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1st December, 2020

The White House from Washington, DC - President Donald J. Trump Delivers Remarks at CPAC, Public Domain,

Media scene-shifters have precipitously shunted Donald Trump into the wings but they have failed to get him completely off-stage. While the stage is flooded with the bright new day of Democrat liberalism a corpulent, blond-haired figure lingers at the periphery of the audience’s vision and we can still hear the grating tones of his New York accent. This means that if we allow our disobedient gaze to drift towards the wings we find the last four years coming back to life, Lazarus-like, with all that media-baiting sound and fury. This lingering potency explains why, even though the Electoral College has not yet named Biden as President-Elect and there are still eight weeks to go before the Donald has to vacate the White House, liberal pundits have openly speculated as to whether it will be the military or the Secret Service who will manhandle him out of the Oval Office. I’d guess that if the due process of his legal challenges fails he will go quietly in the normal way with nothing more exciting than removal vans removing him. What explains the strange nature of this entr’acte limbo?

To understand it we have to anatomise the liberal-conservative ‘culture wars’ and the role that Trump plays in them. Helped by John Locke Britain evolved the idea of Classic British Liberalism in the 17th and 18th centuries to protect the rights of individual citizens against overweening tyrants after the English Civil War. This crucial idea was successfully exported to the USA which continues to embody its virtues writ large. It explains, for example, gun laws that Europeans find so baffling; Americans need their guns to defend themselves from central government is how it goes. Classic British Liberalism was later subsumed within modern conservatism so that plenty on the right, including Jordan Peterson, now identify as CBLs.

Some time during the 19th and 20th centuries CBL underwent a mutation so that what we now call ‘Liberalism’ in modern times, confusingly, has very little to do with it and could even be described as being illiberal. The culture wars pit this new phenomenon against one which previously prevailed. The new liberal model chooses to see everything in terms of warring demographic ‘identifiers’. It responds to this with a kind of competitive self-loathing which enables the most successful self-loathers to wield bullying power over those who self-loathe and apologise insufficiently. This ludicrous dynamic could easily be characterised as being psychologically dysfunctional to the point of being pathological; in the realm of personality disorder perhaps. It may also seem morally suspect and sinister. Against it is ranged an earlier and natural cognitive assumption which rejoices in people loving their natures, their history, their culture, their geographic location and even themselves. It isn’t hard to characterise this as being psychologically healthy and well-adjusted. If you place these two visions side by side it is immediately clear that neither can tolerate the other because they are mutually exclusive. As a result, the culture war is really a war of displacement between two cognitive narratives where only one side can win. If and when one side wins the other will be thrown into a state of cognitive dissonance so severe that it may border on madness. The battle for the cognitive framing is, therefore, a battle for sanity itself.

There is no question that Donald Trump has many character defects. He is, perhaps, a vulgar braggart and a self-advertising egotist. He fits right into a long American tradition as a big-mouth capitalist. In some ways this appeals to a certain kind of American spirit that admires someone who unapologetically relishes being alive and making a big splash. You think back to William Randolph Hearst and JD Rockefeller. It’s not that though which explains why he was able to persuade large numbers of blacks, Latinos and women beyond his base to contribute to his possibly (let's see what happens in court) losing, but still huge, share of the vote in the 2020 election. Essentially, in spite of his conspicuous faults, underneath them he is psychologically normal. Of course his enemies have an interest in suggesting that this is not the case. Only recently on the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the Trump biographer Tony Schwarz agreed that Trump ‘never feels joy’ and is never seen to laugh. (The devil always likes to distract by accusing its opponents of its own dysfunction). In one recent article alone Rod Liddle describes him as "fundamentally deranged", "crazier than a shithouse rat" and a "grotesque vulgarian" but remains baffled as to how, if all of this is true, how he appeals so widely.

Trump's normality comprises his having little difficulty in loving himself and that that love extends to his geographical country, his culture and his history all of which he is proud of. It is this essential health of being, a default norm in most humans which people know when they see it, that his voters find attractive in the current climate. And, of course, being is something that requires no effort at all. It is the liberal model that requires strain and artificiality. Those who vote for him love that, in his mere being, he thumbs his nose at and infuriates the weird liberals by giving the lie to and repudiating their framing of the world. In his person he repudiates their repudiation of their own culture.

At times he has acted explicitly in the culture wars by, for example, banning the use of Critical Race Theory in federal institutions and speaking beneath Mt Rushmore about his determination to defend the legacies of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln. However this was really just the icing on the cake to his unashamed presence on the scene. Thus, his profound and primal appeal is happily being himself.

It would be outrageous and ridiculous to suggest that he is in any way a Christ figure – many see him as the very opposite – but language used about Jesus is useful here. Trump is an ‘offence’ or in another translation, a ‘stumbling block’ to the liberals in that his being challenges the validity of their framing. It swingeingly refutes the ‘virtue’ of self-loathing. The problem for the liberals is that, in the political world, you cannot be seen to attack the fact that your opponent exists and rejoices in it. Hence the ferociousness of the attacks on his personal qualities and the desperate attempts to terminate him, using them, with the most extreme prejudice. Fantasising about the military or the Secret Service carrying him away is really just an expression of wishes they would like to be fulfilled.

The ‘offence’ of Donald Trump is that he is properly cognitively offensive to modern liberals who are at pains to contrast this quality with what they now suspiciously claim to care about above all - compromise, peace-making, the healing of ‘divisiveness’, and inoffensiveness – all personified in the person of the placid, conciliatory and doddering Joe Biden. The championing of such inoffensiveness is suspect in a time when we should remember that the culture war is truly a zero sum game that does not allow it. It requires not that we remember the enjoinder – ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ but Christ’s other comment – ‘I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ It also reminds us of the proverb in Ecclesiastes – ‘There is a time for peace and a time for (cultural of course here) war.’

You can now understand why Trump’s continued semi-presence at the edge of the stage has liberals in such distress. Just by reminding them that he and his large number of voters exist he threatens their sanity. If their vision is right why are all these people still there?

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