Trump As Mirage
Donald Trump is a mirage. He is a mirage of health and a mirage of power. As such, he – and others – obscures the most important question that should be addressed in the upcoming election.
The most important issue is: What is the state of the United States these days? Are we healthy or diseased? Are we powerful or weak? Trump’s message is that we are healthy, we are powerful, if only we would recognize these things. Trump’s message is not all that different from Obama’s message – “Yes We Can” – when he ran for the presidency in 2008. And both messages are appealing because they suggest that, essentially or deep down, everything is or can be good for the United States. “It’s all good,” as one current phrase has it these days.
The unspoken assumption for this kind of politics is that there is nothing fundamentally defective about the United States these days. That is, its principles, i.e., its political, economic, and social principles are sound, even exceptional. They are principles that should be universalized, that deserve to be universalized. And they can be universalized ala’ “Yes We Can” and “Make America Great Again.”
But what if, as people seem to sense, America is diseased, not healthy, weak, not powerful? What if the American empire, established after World War II, is crumbling, losing its vitality, and using up its resources in a vain attempt to maintain itself in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria? What if the task that should be undertaken is accommodating the demise of our predominance in the world, rather than vainly trying to resist this situation?
Insofar as this is our situation, then what Trump offers is a mirage. That is, the allegedly hard-headed realist, the no-nonsense businessman, the allegedly “tell like it is” spokesperson, is peddling illusions, is offering us a politics of fantasy, much like those fantasies offered up by Hollywood such as “Star Wars” or “Revenant.” Unlike Hollywood’s fantasies, which harm no one, not even the animals used in the filming, Trump’s fantasies, his illusions, will do great harm to many, both here and abroad.