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Making Enemies, President Trump And The Zeitgeist

22/01/2017 16:58

Donald Trump has been inaugurated as president of the US, a country now awash with 'unpresidented' uncertainty and a dithering moral identity.

Indisputably the most powerful and arguably the most influential nation on earth in terms of its politics, military and culture, the 45th leader of the so-called "land of the free and the home of the brave", President Donald Trump, marks a new chapter in US history: enemy-rhetoric. Whether it's the Muslims, Mexicans, the Chinese, African-Americans, or his competitors (and even women) - no one is immune from Trump's demagoguery that pits them against us.

Underscoring the fact that Donald Trump's inauguration offers hospitality to the institutionalised plethora of factions already brewing in the US, the fact that President Trump is now the Commander-in-Chief emblematises, especially in light of the resurgence of post-truth politics, a kind of normative legitimacy that a group of citizens can be neatly and necessarily regarded by way of a formally fixed, ideally-utopian and relationally-isolationist national identity - one being systematically upended and mercilessly assailed by the 'enemy'.

However, as odious as Trump is to many socially progressive people who revere and thump for fundamental human-rights, the socio-political locus that Trump has tapped into is not as extrinsic to us progressives as perhaps it may initially seem. Indeed, what underpins much of the rhetoric that Trump has been heaving is something uncontroversially common to all of us. However, President Trump's rhetoric, one type of manifestation of that which I think is very human-like, with all of the conditions that brought such rhetoric to bear, is something clearly morally problematic, something that, I would argue, justifies decrying President Trump and rightly presaging a queasy future for us all during his tenure.

Trump's rhetoric, particularly what seems to be a fetishized fervour for highlighting who is the enemy of the US people, is important in four different ways, as Umberto Eco noted. These fours things play a substantial role in that, at the very least, they mechanise or, at the very most, provide the grounds for so much of our decision making in the socio-political realm. To begin with, having an enemy is important to define our identity. We require an enemy in order to fathom who we are and, perhaps just as important, who we are not. Second, having an enemy provides us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values. Thirdly, and this is related to the previous point, in seeking to overcome such obstacles we thereby demonstrate our own worth. Lastly, understanding who we are and who they are is crucial for both our self-approval and self-esteem.

Sadly, these appear to be so entrenched in us as a sufficient and easy go-to scheme for the twofold self-approval and self-esteem acquisition that, as Eco rightly noted, "When there is no enemy, we have to invent one." The squall of anti-immigrant sentiment both in Europe and the US is surely an example of this. Incorrigibly different to us, and observing customs that are suspiciously and dangerously distinct from the nation's principal identity, the epitome of difference has become the foreigner.

The political zeitgeist is becoming increasingly replete with "enemies" - exacerbated, I would argue, by the increasing social and political trend to divide ourselves into and identify ourselves by certain groups, cultures, subcultures, social movements, religions, political parties, etc. This form of self-classification with the attendant ebb of tolerance for heterogeneity lends itself to division, thus conceiving other groups with a 'foreignness' that, when paired with the right mix of socio-political norms at the right time, can quickly bread the "enemy".

One wonders whether the incessant degrees of reproof that we see in vying partisanship, as well as the monolith that is religious evangelism (both of which appear to have no clear-cut or foreseeable end) is considerably due to the fact that we're not only tabulating ourselves and narrowing our social sphere to those who identify with those groups to which we belong (ensuring that we're all singing from the same hymn-sheet), but that we are steadily colouring those who adjudge (or supposedly adjudge) others (or ourselves) as their 'enemy' as our enemy.

President Trump will continue conceiving certain demographics as enemies of the Apollonian US identity. However, isn't it the case that if we really want to forge a collective, unified political movement that respects equality and togetherness to challenge President Trump's political infractions (which will be unreckonable) it's imperative that we rescind our proclivities for spawning the enemy? Maybe this can only be achieved when we come to realise that we are more like them than we care to admit.

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