Beyond Fire and Fury: Trump as American as Apple Pie?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 8 Jan 2018
Maybe Time to Appreciate the Dish
Produced on the occasion of the response to the critical commentary of Michael Wolff (Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, 2018; Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President, New York Magazine, 3 January 2018)
This is an effort to draw together a variety of threads relating to personal and collective exposure to the Trump phenomenon. This seems appropriate at a time when many are relishing the vulnerability of Trump to the final consequences of his idiosyncratic behaviour and declarations (Abigail Tracy, Trump’s “Fire and Fury” Nightmare Keeps Getting Worse: the White House is racing to contain the damage. Vanity Fair, 4 January 2018; Quentin Fottrell, ‘Fire and Fury’ is No. 1 on Amazon — will Trump make America read again? MarketWatch, 6 January 2018).
The current dynamics are highly reminiscent of the perverse anticipation in the closing processes of a lynch mob. There is a desire to observe his bombastic arrogance torn to shreds for all to see — and to vicariously indulge in subjecting him to any humiliation conceivable. Is it time to give the guy a break — or just to focus on breaking him?
The unfortunate twist to this is, as spectators in this process, the onlookers are naive in believing they are detached from it rather than deeply engaged in it to an unexplored degree. This is evident in the vicarious pleasure experienced in the culmination of any drama when the “bad guy” gets his just desserts — however horrifically he is torn apart. The media focus to which all have been subject, and in which all have indulged, has been on Trump-the-individual. The difficulty of course is that Trump was remarkably successful in heroically navigating the savagery of the American democratic process to become Trump-the-President.
Americans can aspire to disassociating themselves from such questionable characteristics and projecting them all onto Trump-the-individual — to the extent that they do indeed deprecate them. This is the cathartic function of scapegoats in society. It follows from the pattern of the witch hunts so assiduously cultivated by various forms of Christianity. It is celebrated in many carnivals with the mock dethroning of royalty. The pleasure is currently also evident in tearing down iconic celebrities through allegations of sexual harassment.
The accumulating deprecation of Trump is however better understood as deprecation of a major feature of the American psyche — including his allegedly childlike desire for instant gratification. The issue could be well-framed by adapting the famous declaration by Pogo: We have met the enemy and he is us. It could usefully read: We have met Trump and he is us.
However, as a media phenomenon worldwide, observers elsewhere are also naive to believe that the deprecated behaviour can be projected uniquely onto Trump-the-individual or onto the “Americans” he legitimately represents as Trump-the-President. For non-Americans, Pogo’s phrase could even read: We have met Trump and he is US.
From this perspective, “Trump” might be more fruitfully recognized as a behavioural complex in our psyches — as much as are “America” and “Americans”. It is indeed possible to indulge endlessly in condemnation of both in some measure — as has been a primary feature of cafe, bar, and media commentary for many months. Whether healthy or unhealthy, this does however merit being seen as a displacement from recognition of the extent to which both characterize processes in our own individual and collective psyches. More problematic is the extent to which some commentary, by those otherwise esteemed, has become remarkably hysterical.
To what extent does Trump’s wealth reflect an aspiration of many? Similarly, to what extent does his associated excessive consumption reflect a pattern in which many would be delighted to indulge — as cultivated worldwide in the image of “America”?
Then there is the dimension of Trump-the-human-being with particular strengths and weaknesses. Is he to be especially condemned for these — beyond the manner in which they might be condemned in an employer, in a peer group, in a dominating neighbourhood personality, or in a dominating relative? Or, dominance aside, are many of Trump’s characteristics only too familiar in relationships in business, academia, the military or sport? Weaknesses may include alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling, and the like. Encountered in such contexts, these evoke social navigational skills — as with an overbearing car salesperson or a drunken uncle. Eccentricities are tolerated or reframed with humour. Trump is renowned for avoiding alcohol and drugs. So framed, his most offensive statements might even be set aside as bluster — typical of many who voted for him
To what extent is appreciation of Trump-the-human-being lost in the volume of bombast (of which he is the primary source) and of condemnation by others — some of which regret not being in his position? How can he be more fruitfully appreciated as a human being who — through his personality — has indeed called into question a wide variety of questionable processes in society? History may choose to see him in that light — to a far greater degree than can be imagined from the incitement to violence against his person by the media for our current gratification.
The following comments follow from earlier consideration of ways of reframing the experience of the Trump phenomenon (Evaluating the Grossness of Gross Domestic Product, 2016; Engaging an Opposing Ideology via Martial Arts Philosophy: reframing the challenge of Trump and Jihadism as worthy opponents, 2016; Radical Disaffection Engendered by Elitist Groupthink? Democratic rehearsal of the final battle between the Forces of Light and Darkness, 2016).
In the quest for a larger framework through which to appreciate the phenomenon, a few have suggested that he might be better compared to the trickster archetype (Corey Pein, Donald Trump, Trickster God, The Baffler, 4 March 2016). More specifically he could be usefully compared to Loki in Norse mythology, celebrated in Wagner’s operatic cycle of The Ring of the Nibelung, as discussed separately (Identity in question via Trump: Narcissus vs Loki?, 2017). In the conclusion of the first opera Das Rheingold, Loki reveals his hope to turn into fire and destroy Valhalla — the realm of the Gods — and in the final opera Götterdämmerung Valhalla is set alight, destroying the Gods.
Such an association would seem especially appropriate at this time, given the title of the book on which attention is now so avidly focused (Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, 2018). The title derives from Trump’s threat against North Korea — with its continuing implications for nuclear war (Trump Threatens “Fire and Fury” Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S., The New York Times, 8 August 2017). Given the increasing challenge to his mental capacities by the “Gods”, there resistance is consistent with the classical phrase: Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
The association with Loki can also be explored further in the light of Trump’s fascination with gold — given the preoccupation of Loki with that of the Rhine Maidens and their liquidity. Trump’s role in that respect could be said to be remarkable (Anna Giaritelli, Trump celebrates Dow Jones passing 25,000 mark and promises more cuts to regulations, Washington Examiner, 4 January 2018; Dow Jones Surpasses 25,000 for the First Time as Stocks Rally Despite Winter Storm, Fortune, 4 January 2018).
As indicated in what follows, many have recognized that Trump is as “American as apple pie”. Given the potential violence with which he is now associated, any such comparison recalls the controversy aroused by incendiary use of a variant of the phrase by Rap Brown in 1967: I say violence is necessary. Violence is a part of America”s culture. It is as American as cherry pie. Rather than being “inside The White House”, perhaps this poorly understood dimension can now be more fruitfully recognized in all of us (Global Incomprehension of Increasing Violence, 2016). Whether consciously or unconsciously, perhaps the “Gods” that the Trump-in-us aspires to destroy are the fake values undermining progress towards a sustainable global civilization.
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