The Political Obscenity of Trump: Personalization of a Nation

Ignorance is bliss—shrewdness is commendable—proto-fascism is “in.” As in totalitarian societies, Americans admire strength, certitude, in politics, the Leadership Principle. Germany, post-Weimar, is a prime example. America has not quite seen anything like it before, not because there were not candidates standing in the wings, Douglas MacArthur for one, but because the personality breakdown of the citizenry was not quite sufficiently ripe as yet. Today it is. However much Trump may think himself a self-invented powerhouse and genius, the secret of his appeal lies in a febrile populace craving direction principally of a reactionary kind. War, intervention, covert action, regime change, social paralysis with respect to differentiation of wealth and power, abidance by racial mores, albeit more latent than overtly expressed, centuries old—all perfectly acceptable. Not only acceptable, necessary to the maintenance of the American Way of Life.

Trump’s self-invention, with parental assistance, came early, military schooling firming up the process, the Wharton School providing a capitalist imprimatur, a lifestyle of self-indulgence solidifying a personal identity of entitlement. To the manor born—the quintessential American successfully fusing militarism, capitalism, and individualism into the homespun behemoth capable, as in his campaign mantra, of Making America Great Again, for a people bashed by, yet laying at the feet of, a political economy itself amalgamating luxury, consumerism, and human misery. Through personalizing himself and widely used as The Donald (like Teddy rather than Theodore Roosevelt), he has a ready-made mark of endearment to hide his corporatist and war provoking tendencies (also like TR).

Here let’s look at Michael Barbaro”s article in the New York Times, “Donald Trump Likens His Schooling to Military Service in Book,” (Sept. 8), the book in question, Michael D’Antonio’s biography of Trump, “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” to which the reporter had access to an advanced copy (publication date, Sept. 22). Barbaro immediately reveals Trump’s penchant for fantasy and exaggeration: He told D’Antonio that although he received draft deferments during Vietnam, he “’always felt that I was in the military’ because of his education at a military-themed boarding school.” The New York Military Academy, “an expensive prep school where his parents had sent him [even granting subsequent inflation, today’s tuition is $31,000.] to correct poor behavior, gave him ‘more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.’”

According to the book, “Trump emerges as a man largely unchanged from his childhood in the wealthy Queens neighborhood of Jamaica Estates, where an exacting father, Fred Trump, schooled him in the ways of self-promotion and encouraged a lifetime of of fighting. The senior Mr. Trump, a major real estate developer, counseled his son to ‘be a killer’ and told him, ‘You are a king.’” Trump himself proved an apt pupil, recalling to the book’s author, “’when I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.’” (Infantile, tough guy, killer instinct?—hardly to be proud of.) His Academy mentor called him “’a conniver even then,’” in reference to his “preoccupation with winning—at anything and everything, big or small.” Hence, Trump “’just wanted to be first, in everything, and he wanted people to know he was first.’” The man has a real ego-problem, and I wonder how this would translate into observance of the Constitution, toleration of dissent, and foreign-policy planning and execution.

Trump’s former wives deserve honorary Harvard doctorates for their appraisal of the man. His second wife told D’Antonio, “’The little boy still wants attention,’” while the first observed, “’He wants to be noticed,’” and then related how he went into a fit in Aspen when she skied past him. “’He could not take it, that I could do something better than he did.’” Barbaro writes: “Mr. Trump stopped, took off his skies and walked off the trail.” (Should Trump win, I don’t look forward to his meeting with Putin.) Nor, moving from the personal to the political (in its broad sense), here his views on the military, does one have grounds for confidence. Dwelling on his military-school experience, Trump was rapturous: “’After the Vietnam War, all those military academies lost ground because people really disrespected the military. They weren’t sending their kids to military school. It was a whole different thing, but in those days—1964 I graduated—that was a very good thing or tough thing, and it was a real way of life at military academy.’” This was quite revealing; we could expect patriotism-by-the-yard, perhaps even the militarization of public education.

One cannot but credit him with being a sort of right-wing Mark Twain with his aphorisms, which on inspection though are hardly humorous. To Playboy—on seeking publicity: “The show is Trump and it’s sold out performances everywhere.’” To D’Antonio—on feeling superior: “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.’” And to Time—on the value of self-reflection: “When you start studying yourself too deeply, you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.’” To which he added, in a flash of insight: “’And if there’s a rhyme and a reason, people can figure you out, and once they figure you out, you’re in big trouble.’” Thus far, this hasn’t happened. If and when it does, it may be too late.

My New York Times Comment to the Barbaro article, same date, follows:

Trump’s candidacy reveals the authoritarian dimensions of the American mindset: he faithfully captures the value system in its social Darwinist content going back to the 1890s, dangerously elitist in both its domestic and foreign policy implications. When we asked (of Nixon), would you buy a used car from this man?, the question for Trump is: would you want this man’s finger on the nuclear trigger? Macho international politics is serious enough; compound that with implicit racism and unguarded elitism domestically and you have a heady brew quite unlike anything seen at this level before. That he is known via the personalization of the self–The Donald–only raises more clearly authoritarian dimensions to his policies. I tremble at the thought of a Trump presidency.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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