The Heights of Lowliness

Trumpism as Philosophy

Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.

― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

There has been and continues to be a never ending stream of analysis into the causes and effects of the presidential election of 2016. Even as the primaries of 2020 begin there remains a continual glance over the proverbial shoulder of the American media at the political rise of one Donald J. Trump. As the democrats try to plot a winning strategy in the midst of contending with the chaos of the present administration they also seek an answer to the nagging question of how they lost in the first place.

There are several answers to the question out there from which to choose; depending on your particular political persuasion you can pick an explanation that fits your personal philosophy. To the Hillary Clinton supporter it was a case of Russian interference in support of a favored candidate while the Trump supporters detail the personal and strategic failings of democratic campaign. In that mix was added strains of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that drew or repulsed various segments of the voting population.

One under-appreciated impetus for a certain percentage of the vote was the mantra of the Obama campaign, Change. Eight years of his presidency had still not quelled the dissatisfaction so many continued to harbor with the politics of Washington D.C. The partisan wrangling highlighted daily on cable television and online inspired a clamor for an “outsider” to come in an “shake things up.” Whether deserving or not this mantle was claimed by both Trump and Bernie Sanders and so when Sanders was not able to make to the finish line it fell on the shoulders solely, in the eyes of many, of candidate Trump. So it was here in 2016 that Mr. Trump found himself engulfed in a genuine Shakespearean moment, despite himself the potential for greatness was trust upon him.

Beyond any claims he may have made or continues to make, Donald Trump was neither born into greatness nor has he in any way shape or form achieved greatness. From shady business deals, multiple bankruptcies, and multiple marriages and mistresses his failings have been the fodder of New York City gossip pages for decades now. The down side of celebrity in our information age is that it comes at the price of excessive exposure; this was the world Trump occupied and seemed to relish in the years prior to the 2016 election.

As he hit the trail for that campaign the particulars of his character quickly became front page news as example after example revealed themselves. From the “grab them by the pussy” expression of misogyny to the public call for Russian interference each as unprecedented and shocking as the next. Yet none of them were able to slow his progress through the Republican primary and the general election itself.

Despite all of this there were enough voters who still saw Trump, in one form or another, as an agent of change and gave him enough of an edge to push him over the Electoral College threshold. While he lacked a simple majority of the vote he secured the win and stood on the other side of the election with greatness within his grasp.

His opportunity was to rise above his personal failings. It was not a lack of some standard of morality that hindered him but rather it was the inherent selfishness that had defined his character as a dishonest real estate developer with an insatiable desire for fame and celebrity. January 20th 2017 brought Donald J. Trump the chance to rise above Donald J. Trump and assume the mantle of leadership.

Unfortunately for Trump himself and for the citizenry he would be tasked to represent and lead greatness would remain beyond his grasp. The juvenile need for adoration and praise deeply embedded within his psyche forms a seemingly impenetrable wall of resistance to any ability for genuine self-assessment. With no government experience or quality higher education he took office with the attitude and belief that he already knew more than the generals, advisors, and jurist. So the “outsider” would govern by the seat of his pants defying both law and precedent at every turn.

To his myriad of followers this rule of chaos, praised and extolled by right-leaning media, would become a philosophy of sound bites and Facebook memes. Trumpism will never produce a doctrinal treatise or inspire a curriculum in governmental policy rather this is a call for rule by impulse and tweet. Explanations and policies are reduced to bumper sticker phrases that can easily be repeated but not expounded on.

The brilliance of Trumpism lies in its ability to inspire enthusiasm in the mass of adherents despite any tangible evidence of actually benefiting the majority of them. Through this phenomenon an elite New York millionaire can claim common cause with a West Virginia coal miner or Iowa farm hand. A tax cut for major corporations, the dismantling of Social Security, or cuts to Medicaid and Medicare can be framed by Trumpism as good policy for the very segments of the American electorate that are most directly harmed by these selfsame policies.

This, of course, is not a new strategy but it has become so much more effective because of the cult-like dynamic Trumpism has brought into 21st century American politics. Trumpism is founded on the Sith-like mantra that those who are not one hundred percent in support of the President are the enemy. There is no room for debate and criticism is not tolerated, those who do not fall in line are the subject of derision, scorn, or worse.

Those outside the influence of Trumpism, on the political left or center, are aghast at these developments and act as if this aberration manifested itself out of nothingness and thrust itself on the scene. In truth, it was decades of legislative acquiescence to executive power that opened the path that the current president now vigorously pursues. In this age when passing a comprehensive budget or raising a debt limit continually brings a divided congress to the brink of calamity, it was easy for a braggadocios to claim the ability to get things done, despite all the evidence and statistics proving the exact opposite.

It is here that we find the secret to the success of Trumpism as a political philosophy, the denial of any objective truth. For the sycophant the cry of Fake News is the same technique that the toddler uses when they stick their fingers in their ears and shouts over any words they don’t want to hear. Trumpism thrives on the acceptance of easy answers over the effort needed to obtain coherent facts and information. The master of reality television has managed to transform the perceptions of his followers, giving a pleasing fantasy to replace the actual complexity of democratic governance.

Trumpism gives its adherents the ability to find comfort in their enfeeblement, rejecting any desire to rise above any shortcomings of intellect or morality. Racism, misogyny, or xenophobia is easily excused when it is extolled as virtues by the pinnacle of your faith. And it is today just that, a faith; for those that made a reasoned choice for an outsider those few years ago it is no longer a matter of reason. The election of 2020 will be as much a matter of faith and belief as it will be of politics.

What needs to be understood however is that the choice must be more than simply an alternative to Trump. The status quo that has existed in American politics is precisely the paradigm that produced President Trump and will, without change, eventually produce a similar leader. The ideal of truth, justice, and the American way has been shown by this administration to be a hollow reality. Perceived safeguards and guardrails thought to be enshrined in law have proven to be merely little more than courtesies and traditions that were easily breached by the machinations of unethical administrator. Benjamin Franklin reportedly admonished the country that we had a republic rather than a monarchy if we could keep it.

Michael "T. Mayheart" Dardar (dardarmayheart@gmail.com) was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served 16 years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. He currently works with community-based groups advocating for the needs of coastal indigenous communities in south Louisiana. He is the author of Istrouma: A Houma Manifesto. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.