The President Believes In Nothing

If you can’t understand why someone is doing something, look at the consequences of their actions, whatever they might be, and then infer the motivations from their consequences. —Jordan B. Peterson

Peterson’s suggestion has been ringing in my ears as I consider the consequences of the recent federal government shutdown, now the longest in history. This chaos, though theoretically a means to an end, may indeed be an end unto itself. Our president is often castigated by his political opponents as a would-be tyrant, and his affinity for authoritarianism is quite disturbing, but what strikes me most about him is his total commitment to chaos, rather than the rigid order of tyranny.

Nothing, perhaps, demonstrates this more clearly than his constant attempts to undermine and flout the notion of objective truth. This administration has lied so often that some of the successive falsehoods haven’t even fully registered. It is not a new observation that the Trump government lies with an alarming alacrity—such condemnations have been so frequent that they have become noise, not signal. And, in that, we have the root of the problem, and perhaps the genius behind the lies.

One of the most interesting things about the president is his amazing ability to bend his beliefs to reflect the most politically expedient position at any given moment, utterly impervious to either the objective truth or his own past statements on the topic. During his campaign, he “took 141 distinct stances on 23 major issues” according to an article written for NBC News. These are not the actions of a tyrant, but those of a man who seems not so much immoral as fundamentally amoral.

What is so profoundly dangerous about our president isn’t an ideology or a fascist commitment to brutal repression, it’s his flagrant disregard for the concept of coherence itself, the strange banality with which he disregards ethical considerations, common sense and even the need for basic accordance with reality. He is an amazingly shallow man and he is increasingly spreading that shallowness into our culture.

Ironically, his signature issue—build that wall—is precisely the opposite of his fundamental ethos. Trump revels in destruction. During the campaign, he watched the social upheaval precipitated by his various incendiary comments with great enthusiasm. And now that philosophy has become national policy.

Trump follows one basic, three-step negotiation tactic: manufacture a crisis; threaten to precipitate that crisis if his demands aren’t met; try to present the resolution of the crisis as a generous concession. He did this in his negotiations with China and quite frighteningly in his negotiations with North Korea, and now he has leveraged it against the Democrats and, to some degree, his own party. It is therefore perfectly understandable that he resorted to declaring a national emergency in order to get his way. This is simply the logical conclusion of this strategy. Now he has given this manufactured crisis the force of law.

Trump is motivated to a large degree by the simple desire to win, but there is also something much more fundamental at stake. While attempting to fulfill an explicit campaign promise (building a wall along the southern border), he is employing a tactic which fulfills an implicit one. To many people, Trump represented a disturbance of the status quo, and promised a badly needed shake-up of the state of governance. He didn’t speak like a politician and wasn’t politically correct. He was willing to say whatever came to mind, heedless of the consequences. This was what people wanted; this is what they voted for. Trump represented all of their repressed rage and was a salient symbol of protest against the forces that dominated our culture and the people who insisted—beyond all reason—that we watch our every word for fear of giving offense. It is perhaps the oldest and most well known psychoanalytic dictum: that which is repressed is not destroyed and will merely grow stronger in the shadows. Trump is the embodiment of a repressed nation’s collective id: vulgar, impulsive, aggressive, sexually unrestrained and hedonistic.

And we got what we paid for. Our government is now in the hands of a man who acts without consideration and thinks only of himself. So it should come as no surprise to us that we are now mired in chaos. His desire for that chaos was what put the president in the White House to begin with.

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24 comments

  1. God you sound like an absolute moron without the capacity for depth of any kind. Your superficial surface comprehension of American politics is embarrassing. This is an article about your masturbating, not actually about Trump or his Presidency. You sound completely uninformed about actual brick and mortar reality.

  2. The people dumping on Jacob for being “unoriginal” in his trump criticism are missing the point, or just being snarky because thats what people do in the comments section.

    But I think Jacob makes an important and underrepresented argument that Trump and trumpism is not some calculated facist genius but rather as he said random braindead nihilism, which can be reflected in our culture but that’s a book length argument.

    I think people need to publicly present this take as a counter to the mainstream media’s version of trump which, even when criticizing his moves, can’t seem to help giving him credit or his administration for some kind of evil genius, either because pundits are too afraid to lose access, too unwilling to confront the true nature of this nightmare or too ignorant to frame anything as other than about messaging/horserace politics, which trump dominates via sheer audacity.

  3. How long does it take for a Democrat to get over losing a Presidential election? As long as it takes to find a better replacement!! haha

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      1. Jacob, I’m from Australia, so how would I know?!
        But wouldn’t making making the most of a “bad” situation be more productive?

    1. that’s funny, because republicans were nothing if not magnanimous in defeat in 2008 and 2012, right? they didn’t hold rallies in which people wore funny hats and shouted. no sir. and they didn’t have anybody staging hoax attacks on themselves, such as, say, a McCain campaigner who carved a “B” into her cheek that took people literally days to ask the question “um… but why is it backwards?” they didn’t hold an open supreme court seat hostage, and by golly, the republican held congress moved swiftly to do the business of the people instead of throwing a giant hissy fit the entire damn time!

      you, sir, are sick with the same disease you accuse your opponents of having. a strong case can be made that they caught it from you.

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  4. Did this writer get here by nepotism or something? If I wanted to read ORANGE MAN BAD drivel written by a procedural generated script, I’d go to the mainstream media.

    If you want to recognize the man’s real genius, it is getting leftists to make 180 degree turns and literally go against strongly-held positions, just for the sake of hating him. Things Trump has done that MANY leftists at one time strongly endorsed:

    * pulling out of the TPP
    * pulling out of Syria
    * pulling out of Afghanistan
    * term limits for Congress
    * legalized hemp
    * border barriers to limit human trafficking

    To name a few. Many of leftists’ stances have flipped entirely. Not because they don’t hold these views, but because to hold these views means that you agree with Trump about something. That is a powerful capability. Hatred is a very strong emotion and Trump is a lightning rod for it.

    By the way, the idea that there is no objective truth, only different points of view, all of which are correct in their own way depending on the point of view of the observer, came from post-modernism. The white man came up with the idea there is “objective truth” and used it to oppress peoples of color. For example, there is no valid genetic basis for human intelligence, there are merely different kinds of intelligence. Native Americans do poorly at intelligence tests designed for whites, but excel at tests designed to measure storytelling intelligence.

    White supremacy as enabled by the Enlightenment is most commonly conceptualized as a way for lower-class whites to feel socially superior to people from other ethnic backgrounds. More important, though, white supremacy is a tried-and-tested means for upper class whites to grow their wealth and power. This thought is all over the place on the Left and I am astonished that the writer and Areo commenters are not familiar with it.

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    1. Your list of “achievements” is pretty much irrelevant to my point (and I’m not so sure that pulling out of the TPP was a wise decision or that Trump’s border policies has had a measurable impact on human trafficking).

      Yes, I’m very aware of the origins of postmodern thought. That’s actually my point. What began as a radical left-wing ideology has come to dominate the culture so thoroughly that it’s seeped into the right wing of the political spectrum. That’s an element of the cultural repression I was talking about. People who were tired of being force fed moral relativism and identity politics decided to fight fire with fire using the perfectly coherent logic: “fine, if ‘truth’ is merely a battleground between groups of varying degrees of power why shouldn’t we start organizing and fighting on that battleground too?”

      I’m not merely criticizing Trump as a knee-jerk reaction. I’m criticizing him for using the most powerful microphone in the country to willfully spread lies. I’m criticizing him for having played a high stakes game of international chicken with a pathological dictator. And most of all I’m criticizing him for doing everything that he does in bad faith, merely to service his own need for self-aggrandizement.

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      1. “willfully spread lies”

        But there is no “objective truth”. Objective truth is a tool of white supremacy, as the post-modernist Left has been lecturing us for decades. If Trump did claim objective truth, you’d call him a racist. Wait, you already do that anyway.

        Do you often perform for points? Do you like telling people what to do? Do you wish you could force them to follow your rules?

        I’m not trying to convince you you’re wrong. I’m pointing out that you see the world in rigid terms. You’re effectively blind to the majority who see the world differently from you.

        I’m not trying to insult you, but as I see it, you’re an extremist.

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        1. If you want to know what I think of the post-modern influence on modern, illiberal left-wingers please read my other article published here on the subject of white privilege. I am no fan.

          Perhaps I do have a somewhat rigid and high standard of ethics and conduct for the President, but given that he has the power to end all human life at the press of a button I think I’m allowed.

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    2. just like how liberals tricked you into spreading lipstick on a pig and putting on a performative show of making out with said pig in an effort to antagonize them?

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    1. Ah yes, the “Orange Man Bad” meme, I’ve never heard it before — did you come up with it yourself? I wonder if the position of Poet Laureate is still available…

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      1. You know you’re rehashing old territory when even people telling you that you’re rehashing old territory is considered rehashing old territory. Look, I get it, I think orange man is bad too. It’s fine if you think you’ve struck upon something new or original here. That’s what I was hoping for, what I’ve come to expect from this magazine. But literally, all you did was regurgitate the same criticisms.

        1. No, my point is that most people are frightened of Trump because they think he’s a fascist or a would be dictator. I’m saying he’s dangerous because he’s a nihilist.

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    2. Why does one have to be original in pointing out that the man inhabiting the highest office in the land is singularly unfit for it? As long as he’s there, it’s a problem that ought to occupy us. The fact that one can find some knee-jerk critics doesn’t negate the fact that the President is a narcissist, a liar, and an ignoramus. Mindlessly repeating “NPC” memes is in fact a very NPC thing to do.

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  5. no, he believes in himself… and nothing else at all. he’s like a man who has taken every facile, glad-handing empowerment jam on the radio to heart, and now no one can tell him he’s wrong no matter how obvious it is.

    in other words, we can expect to have to deal with an entire generation of Trumps when millennial are his age.

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