Phenomena of the times always tell us something of what is happening to humanity and sometimes the unexpected phenomena can tell us a lot because we didn’t see them coming. Often that is because they draw on a deeper change that is underway and which at a certain point tips the scales to appear as a seismic shift.
Donald Trump’s success so far in the American Republican Presidential Primaries is a phenomena no one expected. What is he tapping into? Is this maybe indicating a deeper social formation appearing? How can someone be so crass, socially insensitive and simplistic, at least from our perspective, yet be so successful at attracting supporters. Among the many egoistic statements Donald Trump made in his earlier campaign meetings is the claim that he is smart, actually he says “very, very smart”, and well maybe he is, or else he has a strong gut instinct as to where many Americans are at, and brings to it an egoism that is about exploitation and the manipulation of power. Who are his supporters, why do they support him, and what does this say, not just about America today, but actually maybe about ‘Western civilisation’ and the condition of humanity today.
From newspaper descriptions his supporters come from ‘Fly over America’ or middle America, many are Christian and church going and they are the low income working class of America. The more you live into who they are, the more you can only feel sympathy for these people because they are at the cutting edge, the blunt, rusted, neglected and uncared for part of Western civilisation’s economic development and in particular America’s virulent strain. This capitalist drive now in its maturity has created extremes of wealth and income. These people are probably working two low paying jobs just trying to scrape together enough to survive. Most likely they are part of the outcast workers of a developed economy that has outsourced manufacturing to developing economies, leaving them the workers, both searching for a new vocation and some feeling they have lost their status in the household as the breadwinner. They are the product of an education system of rote learning that equips them with little them about adult life and societal understanding, living in a society that encourages low cost mass consumption as both a goal and a sedative to being and they are nourished in the culture of a food and agricultural system that places low cost quantity above any form of quality. What does everything around them encourage but a no effort, on demand, satisfaction of the unprocessed lower self needs and existence. What capacity is left, is being developed or even has need for questions of society and humanity and therefore problems that enter and intrude into their world are from their point of view best dealt with by strong definite solutions. Solutions which by their nature would therefore be simple and lack any nuance of social understanding or complexity of the interlocking factors of society, environment and economics.
Is this in fact the crux of Western development of the last 500 years if you look at where the human ideas that have predominated in societal development lead? In the last few weeks the current wealth distribution in the world was released that showed the 62 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people. The 62 is down on 80 last year and 388 in 2010, which is a somewhat staggering shift of wealth to the wealthiest. These sorts of levels in past civilisations have been at the stage when the civilisation entered the period of terminal decline. Are we living in such times? What drove our civilisation to success in the last 500 years was a combination of various outcomes of the conscious soul that included competition, property rights and the rule of law, scientific developments, education, consumption and a work ethic inherent in Protestantism that encouraged economic advancement. The work ethic especially is disappearing and with it the vitality that lives in an economy. Part of the loss of a work ethic relates to the loss of a deeper human goal or reason for work, part to the state of the economy and especially the rise and predominance of wealth derived not from work but from the rents, interest, and other returns on capital that sucks vitality from the economy. Income you derive from your own efforts carries a Christian or life quality to it. Income that comes from interest, rents, inheritance and other ‘unearned’ sources or the efforts of others carries a dying or an Ahrimanic quality to it.
Parallel to this phenomena is another. Besides wealth distribution, another mark of civilisational decline is the loss of the central spiritual belief that was central in a civilisation’s ascent. In Europe Christianity as expressed in church attendance is dropping rapidly and many more people are becoming atheist. In America the reverse is the case but with a number of peculiarities. Christian church attendance is rising and the number of denominations is increasing. A rising number of people are changing their denomination more frequently, something like shopping around, and an increasing number are attending because they believe the end of the world is near and they want salvation.
America has lead the world over the last century economically and politically. Successfully at first it exported its values to the world, mainly the developed Western world, but in the last decades the failures have become more apparent and many Americans are experiencing the economic decline, their economy is not delivering them the American dream. Americans are also experiencing the loss of political clout in the world as one would experience as the loss of respect and the military losses are humiliation. They experience Hispanic immigration as a cultural change they are unsure of and a rise of terrorism as a direct attack. Meanwhile their government in Washington appears more and more paralysed, their leadership weak and impotent, and the political parties polarised into intractable positions. This is the vacuum into which Donald Trump has stepped with his campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ which is a very real sensing of where a group of Americans are at.
What is it that makes Donald Trump so appealing? Undoubtedly he comes with the right image to ‘fit the bill’, business success though not without bankruptcies, negotiating skills and decisiveness demonstrated in his books if you have read any and if not, as I imagine would be the case with most of his supporters, then amply demonstrated successfully on reality TV and finally he comes with a media profile such that everyone knows at least his name and has most likely heard a bit of gossip about this unusual character. What really makes Donald Trump the populist politician he is currently incarnating into is the way he speaks and connects with people. He is evolving his style to connect with his supporters, like a politician does? And is getting better and better at it.
Donald Trump has an answer to every problem Republican Americans have and it is through the deal which will make America win and the others…??? If you are totally bound in the economic world of deals where there are clear cut answers that can be devoid of social considerations you may be able to create an illusion that isolates you from a social reality. What is the world Donald Trump really believes he lives in? Is there anything beyond the deal? Is there anything of a cultural understanding of others? Does he really believe his simplistic answers to make America great have no effect on others or is this just a way to political power?
Ahead of the annual gathering of world political and economic leaders in Davos a World Economic Forum survey identified the major risks primarily for business. Failure to prepare for climate change was top of the list and something Donald Trump’s supporters don’t recognise. The other four risks listed; weapons of mass destruction, water crises, large scale involuntary migration and severe energy price shocks are problems Donald Trump has an answer for. Hallelulah. This is the form the underclass of America has taken and they are emerging as a social group that Donald Trump has the ruthless instincts to tap into and use as a social force for his ambitions. Very very smart and very very socially destructive.