Trump is a Tyrant: The Devolution of an Argument

I’ve noticed an interesting evolution—perhaps devolution—in the “Trump is a tyrant” line of argument.

Originally, the claim was robust and ambitious: Trump was like the classic fascist rulers of the twentieth century, readying to lead not only a repressive and violent state apparatus, under the unified control of his party, but also a street-based mass movement that channeled a broad and scary consensus of the majority of the nation. It soon became apparent that despite his electoral victory, Trump in fact had very little ability to control popular opinion.

Not only has he had the worst approval ratings of any president at this point in his term, but he’s also been singularly incapable of moving the needle of public opinion toward his positions. As I pointed out in my Guardian article last Tuesday, two of Trump’s signature positions—against immigration and free trade—are today more unpopular, almost by record levels, than they were when Trump was elected. Ironically, for all the talk (from people like Jeet Heer) that Trump’s words are a form of action, the main action that his words, qua words, have produced in the realm of public opinion is a movement away from his positions.

So then the claim became more modest: Trump is an authoritarian. Here the claim is less that Trump has some intuitive ability to manipulate and control public opinion or to ride the wave of a mass movement than that he’s got control over the state and is using his control to smoothly execute his will. The problem with this argument is that Trump has not in fact consolidated his control over the state. In many cases, he hasn’t even tried.

Judged by the standard of previous presidents, in fact, Trump has been remarkably lax about consolidating his power. And not just because of opposition in the judiciary, which, contrary to Heer, shows no signs of being intimidated by his tweets (quite the opposite, in fact), but because of divisions within his party, divisions that he has proven himself singularly incapable of overcoming. Trump has given up or has been beaten back on multiple fronts of foreign policy, on free trade, on infrastructure spending, on the Wall, and more. He suffered, at the hands of his party, a humiliating defeat on health care, which despite Thursday’s House victory, he still has a long long way to go to reverse. (And it’s not at all clear, given the Senate’s response, that he’ll be able to.) He’s been forced to rely on executive orders, some of which—as the ACLU pointed out with respect to his recent EO on the Johnson Amendment— are as rhetorical as his speeches. They neither execute nor order much of anything.

(Even this article about how Trump has installed commissars throughout the executive branch and its agencies, which some folks offered to me as a counter to my claim about his failure to make appointments to the executive branch, provides little evidence of that approach actually working, and one of the cases it cites is of the executive branch resisting the intrusion of these commissars. The article also claims that Trump’s approach is consistent with what Obama tried to do with the Departments of Justice and Defense.)

So now the claim has become this: Trump may not be ruling as a fascist, Trump may not be ruling as an authoritarian; the real problem is that, in his heart of hearts, he wants to rule as an authoritarian. Trump’s gestalt, says Heer, is “authoritarian in its aspirations.” His intentions are fascist; his motives are repressive; his personality is authoritarian. “The fact that he wants to” undo the Constitution, writes Josh Marshall, “matters a lot.” Whatever the public reality of his rule, we know that the inner aspiration is autocratic. (“Aspiration” is a word that I now see a lot.) This is the kind of focus on intentions that Hannah Arendt, whose name often gets thrown around as the guiding intelligence of our times, thought was so toxic to any true understanding of politics.

I find this a fascinating and remarkable turn of the argument. If you step back and look at the trajectory of the claim, what you see is that the scope and scale of Trump’s politics has dramatically shrunk. It’s gone from a demagogic mass movement in possession of state power—that is, the entire field of state and society—to a more a limited field of the consolidated state, to, now, not just one man, but something even more removed from the public realm, something more interior: one man’s motives and intentions. The setting is no longer a polity; it’s a psyche. As if public life itself now transpires—and can be understood by what happens—in one man’s head. And in this regard, I think Trump’s critics mirror what Trump thinks about himself: he is the terrain of politics.

As Montesquieu understood, that is the hallmark of a despotic regime: all of politics is reduced to the space of the tyrant’s head. In such a regime, politics is focused entirely on a “man whose five senses constantly tell him that he is everything and that others are nothing.” The irony is that the only ones, besides Trump, who seem to believe that this implosion of political space describes or can account for our current moment are his critics.


  1. Edward Opton May 7, 2017 at 1:47 am | #

    I hope you are right. But don’t tyrants come in all flavors, from deadly efficient to bumbling, scatterbrained, and marginally demented? And cannot they, all of them, make terrible mischief?

    • elbujo May 10, 2017 at 6:40 am | #

      Woody Allen ‘Bananas’ saw the tyrant that way. He was going to force everyone to wear their underwear outside their clothes and speak Swedish.

      So Trump is a failed would-be fascist. I don’t get Robin’s point. Is his point that everyone is so terribly naive or a dupe for fearing Trump? Everything that was said about his proto-fascist tendencies was absolutely true. He has no interest in the rule of law, he uses fear and xenophobia to whip people up at his rallies, he’s a misogynist racist who worships power and wants to wield it to crush the weak, etc. He’s engaging in massive cronyism, and raising the corruption level to 11. Bla bla bla.

      I’m pretty sure Lyndon Johnson didn’t go quite as far as Trump in targeting vulnerable members of society. Trump definitely has some very scary plans. He was unable to execute these plans effectively. We may have lucked out a little bit, but it doesn’t mean his plans don’t matter, that they are just ‘intentions.’ He has widespread support within his own party to target and scapegoat specific groups. Sure, he’s stepping into an ongoing plan to target them–but they haven’t had a president promise to go all out in the past. This isn’t exactly Chicken Little claiming the sky is going to fall. There are already continual attempts to establish laws to deport millions of people, and to harass the millions more with legal status.

      If Prof. Robin’s point is that he didn’t succeed, and so he’s bad at the Mussolini thing, then that’s certainly worth pointing out. One reason it didn’t pan out is that he is rapidly losing his mind.

      Anyway, it seemed worthwhile to notice, before Trump got a firm grip on the reins, that he is a would-be Mussolini. Was this a bad thing to worry about? I can’t see why.

      There’s actually no reason to revise the would-be Mussolini assessment. Trump appears to be a failing Mussolini, but he’s not other than people feared. Intentions do matter in politics. One of our biggest failings with Bush and Obama was that the left responded to their plans very tepidly, and very late. We never got the momentum in opposing the US-Iraq War. The pushback to the mass deportations worked, but only partly. If the left had treated Bush like Trump, who knows what kind of disasters might have been averted.

      Sure, with Trump a lot of it is for show–but if those pointless displays succeeded, that’s definitely going to take us in the worng direction.

      It’s worth looking now at how and why Trump failed over and above the cognitive deficit he’s currently displaying. First, it hurt him that he’s not a lawyer and doesn’t understand how the government works, so can’t manipulate the situation in his favor. Second, his base is smaller than we feared–though it’s much more substantial than anyone should be comfortable with. It is also a cult-like following, which is really freaking weird, no matter how you look at it. Third, his management strategy is ill-suited to authoritarian rule. He’s surrounding himself with incompetents because he is unable to trust anyone. A good authoritarian knows how to delegate, and how to find and use the most talented people to execute his plans. Trump demands loyalty from the get-go and that limits his talent pool. He also resents independent thinking, and doesn’t listen to advice. One kind of talent a proto-fascist needs are brilliant lawyers. We’d possibly be worse off if Cruz were in power for this reason. But that brings us to Trump’s other failing–a smart megolomaniac knows his limits. Both Cruz and Trump are too arrogant to be totally great at this fascism thing.

      If I’m reading the argument correctly, this undercuts any program to prevent fascism or other types of authoritarianism. Once you find out whether or not the fascist/authoritarian/tinpot dictator is a successful fascist, it’s already too late. It’s much smarter to mobilize and outflank each stupid & evil thing they try to do, and to use the ‘what if…’ assumption while gaining support so people realize something is at stake.

      What I wish, however, is that we’d treat all US presidents in the same way we’ve approached Trump, i.e., we’d treat every goddamn thing they do with suspcion and continually agitate
      whenver they threaten to trample on people’s rights–either in the US or elsewhere.

      • Deadl E Cheese May 10, 2017 at 10:15 am | #

        First of all: Lyndon B. Johnson specifically targeted vulnerable minorities to consolidate his power. Even if you’re one of those bigot Americans who claim that non-American PoC don’t count, the friggin’ FBI and CIA had a field day during his Presidency. The BPP called JFK and LBJ white supremacists for a reason.

        Second of all: I’ll get more into this with my second third point, but your histrionics is completely laughable. This happens all the times with liberals; I ask how, even in terms of their rhetorical trump card of ‘fascists oppress minorities and Trump really wants to do that!’, is Trump worse or plans to do worse even domestically than Obama, who deported 2.7 million people, did nothing about the collapse of black house wealth or voter suppression, and completely shattered police militiarization records. Either they can’t answer or they get into these inane Alex Jones-Sorkin mashup fantasies. We won’t even get into Clinton, whom has been at the forefront of a movement since the 80s that resulted in the United States incarcerating and stealing the labor wealth of a greater proportion of people than actual fascist states like Thailand and Singapore.

        If you’re saying that Trump is also a herrenvolk authoritarian of a materially insignificantly greater degree than Obama or Clinton, fine, but painting him as this unique threat unforeseen across many Administrations just shows what sniveling, hypocritical, elitist bigots liberals really are.

        Third of of all: your analysis completely ignores the political playing field that Trump is in. Unsurprising, after that barfed-out ahistorical apology for LBJ. Like most liberals, you have a Great Man theory of history where figures are completely divorced from external circumstance save for a small group of supporters.

        Trump isn’t incompetent because of his personal inefficacy. He’s incompetent because the regime that swept him into power has structural contradictions that block the full culmination of his regime. Trump might have weak ties to the Reaganite regime, but he’s still dependent on it. He’s dependent on them for his propaganda (both ways), for his talent pool, and for his political power. Their incompetence is his incompetence. Trump’s ability to tighten his authoritarian grip, or rather, his inability to do so is completely tied to his party’s ability thereof. Jimmy Carter and Hebert Hoover were much more skilled technocrats and they and their reputations for competence were still at the mercy of their parties.

        Not saying that he won’t become what people fear, but it’s quite out of his hands. And it’s out of his hands in such a way that if Reagan, either Bush, Obama, or either Clinton had the same opportunity they’d act much the same way.

        • Elbujo May 10, 2017 at 7:17 pm | #

          You didn’t read what I wrote.

          He’s stepping into ongoing plans. Bush and Obama were poorly countered because of our complacency.

          I think it’s preferable this was less of an issue with Trump.

          You aren’t getting my point. But do live in Alabama as a Mexican American and then live in NYC and get back to me on your idea there is no degree of difference.

          If you really think Jeff Sessions as AG is equivalent to Loretta Lynch as AG I would love to know why that’s the case.

          These methods of Trumps are not wholly unused by Democrats.

          You’re projecting. LBJ was likely a sociopath. But it wasn’t in his interest to go the extra mile on scapegoating particular groups. It is in Trump’s interest because it is what his base demands.

          I think it is useful to make such distinctions.

  2. Thomas Rossetti May 7, 2017 at 2:39 am | #

    The concern is that Trump and his enablers are succeeding in redefining the terms of the debate. As Croce warned of an authoritarianism that becomes ” a general process of fostering universal stupidity”. That sure sounds like Trump.

  3. mark May 7, 2017 at 5:14 am | #

    Is Trump a poor man’s George IV, trapped in his own Brighton Pavilion of a life?

  4. louisproyect May 7, 2017 at 9:04 am | #

    Very astute.

    If Trump truly wanted to consolidate an authoritarian state, he would function more as a Bonapartist figure like Juan Peron. However, despite his campaign rhetoric, his commitment to the working class is largely verbal. The Carrier plant lost about half their jobs anyhow and nothing will come out of his relaxation of coal mining regulations. The average working person will figure out that the assault on Obamacare and Medicaid shows Trump’s true orientation.

  5. Steve Cohen May 7, 2017 at 9:37 am | #

    It was maybe right to fear this when Bannon was in the saddle but that didn’t last and it means something that it didn’t.

    Now what we’re left with is the ascendancy of the most right wing tendencies of the Republican Party and it’s these that must be fought tooth and nail. Most of the continuing focus on Trump, his gaffes, Russiagate, etc. are a distraction from this task.

  6. Chris Morlock May 7, 2017 at 10:44 am | #

    Demonize Trump and call him the bogey man all you want, the only real substance politically these days is to self-examine the left with the express purpose of reconstructing the Democratic party and re-connecting with the millions of working class voters lost by neo-Liberalism. It’s just an endless broken drum and reading blog posts like this is akin to an intellectual elitist version of sitting in front of MSNBC endlessly decry the arch villain. He exists for a reason and that reason is YOU and YOUR beliefs, not racism or Russians.

    How about an article on how Trump’s first healthcare overhaul was much more palatable and reasonable, and probably deserved some Democratic support- enough to pass anyways. Instead, the Left was obstinate, and allowed the truly vile Freedom Caucus to devolve healthcare to almost pre-ACA status. Democrats are just along for the ride these days, and they managed to do nothing other than further dismantle the ACA by their stupid, pouting attitude.

    Your hate blinds you, and all it will accomplish is even worse results. All your anger for 8 years at the Right for obstructionism has morphed into you becoming what you hated. I beg Liberals to look in the mirror and self-evaluate, then come back with something more than demonizing and whining.

    • Steve Cohen May 7, 2017 at 11:58 am | #

      None of the versions of TrumpCare got a good CBO score. Just because each one was worse than the last doesn’t mean the first was acceptable. If Trump wants to propose Medicare for All like the Australians have, I’ll support that but let’s not pretend he has offered anything good so far. Talk about a low bar!

    • Theo May 8, 2017 at 1:16 pm | #

      Your aim is lousy. Professor Robin is not responsible for any of that and his thinking does not fall into any of your categories. Who is the hater here?

    • Theo May 8, 2017 at 1:19 pm | #

      That may be true, but we can’t take our eye off the ball: What the Republicans, Trump’s cabinet, and the enabling Democrats are doing. What does it matter whether Trump fits into any of the categories you discuss when he has people like Sessions creating havoc wherever his prejudices dictate. Check out:

    • “He [Trump] exists for a reason and that reason is YOU and YOUR beliefs, not racism or Russians.”

      “Democrats are just along for the ride these days, and they managed to do nothing other than further dismantle the ACA by their stupid, pouting attitude.”

      “Your hate blinds you, and all it will accomplish is even worse results. All your anger for 8 years at the Right for obstructionism has morphed into you becoming what you hated. I beg Liberals to look in the mirror and self-evaluate, then come back with something more than demonizing and whining.”

      A subgenre of punditry has been the call to demand that progressives/leftists/liberals somehow change their own behavior because Trump voters/supporters are simply reacting to the crappy way they have been treated by progressives/leftists/liberals.

      It would take too long to unpack that species of understanding to examine its underlying presumptions and fallacies, but it is interesting to note its deployment in “Chris Morlock”‘s two entries in this comments section.

      This “blame-the-liberal” stuff is rich indeed. Again, too much to go into.

      I will simply post this, and ask anyone who can to make the case that this the fault of progressives/leftists/liberals, and this demands that progressives/leftists/liberals should mine their own faults. Of what are we guilty to make THIS happen? Just because some claim it don’t make it so.

      Anyway, enjoy:

  7. Barbara May 7, 2017 at 11:03 am | #

    All of this is understandable, to anybody who pays attention to history. Trump made noises like a fascist: he wanted to be able to destroy the press for writing unflattering articles about him. He constantly praises dictators. He scapegoates religious and ethnic groups. He posts false crime statistics to blame particular groups. He lies, continually and habitually.

    Isn’t it enough that a totally amoral person has been installed in the most powerful position in the world? With almost unrestricted access to weapons deadly enough to destroy the world? Isn’t the endless lying enough, since it’s an attempt to destroy the reality we all must live in?

    What in God’s name do you want? What would be enough?

    • Deadl E Cheese May 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm | #

      How is any of that different from Reagan, or Lyndon B. Johnson for that matter? Assaults on the press — Reagan and Johnson did that. Constantly praising dictators — Reagan and Johnson did that. Scapegoating religious and ethnic groups — Reagan and Johnson did that. Posting False Crime Statistics to blame particular groups — Reagan and Johnson did that. Lying habitually and continually — Reagan and Johnson did that.

      Don’t get me wrong, that shit is very worrisome and very evil and will lead to our destruction. But the conclusion you should be drawing from the twin premises of ‘Trump has fascistic temperament and coalition and is doing his best to implement his vision’ and ‘A Trump Presidency won’t feel that different even for the racial underclass than an Obama or W. Bush Presidency’ isn’t that Trump is some unique satanic evil but that the United States has always been a worthless herrenvolk authoritarian trash nation.

      In comparison to every other President who shat up the White House, Trump and Trumpism is some weak tea, especially with Bannon’s marginalization. Try to wrap this around your head: at this point in his Presidency, Trump has deported fewer people than Obama.

      • Thomas Rossetti May 8, 2017 at 5:40 am | #

        This above post is the product of sick shit kicker of white entitlement feighning membership in suffering working masses on board the Trump train. He is likely a troll. Maybe he is Steve Bannon sharpening his pissing till he hits his target. Nothing aimless in my contempt for Trump and pissboy troll,

        • Deadl E Cheese May 8, 2017 at 7:28 pm | #

          Most any contempt for Trump that isn’t also directed at the regimes Bushes, Reagan, Obama, and Clinton is just liberal sniveling. They’re not mad at the injustices perpetuated by herrenvolk authoritarians (and this definitely includes Obama and especially Clinton) they’re just mad that Trump shows that their inane fantasy of West Wing Liberalism — being smart and meritocratic while you kowtow to reactionaries and put the imperialist boot to the marginalized — and was nothing more than neurotic bourgeois onanism.

          That’s one of the only redeeming parts of the clown rapist’s Presidency. Making stupid liberal Boomers writhe and quiver and mewl at seeing their Pweshus Countwee shown to be the idiot institution it always was.

          • Tom R May 15, 2017 at 5:50 pm | #

            So there are no meaningful distinctions between Bush, Clinton, Obama, and Trump, only between all of the above and our mythical ideologically and politically pure progressive savior? Please.

            Maybe no distinctions that matter to you.

    • Jeff Norman May 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm | #

      “He constantly praises dictators.” Novel concept of “constantly”!

  8. Michael Licitra May 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm | #

    Activists deserve credit for, at the very least, slowing the momentum.

  9. Omar P. May 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm | #

    “empire of one, respect to the don, holding court in a rented room”

  10. Chris Morlock May 8, 2017 at 12:55 am | #

    Liberals, constantly fueled by an aimless hatred for Trump, who convinced angry white working people we would at least throw them some crumbs whereas elitist Liberal status-quoers would not piss on them if they were on fire.

    Then write long winded blog posts about the bogeyman. Corey, you did so well in early 2016 capturing the Sanders movement and the hypocrisy and emptiness of neo-Liberalism, but since Trump you have done nothing but toe the line for Liberals. Come back to us and write something that MEANS SOMETHING.

    I know your a silver spoon academic but your heart is in the right place for the working masses, please start thinking like we do again.

  11. wufnik May 8, 2017 at 5:38 am | #

    Thanks for this. The fact is that Trump (whom I deplore, just for the sake of clarity, and who is doing some real damage to the environment,) was never really any of these things in the first place. Some may even have been Republican talking points during the campaign. My own view is that his policies are going to be whatever pisses off the NY liberal establishment the most, but people’s mileage will probably vary on that. But there’s no hope of defeating his policies if they keep being mischaracterized. It didn’t work for HRC during the camapign, and it’s not going to work now.

  12. Theo May 8, 2017 at 1:39 pm | #

    Here is another article that should be read to understand the things that are going on in the Trump administration that are off the radar of most reporters, also from Justice-Integrity Project:

  13. Theo May 8, 2017 at 1:59 pm | #

    Sorry, me again. I’m on a roll. Here is a video from The Real News about Trump’s handling of climate change:

    The Real News has embarked on a major effort to inform the public about the dangers of climate change. One of the things that came out in the video is that Americans are still not well informed about climate change. A recent study found that only one in ten understand that there is a scientific consensus regarding the reality of climate change and that it is happening as a result of the activities of humans. Another thing that the video mentioned (and there were many more, and those who haven’t seen it must watch it) is that the advice from the Bannon contingent at the WH is to get out of the Paris accord altogether. The alternative view from the Tillerson contingent is to cooperate with the Paris accord but not really cooperate but be seen to cooperate with it (at least they’re honest!).

    If you click on the video you will see many other videos listed on the right-hand side of the screen regarding climate issues.

    Climate action is at the top of my list together with stopping the wars and interventions. All these things are proceeding while the pundits, as the professor so brilliantly explains, are trying to put Trump into one their talking point categories.

  14. Roquentin May 8, 2017 at 2:31 pm | #

    I think you’re spot on with this. Liberals have gone completely ’round the twist post 2016 and seem intent on mirroring the most absurd rhetoric used against Obama by the GOP. This “Trump is a Putin installed Manchurian fascist” nonesense has gotten to the point where it’s barely a step above “Obama is a Kenyan Muslim socialist who will install Sharia law.” I’ve taken to calling this sort of thing Alex Jones for liberals. It’s the name they deserve.

  15. PGD May 8, 2017 at 2:55 pm | #

    I have to say, Corey, you are covering yourself with pundit glory (to the extent such a thing exists) by being one of the few semi-mainstream left commenters willing to move past the “Trump is an authoritarian fascist” line and more honestly explore what is happening. I think your work starting with the comparison between Trump and Carter in I believe N+1 has been the most honest and accurate assessment of where we are at.

    Of course, the rewards in punditry are generally not for being right, but for sticking with the approved line.

  16. spokanevetsforpeace May 8, 2017 at 5:34 pm | #

    no. People have been warning about him for some time now. That he may be more kleptocrat than autocrat (whatever the fraction is, it is both) or perhaps just loves autocrats is up in the air. I think it funny that businessmen are essentially ones who want a tyrant, but this one has been held back (so far).

  17. Debra Cooper May 10, 2017 at 12:59 am | #

    Donald Trump just fired FBI Director James Comey

    Maybe we should see what happens after this.

    Maybe the country is outraged and it is firing Archibald Cox all over again.

    Or maybe it won’t result in outrage and action, because the response during Watergate was bipartisan condemnation. And a huge public furor.

    Let’s see how the Republican Senate and House members respond

    Country or Party?

    • Deadl E Cheese May 10, 2017 at 10:21 am | #

      It won’t lead to anything unless Democrats do the impossible and crush 2018 (which is structurally unlikely) and/or it leads to something HUGE. Cover-ups don’t mean anything, especially with the public, with the collapse of the Liberal-Conservative consensus. At the end of the day having a billionaire clown grapist in the WH won’t materially change the lives of his base, who have completely (IMO rightly) rejected the liberal-conservative consensus and all of its pathetic, arbitrary symbology.

      Also, the ‘party or country’ line makes me giggle. Liberals are so full of themselves, thinking that in the mind of people who actually have to struggle for political power that they’re separate things. Like the party is some passive exogenous entity rather than a vehicle partisans use to accomplish what they believe is serving the country. Put down that West Wing drivel, burn your House of Cards DVD, and get yourself a real political education.

  18. fonscx May 10, 2017 at 8:53 am | #

    Step 1: attempt to discredit media.

    Step 2: create law enforcement agency that answers to strongman.

  19. Dawgzy May 10, 2017 at 1:56 pm | #

    DT is a “militantly ignorant” man incapable of focusing. He entered the Oval Office with an average 8th grader’s grasp of government, except to the extent that it serves his immediate interests. His incompetence was a safeguard. But now, with grand juries and subpoenas in play, his interest is engaged. His reactions will be crude, primitive and blunt, because they are those of a maladjusted preteen. He is an inchoate authoritarian who is groping at protecting himself. But he can learn from this and get better at it. The test of our civic institutions is looming. on the plus side, DT isn’t nearly as smart and capable as Nixon, however the checks and safeguards against him are much weaker. I have to assume, posturing aside, that there will be no actual GOP opposition. One way folks like DT learn is by limit testing- ” you mean that I can do this and get away with it?” Once he realizes he can, he’ll be roaring off on his Big Wheels to try it again, if only because can.

  20. Billikin May 10, 2017 at 5:16 pm | #

    Perhaps the right term for Trump is petty tyrant.

  21. Bruce Baugh May 12, 2017 at 3:37 am | #

    Corey, this has been gnawing at me ever since I read it – which is of course praise, since it’s been gnawing at me in a good, productive way.

    I think that a huge fraction of the shift in descriptions we’ve seen is people grappling with a really unfamiliar concept. We’ve never had the kind of threat Trump is. (Indeed, I can’t really think of any democratic precedents at all. The ones that come to my mind are all the results of inbreeding in long-running monarchies, and is not quite that kind of inbred idiot.) We see and sense the threat; we reach for the terms we have for talking about leaders who threaten their country’s civic life. They don’t fit, really. We reach for more. We iterate.

    In the comments above mine, you can see more of this evolution in action, as we collectively get holds on the idea of ignorance and egoism so great that they are as much of a threat as dedicated lifelong hateful obsessive planning and execution, even though opposite in some ways. But we were, I think, right to be that alarmed in the first place. We only needed a closer diagnosis.

  22. Frank Wilhoit May 13, 2017 at 9:32 am | #

    Trump does not exist. This is for two reasons.

    The first is that individual politicians/candidates do not exist, as agents. Only parties exist. No one votes *for a candidate*; everyone votes *against a party*.

    The second is that Trump himself is a non-actualized human being: he is a mirror, a sounding board. He gets by (having no resources of his own) by echoing his surroundings back to them. He has got where he is by echoing the Republican Party propaganda. He is not capable of doing anything else and it has been, since his earliest memories of infancy, his only survival skill. But see #1: none of this matters, shame though it be.

    We must not speak of Trump. We must speak only of the Republican Party and its adherents.

  23. b. January 31, 2018 at 7:17 pm | #

    “The irony is that the only ones, besides Trump, who seem to believe that this implosion of political space describes or can account for our current moment are his critics.”

    Hence the mouthbreathing, McCarthyite hysteria of “russia!gate”, the Democratic Party Cold War rehash of the “birther” line of contrived treasoning.

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