POLITICS, CHARISMA AND CONSEQUENCES
Merino, renowned independent art critic, has published over 70
reviews. He is a ceramic
artist and has lectured internationally on contemporary
is strange the way the ignorant and inexperienced
so often and so undeservedly succeed
when the informed and the experienced fail.
the last five years Donald Trump has befuddled most Americans,
and many people around the world by the cult like devotion
that his followers have for him. After Marx, few nineteenth
century thinkers influenced modern and post-modern sociology
as much as Max Weber. His most celebrated and criticized
text, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,
(1904-5), tries to explain how Protestants were able to
distort Christianity just enough for it to kind of support
capitalism and vise versa. Weber often read, or impose --
depending on your world view, religion on political theory.
His essay on “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule”
Weber uses this methodology to construct his definition
for a charismatic leader. A key to Weber’s understanding
of charisma is a leader is believed to be extraordinary.
certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue
of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated
as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least
specifically exceptional powers or qualities.
a certain perspective, Trump has no super-human quality.
The absence of one -- is in a Trump paradox the proof of
that he does have one. This paradox at its core explains
much of Trump’s near political invincibility.
the most astute thing Trump ever said was on January 23,
2016 campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa
he observed "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue
and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?"
This was not a declaration of intention but of his superpower
status. As Tim O’Brien, the Trump biographer stated
also has been uniquely insulated from the consequences
of his own mistakes his entire life, first by his father’s
wealth that insulated him from his educational and then
business mistakes; and then celebrity, which insulated
him from being forgotten, even though he was a joke as
a businessman at that point.
in equal parts his own lack of shame or regret and superhuman
luck, the absence of any accountability, be it personal
or financial distinguishes, is part and parcel of Trump’s
Teflon quality extended to his political life. Trump became
a demagogue by being opposite of what his country and his
chosen party hold dearest. The US fetishizes self-reliance.
Americans believe that everyone, everywhere is the exclusive
author of their lot in life. The GOP, the political party
within this culture that Trump has come to dominate has
as its foundational principle -- personal accountability.
Whether it be preventing rape victims’ abortions,
insisting elementary school teachers need gun training or
holding cancer victims to financial account for their decision
to get cancer -- the GOP profoundly holds that the problem
with America is too few are held accountable for their bad
choices. Yet paradoxically, the person whose oeuvre denies
being responsible for any of his actions -- had control
of the country and still controls the Republican party.
The absurdity of Trump’s ability to evade responsibility
makes it easy to see how one could confuse his good luck
with divine selection. Trump was always a minor celebrity.
More useful as a punchline than a person, he went from a
curiosity to a b-list celebrity on January 8th, 2004 when
he was the first host of the NBC’s The Apprentice.
At the time, the only legendary aspect of Trump was his
failure. At a time when the stock market was booming, DJT
stock -- was hemorrhaging.
the beginning of his campaign, Trump broke norms. On 07/18/2015,
CNN reported Ben Schreckinger speculated that “Donald
Trump might finally have crossed the line,” in describing
Trump’s insulting John McCain. During the Family Leadership
Summit in Ames, Iowa Trump said of the war hero:
not a war hero, He was a war hero because he was captured.
I like people who weren’t captured.
was wrong. In this case, however -- Trump was simply playing
to his base. McCain not only had the audacity to lose to
Barack Obama but defended the man. During a debate stating
that Obama was “a decent family man.” This statement
vilified McCain to many in the Republican party who would
become Trump’s base. On 10/25/2015, Trump mocked a
Serge F. Kovaleski, a journalist with arthrogryposis. More
stunning than the man who would become president after having
audaciously, publically, bullied a disabled man—was
the avalanche of apologists who reacted to the comment,
and that the insult served galvanize his support. Each transgression
-- of which there were hundreds that would have ruined a
normal politician -- made people adore him more.
most shocking example was when in July of 2016. At the Democratic
convention Khizr Khan, the father of a soldier, gave a speech
attacking Trump. At one point he mentioned that Trump has
never sacrificed anything.
In normal American politics, you allow the grief-stricken
father of a man who died for his country to get his say
and try to get on with you campaign. Trump could not do
this. He immediately attacked Mr. Khan. Again, a general
rule of thumb -- you don’t attack the families of
people who died for your country. At which point, uncharacteristically
for Trump -- he had to make an appearance to explain why
he was compelled to insult the Kahn’s on ABC’s
This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
think I have made a lot of sacrifices. I've work very,
very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs,
tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've
done -- I've had tremendous success.
This triggered a variety of condemnations.
of the most artful was by John Oliver on his program, Last
Week Tonight with John Oliver.
begins with an observation citing the sheer number of outrageous
and outlandish things Trump has done in part inoculates
him from damage. Like lying on a bed of nails, the weight
is dispersed enough so that no single nail penetrates. But
even in that circumstance -- of Trumps comments about Khan
main takeaway from these two weeks is that incredibly,
we may be on the brink of electing such a damaged, sociopathic
narcissist that the simple presidential duty of comforting
the families of fallen soldiers may actually be beyond
his capabilities, And I genuinely didn't think that was
part of the job that someone could be bad at.
while there was an immediate backlash, Trump’s comment
did not land a mortal blow to his campaign.
This episode illustrates just how powerful and paradoxical
Trump’s charisma had become. What most broadcasters
missed was Trump’s blasphemy. In mainstream American
Evangelical Christianity, God exists on a continuum between
the Johnathon Edwards’s wrathful bastard who creates
people only to damn them unless he selects them for the
gift of grace, to your less angry Gods who just think that
being gay, bi or raped condemns you to exist in eternity
of fire and brimstone. The only evidence that this guy,
who comes off as a rather vengeful jerk, loves humanity
is that he was willing to sacrifice his only Son in for
our salvation. Exactly like, Khan -- jerk or not -- his
acceptance of the death of his son in defense of America
reflects how much Khan loves his country. Yet Trump comes
in and offers up two premises. First that he is so special
and above humanity that his having to give effort to get
wealth is a true sacrifice. Second, that if God wanted to
show his love for humanity, he need not have done something
like letting his only son die -- establishing a mall or
apartment complex would be enough.
is how absolute Trump’s supporters are captive to
Trump’s charisma. He is so chosen by God -- that he
can promote sacrilege and still be chosen by God. The first
defense of Trump would be that I am taking him too literally
and being unfair. The only counter argument is: it is what
he said, literally. Perhaps a better counter argument would
be the insane hypocrisy of American Evangelicals defending
Trump. In 1999, one of the mainstream leaders of American
Evangelicals accused Teletubby Tinky Winky as being a gay
icon, because it carried a purse. Now, if a neutral gendered
children’s character carrying a feminine object can
equate to the LGBTQ community trying to indoctrinate children
into being gay -- than Trump blaspheming can be read as
is this paradox that has somehow responsible for Trump’s
apparent political invincibility. Trump’s presidency
can be viewed as ever escalating series of outrages. On
May 9, 2017 he fired F.B.I. Director James Comey for not
short circuiting an investigation into Russia’s influence
on the 2016 campaign. In addition, Trump governed over the
longest shutdown in US history. That was followed by a series
of salacious scandals: paying off Stormy Daniels, an adult
film actress with whom he had a brief affair; there were
several allegations of rape. As each outrage got worse and
more unforgivable, it reinforced in Trump’s supporters
that he was elected not just by the people but by the almighty
Thank you very much for the insight. Even Benjamin can be wrong
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