Why Donald Trump might actually believe all the crazy stuff he says
Everyone assumes his bombastic campaign antics are just for show — but what if he really means it?
When it comes to Donald Trump, one thing is certain: He lies. He lies constantly. He lies when it suits him, but also when it hurts him. He lies here or there. He lies anywhere. He would lie in a house, he would lie to a mouse. He would lie in a box, he would lie to a fox.
Many have commented on this compulsive trait, and his seeming lack of a core. Usually, when people lie, it is to hide their true self or true views; with Trump, there simply doesn't seem to be any truth there at all. We lie to protect something, he lies because there's nothing to protect. It reminds me of the famous quote from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho: "...there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there."
What this means for political analysis of Trump is that it is widely assumed that he doesn't mean any of his campaign rhetoric or any of his promises.
Even though Trump has said everything and anything, a few clear themes have managed to emerge from his campaign thus far: The rejection of immigration, naked appeals to white identity politics, protectionism, and contempt for elites are all part of the familiar mix of American politics, under the heading of "populism." The impression is that Trump, as a businessman, saw a business opportunity and seized it, and gave the people what they wanted. But if he'd had a better path to political power by running on a moderate platform, he would have done that.
Indeed, he has encouraged that impression, calling his positions — like building a wall to keep out immigrants — mere "suggestions," or even saying one thing and the opposite thing at the same time, like when he proclaimed that America has too many immigrants and offering as a policy option a "touchback amnesty" program that would leave America with the same number of immigrants.
He has even all but said during the primary that he would "pivot" to a different set of positions during the general election. But what if that was the lie? After all, Trump has done nothing but double down on perhaps his most inflammatory and divisive promise: a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
For much of his public career, Trump posed not as a reactionary nationalist, but as a chapter-and-verse-reciting devotee of the milquetoast neoliberalism and lifestyle libertinism of New York's plutocratic class, a positioning that surely helped him with the political connections he needed to develop all that real estate in Democratic-dominated jurisdictions. And since those are the views he's proclaimed for most of his life, the "default" views of his milieu, everyone seems to assume that if he has any substantive views, that's probably what they are. But what if instead the Donald Trump we've seen this primary season is the real Donald Trump?
The Trump campaign's internal motto has been "Let Trump be Trump." What if the con is to make us all believe it's a con?
Why do I think that's a possibility? Let's look at the hints, starting with the company Donald Trump keeps.
Fred Trump, Donald's father, whom he idolized his entire life, has been tied to the KKK. Donald's longtime butler recently made some strongly racist rants against Barack Obama. Do we really think Trump didn't know about his butler's views? This paints a picture of a Trump whose views are aligned much more closely with those of his white supremacist supporter, David Duke, than he'd like us to believe.
Then there's Trump's long track record of praising authoritarian governments. He praised Putin recently, and in a 1990 Playboy interview, he praised the government of China over its Tiananmen crackdown. He also praised North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. Trump speaks as someone who plainly believes that the best form of government is authoritarian government, and the best regime is one where there is a Putin-like (or Trump-like) guy in charge.
And finally, there's the total absence of the promised general election pivot. Instead of moderating his positions, of trying to walk them back, of issuing big speeches on various topics where he could stake out more moderate positions, he has been doubling down on the same rhetoric.
Donald Trump's entire worldview, as can be determined from his entire life and public record, is pretty much of one thing: the worship of strength. Hence the obsession with status, wealth, and fame. Hence the misogyny, the racism, and the bullying.
Of course, the worship of strength is what fascism is all about. The Nazis touted "the triumph of the will." Aryans are strong, they said, and therefore had the right and the duty to dominate the world. Everyone else, including Jews, gypsies, gays, the handicapped, are weak and must be eliminated.
I would argue that Trump's constant lying is itself evidence of his deeply-held fascism. When you worship strength and domination, you are liable, as Pilate, to ask "What is truth?" Truth, in Trump's eyes, is but a tool. Or, as Mussolini put it, "If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, we Fascists conclude that we have the right to create our own ideology and to enforce it with all the energy of which we are capable."
Trump isn't an idiot. Nor is he completely opportunistic. Instead, beyond all the smoke and mirrors, he's a man with a very explicit worldview — and he's a man with a plan.