Roger Ebert once said that a film is as good as its villain. Does this mean that the forthcoming U.S. elections will be good since the “bad guy” (Donald Trump) is almost an ideal villain? Yes, but in a very problematic sense. For the liberal majority, the 2016 elections represent a clear-cut choice: Trump is ridiculous, excessive and vulgar. He exploits our worst racist and sexist prejudices such that big-name Republicans are abandoning him in droves. If Trump remains the Republican candidate, we will get a truly “feel-good election.” In spite of all our problems and petty squabbles, when there is a real threat to our basic democratic values we come together, just like France did after the terrorist attacks.
But this comfortable democratic consensus should worry the Left. We should take a step back and turn the gaze on ourselves. What is the exact makeup of this all-embracing democratic unity? Everybody is there, from Wall Street bankers to Bernie Sanders supporters and veterans of the Occupy movement, from big business to trade unions, from army veterans to LGBT+ activists, from the ecologists horrified by Trump’s denial of global warming and the feminists delighted by the prospect of the first woman president to the “decent” Republican establishment figures terrified by Trump’s inconsistencies and irresponsible “demagogic” proposals. These very inconsistencies make his position unique.
Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, observed in a personal e-mail to me:
After Orlando, he came out all warm and fuzzy about LGBT victims/people—in a manner that no other Republican would have dared. Also, it is common knowledge that he is not a “faithful” Christian and that he only says that he is for show—and by ‘common knowledge’ I mean that this is known by the … Christian sects that make up the U.S. fundamentalist front. Lastly, his position on abortion has for decades been a liberal one and it is, again, common knowledge, that he does not favour a repeal of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. In short, Trump has managed to change the cultural politics of the Republican Party for the first time since [Richard] Nixon. By adopting a crass, misogynist, racist language he has managed to release the Republican Party from its traditional reliance on the Fundamentalist, the homophobic and the anti-abortion ideological straitjacket. It is a remarkable contradiction that only a Hegelian can grasp!
His reference to Hegel is justified. Trump’s vulgar racist and misogynist style is what enabled him to undermine the Republican conservative-fundamentalist dogma. Trump is not simply the candidate of conservative fundamentalists. (He is perhaps an even greater threat to them than to “rational” moderate Republicans.) The paradox is, thus, that within the ideological space of the Republican Party, Trump was only able to undermine its fundamentalist core through racist and sexist populist vulgarities. This complexity, of course, disappears in the standard left-liberal demonization of Trump. Why? To see this, we should again turn our gaze towards the Hillary Clinton consensus.
[Extract. Appeared in In These Times on August 24th 2016.]