A couple of days ago I started getting emails from Donald Trump, although I suspect he may not actually be writing them himself. Here’s a typical representative of the half dozen I’ve received so far (one was actually from Lara Trump):
LAST DAY TO ORDER YOUR 2020 TRUMP CHRISTMAS ORNAMENT
You mean so much to me.
I have set aside (1) 2020 Trump Christmas Ornament for YOU to show you just how much you mean to me.
These beautiful ornaments are limited-edition, and I want only my BEST supporters to have them. For a short time, I’m even giving YOU a chance to get one for only
You need to act fast. TODAY is the LAST DAY to order one of our ICONIC 2020 Trump Christmas Ornaments and get it in time for Christmas.
$45 $35 by 11:59 PM TONIGHT to get your very own 2020 Trump Christmas Ornament in time for Christmas. >>
CONTRIBUTE $65 CONTRIBUTE $55 CONTRIBUTE $45 CONTRIBUTE $35 CONTRIBUTE ANY AMOUNT
This is your LAST CHANCE to get our 2020 Trump Christmas Ornaments. Any orders placed after today will not be shipped in time for Christmas, and I REALLY want you to get yours in time.
I’ve reserved one just for you, but you need to act fast.
$45 $35 RIGHT NOW to order your 2020 Trump Christmas Ornament.
Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
It’s sobering to contemplate that apparently this kind of thing works to the tune of raking in more than two hundred million dollars in just the first four weeks after the election.
One of the less charming aspects of the Internet is that it has created a 24/7/365 griftathon, in which there are endless opportunities to separate naive, dumb, and/or desperate people from their money. Having any scruples or basic human decency becomes more expensive every day; and I confess these emails trigger a yearning in me to rip off people who are just begging to be fleeced.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about Donald Trump lately, specifically what he might represent beyond standard issue noxious GOP ideology. I think it’s important to separate out any features of Trumpism that are not only a continuation of where movement conservatism has been going for the past 50+ years, although clearly it is very much that too.
I mean are there any such features? To the extent Trumpism represents:
White ethno-nationalist backlash
Worship of unrestrained capitalism
Reactionary culture war politics
Protestant evangelical and right wing Catholic theocratic longings
I would say no, Trumpism is just Goldwater/Nixon/Reagan/Gingrich etc. in a cruder less filtered form.
Trumpism does, I think, add one important ingredient to this toxic brew, however: It represents the triumph of celebrity culture in the context of national politics. Trump got elected president in large part because he played a wildly successful businessman on a very popular network television program. That’s who Trump was when he ran for president: A reality TV star.
That in my view is the one aspect of Trumpism that represents something very evil in American culture more generally, that can be separated out from the evils of movement conservatism per se. (This is why if Trump doesn’t win the 2024 nomination there’s a good chance some other celebrity-type will, whether from Trump’s own family or from elsewhere in the right wing media ecosystem).
Is it possible to imagine, in this particular respect, a liberal/progressive/left version of Trump? I think it is. An obverse version of Trump would be somebody like Marianne Williamson, that is, someone pitching pseudo-intellectual woo while presenting herself as a contrarian outsider, who isn’t in thrall to liberal/progressive/left politics as usual.
Williamson herself was just drumming up publicity for her books when she preposterously enough got onto the Democratic presidential debate stage with a bunch of actual politicians, but of course that’s probably not much different from what Trump was up to back in the summer of 2015, and we all know how that turned out.
On a related note, I think there’s an important distinction to be fleshed out between anti-intellectualism and pseudo-intellectualism in American culture, and that the former is much more common on the right, while the latter is more prevalent on the leftward spectrum of our politics, but that will have to wait for another post.