Loving Donald Trump: a theory

Whatever your political persuasion or opinion on the American Presidential election, there are few voices even trying to argue that Donald Trump is a good, morally upright and virtuous person.

Even one D. J. Trump did (briefly and defiantly and only when confronted by the audio-tape of his bragging about using his fame to take advantage of women) admit that he has made mistakes and is not perfect.

Yet, it’s pretty clear that a very many Americans love Donald Trump. I use the word ‘love’ deliberately. I’m not talking just about political reasons to vote for him. Yes, for a lot of people, it was his policies and promises that won the day. But from mass rallies all over the country it’s clear that a very sizeable portion of the electorate are passionately committed to Trump at an emotional level that goes far beyond pragmatic self-interest.

(It’s not my main point here, but it might even be said that one reason Hillary did not win was that even her own supporters did not love her in the same way as Trump’s supporters loved him. They respected her, but she did not inspire the same intensity of devotion)

9780300118308Simon May has a very interesting take on this phenomenon of love for people who are most definitely not good. People who actively have no interest in appearing to be good and yet who are loved. May mentions captives’ love for their kidnappers or a child’s continuing love for a parent who has obviously harmed them by some form of abuse.

Or what about whole populations’ love for megalomanical leaders who killed millions?: huge swathes of the German people’s love for Adolf Hitler. Many Russian people’s love for Stalin (even after his death). I’m not equating Trump with Hitler or Stalin, the point is that love is not necessarily inspired by virtue.

We are tempted not to call such devotion ‘love’ because we are shaped by the very Greek idea that love, if it is to be true love, is inspired by beauty and virtue. But such mass love for bad people cannot so easily be dismissed.

If love is not necessarily inspired by virtue, what then can it be inspired by?

(this question does not deny that love can be inspired by virtue and goodness; it does suggest that love cannot be so simply explained).

May’s theory is that love is inspired by what he calls ‘ontological rootedness’. Now that’s quite a label. What he means is that we love that which gives us a sense of ultimate meaning and security in the world. Love is deeply connected to power because it is the powerful who have the capacity to deliver on such deep hopes.

Here’s May’s explanation … and I will resist the strong temptation to pick out bits that I think are stunningly prophetic regarding the 2016 USA Presidential Election!

How well does this explain Trump’s election do you think?

There is no greater human need that to find such affirmation, nourishment an anchoring of one’s being, and we can secure it only through relationships to a world in which we are embedded. This is why when we think we have discovered someone – or indeed something, like a vocation or art or nature – with ontological power over us we lunge at it with such overwhelming desire. It is also why we can fall (and remain) in love not only with those who would use their power to affirm and enhance our lives, but also – even precisely – with those who regard us as enemies, or with people whose wealth inspires a sense (robust or not) of ontological rootedness, or with fraudsters who give us illusory confidence in ourselves, or with others who might destroy us, or with those whose love for us we permanently doubt. (37)

Comments, as ever, welcome.


Those ‘friendly and bouncy’ Americans

Some months ago I did a post on ‘Those Germans’. So, after spending quite a bit of July in the ‘Lower 48’ here are some mostly positive and not very deep reflections on ‘Those Americans’. As before, here’s an accompanying health warning about massive stereotyping …

[And I’m sure each one could have a negative twist but after time in the US I’m taking time to recover my cynically sarcastic default attitude – see 13 below)

1. They sure know how to build ROADS – from back highways into Mt St Helens to 6 lane freeways in LA to the mad twists of Highway 1 along the northern Californian Pacific Coast. A road trip in the US is easy and fun.

2. They like FOOD (too much) – every freeway junction has a bewildering forest of signs advertising fast food chains. Portions are, to put it delicately, on the large side. The abundance of cheap and not very healthy food is evidenced in the abundance of American waistlines.

3. And from the above two qualities, they believe in making life COMFORTABLE. From huge autos and mobile mansions (RVs); to logical city grid systems; to clear road signage; to one-stop shops for absolutely everything you might or could ever need [Walmart]; to free internet where you stay (or often where you eat);  to paying for petrol [gas] by credit card at the pump (why haven’t we done that yet?]; to big houses filled with stuff; to soft chairs in a megachurch. [I was tempted to add here ‘to a soothing message and comforting worship’ – but that wouldn’t be fair to the place we were at. But its easy to see how an intense culture of personal comfort  poses a pervasive threat to Jesus’ call to self-sacrifice].

4. They live in the most marvellous and rather big COUNTRY. You could spend a lifetime exploring the diverse land and city-scapes. Real wildlife, real wilderness (lots of it) and a real outdoor adventures await. Compared to the small safe domesticity of a little island, the expansive grandeur of the US is thrilling.

5. They live in a dramatically UNEQUAL society. From mansions displaying extravagant wealth to humble shacks; from those who succeed in a Western capitalist culture to those left behind on the streets; from the prosperity and success of European colonisers compared to the (to my eye) broken, defeated and virtually invisible culture of the native Indians. A hero of mine, Johnny Cash has a great song about this.

6. Sorry, but they have the WORST TV NEWS I’ve ever seen. Hard to find tough fair-minded journalistic objectivity amid the welter of sentimental partisan personality-driven superficiality. [And I should add, they have the best TV drama and comedy around]

7. They have a great CLIMATE with real winters and real summers as opposed to our 4 seasons of rain, cloud and occasional sun.

8. They make everything PERSONAL: Example – there are not so much real estate companies as real estate sellers. ‘Buy this house from x’ – with big picture of a smiling perfect-teethed x. And I guess this feeds into a celebrity culture of the worship of the successful (beautiful) individual.  And the celebrity culture is transposed into the church with its successful pastors (and wives), with perfect teeth (see 9) running successful businesses churches, but I digress.

9. They value PERFECT TEETH – surely a good thing, especially for dentists.

10. They obey RULES.  This includes the rules of the road; rules in campsites about no noise between 10pm-8am; rules about staying on trails; rules about no litter. This could be put more positively – there seems to me to be a high sense of ‘civic virtue’ and belonging and participation in ‘being American’. A trivial example – two ‘dudes’ on a mountain hike take a short-cut off trail and start sliding down the mountain, dangerously dislodging rocks on the way. Immediately numerous hikers shout at them to get back on trail, calling them stupid and various other adjectives.

I suspect the level of corruption in public life in the USA is less than in Ireland. In a country where, IMHO, the ‘Republic’ has been betrayed by generations of self-interested politicians glad to profit from elected office (I don’t exaggerate, see C J Haughey and Bertie Ahern, Ivor Calelly etc] and, it must be said, a culture where large numbers of the population routinely evaded tax and participated in ‘soft corruption’ – such a sense of civic belonging is refreshing. All too often here, if someone is behaving in an antisocial way, no-one says anything. Either because they are afraid of violence, or because others will not back them up, or because no-one feels it is ‘their business’ to interfere.

11. They are fantastically ORGANISED. We experienced the National Park system in our camping trip : efficient; informative; practical; helpful; fair; great online booking system, brilliant rangers. Can’t give higher praise.

12. They WORK HARD. At work by 7am. Few holidays. Competitive culture. Success available to those who knuckle down. No favours expected or granted?

13. Lastly and very importantly, they are wonderfully HOSPITABLE. My daughter calls Americans ‘friendly and bouncy’. They don’t treat customers like an annoying distraction (an Irish trait). They seem to believe the best about people, are positive, optimistic, patient, wonderfully generous and believe that you ‘having a nice day’ really matters.