad, unless we grasp the importance of affect in the American consciousness and American public life.
Trump is correct in his estimation of what a right-wing American pol has to be to get anywhere: dismissive of the Other, intolerant of all alternative perspectives, suspicious of thought, given to action (preferably violent) while indifferent to its consequences. Trump’s ultimate sin—a paradox here—is to possess an affect so plainly the sum total of what he has to offer that it exposes the rest of the Republican crowd: They are all empty but for slightly varied poses. All they have for us is affect.
Since the days of Jefferson, Americans have cast themselves as “a people of feeling,” to borrow a phrase from the historian Andrew Burstein. Ours was a “culture of sensibility.” Americans, in other words, tended to rely on feeling, as opposed to thought, to understand a given question or fix a given problem.
This New World trope was part of what made Americans American. Yes, America was the flower of the Enlightenment and authority derived from law. But reason was not the source of true conviction in American culture. Emotional experience was, as the Great Awakening of the 1730s made starkly plain. One felt, one was converted, then one believed.
The sentimental aspect of the American character assigned great importance to affect. Bearing, demeanor, attitude, posture—these things took on a certain patriotic dimension. A good American had to be observably American.”
Smith correctly assesses that it was Trump’s “affect”, his persona, that made him stand out among the other candidates, who were trying to look “Presidential” in the norms of American politicians. However, while the analysis of the effect of “affect” on American politics is a discussion that has much weight, I think Trump’s performance had a more nuanced side and one potentially more threatening for us all. Trump openly admitted that money equates to influence in American politics. He blatantly stated that he gives money to political candidates for their campaigns, with the clear expectation that they will do favors for him in return. The Donald also intimated that he had made donations to every candidate sharing the stage with him and there were few denials that this was true. Now seemingly Trump made this statement of the unspoken truth of American politics as an assessment of what was wrong in our politics. His implication is that because this is true of our system, he as a billionaire will be independent of it, since he doesn’t need anyone’s money.
That is of course a false narrative on his part. As a billionaire Trump has various economic interests that must be catered to and those interests coincide with the others of his class. The billionaire as benevolent administrator myth was exposed by the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Self financing his campaign Bloomberg managed to get elected and re-elected in liberal NYC by pretending to be a moderate conservative. He turned NYC into a playground for the wealthy and upper middle class, while imposing austerity upon the rest of the City’s residents. Even though I was a New Yorker born and bred, I had to move to Florida because I could no longer afford to live in my City and I’m sure that is true of the majority. If you are a Bronx resident for instance, who has to travel by car to work in the Borough of Queens, it will cost you $16.00 daily in Bridge tolls. Extrapolate that into the other needs of daily living. In nice Manhattan bars, or restaurants, a cocktail typically costs $22 and up. That is the City Bloomberg recreated. Now return to thinking about the America that billionaire Donald Trump would create for his class.
Obviously, a perceptive reader might argue that Trump’s policies are no different essentially than the policies espoused by all of the other Republican candidates and that is a correct assumption. The difference with Trump is that while he is essentially repeating the mantra’s the Republican Party have repeated for years such as: Racism; Class Warfare Against the Poor; fear of Latino immigration; lower taxes on the wealthy; privatization of government and destruction of the “safety net”; Trump is stating this openly, rather than hiding behind euphemism. Robert Borasage at the Huffington Post has written an article detailing the metaphors Trump uses which are really memes of modern American politics, titled: Trump’s Tropes. He writes:
“In the dog days of August, the news channels have turned themselves into the Trump show. Bernie Sanders rouses the biggest crowds in obscurity while Trump floods the air waves.
Commentators still dismiss Trump as a summertime fling, a bad boy escape before voters settle down with a serious choice. But Trump is more than a celebrity. He has earned his high disapproval rates, but he also enjoys support across the Republican party. His ugly posturing over immigration expresses the fears and anger of much of the Republican base. And unlike his rivals, he speaks to the discontent of American voters more generally, particularly white male voters. Trump’s tropes are not simply ravings. They are making a case that many Americans want to hear. Consider his major themes”:
Here are the themes that Borasage lists and you can go to his article for his explanation of their usage.
- Unlike politicians, I am independent
- America doesn’t win anymore; I can make it win
- I Will Protect Your Social Security
- I’ll build a strong military we won’t have to use
- Immigration: I will build a wall
- The Man in the Balcony
Borasage tellingly explain this final metaphor in this manner:
“Despite efforts to paint him as one, Trump is not a populist. He isn’t rousing people to take on the entrenched interests and clean out the stables. He isn’t educating people on the policies we need to transform the country. He isn’t calling for raising taxes on the wealthy or breaking up the big banks.
He is calling on the silent majority to give him power. Trump says he needs flexibility to make deals, and doesn’t want to be wedded to any program. So he entertains his audiences and sells his brand — worth billions he tells us — as our salvation. He isn’t Paul Wellstone or Bernie Sanders; he’s Benito Mussolini.”
Regarding the six tropes Borasage delineates I have already detailed the falseness of the first and given you Borasage’s explanation of the last. His article will bring clarity to the rest of them. I do believe that likening Trump to a historical figure like Mussolini is apt and that type of faux heroic figure is an appealing one for many Americans. This is the danger that a man like Trump represents.
However, even more ominously than being another garden variety fascist, Trump represents another danger to the entire concept that this country was founded under and indeed revolted from Great Britain to escape. Trump to me, is the epitome of what I see is a modern version of aristocracy. In the European sense aristocracy morphed into rewards of title and land bestowed upon warriors who had defended their king, or had revolted to replace an old king with their preferred new one. In that sense there was at least a logic to their titles and privileges given the feudalism that was the ubiquitous form of societal structure from the time of the Roman Empire until the rise of mercantilism in the 16th Century. “Nobility” went from being the province of military prowess, to the province of making money. Kings and Prices began to make the rising merchant class nobles, since they were the ones who were lending the King money and assisting in trying to dominate trade.
The American Revolution and then the French Revolution were attempts to break free of the stranglehold aristocracy had on the reigns of government and in some sense succeeded and in another sense failed miserably. Today we see the signs that Americans still worship and honor an aristocracy, though now it is an aristocracy of wealth and fame. Until Donald Trump’s Presidential run this year the truth of the American aristocracy was never spoken of by politicians publicly, for to do so invited disaster. In the last Presidential campaign Mitt Romney did talk of his notion of aristocracy privately in his labeling 47% of the population “takers”. When that speech became public all hell broke loose and Romney was forced to backtrack. Well those three years have past and we have Trump openly discussing his “aristocratic” pedigree, only now it seems to have caught the attention of many “grass roots” Republicans. Somehow they fool themselves into thinking that Trump includes them in his plans. He doesn’t and he represents a real danger to the social fabric of this country.
As you see the title of this piece in Part 1 and it will be followed by Part 2, which will get into the more nitty-gritty of who Donald Trump is and the notion of America that he represents.