Trump the Pagan Icon

There are a lot of articles popping up trying to analyze the hatred of Trump as well as his appeal. I’d like to have a go. It would be easy to start with a litany of concretes — we’ve had two years of scandals, incidents, media kerfuffles, times when Trump’s been a dick to his opponents and vice versa. But i’d like to go deeper, to the root of what makes Trump different and why we’re now on a cultural collision course.

The moment that I think clarifies the nature of the man came very early on. He belittled McCain’s war heroism with an offhand “I like people who weren’t captured.” This said it all to me, good and bad.

Trump is not a Christian, but a pagan in the greco-roman warrior-culture tradition.

The Christian hero is a martyr, the pagan hero is the victorious winner. Everything about Trump can be summarized by the pagan greco-roman virtues. A pagan brags, revels in wine and hot chicks, has an iffy relationship with the truth, gilds his home with gold, brooks no slights to his power and fame. A pagan is touchy about his reputation, and wants to seem grand in the eyes of other men. A christian is taught humilty, chastity, service, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom.

This is what explains how intensely Trump runs against the grain of the nation, while also being a welcome change to some. America has always straddled the Christian and Pagan cultures. Our churches preach the gospel, but our public buildings are full of tributes to the pagan figures. Our capital is full of pagan Greek and roman grandeur, columns and pillars and obelisks, even as we bow on Sunday morning and declare our unworthiness in the eyes of God. We preach faith at home, but practice reason in the office. We applaud irreverent entertainers, but prefer our leaders to stick to the language of the pulpit.

Trump does not talk like any of our past political figures. Obama and Bush and Clinton were steeped in the rhetorical style of the church, its cadences and rituals. Trump states the bottom line. Past presidents couch their programs in christian rhetoric–service to the poor, community, sacrifice, nation-building in service to the global good, etc. Trump promises to make the country great and rich.
So the response one will have to Trump is essentially philosophical. Biden says dumb stuff but he’s still ‘one of us’. Reid or Pelosi or McConnell might be just as vicious to their enemies, but they still give lip service to the accepted Judeo-Christian ethical code. Their enemies are proclaimed to be enemies of that code: “selfish and greedy and uncaring.” Trump’s enemies are called “unsuccessful losers”. So, to the degree that a person demands an altruistic justification for public policy, they will find Trump a revolting gaudy braggart. To the degree that a person prefers a pagan culture of deeds and wealth, they will find Trump to be a breath of fresh air, like leaving a gloomy church to go to the casino.

So, with this in mind, what are the perils and possibilities of a Trump presidency? Well, he will suck at the Christian parts and excel at the pagan stuff. He will be uninspiring and tone deaf giving consolation after tragedies, but will rattle swords and shields in the faces of our enemies. He will not preside over a charitable administration, but will fight to bring dollars home. He will have no patience for entitlements, but will never damn wealth, even ill-begotten. The biggest danger is that he will rouse a Christian nation to guilt and shame, ensuring that the next president is a true theocrat. The biggest opportunity is that Trump the pagan actually cares about the things he wants to accomplish, because the achieving of deeds is the pagan goal–to join a pantheon of heroes. He wants to be the Greatest President Ever, and thinks that he will win the country over with his deeds. But in our Christian culture the man who lives by that philosophy is a selfish fool, and over time Trump will get more and more frustrated that his successes bring him even more hatred. He won’t understand why he’s hated, and will keep thinking that ‘winning’ should bring him respect. But winning in a Christian culture is the sign of the selfish monster, so i’d expect the hatred to intensify as the country chooses its moral code over any new prosperity, with Trump on one side and the Christian right and communitarian left united on the other, worldwide. No matter what material benefits Trump achieves, he will never show humility and it will be ugly, because the entire culture will feel compelled to force him to his knees one way or another.

John Stuart Mill Predicted the Outrage of Trump

As we approach the inauguration, I think of a wonderful insight of John Stuart Mill; everyone loves executive power– when his or her party wins the election.

Back when representative governments were still an uncommon idea, John Stuart Mill—a pioneer of Classical Liberalism– advocated for it. However, in Considerations on Representative Government he put forward a problem that could arise. Specifically, if people began to value their party holding power more than freedom itself.

“Members of parties are willing to abdicate his personal freedom of action into the hands of his general provided his army is triumphant and victorious and he is able to flatter himself that he is one of a conquering host.” (Mill.88)

Mill thought that individuals can be seen as members of an army, and the only thing they would care about was if their general was in charge. Partisans love dominance when their party is the one dominant.

This is why the left did not protest President Obama using what is now a fifteen-year-old Declaration of War to bomb seven countries; Furthermore, they applauded the initiative taken to negotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal despite many knowing it was an overreach of the executive power .

Similarly, this is why those on the right chose to ignore President Bush’s actions in going against the Geneva Convention’s restrictions on interrogation techniques.

Outrage Over Trump

Many people throughout the country have staged vitriolic protests against the President-elect.

Articles of been penned, petitions have been signed, Golden Globe speeches have been made, with the goal of preventing the next president from taking power. Yet the power they fear is the power they bestowed.

With regards to power, Mill wrote that people are “very jealous of any attempt to exercise over them…but they in general care very little for the exercise of power over others” (Mill. 91)

In other words, members of one party do not have an issue with handing power over to a member of same party, nor do they mind if that person uses that power over others in the society. However if another party gains hegemony and that power is used against them they become outraged.

Tiberius is Here: Now What ?

“The despotism of Augustus prepared the Romans for Tiberius “( Mill. 57)

The Augustus was one of the most beloved leaders in the history of Rome. He was a key player in transitioning Rome from a Republic to an Empire. He largely ignored the Senate, keeping the absolute control of the Military to himself, and dubbed himself the first among all Romans. Augusus’ son, Tiberius, following his father’s example, also ignored the Senate, but took his power one-step further and assassinated all of his political enemies.

To be clear, I am not claiming that Trump will hire an assassin to kill Bernie Saunders. However, Americans should be prepared that when they bestow near limitless power on a leader they love, one day a leader they despise will come along and use that power for something they find despicable.

Yet individuals will continue to give up that power for the chance of becoming a “conquering host.“

Democracy Will Win, The People Will Lose

In our society “democracy” is a universally positive concept. Many people use it synonymously with freedom. Tyranny and democracy do not go together. It is remarkable that this positive image can continue to prevail, despite the fact that most people are ready to admit that there is a lot that is going wrong in politics.

The main reason that people seem to continue to promote democracy is that they cannot possibly imagine a better alternative to the system. But why are we so willing to accept the popular claim that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others? After all it has brought about some truly bad results. The Nazis, one of the most criminal regimes in human history, came to power in a democratic system. Right now, we have a number of truly ugly governments in power, who have the blessing of the voters, from Erdogan in Turkey to Putin in Russia, Orbán in Hungary and Duda in Poland, to name just the most obvious. All these governments won in fair elections.

And then of course there is the current election in the US. As I am writing this, it is not clear who is going to win this election circus, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Whoever it may be, democracy will have won in the end. Whoever it may be will have come to power with the blessings of the voters.

And that is saying a lot. As before every election, we get the usual ‘this time is the most important election ever’ mantra. I have never bought into that, but I have to say, even to me this time seems a bit different. The wisdom of the crowds has narrowed the realistic choices for the oval office down to two candidates who are so awful that even their supporters often cannot praise them with a straight face. In fact, this election, the vast majority of people seem to vote mainly against the other candidate rather than for someone.

I was surprised to see that even a libertarian like Penn Jillette came out openly saying that he is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, a candidate that he admits he has no agreements with. His vote for Clinton is purely a desperate attempt to keep Trump out of the White House. I cannot even blame him.

This absurd situation is fundamentally the result of a democratic system at work. No one can seriously say that there is something undemocratic about the awful and dangerous situation that the American people find themselves in. And yet, I hardly hear anyone seriously questioning the legitimacy of this evil charade.

That is remarkable, since it does not seem difficult to imagine a better alternative. What about liberty? What about just accepting the idea that people have unalienable rights to their life, liberty and property? What more do we need than that to organise a very attractive society for everyone? There is no need for a government to constantly change the law. All we need is a legal system that enforces these rights. All the details of life that need sorting out can be better arranged by free contracts between the people involved in the decisions, rather than a one size fits all top down government.

But no, unfortunately, liberty is not an option for most people. Or worse, they are so confused that they think liberty is what democracy is. They rather think that this absurd situation of having the choice between Trump and Hillary, having Erdogan, Putin, Orbán and Duda telling them what to do with their lives is the absolute best they can do. That is sad, but I don’t see this changing soon. That means that unfortunately, as ever in fair elections, democracy will win and the people are fucked.

Why Is Trump So Successful?

A lot of people seemed to be baffled by the success that a rude dupe like Donald Trump has on the ballot box at the moment. The establishment is fighting tooth and nails to try to stop him from winning. But no matter what they do, the more they fight him the more approval he seems to get. They clearly have no idea where his success is coming from. And because they don’t understand it, they are unable to come up with a good solution to stop him.

An explanation of why the establishment seems unable to understand the phenomenon Trump (and of course also Sanders to a lesser degree) is because his main appeal seems to be that he is anti-establishment. If you ask people why they like Trump, the most common answer you will get is, ‘he says what he thinks’ or ‘he is independent and is self funding his campaign’. It is this anti-establishment feel that has even caused some confused Libertarians to become enthusiastic about him. The understandable hatred for the establishment seems to blind some people to the fact that whenever Trumps makes a concrete policy proposal, he is almost without exception taking the anti liberty, that is to say the authoritarian position.

Trump, is for example an opponent of free trade. As part of his economic policies, he wants to introduce all kinds of tariffs to stop the perceived exploitation of America by foreign nations like China. Apparently, receiving real goods in return for printed Dollars is exploitation in Trump’s mind. Of course it is the Chinese who should really be upset about this. The only reason they are not is because, contrary to the cliché, China is in many ways still a centrally planned economy in which the leadership does not really understand economics. But neither does Trump. He wants to negotiate trade deals in which America will be the winner. Of course he misses that trade is always mutually beneficial and not a zero sum game. Trump does not seem to understand this very basic and important principle of economics. It should surprise no one that he thinks like that. If you look at his own business success, he has used the government many times to impose his conditions on his trade ‘partners’. No wonder he things that trade is a battle with winners and losers. That is how he does business.

But there are unfortunately many other things on which Trump is horrible from a libertarian perspective. He wants to give the already completely out of control police more power. He is openly in favour of torture and although he is not shy in speaking his mind, he is not a fan of freedom of speech either. He wants to strengthen libel laws, so that he can shut up people that say things about him he does not like. And of course he wants to close the border to foreigners and build high walls around the country. I cannot see much love for liberty in his agenda.

But blaming all the misery on foreigners really seems to be at the heart of his campaign. He theory about the position of America in the world seems to be that there is a huge foreign conspiracy going on. So he will fight these foreign conspirators, to make America great again. Unfortunately, the left has make a mockery out of the word fascism, by labelling every one of their opponents with it. But for Trump I cannot think of a better description. He is in the true sense of the word a fascist.

The establishment however must be a bit confused by the popularity of his campaign slogan. ‘Making America Great Again’. Why again? According to any establishment publication, America is already great. Of course it is the moral leader of the world blah blah….. But more importantly, it has the strongest and most productive economy. You see, in America, the central planners have everything under control. They have successfully battled the great recession of 2008 with intelligent monetary policy. That is why the economy has almost full employment, low inflation and is on the path to growth. And in the middle of this great party, Trump comes in and attracts people with ‘Making America Great Again’. Why aren’t the people in US more grateful for the blessings the establishment has given them?

The answer of course is that it just ain’t real. The truth is that the establishment has tried to fix the economy with the printing press. Everyone who understands real economics knows, that that cannot work. Printing money is just another tool to redistribute wealth from one pocket into another. It is just a little bit less obvious than other tools like direct taxation. But that does not mean that the redistribution is less real. And as with all redistribution schemes, it is damaging the real economy in the process, as capital is shifted from productive into unproductive hands. So all they have done is to put some makeup on the economy and to continue damaging it.

But as in countless other centrally planned systems before, it seems that the establishment has lost touch with reality. It looks like they have bought their own propaganda. That is not difficult to understand, since they are on the receiving end of the money printing redistribution. They have seen their wealth gone up quite substantially in the last couple of years. And if you live in this bubble it is probably easy to confuse the cooked unemployment, GDP and inflation statistics that are coming out of their own government with reality.

But Joe six-pack does not get his information about the economy from FED statistics. He is on the side of the exploited in the money printing scheme. He has to try making ends meet in the less and less productive real economy. As a result, his standard of living has declined in the last couple of years. In other words, he knows that the great economic news coming out of the establishment media is complete hogwash.

And in this climate, Trump comes along and puts on a different tune to the establishment propaganda. He must look like a Messiah to a lot of working class Americans. Of course the establishment cannot understand that. If they wanted to understand that, they would need to somehow manage to look through their own propaganda. But they are too deeply embedded in it at this point. And like so many out of touch establishments before them, they now face being washed away by anger, before they have a chance to understand what is going on.

None of that should come as a surprise to Libertarians. It was always clear that the current system would end in a crises. But Trump represents a real problem for Libertarianism. Learning from history, it is clear that at the point of crises one of two things can happen. Either the people turn to liberty and against the state or they turn to a strong man who promises to save the day. History tells us that the latter tends to not improve the situation. Countless strongman revolutions have ended in a longing for the good old days of the establishment.

I am sorry to say this, but given that people are now cheering for the fascist strongman, it looks as if Libertarianism has failed for the moment. The fact that even some Libertarians have started to cheer for Trump makes me very pessimistic that we can convince other people that, while the system is in crises, Trump is exactly the opposite of the right thing. What we need is not a stronger government. What we need is less government and more liberty.

There seem to be several ways events can develop from here. Maybe there is still a chance that Trump won’t win this time and then in the next election the increased anger will channel towards a more libertarian revolution. That would probably be the best outcome. On the other hand it might turn out to be the exact opposite. Four more years of the establishment might make the Trump movement unstoppable in the next election. In that case we would be better off having the misery now.

In case Trump wins the presidency, one needs to understand that the President does not have nearly as much power as generally assumed. The bureaucracy just continues to run its cause no matter who is in office. That will prevent the worst of Trump’s horrible agenda. Hopefully, it will call the bluff on his presumed greatness. This could lead to a bigger disillusion with the system itself and ultimately be good for libertarianism. On the other hand, maybe his supporters are stubborn enough to not accept failure. In that case we will probably see an even bigger blame on the illusional conspiracy of foreign powers. This could turn the US from its currently soft police state into a full blown dictatorship.

No one knows what will happen in the next few years. We certainly live in interesting times. Let us hope that they are not going to get as interesting as the 1930s and 1940s. There is still a chance for liberty, however it is looking increasingly grim. Particularly because a lot of Libertarians seem to prioritise their hate for the establishment over the love of Liberty. And if Libertarians do not prioritise Liberty, who will? Let us hope for the best.