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1st December, 2020

William Holman Hunt - Козёл отпущения, Public Domain,

It should be a matter of concern to us that Donald Trump serves a function to the west which is different from that normally served by a political leader. It is normal to reject the ideas and policies of political opponents ejected from office and even to feel a certain personal dislike which might extend to disdain. However, what we are now witnessing in terms of the animus being expressed towards Trump goes a long way beyond that which you might expect the liberal left to exhibit towards a right-wing conservative “populist”. He is fulfilling a function as an avatar in a quasi-religious ritual or as a character in a medieval morality play – perhaps Lucifer being cast out of heaven.

In the British Sunday Times recently an in-house cartoonist, Morten Morland, showed Trump caught in a hellish existential eternity of anguish. The cartoon paid homage to one of the Irish artist, Francis Bacon’s ‘Screaming Popes’, his takes on Velàzquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. It also reminded me of Alan Parker’s film, Angel Heart in which a damned soul descends in a lift down to Hell at the end of the film. What we are seeing here is a wicked soul being cast into the regions of outer darkness in the most medieval of manners.

What is going on here? Having generally rejected religion on the grounds that it is primitive and unscientific in a technocratic, progressive age, modern liberal man finds himself rudderless in a sea of relativism with regard to the inescapable conundrum of how to address his undeniably moral nature. Just see how quickly those denying that we are moral reach for moral condemnations of those who are foolish enough to disagree with them if you don’t believe this.

As a result we have a terribly pressing need for what the French call points de repère or what we call landmarks; things from which we can reassuringly take our bearings. The problem we have in the age of relativism is that we are not really sure what the True North of goodness and evil are any more. The Bible used to tell us that the sin of Pride was the very worst one or that Christ was goodness incarnate. Now we need goodness and evil re-engineered and re-personified for us and we’ll take anything going. This means that the footballer, Marcus Rashford, who encouraged the government to feed supposedly starving children, just an ordinary chap morally no doubt, is christened as a nonpareil secular saint. This is mainly because there seems nothing exceptionable in what he has done and he is a safe bet for this role. Similarly Donald Trump, who exhibits some workaday faults all can agree on, serves the useful purpose of being the quintessence of evil. Of course he has those faults – narcissistic braggart or brash, tasteless, materialistic vulgarian are the usual accusations levelled at him and some of them may just be right. However, just as Rashford is not the embodiment of goodness in the way that Jesus Christ was Trump is certainly not Lucifer. A case can be made for him that, in his refusal to embrace the ideation towards western cultural suicide embraced by so many of his opponents, he has even had something rather profound and important going for him.

The dynamic which we are seeing enacted in him in cartoons like Morland’s is the fulfilment of the age-old religious scapegoat ritual. Trump is a sin-offering to the Liberal left. In the scapegoat ritual moral pollution (one is reminded of the very American epithet - ‘piece of shit’ - often directed towards Trump in recent days on social media) is externalised and cast out of the body politic in the form of a sacrificial lamb or goat which is slaughtered so that we can all feel free of sin and purified. Once identified as the sacrificial victim permission is given to channel extreme hatred towards it in an orgiastic frenzy of vilification and stone-throwing.

One can speculate that one of the reasons supposedly gentle, decent left-liberals demonise him thus is that he exhibits his aggression so unapologetically and healthily. Left Liberals are not supposed to have an aggressive bone in their compassion and love-filled bodies bodies and, so, they feel ashamed of having any kind of animus towards anyone. This is why they tend to be passive-aggressive in their antipathies and why they so readily brand Trump’s unashamed masculinity ‘toxic.’ You could argue that he is being made a sacrificial vehicle for their own effeminate cowardice and that the measure of embarrassment they feel for that is the exact equivalent to the hatred they exhibit towards the man who appears not to be a coward.

The more, then, the hatred is poured out the more effective is the purification of the community is how it goes. Once this purgation of the creature from the herd and of hatred from the psyche is achieved the community finds peace and can rest. This means that, in the case of the one identified, the mere fact of his being a human, whatever you think of his politics, no longer guarantees him a certain baseline level of decency; that decency is simply suspended. The religious amongst you will have noticed that this role of scapegoat adumbrated in the Old Testament was the very one which Christ accepted voluntarily for the sake of all of mankind. The religious dynamic despised has simply re-entered society by the back door. Trump is not Christ by any means but the same things are visited on him that were visited on Christ because they have to go somewhere.

Once established in this role it is interesting to observe that those thus selected like Trump come to serve an indispensable service to the community. They provide moral true North for those without a personal compass and they provide a means by which those seeking to be viewed as virtuous can burnish their credentials. They simply have to revile Trump in public or on social media to reassure us that they are bound on the right moral course and are ‘one of us’, members of the right-thinking community. In this sense the greatest irony of all is that they somehow need him. Without him they would be truly adrift.

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