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Jul 20, 2019

The orgiastic pleasure of Trumpism

The most troubling thing about Donald Trump is his supporters. They are numerous, consolidated, and show no signs of weakening their resolve. The earlier explanation of the Trumpism still works – to a degree. Yes, they are the disaffected, mostly White people alienated from both the new digital economy and the democratic politics. However, it does not explain these people’s refusal to acknowledge Trump’s very obvious moral failings. Some of us liberals thought it was a form of denial, but the recent mass chant “send them back” shattered our illusions and sent shivers down our spines. It becomes obvious that we are dealing with a mass movement that is related to Fascism – not as a political ideology, but as a mass culture phenomenon. How is it possible, that the picture of a dead toddler clinging to her dead father makes some of us cry, and compels others to make crude jokes? This is really the pressing question, not the person of Donald Trump. He clearly tells these people what they want to hear.

Dmitry Bykov, a celebrated Russian writer and dissident, described Fascism as a “cult of ecstatic, orgiastic pleasure.” Fascism, he says, is the intentional evil; it is a conscious and joyful violation of moral taboos. I think Bykov is wrong in equating postmodernism and Fascism, but his description of Fascism in terms of erotic and intentional embrace of evil is precise. Many of Trump’s supporters succumbed to the fantasy of a morality-free, post-apocalyptic movie, where the heroes dominate, and the week are either exploited by bad guys, or graciously saved by an equally badass hero.

This is why people like David Remnick are wrong when they are trying to turn Trumpists by appealing to their moral sensibilities. These people know they are being bad and unkind. That is exactly what they enjoy. It is a collective psychosis impenetrable to a rational dialogue. A Trump rally is an orgy of hate, and people show up for that reason. The sheer numbers allow them to avoid personal responsibility, to drown the moral voice in the crowd’s pleasure.

The liberals and the Left are underestimating the danger, and therefore are bickering about the ways to move forward. The conventional wisdom until now was to focus not so much on Trump, but on specific policy proposals. However, I think only the first part is right. The way forward is to create the broadest possible anti-Fascist coalition, and focus on the danger of the movement. This is not a good time to decide whether Obamacare should be replaced by the Medicare for all. Yes, do not focus on Trump as a person, but focus instead on the moral abyss that is Trumpism. There are more people who are not infected; they need the sense of urgency to get out and vote. Fascism was defeated in France – twice in the recent history; it will be defeated in the US, too. Once you deny the weak-minded people their exultant orgy, they start noticing they are completely naked and most of us around are dressed. The sense of shame will return to them, in time.