T2B10: The Trump phenomenon


Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

One of the advantages of living in a knowledge society is that my way of life, i.e., knowledge production, is everywhere. The downside is that when knowledge becomes a commodity, it attracts the dregs of capitalist society - hucksters, talking heads etc.

Think about this way: every society dominated by religious belief produces cults, millenarians and other fantastical movements. Why wouldn’t we expect the same for a society dominated by science? Exhibit A:

Judy Shelton, Trump’s nominee to the Federal Reserve

I will be honest with you: I have a dim view of economics as a discipline and I don’t have a robust understanding of why the gold standard was abolished. But, when a person who is being appointed to the grand temple, i.e., the Fed, wants to bring back the gold standard and attracts responses such as:

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blasted what he called McConnell's "out-of-the-blue" push for a vote on Shelton.

"Her ideas are so wacky and outdated, giving her authority over the dollar would be like putting a medieval barber in charge of the CDC,"

You know there’s a deep epistemological battle accompanying the obvious political one.

Trump: Phenomenon or Messenger?

How much of the Trump phenomenon is sui generis, i.e., tied to the unique properties of Trump as an individual, and how much is structural, reflecting large scale changes in American society?

The answer to that question is quite important, for a sui generis Trump can last only so long. It makes sense to humor him and complain about election fraud if you’re banking on the man sinking without a trace after he leaves office or at worst a couple of years down the road. Republicans can go back to being the party of everyday racism and corporate handouts after he disappears. That’s how I read Lindsey Graham & Mitch McConnell’s actions.

In contrast, we are talking about a permanent shift in the political landscape if he’s a messenger of a new doctrine. The Tom Cottons of the world are banking on a successful market for authoritarianism in the coming decades.

Of course, it’s possible for one to become the latter. It’s possible for a chance event to change the world for ever - just talk to the dinosaurs.

The longer Trump stays influential, the more likely his charisma legitimizes authoritarianism, especially if he creates a media empire that’s foxier than Fox. Some wounds heal, some stay painful for a long time and some kill.