Eleven Theses on Trump(ism)

Martin Shuster

Assistant Professor, Goucher College


1. Things are going to get worse. They might eventually get better, but, right now, the only effective means for any progressive movement is to understand that things will get worse, way worse. Take Trump at his word, and understand that what’s implied in his plans is a massive depression on the scale of the 1930s, the deportation of millions of people by some sort of militarized force, a wholesale assault on women and minorities, and likely a global war and conflict on the scale of a third world war. This is a danger to the world, but especially to minorities and women. Brace for the worst. If the worst does not happen, be glad, be vigilant–fascism does not need the worst. Be prepared for this.

2. Everything matters. Every little thing. Theodor W. Adorno noted that Hitler had forced a new moral imperative on humanity: to arrange all of one’s acts and thoughts in such a way that Auschwitz doesn’t happen again. Do not let the smallest slight to a minority or a woman or any other victimized group stand. Intervene immediately. Do not be a bystander. Bystanders are a greater problem than perpetrators. Know this.

3. This is the rise of fascism within American politics. It is here to stay. It is something new in American politics. To that extent American fascism is something new in world history. It will have analogies to its European origins, but it will be different because American institutions are different. This means that our conceptual tools are not yet where they need to be in order to understand and combat the phenomenon. There is a lot of theoretical work to be done in addition to the practical work that must be pursued. Start doing it.

4. Understand that the thing that will be most under threat—in addition to just raw, suffering bodies—is the imagination. Our powers for imagining things differently will be greatly compromised. It is up to us to maintain them, to train them, and to consistently work them. Start now.

5. All racists and misogynists are likely Trump supporters, but not all Trump supporters are racists and misogynists. Although the extent to which Trump voters are disenfranchised or poor or whatever else is greatly exaggerated, it is a fact that a large cohort of his followers are people who want to “blow the whole thing up,” and want to do so for a lot of different reasons. Addressing their reasons is essential to having a democracy as opposed to an authoritarian (police) state. Start by trying to figure those reasons out: some of them are bound to surprise you.

6. Fascism and totalitarianism rely on atomization, on carving people into individual monads, and on preying on our natural inclination to care most about ourselves, and our families. Don’t refuse this impulse, but do temper it, understand that it must curbed, and that your sentiments for your family must be expanded to others. The best way to do this is to talk to people. Emmanuel Levinas remarks that language is like a battering ram; Rush Rhees imagines it as a grappling hook. Both of these metaphors highlight the fact that what we say has an effect on others, sometimes regardless of whether they want it to have such an effect, sometimes even if they have closed themselves off to wanting its effects. That is its power. Use it.

7. As a corollary to this, do not let others off the hook for their own words, for their support. Hold people accountable for what they say and for who they allow to speak for them. Everyone needs to know where everyone else stands. As Stanley Cavell notes, not speaking is also speaking (see thesis 2 especially). The alternative to silence or speech is not being human, being entirely absent from our world; in short, it is impossible, except for hypocrites. Call hypocrites out for who they are.

8. Act with others. Call it what you will, but start somewhere. Think big, think small. But do something that you know will make conditions better somehow. If you can’t figure out what that is, ask around or attach yourself to organizations that are already doing this work. If you can imagine contributing in some different way, do it—preferably with others. The importance of actions as opposed to words is that the former exhibit the latter in a way that might make them compelling to those who might not otherwise be compelled.

9. If you can, make some art. If you can’t, support some artists.

10. There will be a wholesale assault on the possibility of truth. Oppose this. Do not let even small things slide in this regard (see thesis 7). Do not let either postmodern or analytic musings on the (possibility of) truth distract you here. Let ordinary language be your guide, and oppose the misuse of words.

11. Appreciate that this is not a demographic problem. This is not something that will solve itself. Whiteness is an amorphous category: Jews, Poles, Irish, and others at one point weren’t white, and now they are. Who fits in and who doesn’t changes and will change, but white supremacy will stay unless it is dismantled.

6 thoughts on “Eleven Theses on Trump(ism)”

  1. Excellent post Martin and thank you for agreeing to let this inaugurate the blog. So here’s my attempt to get a discussion going. I have been thinking quite a bit about your thesis #7, “do not let others off the hook for their own words”, as an ordinary practice of resistance and want to think more about its phenomenological and affective dimensions as an everyday practice. In part because this is of some theoretical interest to me but, more importantly and to stay faithful to the purpose of this blog, to try to fashion a sort-of tool kit for how to comport oneself under a Trump regime. I agree with you that we should not let others off the hook. I guess my question is how we should go about doing that, in what tone, what demeanor?

    To that end, I was also reading Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” that appeared in the NYR Daily. #4 of Gessen’s rules is “Be outraged”. I have always be ambivalent about the politics of outrage but now, and perhaps this is just the shock and anger talking, I am starting to think about its strategic value in a public in which deliberation no longer has a place. Outrage, it seems to me, does many things for the practice of not letting people off the hook for their words. It attunes us to those words, heightens and sharpens our capacities to respond, and mobilizes energies around us.


    1. Thanks Martin for these excellent theses, and Mabel for getting the discussion going (and Jeremy for getting this blog up and running).

      I wanted to pick up on your point about outrage, Mabel. It seems to me that the left – at least the organized, partisan left – has ceded the territory of emotion to the right. We have been focused on being credible and electable and have fled from the emotions that really should be at the core of our politics – yes, outrage, but also indignation and alarm, and the more positive corollaries, empathy and care. We can’t fight a politics of emotion with a politics of reasoned arguments. Those politics operate on different registers and can’t actually confront one another. I don’t mean to say that the left should drop reasoned arguments, but rather that they are not sufficient. We can’t connect with people unless we identify what they are feeling. And we can’t motivate ourselves unless we put outrage, indignation and empathy at the core of our politics.

      (For the record, I am not making these arguments as a smug Canadian. There are very worrisome right-wing tendencies in our politics these days and the left needs to evolve here to confront them.)


  2. Yes to outrage. Yes to outraged protest. Yes to not accepting this would-be president. And, though it pains me to think of it, I truly believe if the protest movement grows, as I hope to god it will, protesters in many places have to seriously ready themselves to face violence.

    Also yes to not calling all trump voters racists. Many truly don’t believe they are. Those who openly avow racism should I think be engaged differently from those who say earnestly that is not in their heart.

    I teach in a red part of a red state. Some of my students, like many people in my home town, voted Trump. I told my students yesterday in no uncertain terms that even though their vote was not racially motivated (my attempt at a self fulfilling presumption), the movement they freely signed on to has brought us to precipice they do not fully appreciate, and everyone now, and they more than we, have a grave responsibility to fight back against the smallest manifestation of the fascism that their movement has called forth and that they have used to push whatever their limited agenda may be. They nodded, and that was at least therapeutic for me.


  3. Also, could we do a picture without his face. The back of his head would be ok. Fascism of course thrives on the spread of images of Cthulu’s visage. But more to the point, I don’t want to look upon it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I have to say that I am quite Arendtian on this point: emotions don’t belong in politics. What I mean by that is not that we shouldn’t let our emotions drive and inform our thoughts and actions within the political sphere (we really don’t have a choice), but that they shouldn’t be the foundation of our political projects. That doesn’t mean, I think, that we need to rely *solely* on reasoned argument (I agree, Willy Blomme, that that won’t cut it, especially at the present moment).

    What we need to do is exactly the sort of things that people like Arendt and Rorty told us we need to do: we need to present a powerful, comprehensive, *imaginative* vision of how this country can look and what it can be. I take it that Bernie Sanders did this, and Trump did, too. Clinton mostly did not, and when she did, it was essentially the Obama vision, whose moment has (perhaps rightly) passed.

    Imagination is a way of engaging with people on a level that is not purely conceptual or strictly didactic, but that also does not succumb to the dangers of introducing emotions into politics (dangers which I think Arendt outlines quite beautifully and forcefully in the _Revolution_ book). That will take a lot of work, but we ought to start locally because different locales have different problems and will require differing solutions.


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