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The election of Donald Trump represents, among other things, the triumph of the Simulacrum over the Real. This state of affairs has been a long time coming in American politics and society and should, in effect, surprise no one.
Beginning with the Kennedy/Nixon debates of 1960 telegenic appearance began to chip away at serious, substantive argumentation. And then came the glamour and myth-making of “Camelot” which demonstrably changed the style of and expectations for the American Presidency forever. On the face of it, it might be said that Kennedy was America’s first “Celebrity in Chief”.
Things then became immeasurably worse with the election of Ronald Reagan who was a master myth-maker able to manipulate his electoral audience with a wide range of life-long acting skills. At this point in history, power was already inextricably linking itself with ever more conspicuously staged appearances.
Even during the Clinton presidency, this particular Commander and Chief had a disturbing penchant to associate and legitimize himself with the denizens and imagery of Hollywood and Pop Culture. And then of course came a period of scandal commensurate to any of the soap operas of the time.
In comparison, the Bush presidency that followed was, in due course, completely convinced that the Real no longer mattered and that truth was ultimately a relative construction based on power. Here, tragically, the Real eventually became a full fledged victim of unbounded hubris.
Despite his good intentions and efforts, Obama, too, was very much invested in aspects of the celebrity culture in which he came of age and cultivated an aura which was often times too close for comfort to Pop Idol Status. Perversely, some features of his presidency may well have been the necessary prelude to what was to come. (This goes someway to explain why his policies were not able to be carried forward by a far less glamorous successor: Hillary Clinton)
Enter Donald Trump and we now have the celebrity incarnate. The apotheosis of all that is glittery and gauche. The mirror which is able to reflect only itself.
As I’ve just briefly outlined, the historical trajectory that led to the triumph of a regressive combatant infantilism was a long one. Much of America aspires to wealth and glory and has always done so. These desires have only been exacerbated by a tyrannical pop culture which saturates and consumes us daily. But in Donald Trump the contempt for the real has reached a culmination point. No longer is truth even an important criterion of power but the symbolic substantiation of unfulfilled mythic yearnings has now taken absolute precedence and fully replaced it.
Power has always had an aspect of the sacred. And if the truth be told, America’s real religion is the gospel of success; the nearly insane glorification of winners and the almost sadistically cruel subjugation of losers. No one personifies this public religion better than Donald Trump. He is the true Potifex Maximus of the people that voted for him; charismatically representing the angry longings of millions for wealth, beauty, power, and perhaps, even revenge on those who were deemed perennially unable or unwilling to give it to them.
Dan Corjescu has a PhD in Philosophy form Sofia University Bulgaria. He teaches at Neu Ulm Hochschule in Bavaria Germany.