Sunday, December 18, 2016

Popeye Trumpism and the Pitfalls of Authenticity

As disconcerting as the election of Trump was, nothing is more telling than the fact that authenticity is coming back into the lexicon of everyday use, courtesy of the populist right and the crypto-rightism of figures like Alex Jones.  When Hillary said she was two different people in public and in private she might in fact have been sincere, pointing out a simple truth.  In fact most of us act differently in front of different people. We are a different person in front of our friends or in front of our parents.  The same goes for the public and private spheres.  We not only act differently, we speak differently without realizing that we do so.  That Trump is seen as authentic because he seems to be the same person everywhere he appears, only shows how perfectly he plays his part in public.  Are we to assume that President Trump will be the same person as Apprentice Trump, the boardroom Trump, and the bedroom Trump? I can only surmise that Trump’s election is taking humanity back, not to when America was still great, but rather back to the 1930s, when the jargon of authenticity was strongest.  Philosophers like Martin Heidegger spent their waking hours contemplating the simplicity of rural life that on the surface seemed more authentic than city life and this gave him and the millions of his readers the tools to proclaim that the strength of 1930s Germany lay in the hands of the folk, who were at the time mostly poor, mostly right wing, and mostly without a voice, the exact opposite of the cosmopolitans, artists and socialites crowding the city centers.  Hillary made a big mistake by revealing the truth about her public and private personas.  Ironically in her moment of authenticity she revealed herself as a fraud which gave Popeye Trumpism an unforeseen boost.  Trump’s self-made image comes from the age old adage ‘fake it until you make it’ which is of course grounds for dismissal of all of his supposed authenticity. Trump was always helped along with other people’s money including his father’s.  The fact that he remained staunchly attached to his self-made image despite the bankruptcies and bailouts of his many enterprises is also telling. What is authentic about Trump is that he never backed away from the image he built for himself.  The posture of ‘fake it until you make it’ packages up the falseness of the position one holds in a tidy veneer of authenticity.  If one lies about being a great and wealthy man when is not, but later becomes one, what part of his life may be called authentic?  Perhaps we need to distinguish between when Trump is being authentic and when he is being sincere.  Oddly enough the word sincere is largely missing from the lexicon and meme wars going on in the public sphere and I don’t assume we shall see it anytime soon.

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