Donald Trump’s recent successes demonstrate the limitations but also the reality of the reaction against the victimocracy. To oppose victimary thinking it does not suffice to deplore its excesses, although few dare even that; one must face down its not-so-implicit threat of mob violence. Trump is the one candidate who fears not the Twittermob. God knows what is being tweeted about him, but the point is that he doesn’t care, and if he doesn’t, we shouldn’t.
It is too easy to reduce the Trump candidacy to the outspokenness of clowns and jesters of the past. Yet the difference is clear. The jester “speaks truth to power” to the king, who could destroy him with a glance, and therefore need not. Rather than the pre-humiliated clown in a beggar’s costume, Trump is the unflappable billionaire in a $5000 suit, facing not up to the king but down to the mob. A number of pundits anticipated that Trump’s churlish words about John McCain’s “war hero” status would take the wind out of his candidacy or end it altogether. Nothing such occurred, because although Trump’s remarks were indeed offensive, they were made in reaction to McCain’s prior insult; Trump was not denigrating the military but disrespecting, however crudely, someone who had first disrespected him. The insight that Trump’s action actualized was that apologizing to McCain would really have been apologizing to the Twittermob. Even Trump’s smear of Mexican immigrants as (largely) drug dealers and rapists hasn’t hurt him at the polls, because his supporters view the over-the-top rhetoric as a sign that Trump can resist the usual victimary arguments in favor of unrestricted immigration.
The disquieting thing about Trump’s surge is that it points up an apparent incompatibility between political gravitas and the unapologetic affirmativeness that we expect in a political leader in the Reagan-Thatcher mold. Spengler (David P. Goldman) at one point endorsed Ted Cruz as the only candidate arrogant enough to make a good president. But that was pre-Trump, and in recent weeks Cruz’ arrogance has had few occasions to make itself known. If Trump is indeed the sole candidate unfazed by the victimocrats, does this not confirm the Left’s conviction that the victimary model alone provides grounds for serious political activity, to which the only possible responses are niggling qualification or blustery denial—that we live, whether we like it or not, in a victimocracy?
Let us hope that the strange asymmetry in the two parties’ nominating process does not reflect the decadence of the democratic process in the face of the temptation of authoritarian rule. No doubt Hillary Clinton’s crown-princess status is something of a historical contingency, but it coincides with a rise in presidential arrogance in step with the rise of autocracy around the globe, from Russia to China to the Islamic State, not to speak of North Korea and other communist/socialist survivors. Hillary’s heir-apparent imperiousness, however over-determined, has deep roots in the victimocracy. If her only more than token opposition comes from Bernie Sanders, this is clearly because he is a man of the pre-victimary, “old Left” generation. (So, in a different sense, is Joe Biden.) So long as she remains a minimally viable candidate, no significant creature of the victimocracy will dare come forward to deny Hillary “her turn.”
The Republican race, in all-too-obvious contrast, now has some seventeen contestants. Is this embarrassing number not comical in itself? What we laugh at is, after all, mimesis disguised as free choice, Bergson’s du mécanique plaqué sur du vivant. In principle, each candidate seeks to offer the most credible embodiment of the presidential. But overpopulation is itself a refutation; if “presidentiality” is indeed so widely distributed, then the quality being sought has not been sharply enough defined. What the candidate oversupply is trying to tell us is that the current mix of incentives and disincentives sets the bar too low, making running for president a profitable source of book contracts and speaking deals with no visible disincentives.
All seventeen candidates are “well known,” but Trump alone is a TV personality and a man of great wealth (whatever the credibility of his $10b figure—but such claims are what Trump is all about). Trump’s actions thus far appear to demonstrate that only such qualifications provide independence from the Twittermob, and his current prominence gives proof that this independence is a political value in itself, however vague his political platform, provided it be antithetical to the “progressive” policies that the mob—and the current administration—embodies.
Given the history of lynch mobs in the past, from the KKK to Kristallnacht and beyond, the question that arises (coincidentally with the “discovery” of the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird), is why at this moment standing up to the mob is perceived as so significant. The old lynch mob was a pretty transparent institution: it defended the interests of a (mildly) privileged group by intimidating a stigmatized population through the false and/or exaggerated accusation and punishment of a “scapegoat.” Today’s generally affluent mob asserts a moral privilege by attacking those who infringe or appear to question the victimary doxa. The Twittermob has achieved inordinate power both over individuals (e.g., the dentist who killed a lion) and over organizations, particularly profit-making ones sensitive to “public relations.” Whence the often-reported dismissals of highly-placed infringers, and the virtual unanimity with which the perpetrators of outed micro-aggressions make cringing apologies to their “victims” (e.g., O’Malley and others fervently denying that “all lives matter”). Someone like Trump, independently wealthy, his own boss and not the employee of a corporation, nor (unlike Donald Sterling) subject to the judgment of NBA fans (and who probably wouldn’t let a girlfriend get away with taping his conversations) is more or less immune to the power of the victimocracy. Even if the IRS coincidentally determines that Trump has committed tax fraud, or the EPA finds fault with one of his construction projects, we may presume that he disposes of sufficient legal firepower to avoid being greatly inconvenienced.
One might say that we have come to a pretty pass when the ability to disregard the victimary code is the most distinctive qualification in the nation’s prime political race, putting a self-promoting non-politician, more envied than admired, and frequently ridiculed, well in front of a band of governors and senators, a number of whom (Christie, Cruz, Huckabee…) are in fact known for “telling it like it is.” What the Trump phenomenon clearly demonstrates is the widespread malaise engendered by the victimocracy, whose tyrannical nature, apparent to all, can be denounced only by one who is unafraid of accusations of racism and various kinds of “phobia.”
All the pundits are awaiting the end of the Trump boomlet, and I have no crystal ball to tell me they are wrong. But if all I have been saying about the “decline of the West” is true, then it follows that Trump in his instinctual way, all other things aside, is the one candidate who has grasped the essence of the crisis that we face. Even if the task of dispatching pathetic, “likeable enough” Hillary Clinton will not fall to his lot, his refusal to pay obeisance to the victimary code of conduct will have infused the Republican primary with a rebellious, emperor’s-new-clothes spirit that can hopefully Reaganize and Thatcherize the standard-bearer who emerges.
Which leads me to a final observation. On completing the first draft of this Chronicle, I was taken aback to observe that two consecutive Chronicles will have described as exemplary two individuals currently best known for their roles on reality television. There is surely no feature of contemporary mainstream culture more alien to me than reality television, the basement venue of the cult of celebrities famous for being famous—to which they have allowed us to add the new category of those, Jenner’s Kardashian in-laws in the forefront, who have become famous for being famous for being famous. Yet it appears that the experience of these unembarrassed self-promoters provides a unique immunity from the victimocracy.
And here is no doubt the reason. Reality TV stars have a unique opportunity to experience the strange freedom created by a cultural variant of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The latter affirms that observing subatomic activity renders its measurement in wave-particle terms undecidable. Analogously, the very principle of reality TV is that the presence of TV cameras and crews in a person’s or a family’s everyday “reality” will not and yet will affect this reality, transforming it in undecidable ways. Might living under observation as if unobserved be a privileged means of discovering a new form, Satanic or sublime, of the freedom to be oneself?
Neither Trump nor even transsexual Jenner is a victimary figure. The latter’s desire to affirm a female self, whatever its psychological motivations, is not the equivalent of a demand for reparations; it is a form of creative self-assertion. And one may understand its exhibitionist element, as I believe many do, as a way of accepting the responsibility for setting a public example that is incumbent on, precisely, a celebrity—and one who, recalling those Wheaties boxes, is not just “famous for being famous.”
Whatever Jenner’s views on victimary politics, it is notable that s/he did not fear to deeply offend a majority of supporters by coming out as… a Republican. As for Trump, although his political positions have varied and he has befriended Democrats, he is certainly not running for the Democratic nomination today. Notwithstanding their overall pusillanimity, the Republicans are if not the anti- then at least the non-victimary party. And this being the case, Trump alone of the candidates has homed in on the truly paradigmatic plank in the Republican platform. For this act of political astuteness alone, he deserves to be leading the pack. Let us hope that others follow his lead.
Post-debate: The debates, which benefited Carly Fiorina more than anyone else, didn’t focus on Trump as much as some feared, although you wouldn’t know it to listen to the sensationalistic recaps. Trump is not a careful or well-prepared speaker, and his credibility remained about where it was. But my analysis was borne out when in his very first response he denounced the national obsession with “political correctness,” the only one of the seventeen to do so. Even Cruz, after Trump the most pugnacious, didn’t follow him in going after victimary thinking as such. Carson, Trump’s antithesis yet not a politician either, was the only other candidate to use the term politically correct, in reference to the fashionable squeamishness over “enhanced interrogation techniques.”