Mar 11th 2016

The World According to Trump

by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a leading French philosopher and writer, and is one of the founders of the “Nouveaux Philosophes” (New Philosophers) movement. His works include Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.

PARIS – The word “trump,” according to the dictionary, is an alteration of the word triumph. And because Donald Trump, the US presidential candidate, appears likely to become the nominee of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, we owe it to ourselves to ask in what sense and for whom he represents a triumph.

One thinks of a segment of the American population angered by the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, a group that is now feeling vengeful. And one also thinks of the white supremacist, segregationist, nativist strain represented by former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, whose noisy support Trump was so hesitant to reject last week and for whose constituency Trump may be a make-or-break candidate.

One easily gets the sense, when trying to take seriously what little is known about the Trump platform, of a country turning in on itself, walling itself off, and ultimately impoverishing itself by chasing away the Chinese, Muslims, Mexicans, and others who have contributed to the vast melting pot that the most globalized country on the planet has alchemized, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, into prodigious wealth.

But, as is so often the case with the United States, there is in the Trump phenomenon an element that extends beyond the American national scene. So one is tempted to ask whether Trumpism might not also be the harbinger – or perhaps even the apotheosis – of a truly new episode in world politics.

I watch the head of this Las Vegas croupier, this kitschy carnival performer, coiffed and botoxed, drifting from one television camera to another with his fleshy mouth perpetually half-open: you never know whether those exposed teeth are signs of having drunk or eaten too much, or whether they might indicate that he means to eat you next.

I listen to his swearing, his vulgar rhetoric, his pathetic hatred of women, whom he describes, depending on his mood, as bitches, pigs, or disgusting animals. I hear his smutty jokes in which the careful language of politics has been pushed aside in favor of supposedly authentic popular speech at its most elemental – the language, apparently, of the genitals. ISIS? We’re not going to make war against it, we’re going to “kick its ass.” Marco Rubio’s remark about Trump’s small hands? The rest is not so small, “I guarantee you.”

Then there is the worship of money and the contempt for others that accompanies it. In the mouth of this serially bankrupt billionaire and con artist with possible mafia ties, they have become the bottom line of the American creed – so much mental junk food full of fatty thoughts, overwhelming the lighter cosmopolitan flavors of the myriad traditions that have formed the great American pastoral. In the sequence about small hands, even an ear untuned to the subtleties of that pastoral might have caught (though in a version perverted by the abjectly low level of the exchange) the famous line from e.e. cummings, the American Apollinaire: “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”

Confronted with this leap forward into coarseness and pettiness, one thinks of Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, and the Le Pens, father and daughter. One thinks of a new International, not of communism, but of vulgarity and bling, in which the political landscape shrinks to the dimensions of a television stage. The art of debate collapses into catch phrases; people’s dreams become bombastic illusions; the economy takes the form of the grotesquely physical contortions of verbally deficient Scrooges who despise anyone who thinks; and striving for self-fulfillment deteriorates into the petty swindles taught in the now-defunct Trump University.

That’s right: an International with a capital I: Globalized corruption in the mutual admiration society of Putin, Berlusconi, and Trump. In them we see the face of a cartoon humanity, one that has chosen the low, the elemental, the pre-linguistic in order to ensure its triumph.

Here is a universe of fakery in which one consigns to the oblivion of a now-obsolete history the precariousness of the exiles, migrants, and other voyagers who, on both sides of the Atlantic, have built the true human aristocracy. In the United States, it is that great people composed of Latinos, Eastern European Jews, Italians, Asians, Irish, and, yes, Anglos still dreaming of Oxford-Cambridge sculls now cleaving the waters of the Charles River.

Berlusconi invented this cartoon world. Putin intensified its macho element. Other European demagogues are hitching it to the foulest forms of racism. As for Trump, he gave us his tower, one of the ugliest in Manhattan, with its clunky, derivative architecture, its gigantic atrium, its 25-meter waterfall to impress the tourists – a Tower of Babel in glass and steel built by a Don Corleone from the dregs in which all of the world’s languages will indeed be fused into one.

Careful, though. The new language is no longer that of the America we dreamed would be eternal, the America that has sometimes breathed life back into exhausted cultures. It is the language of a country with balls that has said its goodbyes to books and beauty, that confuses Michelangelo with an Italian designer brand, and that has forgotten that nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2016.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."
Apr 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "A crisis such as this one demands that we exercise what the philosopher Immanuel Kant called the ‘public use of reason’ – as opposed to merely the ‘private use of reason’ where, briefly put, the expert, the specialist is tasked with resolving a defined problem. The private use of reason is sufficient when we are dealing with a problem that can be solved by simply applying the appropriate expertise...............The public use of reason asks: how we are defining the problem? Is our definition – our conceptualization of the problem – perhaps part of the problem itself? Is this pandemic solely a problem of public health, or is it also a problem of extreme economic inequality? ..............Since this crisis began, the greatest failure of the administration is not the denial, the lies, the lack of preparedness, but the inability to rally and unify the nation against this common threat, the lack of genuine leadership – Trump’s utter inability to bring the nation together."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Rarely has an architectural experiment aroused such extremes of ire and admiration. One side is convinced the house is a masterpiece. The other expresses brutal condemnation of the entire project (leaky roof, danger of flooding, too-hot, too-cold interiors depending on the American Midwest weather).........Farnsworth encapsulated her personal ambiguity in her comment to a Newsweek interviewer: “This handsome pavilion I own is almost totally unworkable.” She told one journalist, “ … all I got was this glib, false sophistication. The conception of a house as a glass cage suspended in air is ridiculous.”
Apr 1st 2020
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The coronavirus crisis has forced us to look at our behaviour in a way that we’re not used to. We are being asked to act in the collective good rather than our individual preservation and interest. Even for those of us with the best of intentions, this is not so easy."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "In March 2020, my sister Nancy and I did something that, as scholars, we had never done before: we wrote about ourselves, comparing our own experiences receiving cancer care on either side of the Atlantic. As we recently reported in the BMJ, much of our experience is similar. As twins, we both have the same form of cancer. Both of us received excellent treatment in well-established university teaching hospitals. Both of us are now in remission. But there is a glaring difference. Nancy lives in the US, covered under a good private healthcare scheme. I live in the UK, covered by the NHS."
Mar 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "In philosophy, individualism is closely linked with the concept of freedom. As soon as restrictive measures were imposed in Italy, many people felt that their freedom was threatened and started to assert their individuality in various ways. Some disagreed with the necessity of cancelling group gatherings and organised unofficial ones themselves. Others continued to go out and live as they always did. We often assume that freedom is to do as we choose, and that is contrasted with being told what to do. As long as I am doing what the government tells me, I am not free. I am going out, not because I want to, but because that shows I am free. But there is another route to freedom..........."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky and circulating inflammatory proteins can get into the brain. The brain’s hippocampus is a critical brain region for learning and memory, and is particularly vulnerable to such insults. Studies in humans have shown that inflammation can adversely affect brain systems linked to motivation and mental agility. There is also evidence of chronic stress effects on hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus. It can also cause many physical problems, including irregular menstrual cycles."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s important to do things that make you happy or content as you are doing them – and doing them for yourself. Research has found that picking recovery activities you find personally satisfying and meaningful is more likely to help you feel recovered by the next morning."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACTS: "A recent study of nearly 3,000 physicists found that a scientist’s most highly cited publication had an equal probability of being published at any point within the sequence of papers the scientist published.........Creativity is not the prerogative of the young, but can occur at any stage in the life cycle...........there is not a single kind of creativity, but that in virtually every intellectual discipline there are two different types of creativity, each associated with a distinct pattern of discovery over the life cycle. The bold leaps of fearless and iconoclastic young conceptual innovators are one important form of creativity. Archetypal conceptual innovators include Einstein, Picasso.......very different type of creativity, in which important new discoveries emerge gradually and incrementally from the extended explorations of older experimental innovators.......The single year from with Paul Cézanne’s work is most frequently illustrated in textbooks of art history is 1906 – the last year of his life, when he was 67."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "As our global population is projected to live longer than ever before, it’s important that we find ways of helping people live healthier for longer. Exercise and diet are often cited as the best ways of maintaining good health well into our twilight years. But recently, research has also started to look at the role our gut – specifically our microbiome – plays in how we age."
Feb 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "In an increasingly polarised political landscape, we see differing political views challenged, not through debate and discussion, but through tribal behaviour. We often consider the groups that we belong to as worthy of empathy, respect and tolerance – but not others. What’s more, recent research has identified that we reward our leaders for being naysayers – negating, refuting or criticising others – rather than empowering them."