Emile Durkheim in his The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, revealed the profound insight that society under the guise of religion worships itself.
Thus, Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples, Roman basilicas, Medieval cathedrals, Renaissance churches, and many other religious artifacts of all times and places are testaments to humanity’s thinly veiled delusions of self-love.
But what of our time? What is sacred to us? Whom do we worship?
Another insight of Durkheim’s that might help us answer this question is his assertion that as traditional religions’ influence waned a “cult of the individual” took its place. In other words, society began to attach sacred significance to the singular status of the individual in society. Interestingly, this idea finds its nuanced counterpoint in the Hegelian notion that, over historical time, mutual respect and individual rights accrue to the individual ultimately giving expression to higher forms of rationality both in individual life and, crucially, in a well organized state itself in harmony with the emancipated individual.
Alas, it seems that Durkheim’s vision has proven more prophetic than Hegel’s.
Thus, the ubiquitous social practice of taking a “selfie” would probably not have surprised Durkheim very much. In it, he would have quickly apprehended an advanced state of the “cult of the individual”. Indeed, a hypertrophied sociological state of obsessive self-involvement. A culture whose members have fallen through their own mirrors and have erected themselves as the ultimate idols at the other side.
Yet, when not digitally adoring themselves our macro-manipulated and micro-manipulating fellow mini-idols occasionally do take the time to worship “officially” sanctioned idols such as “movie stars”.
These stars represent the desires, dreams, fears, aspirations, and ambitions of millions if not billions of people on this planet. Such are some of the functions of Gods.
One of these lesser stars, Donald J. Trump, through his signature brashness, flashiness, and gladiatorial glitz captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of disgruntled mini-idols. They too wished to publicly strut their frustrations with what they perceived to be the state of the nation and society. They dreamt of a simpler time of patriarchy and power. No matter that they themselves were often the victim of these twin evils; but through a careful orchestration of the symbols of hearth and heart it all feels good. Thus, the capture of narcissistic emotions trumps rational argumentation in the Age of the Selfie.
Narcissism and Nostalgia are the twin sacred pillars of our Pontifex Maximus (a term used by Roman Emperors) Donald J Trump. He is a virtuoso in their use and misuse. Most importantly, however, his grotesque inauthenticity validates the white-hot authentic feelings of his followers. The warped mask of the grand clown ignites the bonfires of righteous indignation of the mini-idols raging against their growing societal marginalization and cultural impotence.
Wrong or right, they, in a sense, worship Trump, although they would be the first to deny such an assertion as preposterous and even blasphemous. Yet, in an age of the apotheosis of the self-obsessed individual is it so surprising that the collective Id of the disgruntled should have found a mocking self-image and sadistic substantiation of itself in the repressive (not so small) hands of power and plutocracy?