Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Trump Agonistes

The uppermost idea with Hellenism is to see things as they really are; the uppermost idea with Hebraism is conduct and obedience.
(...)
 The governing idea of Hellenism is spontaneity of consciousness; that of Hebraism, strictness of conscience.
  --Culture and Anarchy, Matthew Arnold

The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.
--John F. Kennedy

And I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece...
Zechariah, 9:13

American politics have been upended by the Trump candidacy's success in the face of sustained, coordinated opposition from the powerful. Has there ever been such a wide chasm between popular support and elite opposition? Trump's unlikely popularity comes not merely as a shock but as a revelation, but what precisely has been revealed is debatable. Something is happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear.

His detractors, despite their glib dismissal of his popularity as mere white male anger (the only anger they don't valorize out of hand), don't really want to know. So they'll keep on with a strategy that, after all, should be working. And it may be that despite his remarkable run Trump is still just one gaffe away from the abyss. Or one cringing apology from it. That he hasn't succumbed so far itself constitutes a secondary, collateral quandary for those who hold the commanding heights of the media. He threatens to expose the gaffe-apology cycle in American politics as the kabuki theater it is. Most of the time it isn't the offense but the apology that kills or stalls an individual career. Just as its purpose is not to salve real or manufactured outrage--outrage is a valuable commodity in American politics--but rather to de-legitimize the line of inquiry or dissent threatened by any given sin of exposition.

Trump threatens to expose the reality that any given gaffe-scandal normally has little to it but the sturm und drang of media histrionics which might, or might not (for it need not, really) set off some level of popular anger. By this process the individual citizen is led to believe--now through the amplifier of social media (the force-multiplier of manufactured opinion)--there's a groundswell of popular outrage and expert disagreement with a given assertion. Call it, contra Chomsky, manufactured dissent. As often as not the gaffe is simply a truth routinely suppressed. The gaffe cycle creates the illusion of consensus denying that truth and subverts the individual's own perception of it, however obvious, causing him to doubt his very own eyes and experience.

Of course this can only go so far, and only go on so long before the deliberate nature of the suppression of the truth becomes as obvious as the truth it suppresses. If Trump achieves nothing else, his demonstration that one can not only survive opposition to the process but thrive by opposing it will constitute a significant contribution to the greater good. But he has to survive, or at least not die by gaffe. All the more reason for the elite to focus on this method of attack--to demonstrate it, still, is How Things Work and some things must not be said.

But his opponents will keep at it for another reason. Serious engagement with his immigration argument--the font of his popularity--threatens to legitimize a debate which the political, media and business elites have worked years to de-legitimize. Astounding as it is, immigration restriction hasn't a single true proponent among mainstream national politicians or media outlets, despite the overwhelming popular support for it. That Trump exposes this remarkable anomaly is yet another reason to focus on the messenger. It really is "all about" the immigration, in more ways than one.

So it's absurd to think that without the immigration issue, and the implicitly pro-white agenda of which it's the centerpiece, he'd be getting anywhere. It's hard to imagine Donald Trump's comically boastful roadshow succeeding with the same milquetoast policy prescriptions of a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Far easier to imagine any one of his Republican opponents succeeding with his immigration policy than to imagine him succeeding with theirs. That's leaving aside the lack of trust the public retains in mainstream politicians and the fact their donors would never countenance them taking such positions.

Still it's clear Trump doesn't succeed despite his image. Neither is it a matter of indifference. His style--deliberately offensive defiance--is ideally suited to his message, and that message is ideally timed, if not overdue. Trump's open insulting of the individuals and opinions of the elite is seen, by a long-disrespected middle America and its sympathizers, as returning insult for insult. And it's seen as a longtime in coming. We've long endured a cultural assault that has proceeded by insensible gradations and the concessions of a naive opposition to where we are now: open contempt for the white, heterosexual historical core of the nation is convention. That is what we mean when we write Narrative with a capital N. Donald Trump is the counter-Narrative.

His message is also seen as restorative honesty after seven years of strained hypocrisy under Barack Obama. From the moment he burst onto the national stage--with a platitudinous, insubstantial speech at the 2004 Democratic convention that was met with the overblown praise for any indication of black ability that is essential to conspicuous white guilt--Obama's career has succeeded less by the man's practical successes than by his acolytes' determination that he be successful and their need to be seen celebrating that success. Obama's success demonstrates the extent to which we've perverted the "Hebraic" strain in Western culture as defined above. That strain, that now would more often be called Christian or Judeo-Christian, compels moral correctness not just in deed but in thought. That compulsion which has been subverted into political correctness and, with horrifying irony, turned upon the heirs of Christendom and Western culture.

Trump, boasting endlessly of his accomplishments and wealth--wealth, to him, being the ultimate measure of accomplishment--represents a return to the Hellenistic view. He, in his vulgar fashion, celebrates the Greek value of arete, of ability and achievement as the ultimate virtues, over that Hebraic compulsion toward inner purification. Which is not to say unrestrained Hellenism would be better; the West has achieved greatness through, however you like, the synthesis or struggle between these two strains. Trump's impolite frankness is a vulgar Hellenism, valuing knowing, opposing a perverted Hebraism, valuing feeling. 

Even in his obsessive branding, putting the Trump name on everything he builds, he exhibits a core element of the Greek value of arete, where the highest goal is to make one's name immortal--as opposed to the Hebrew goal of making the soul immortal, in part by eschewing just this sort of  Hellenistic "vanity". It's easy to see how the two have combined to create the Western mind, and how one--not always the same one--tempers the other. If you want to ascribe Trump's success to angst, I suggest you consider a real and justified angst that the Hebraic impulse has been perverted, co-opted and turned first against the common people and then against the West--against itself, in a sense.

It isn't as if the elite has ever abandoned the Hellenistic value of arete; on the contrary, they jealously keep it for themselves and demand of the common man a perpetual Hebraic contrition. The common man is hectored into a permanent state of moral self-doubt for, among other things, his "racism" and "xenophobia". It just so happens keeping him in this state--particularly regarding immigration and multiculturalism--serves the purposes of a global politico-economic elite. As the Church Lady from Dana Carvey's old SNL routine would say, "how con-veeen-ient."

So, while the individual elites strive to make their names immortal, they offer to the common man the immortality of the soul, even as they scoff at the very idea, bound up in religion as it is, of a soul and its judgment in the hereafter. It's a blustering con, and it's perhaps fitting that it's revealed, intentionally or not, not just by a member of the elite that uses it, but by this bluffing and blustering member of that elite.

5 comments:

DiverCity said...

"Judgment," but hellz yeah!

Dennis Dale said...

Thanks, I've corrected it.

SpottedToad said...

I don't foresee Trump lasting much past Iowa, but good post. It is true that Trump has at least a single policy that GOP voters believe in.

Sheila4g said...

"Even in his obsessive branding, putting the Trump name on everything he builds, he exhibits a core element of the Greek value of arete, where the highest goal is to make one's name immortal--as opposed to the Hebrew goal of making the soul immortal, in part by eschewing just this sort of Hellenistic "vanity."

Interesting point - but then how would you explain the modern Jewish American obsession (it may be older and exist elsewhere, but I'm not aware of it) of putting their names on everything? Buying plaques in a synagogue to memorialize someone, donating vast sums to endow Jewish-named buildings at historical protestant institutions, and setting up luxury retail firms with dissonantly Jewish names (can't recall now, but there was a luxury clothing store in Dallas named something like Goldblatt).

Dennis Dale said...

I would say it's the same thing. Wealthy people have long sought to carve out a legacy by putting their names on foundations or buildings thru large donations. By "Hebraism" I don't mean Judaism, though it of course originates in Judaism, and I don't mean to suggest that "Hellenism" is the province of non-Jews. Obviously high-achieving Jews exhibit this value, to define oneself through excellence and achievement, as much or more than others.
As for putting his name on things, Trump has taken it to a whole new level. I think there's even a name for the obsession, maybe a -philia, but I can't find it.