“Do we give each other a chance “, asked Joe Biden during his victory speech on Saturday, November 7, addressing his constituents as much as those of Donald Trump. Not necessarily easy for the Democrats, because Trump is a thorny subject: it is true that, on the one hand, he is perfectly monstrous; but, on the other, it is perfectly typical of contemporary societies.
If the monstrous side is accentuated (he is mad, incompetent, fool, sower of hatred, vulgar …), Trump is sent back to the accidents of history. Taken as a scapegoat – which Trump loves to do for others – Trump is the perfect candidate to help issue a certificate of good conscience to his opponents. If the typical side is accentuated (nearly 70 million votes were cast on it, its base has widened), it then questions a collective responsibility.
Be both like others and with others
In this gray area, Trump’s behaviors appear, not only crazy and out of line, but just as well promoted en masse by our societies. The resulting problem is: how typical is Trump’s monstrosity? The anecdotal commentary on the Trump character – to hate him or worship him – misses this point. To see the bigger picture, one has to rise to the societal scale, more engaging for the future – because beating Trump in the election will not be enough to get rid of rampant Trumpization. Of course, Trump’s anti-globalization agenda makes him attractive to part of the population. The populist turn owes much to a distrust of elites trained to succeed in open societies. The comments then underline the crypto-Mussolini facet of the character. But Trump’s uniqueness goes far beyond, and on at least two other levels.
On the one hand, let’s remember, Trump has been a successful entrepreneur, television star, and personal development guru throughout his life. So Trump had clients, spectators and readers in droves, before the tens of millions of votes. He is the supporter of a method of empowerment, of individual empowerment, which he has been selling in bestsellers for forty years (The Art of the deal or Think Big, for example). Sometimes marked by excesses, these works are however completely in line with the matrix of the success of contemporary societies where it is necessary to be both against others and with others, to set the framework and to break the framework, to be very strong in the external postures and very invested internally, as can be the American actors in Hollywood films.
Paradoxical injunctions? Yes. Where does Trump excel, saying everything and its opposite? Yes. But he is not the only one.
Division, transformed into a method of government
On the other hand, from the 1980s, he theorized controversy as a communication tool that allowed him to take center stage in the media and push his projects. He made it the ferment of his policy of division. But, Trump did not invent the controversy or the division. He just knew how to take advantage of it. He embodied them and turned them into a method of government. The permanent controversy has become a daily element of our societies. This is not the prerogative of Trump – we have seen it for months in France in the management of the coronavirus pandemic. So the challenge for our societies will be not to make the wrong diagnosis.
Alternatives to trumpization will have to go to the heart of dealing with divisions and controversies: renewing dialogues between differences, both in neighborhood life and in the media. They will have to consider a critique of individual empowerment which, pushed to the end of its logic, gives birth to ultra-narcissistic, hyper-individualistic, hyper-heroic personalities. It will take a little more respect from others, including the deep feelings of Trump voters, as Biden recalled over the weekend.
The Trumpists are obviously not just white supremacists armed to the teeth and ready to launch into killings. Trump’s caricature – having the IQ of a jerkin, killing everything he touches, fascist – misses the dimension of more transversal reflection that we have to lead collectively on our societies. So that the monstrosity does not become even more typical once the scarecrow Trump is rid of.