Thursday, August 17, 2017
The Inner Trump - Deutsche Welle
A timely article in Deutsche Well explores what Hanna Arendt would have made of Donald Trump. It's less and yet much more than you might have imagined but Arendt's philosophy is compelling.
Arendt helps us understand what Trump is not: He's not a totalitarian. There are a number of ideas in Hannah Arendt's work that I think are very helpful in understanding what Trump is. While Trump is not a totalitarian in her understanding, he incorporates what she calls "elements" of totalitarianism. She thinks that one of the core elements of totalitarianism is that it's based in a movement. A movement doesn't actually pursue achievable policies because if you achieve the policy, the "Bewegungsgrund," - the driver, or the reason for the movement - is lost and the movement will lose its energy.
Trump has explicitly called himself the mouthpiece of a movement. That's a very dangerous position for a politician. Because it actually means that what he cares about more is the mobilization of people rather than the achievement of some particular aim. Whether he understands and cares about that, I don't know.
Who knows what policies he wants to enact or achieve; he changes his mind every day. He's much more interested in exciting and mobilizing a base of people. He feeds on that and that's dangerous because you constantly have to continue to push the boundaries. Anytime something is achieved, you have to find something else that is transgressive and shocking, that will keep the people excited and mobilized. Hannah Arendt understands that deeply and she argues that movements are particularly attractive in the modern era. They are important in our society because what movements do is give people a sense of purpose in their lives.