Donald Trump is Ordinary. Donald Trump is Criminal.

Image of Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Image by History in HD.

Is Donald Trump above the law? It looks like it. Should he be above the law? In Crime and Punishment we are asked to deal with the concept of ordinary men not having the right to break the law while extraordinary men having the right to. This is not how the current world works. The question is, assuming, at least for this piece, that this is how the world should work, does Donald Trump fit the category of extraordinary?

Many have stopped reading already. Or if they haven’t they are going to stop soon. They are thinking, and rightly so, another Trump piece? The term Trump Derangement Syndrome applies to me and to many readers who are eagerly devouring any Trump content. I will admit that it is a distraction but it is also an unavoidable one. Therefore the question is how do we make the distraction of Trump a useful one? How can our critique of Trumpism translate into something positive? How can it be a portal to what we actually want, not just what we fear?

Trump Derangement Syndrome, if left untreated, can be debilitating. But I would say generally speaking that having TDS is a sign of strong mental health. If Donald Trump is appalling to you, for any reason, you are likely in a good place mentally.

In the United States the concept of gangster is revered. This is only natural in the largest Empire in the world, the world’s policeman. There is a sense that by being a gangster you are in opposition to the police state, which just happens to be your own government. To make matters worse, your government imprisons people at a rate that would make Stalin blush.

This inner colony is explicitly racial in nature despite white academics claiming that racism is dead. Naturally this bourgeois contingent views a mug shot of Trump, not as theatre, but rather as something Black people should be excited about.

Trump is a master marketer and getting makeup done before a mug shot is just the way to swing his white bourgeois base into thinking he is some kind of social justice warrior. But this is something Black bourgeois have been doing for a while. Hip hop artists know that the best way to sell records to white people with money is to lean into Black criminality.

The success of hip hop is not without some authenticity. Much of it is done with a wink and a nod to these stereotypes. The idea is that if we make these stereotypes so over the top some people will enjoy the art in a serious way, and some people will get the joke, and they can enjoy it too.

A similar joke is played on The Sopranos. It’s for both crowds. Those who love gangsters and those who get that gangsters are a satire. Trump’s supporters often sound like Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela. Their claim is that their man can get away with anything because there are bigger evils out there. This is a vague nod to the ruling class, but also to smaller criminals, such as those on welfare, such as those depicted by Oliver Anthony in his hit song Rich Men North of Richmond.

It goes back to this idea that everyone in the United States sees themselves as middle class. We hate those on the bottom and those on the top and who we are is exactly in the middle. We can justify everything we do to those on the bottom because there is someone higher doing something worse. Above us are those who are immoral and corrupt. Below us are people who are lazy leechers. Who we are, no matter if we are at the top or the bottom, is just right.

The underlying joke of The Sopranos is that all the characters are constantly misreading and the more they claim to know, the dumber they are. Without fail, practically every scene, some learned pearl of wisdom is misquoted or misrepresented by a character trying to justify their actions. The idea of the gangster is not that they are working class, but rather they are bourgeois, hyper bourgeois. They basically have a bourgeois sense of desire in what they want and they use violence to get it. But because they are bourgeois they have to dress it up with fancy moralistic justifications. The joke is that they always miss the point, but they do what they need to do anyway.

Such is the case with Trump. There is a sense that while he may be right that the people pulling the strings are doing so in a way far above us and out of our control, such statements are only made as a marketing ploy to get him more money and power. Furthermore such critiques are so obvious they shouldn’t be given much credit.

The contradiction with the bourgeois passion for Trump is that while there is a claim that a vague deep state is pulling the strings, there is also an idea that one guy can change it. If there really was such an all-powerful class, how would one guy overcome it, and would this really be your guy? He already had his chance and he failed to do any of it.

The ruling class didn’t hate Trump because he led the resistance but rather because he gave them too much. How could any sensible person hope to maintain power with this rapid immiseration of the planet and people?

Trump, for many of us, signaled the end. This is what we feared would happen, based on capitalism and climate change and all the dangers, and it was all over now. But then he’s gone, and life went on, a bit of a ghost walk. But he’s not all gone, he’s still there. Like a cancer in remission, that we think will return.

However it is important that we don’t know. It is important to remember that not everything is planned and anything could happen. The moment we think everything is planned we begin to think: why not Trump?

This is a moment where we should be asking questions about Western values. What to make of the expansion of BRICS, for example? What do we make of the diverse set of what we call politics to form together in one block?

On the one hand we see China’s strength as a friend, and how it is a mistake to be against China. On the other hand we see that politics, this idea of being against China, is not what this formation is about. It is about economics and when some in India may worry that the expansion of BRICS has become too political, there is also a sense that when BRICS becomes about an economic opposition to the West, rather than just a political one, that this actually makes the formation more political, because politics is more about economics then it is about politics, which is more of an abstraction.

In other words this alliance against Western or Eastern values is more of a posture while the current expansion of BRICS across ideological lines is a more real indication of something truly political.

Then there is also the moment of coups in Africa. This in my mind is downstream of the war in Ukraine and the increase in the cost of living of people at the margins. This proves again that war, all war, is always the wrong answer, we just don’t know why yet.

The promise of Trump is of course that he will end the war. Just as he will liberate Black people at home by being a criminal, he also will liberate Africans by stopping the war in Ukraine. But Trump’s promise isn’t China’s promise. It is not this peace through friendship, through economic trade, this sort of idea that everyone keeps their own house clean. With Trump it’s always this fork in the road. I will make peace, but that’s because I will escalate the war if you don’t go along with me.

If you’re a betting person, perhaps this is a game you would like to play. But my bet on Trump is not necessarily that he will go either direction, because both in their own way would be bold. I rather think he would be the same and worse at the same time, just as he always is.

So back to our original question. Donald Trump is clearly not extraordinary where he should be above the law. But he appears to be ordinary enough to actually be above the law. Would a real punishment of Donald Trump say anything, good or bad, about the current state of things? Of course not. And that’s the point.

The point of the gangster is that he isn’t an anti-capitalist, he is a hyper capitalist. He isn’t an anti-materialist, he is a hyper materialist. He isn’t an anti-criminal, he is a hyper criminal.

He can teach us about our system. Which is why we will continue to focus on him, more than he deserves. Bringing him down leaves a power vacuum that will be filled. Getting behind him will keep the system in place.

The answer is not to be neutral on Trump. The answer is to be so against him that he is merely the vessel for knowledge about things that matter. The highest form of politics, of understanding reality in general, is to live without these illusions. The person who understands art would have blank walls in their living space. The person who understands style would be naked.

The gangster teaches us not through his pearls of wisdom which are always made in error. He teaches us rather about ourselves through the necessity of his existence. In what ways is the gangster solving a problem the system cannot? In what ways is solving a problem worse than the system itself?

In other words if the system needs the gangster to hold itself up then by backing the gangster we back the system while claiming to oppose it. The gangster misreads the situation because the gangster doesn’t want anything different, he just wants to do things in an easier way.

In this way the gangster is an entrepreneur and this is why he is opposed by the higher powers. He is their competition for profit, for power, for control. The bigger fish will eat the smaller fish but when the bigger fish cannot control the territory the smaller fish will emerge to control it again by necessity. Such battles are meaningless in a way but to win them you have to understand something.

The gangster doesn’t have the depth he claims to have, but rather he gets something about what needs to be done. We shouldn’t look at what he claims, for he lies, especially to himself. We should rather look to what he does, to what he understands purely because he is following his instincts. What does the modern killer know? He has to know a lot because the system allows and even rewards crimes in a very complex way.

The gangster isn’t extraordinary. He is extra ordinary. He doesn’t represent our best. He gets to the point. He doesn’t know how he does it. It is our job to find out.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at