The Unbearable and Untenable Emptiness
A miserable joke of a "billionaire" announced his candidacy for the presidency. He deserves to be ignored, but we should look and marvel at his smallness.
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This is an article about Donald Trump announcing his candidacy for the presidency of the United States of America.
Except it isn’t.
Because at this point, Trump is largely a dead-man-walking. The results of the Midterms were a direct rebuke of his handpicked candidates and Trumpism as a political brand. It was such an obvious repudiation that the Republican Party and its affiliated media chambers have had no choice but to admit defeat and have spiraled into a long-overdue civil war over the future of the project. Knives are out and the question now is whether Trumpism can be harnessed for its power and then transplanted into a new vessel, whether that’s Ron DeSantis or simply the growing National Conservative / Christian Nationalist movements.
There will be plenty of time to document this attempt because it will determine a large portion of our future and fates. In fact, there’s even a possibility that all of this rejection of Trump by Republicans might give way, should he build momentum or should events set the stage for his return, for a re-embrace of him. Which is possible because their principles are not real and power is all that matters.
But for now, I want to focus on something different. Something strange and unsettling but nonetheless obvious and true. Something upsetting. Something confounding but obvious. Something…instructive and useful.
Trump’s announcement was bizarre. He seemed exhausted and not all that into the possibility of a new run. His rants were even more rambling and inscrutable than usual. People tried to leave early and were kept there by guards worried about a bad scene. The networks weren’t particularly interested in airing it. And, in something we should all think about, even his daughter Ivanka Trump, who was elevated to unreasonable power and influence alongside her husband, who was literally put in charge of the Middle East peace process and the COVID epidemic, has basically already passed on caring about his newly-launched bid.
Stripped of all the obsession from the media, the fervor of a base desperate to believe in 2016 that someone might actually gain power and help them, and all of the accompanying brouhaha, what we got was the actual truth. The reality.
A sad old man raging against a world he doesn’t understand and trying to fill an emptiness inside of himself when he already has everything anyone could ever want.
Donald Trump should be fine. He has mountains of money, fame, the love of millions of his supporters. He was one of just a dozen of men to be President of the United States of America. He can go anywhere, do anything, experience anything he could ever desire. He has children who are desperate for his love, grandchildren, and a partner who has stood by him despite constant humiliation and suffering. He should hang out at his private resort for the rest of his days and consider himself lucky he isn’t already ushered into a prison cell.
But he can’t. Because there is a black hole inside people like Donald Trump that cannot be filled.
I discussed this on my Bourbon Talk Livestream this last Sunday. The relationship between wealth, power, privilege, and this ceaseless need to have more and continue to chase something that doesn’t exist. Trump has done us an incredible favor. In him, we recognize the worst parts of ourselves. The worst parts of America. The worst parts of hypercapitalism. He is a reminder of what could happen if we do not take heed. The diseased organs and dilapidated parts we were shown in health class and in school that were meant to shock us into caring for ourselves.
America’s problem is surely political and it is absolutely economic in nature. But it’s also spiritual. That a man like Trump was able to grasp power and assemble these millions of people to blindly support him and operate as a worshiping cult willing to do anything, hurt anyone, and destroy everything to appease him is not a coincidence. This is the nature of cults. People desperate for something. Anything. And if someone is willing to tell them, even if it is the most obvious lie imaginable, that they have answers, it feels like a lifegiving fire in the midst of the cold and brutish woods.
Capitalism and neoliberalism have hollowed out our existences and our world. There’s nothing they won’t put a price tag on. There’s no relationship they will not eradicate and ruin. And, what’s more, there is an entire market of things that keep this economy and world running that are sold, specifically and intentionally, based on the fear and loneliness that is created. These products are meant to give us purpose and reason. If we can only afford them we might find love. If we shell out our hard-earned dollars, maybe we won’t feel so alone and adrift.
There is nothing to people like Trump or Elon Musk beyond the absence of something. Being raised in privileged circumstances, having everything given to you, having never been told no by anyone able to enforce it, leaves a cavity. Suddenly, the world must function exactly according to your whims or else it is necessary to rage. And each purchase and each swindle becomes another opportunity to prove that not only are you everything you believe you are, but that there is something beyond the inheritance and privilege.
But there isn’t. This world was wired specifically for wealthy men like Trump and Musk. Our laws were codified to support them. Our institutions constructed to protect and amplify them. Democracy has been thwarted in order to hold off any challenge to their charmed existences. And a system of free money and economic codes written to keep them growing in status and wealth has rewarded their worst impulses and ensured they get richer and more powerful despite their lack of talent or competence.
That is ending though. Trump and Musk are giving us a glimpse at just how faulty this system is. Just how obsolete and shoddy it all is. The mask is slipping and it’s become so obvious that the wrong people are in charge and have been kept aloft by machinery that no longer functions. The rise of the labor movement, increasing disillusionment with capitalism and our system, and electoral trends tell us there is a deep, deep reaction brewing within society.
History tells us these things happen. In researching The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis what I found were cycles of myths that held society together and would wax and wane. As long as they were strong, there was a measure of stability. When they began to flicker, all hell broke loose. But that flickering gave rise to other possibilities and other ideas. This is when change is most possible and society is at its most malleable.
We are in that moment currently. Watching Donald Trump stumble through a lackluster and halfhearted announcement as the entire world rolled their eyes was powerful. And necessary. These old systems are creaking and reaching their terminal point. We must resist the temptation to look away. It is a horrific thing. Trump. Musk. These sad and lonely men who inflict their pain and insecurity on the rest of the world and seek to twist us into ugly mirrors of themselves.
Their hollowness is theirs. It isn’t ours. And by gazing upon it we can recognize where we have tiptoed toward it and, perhaps, when we have been within it. But there’s still time to reject it. To find a measure of faith in one another.
We can build a better world on the ruins of this one.
I'm not saying it was intentional, but it was no accident that my sweet basset hound threw up within minutes of hearing that person's voice. Dogs know stuff!
I struggle with the question of how much attention to pay to these people. Now they've got Congress, so we can expect a two-year clown show with non-stop hearings on Hunter Biden's laptop and Rand Paul's "lab leak" theory. And it seems smart to ignore all that, but at the same time, these people are fascists, and it's never smart to ignore fascists.