A few people have been attempting to analyze the Trump phenomenon in extremely thoughtful ways, even if the “so called” president hasn’t. There’s an attempt to see the big picture as to why some people are talking and behaving in ways the rest of us would have thought impossible only a few years ago.
That brings me to two people, one from the 19th century and one more recent, who attempted to understand history and where and why history takes us to certain places.
The first one is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who tried to break down all of history as a process of competing ideas. The ideas are in opposition to each other: thesis and antithesis. The ideas clash and collide, creating a new idea from the two: synthesis. His big idea is that history has move and will move in this pattern.
The second one is Benjamin Barber, with his idea, first an article in the Atlantic back in 1992 and then a book in 1995: Jihad Versus McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World. This became a must-read after the September 11th attacks, to help answer the question at the time: “Why do they hate us?”
The book describes the conflict between a reversion to tribalism, in the Middle East, but also all over the world, the fragmentation of nations, even in Spain, where some call themselves Catalonians instead of Spanish. The idea of jihad is loyalty to one’s place and tribe and a hostility to an interconnected world. The idea of McWorld is an attempt to consolidate businesses into massive empires, to interconnect the world where everyone is a consumer and where large companies attempt to monetize every experience in every place.
I think of Hegel and Barber when I think of the Trump phenomenon because Trump seems like a synthesis of the two, though we might have thought that this contradictory state could never exist. To be fair to Hegel, a Synthesis is a resolution and a latter stage from when the thesis and antithesis collide. The example on Hegel’s Wikipedia page is as follows:
“thesis” (e.g. the French Revolution) would cause the creation of its “antithesis” (e.g. the Reign of Terror that followed), and would eventually result in a “synthesis” (e.g. the constitutional state of free citizens).
In the case of Trump, where the administration has tried to engage its followers in doublethink (the Newspeak term), we have a president who maintains contradictory positions. He is “draining the swamp” and inviting corporate leaders into his administration to execute the laws intended to regulate the same industries they come from and corporate sweetheart deals, such as to the coal industry, which no longer produces many jobs, but are now free to pollute the waters of Trump country.
When my high school history teacher introduced our class to Hegel, he had a question for us: How did Marx turn Hegel on his head?
When I first heard the question, it made no sense to me. But later, I knew the answer, since Marx used Hegel’s ideas about history and turned them upside down. Accordingly, it’s not ideas that move history, but material conditions, that then collide and create new economic orders.
But I see history as moving not entirely through economic orders or ideas, nor do I wholly agree with Václav Havel’s statement:
Consciousness preceded Being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim.
Rather, I see the two as intertwined, constantly interacting with each other. Thus to the question of whether it was racism or economic hardships for poor rural whites that put Trump over the top, I see the two weaved together. The poverty fueled the racism which fueled the poverty in those they have been electing to serve them, voting to keep the government from assisting those people, i.e., the fear or repulsion to assist minorities, for example, keeping many rural whites in harsh conditions and with fewer chances of escaping poverty.