The Dangerous Class Consciousness of Donald Trump

Plate 20 from "Los Caprichos": There they go plucked (i.e. fleeced) (Ya van desplumados), Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) (Spanish, Fuendetodos 1746–1828 Bordeaux), Etching, burnished aquatint, drypoint

Francisco Goya, “There they go, plucked,” Los Caprichos, 1799, Metropolitan Museum of Art.


There was a fashion, among the elite of late 18th C. Spain, to mimic the styles and habits of the working class, in particular, the subculture of Majas and Majos. The French Ambassador to Spain, J. F. de Bourgoing, described the phenomenon — encanaillement or slumming in a letter from 1788:

The Majos are beaux of the lower class. . . . Their countenance, half concealed under a brown stiff bonnet, called Montera, bears the character of threatening severity, or of wrath. . . . The Majas, for their part seem to make a study of effrontery…. But if the spectator approaches them with a disposition, not very scrupulous, he sees in them the most seducing priestesses that ever presided at the altars of Venus.

The artist Francisco Goya was particularly attuned to Majismo and represented it in many paintings and prints. In an etching titled “There they go, plucked,” from the album titled Los Caprichos (1799), he shows a pair of Majas and their elderly Celestinas (procuresses) threatening and sweeping away a pair of naked chickens, with a third one nearly out the door. They are Johns or punters who have been fucked and plucked — fleeced of their feathers and funds.

With the 34 guilty verdicts delivered on Thursday by a New York City jury, Donald J. Trump is now shown to have been plucked by a “seductive priestess,” a Maja named Stormy Daniels. In 2006, he met her at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe and suggested a rendezvous in his suite. There, he asked Daniels about her family background as well as detailed questions about her career as a porn star. She answered that she was the child of a low-income, single mother, and that porn actors are regularly tested for STDs. After a visit to the toilet, Daniels was confronted by Trump stripped to his boxers. He proposed sex and Daniels demurred. Infatuated by her career and working-class origins, Trump persisted: “I thought we were getting somewhere, we were talking, and I thought you were serious about what you wanted. If you ever want to get out of that trailer park.” In her trial testimony, Daniels said that she never lived in a trailer park. But she acceded to a single, brief and literally unmemorable (she blacked out) episode of unprotected sexual intercourse, missionary position. She rebuffed his many subsequent calls for sexual liaisons.

A decade later, in 2016, Daniels extorted from presidential candidate Trump $130,000 to keep the whole episode secret. The payoff money was fronted by Michael Cohen, Trump’s bulldog and fixer. Following the election, Cohen squeezed now-President Trump for $420,000 as reimbursement, tax pre-payment, outlay to a stiffed creditor (money which Cohen kept for himself) and a performance bonus, the latter being a consummate expression of chutzpah. Trump was once again plucked. Finally, last week, a random group of New Yorkers, many of whom are working class, determined that the business records associated with those payments were falsified to perpetrate an illegal fraud upon the electorate. Trump was once more plucked by members of the class he envies and exploits. He will return to court for sentencing on July 11, a few days before he is for the third time nominated by the Republican Party for President of the United States. If he loses the election, there is a good chance he will be jailed. In that instance, he’ll be processed like any other prisoner: stripped (plucked), handed a uniform (no red ties – they are a suicide risk), and assigned a jail cell.

Love and hate

Majismo was the offshoot of a wider, Enlightenment trend: the bourgeois cult of nature. Whereas the European aristocracy and nobility held themselves superior to nature – physical, bodily, and human – the middle class or bourgeoisie claimed nature as a birthright. They owned farmland, mines, and factories, and exploited them – not with their own hands, but with the labor of others whom they either bought as slaves or to whom they paid wages. As more of this class gained wealth and power, its members felt a need for ideological self-justification. Lacking the birth and bearing of their noble or aristocratic superiors, they claimed to be the “natural” class: honest, direct, and unaffected by fashion, falsity or convention. Their very lack of breeding was a sign of their worth.

In response, the noble and aristocratic classes of France, Spain, England and elsewhere, began to emulate the styles and habits of the lower orders. In France, Marie Antoinette dressed as a milkmaid. In England, great show was made of the agricultural productivity of noble lands. And in Spain, the nobility and aristocracy – all the way up to King Carlos III and Queen Maria Luisa – emulated the Majas and Majos in a vain quest for the supposed authentic essence (“autentico ser”) of ancient and medieval Castile. Make Spain great again! The emptiness and absurdity of this elite quest for origins and authenticity were grist for Goya’s sharp and satiric art.

Francisco Goya, “As far back as his grandfather,” Los Caprichos, 1799. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Flash forward 175 years. Donald Trump, ne’er-do-well son of the striving, successful and unscrupulous Fred Trump, seeks to make his own way in the competitive world of New York real estate. Lacking his father’s talent, connections and personality, he is mentored by a corrupt but skillful prosecutor, lawyer, bully boy, and fixer, Roy Cohn, famous for securing the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and abetting the anti-communist witch hunts of Senator Joe McCarthy. Failing at business, Trump by the late 1980s finds fame by feeding at the trough of racism and fear while claiming to be the friend of working people. He at once offers working people a leg up in his TV show, The Apprentice, and ruthlessly fires them. He attacks the poor, young, Black suspects in the Central Park Jogger case and publicly calls for their execution, even before they are (falsely) convicted. He befriends Mafiosi, boxers, wrestlers, football players, bikers, models and beauty queens. He claims to admire military men, police officers and factory workers while privately calling them losers. During his presidential campaigns, he exhorts his working-class acolytes to violence, and promises to pay their legal costs or pardon them if they are convicted.

MAGA and narcissism

More than a desire to restore a supposed national glory, Trump’s quest to “make America great again” is the search for his own “authentic essence.” His narcissism is pathological. He displays pomposity, grandiosity, and superiority, constantly seeking attention. He expects perfect loyalty from others to affirm his own value. He chooses wives and lovers based solely on their looks to convince himself of his own, physical beauty. He belittles and bullies others to affirm himself. He plays the victim to make sure that any failure is the fault of others, since he is faultless. And he exhibits a profound sense of emptiness – his hours-long perorations at MAGA rallies are ways of filling the void in his spirit and soul. There, he mirrors the ideological stance of his most damaged and desperate working-class followers, and they do the same with him.

The cycle of in-group affirmation and out-group derogation is endless and dangerous; it’s the stuff of fascists. After Trump’s conviction last week for falsifying business records to cover up election crimes, he delivered a 35-minute peroration in which he claimed to speak for the working class of the U.S. while at the same time attacking homeless Americans as well as the poor of South America and Africa, and other parts of the world, whom he called criminals, terrorists and insane. He promised to wall the border against immigration and to lock up and deport millions of people already in the country. Trump’s is a peculiar form of class consciousness – that of a wealthy and arrogant narcissist who seeks validation from his putative inferiors while at the same time chastising or even destroying the working class that exists outside his circle of acolytes. Those who don’t honor and adore him, must be locked up or destroyed. Convicted, Trump is more dangerous than ever.

Stephen F. Eisenman is emeritus professor at Northwestern University. His latest book, with Sue Coe, is titled “The Young Person’s Guide to American Fascism,” and is forthcoming from OR Books. He can be reached at