"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hollywood As THE American Metaphor–Donald Trump’s Winning Mastery Of Image, Personality, Emotion, And Fantasy

A lot was made of 'facts' during the recent electoral campaign.  Fact-checking sites are working overtime.  Politifact, one such fact-checking site which compiles, analyzes, and reports on every major political speech by the presidential candidates, concluded that Donald Trump lied 75 percent of the time. Progressives are wondering what has happened to democracy?  How, they asked, could a candidate for President of the United States play so fast and loose with the facts? 

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Well, anyone paying the least bit of attention understands that for Trump’s supporters facts and the ‘truth’ matter little or not at all.  They applaud his core principles on trade, immigration, political correctness, and terrorism; but more than anything else they respond to his absolute revulsion for the Washington Establishment, entitled academics and media pundits, arrogant, privileged liberals and their race-gender-ethnicity cabals.

They do not need to hear him cite inner city crime statistics, the indifferent economic progress of the white working class, examples of the arrogation of authority by the Supreme Court, or the gains and losses of Assad, Russia, and Iran in the Syrian conflict.  They know that he stands for a muscular foreign policy, severe restrictions on illegal immigrants, and a rollback of progressive policies from elementary school to academia.

Trump enthusiasts do not support him because of any on-the-one-hand-on-the-other parsing of complex issues, position papers, or carefully thought-out responses to questions of policy, programs, and legislation.

Trump is the perfect candidate for this disaffected, angry, resentful bloc of voters.  He comes from Hollywood, reality television, high finance, and real estate, all of which arenas reward image, allure, strength, will, and determination and not the truth.  His success like any man or woman in these professions is due more to his canny self-promotion, savvy understanding of the marketplace and its buyers and sellers.  He is selling glitz, glamour, high-style, arm candy, yachts, and skyscrapers – not public public policy.  He comes by his indifference to facts naturally; and has come along at the right time.  He is a perfect match for an electorate hungry to express visceral emotions, not to hear Augustinian logic. 

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In many ways Trump is no different from Ronald Reagan who appealed directly and unashamedly to patriotism, courage, and moral family values.  ‘Morning in America’ and ‘A shining city on a hill’ were just the things for the white working Democratic working class who turned to him in droves; and for the conservative legions who rejoiced at his commitment to lower taxes, small government, and a strong military.  He was a man of both Americas.

Of course Reagan was temperate, good-humored, generous, and genial; and Trump is the polar opposite; but  both men came out of the Hollywood image machine and understood that Hollywood is not just a place but a metaphor for America.

Trump adds an important dimension to the Reagan image – a total disdain for politics and a total disregard for  how his statements are received by his opponents. He is unabashedly masculine, never shy about his ambition or no-holds-barred business practices, and absolutely convinced of his rightness.   His personality is the message; and his supporters know that regardless of his unfamiliarity with Washington and the likely missteps he will take in the public and international arenas, America needs a blunt, forceful, and determined leader.

His ‘lies’ are so obvious that none of his partisans take them seriously.  They are more astute than the most rigorously academic post-modernist and can easily deconstruct his ‘texts’ .  The man, his image, and his personality are the message  No one goes to Trump rallies to hear policy or a long list of facts.  They go to hear bombast, slights, insults, catty innuendos, and unmitigated angry passion.

Much has been made of the radical populism embraced by Trump supporters and promoted by the candidate; but the only surprise is that it took so long for 45 percent of the electorate to rise up and demand fundamental, structural change – the way elections are organized and decided, the way the Supreme Court has decided issues that belong in the democratic process, the way the inbred, incestuous Establishment colludes within itself, and how Wall Street multinationals, media conglomerates, and powerful interest groups have joined forces to determine how the country is run.

Trump’s popularity is a result of the felicitous juncture of voter frustration; Americans’ ingrained and innate love of Hollywood stardom, celebrity, and outsized personality; Trump’s own background in Hollywood and the mean streets of finance and real estate; and the incessant media demand for outrageous stories.


The election has nothing to do with governance, public policy, or international relations.  Trump has revolutionized politics more than any other candidate in the past.  Ronald Reagan was revolutionary in his own right and his policies changed forever the way government does business; but Trump is anarchic.

This is a good thing.  The political Augean Stables have been in need of cleaning for decades.  The cant and arrogance of the Establishment have for too long gone unchallenged.  The demands of the marginalized middle class have for too long been overlooked; and more than anything else, the illogical, visceral, image- and personality-oriented character of the American electorate has for too long been suppressed.

Trump of course is not alone.  Putin, the Ayatollah, Duterte, and radical Muslim imams all have similar appeal.  Putin’s unabashed neo-Imperialism, Duterte’s extra-judicial governance, the Ayatollah’s religious-political vision, and Muslim prelates’ sectarianism are all expressions of the same phenomenon.  While all these men are roundly criticized in the liberal Western press, their geopolitical influence cannot be denied.  Democracy is not the be-all and end-all of civil society, much as the West would like to think so.


Trump is a benign version of these autocrats; but he has tapped the same angry, frustrated sentiments common in many countries of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.  Radical populism combined with a tolerance if not embrace of autocracy is alive and well and cannot be dismissed.

Much has also been made of the post-election trauma which will necessarily result after such a divisive campaign.  Yet it is not the campaign which is the problem but the divisiveness of the country itself.  America is going through a political/social paroxysm if not yet a true revolution; and the upheavals to come are necessary and welcome.

Win or lose, Donald Trump has not only upset the political landscape but has unearthed a popular revolutionary radicalism which will not disappear with a Hillary Clinton victory.  It is just the beginning.

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