Trump Is America In Human Form
It could not have happened anywhere else. No society competes with America for cultural soil so toxic and fertile at once that it could create something like “President Trump.” Italy got close with Silvio Berlusconi, but remember, he’s an actual billionaire whereas our Donald is a serial bankrupt who can only pretend.
It was so sudden. A mere decade before his White House campaign, Trump began playing a self-made billionaire on The Apprentice, enjoying a sudden promotion to national status from his original post as a local media parasite hammering loudly on the locked gates of New York society. He debuted alongside Paris Hilton and the Kardashians. Like them, he grew larger than life in a puffed-wheat kind of way.
Nothing here should surprise us; Trumpism has always been difficult to avoid. It might even be our fate. Donald is the natural American leader, the organic choice. Can’t you just hear Seventy-Six Trombones playing him on and off the stage? He points us toward what H. L. Menken called “the American lust for the hideous, the delight in ugliness for its own sake.”
Donald, more than most, is willing to appear grotesque in order to remain popular. That is his superpower. He’s a pro wrestling alum, a loud self-promoter. Earlier avatars have plagued us for two centuries. He’s Buffalo Bill; he’s the Yankee Doodle boy. But he’s also strenuously mediocre, like Mark Twain’s Duke and Dauphin, and that is what makes him so deliciously American.
Just add bots and stir
How did we underestimate his appeal? Technology played a part. There has been a leap in data mining bandwidth — and AI competence and pervasiveness — by several orders of magnitude in the past decade. Almost every bit of information you encounter on every device you use, and every app you run, is filtered and curated by marketing AIs whose mission is to draw eyeballs to ads.
Political beliefs often coincide with patterns of consumption, so when online AIs categorize and connect people according to their interests in goods, services, information, and entertainment, they reinforce political biases as a side effect. We are segregated in virtual consumer districts that serve as echo chambers indulging every manner of belief and desire, however peculiar or unhealthy, while censoring contradictory voices, including truthful ones.
Donald’s admirers experience a comprehensive program of pro-Trump, or at least GOP-friendly, propaganda in the information ghettos toward which they are herded by marketing AIs aiming to sell fishing tackle and reverse mortgages. Professionals have little cause to visit such sites, having themselves been directed toward posh cul-de-sacs by AIs keen to sell raw-milk cheeses and space-age baby strollers.
That’s why educated people were blindsided by Donald’s 2016 victory. They never saw it coming because the bots curating their daily online experiences filtered out realistic portrayals of the MAGA movement, which obscured the breadth of its appeal stretching across political party lines. Whenever they encountered clips of Trump’s rallies with audiences deliriously cheering his signature torrent of self-serving fatuities, they dismissed it all as a freak show, the appeal of which must be limited to a handful of Ku Kluxers, misogynists, and gun nuts in remote quarters. They couldn’t (and largely still can’t) imagine that their neighbors a few blocks over thought “President Trump” was worth a shot, because, really, their employment prospects can’t get much worse. The days are past when people who regard themselves as professionals might listen to the former machinist who’s now bagging their groceries, but if they did, oh what an education they would get.
Trump reflects us. We couldn’t have resisted electing him. His fraudulence is spectacular and he exhibits it shamelessly: his boasting of immunity to Covid while getting pumped full of exogenous antibodies; his extravagant health care funded by taxes he doesn’t condescend to pay. The plasti-dip tan, the troll-doll hair, the phallic necktie, all of it loudly hooting: “Of course I’m a broke-ass punk with no game in business pretending to be a billionaire. That’s why you love me: I am America made flesh.”
Every social media marketing algorithm is tuned to seek something like him, then amplify, multiply, and interconnect. A train wreck, a bridge collapse, a kid choking on a lungful of cinnamon: it’s all the same to marketing AIs, which have no taste and no conscience. Thus Donald draws eyeballs “like nobody’s ever seen before”.
This time we kick the ball
Educated people imagine that Trump has disgraced himself enough for Joe Biden to win. Just look at the results of his tenure, and the error of electing him is obvious, they’re thinking. No way will the voters make that mistake again. They also imagine that replacing him will automatically fix a number of social problems.
They’re wrong on both counts. First, Biden’s principal virtue is his sanity. No one loves him; no one is enthusiastic. He simply isn’t barking mad. He’ll do little to correct the systemic rot that inspired half of America’s voters to put Trump in the Oval Office. Take Donald away and they’ll find someone else to enliven our rapid descent into political Grand-Guignol.
Second, Trump speaks to the invisible members of both parties. America’s triumph over the working class is complete: Capital has got Labor on its knees while Government fastens the zip ties. Donald knows instinctively that working-poor Democrats share more common ground with working-poor Republicans than they do with educated liberals, a fact understood and used to advantage by earlier populists like Boss Tweed, Huey Long, and James Michael Curley — all of them true Americans. Trump harnesses popular resentments that span party divisions.
I won’t be surprised if he wins a second term, but whatever happens on election day, one fact is indisputable: we will never be rid of Donald. He’s too entertaining and unpredictable, too inclined to trend. He’s the president America has been waiting for.
If he wins, he’ll stand behind the White House lectern and spew indecipherable nonsense while his fans cheer and squeal with delight. If he loses, he’ll establish his own media outfit generating a relentless deluge of clips and quotes adequate to support his next number as “President in Exile,” his inanities forever buoyed by marketing AIs — by invisible electronic hustlers and swindlers that govern the currents of this ocean of hogwash through which we all swim.
And I can think of nothing more American than that.