Since returning to the United States, and especially as there seems to be some kind of election going on, we’ve been noticing a lot of political discourse lately. This is probably also the result of us having access to a television, which we’ve been happily without for about five years.
One aspect of this discourse that we’ve noticed rising above the rest has been a particular comparison: “Donald Trump is literally Hitler.”
Here’s some examples:
This is an unfair comparison, to both Hitler and Trump.
First off, Adolf Hitler was personally responsible for killing millions of people, through both the instigation of a World War, and a rather successful genocide.
Secondly, while much of Trump’s rhetoric during his rise in popularity has embraced, inspired, and even supported jingoistic, racist, and yes, even sometimes ‘war criminal‘ ideologies, he’s not in any way as evil as Hitler.
Or, said otherwise, though he’s the ideal candidate for America’s leading asshole, he is not ‘literally Hitler.’
That being said, I of course have a secondary argument here.
Over the weekend, John Oliver, who left his post as a ‘correspondent’ for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to host a thirty minute HBO series called, Last Week Tonight, provided a twenty minute criticism of Donald Trump. The result of which became the catchphrase #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.
While Oliver’s wonderfully scathing criticism pointed out a number of humorously apt points about Trump’s brand, I would argue it does something a bit more, particularly in consideration of the way words embody ideas and thus become representations of those ideas.
As pointed out today by Salon‘s Chauncey Devega, Donald Trump’s campaign, but more specifically, his campaign’s narrative, has lifted a veil of sorts on the Republican Party. To summarise, Devega’s article focuses on the ‘brand name’ of the Republican Party, and how it has shifted its self-description in the last decade and a half. As he states:
Political parties are a type of “brand name” that voters associate with a specific set of policies, ideas, personalities and moral values. Consequently, the types of voters who are attracted to a given political party also tells us a great deal about how it is perceived by the public. And in a democracy, the relationship between voters, elected officials and a given political party should ideally be reflected by the types of policies the latter advances in order to both win and stay in power.
In essence, political Parties represent a type of fiction: a political symbol with which individuals might help shape their own identities. As such, when we associate with a party, register, and vote for candidates within that party, we are using that fiction in order to describe ourselves.
Alongside this description, Devega also points out some interesting, if not briefly described, correlations with the rise of Donald Trump’s political ‘brand,’ and American political fundamentalism:
The Age of Obama also gave rise to the Tea Party movement. As an extreme wing within an already extremist and revanchist Republican Party, Tea Party members and their sympathizers were/are extremely hostile to Barack Obama and the symbolic power of a black man leading “their” White America. The Tea Party demand that “they want their country back” is both a direct claim of white privilege and constitutes a worldview where whiteness is taken to be synonymous with being a “real American.”
Or, as I might contend, the term ‘Trump’ has become a signifier into which the more fundamentalist or ‘racist’ parts of the Republican Party have found a place to affix themselves. He has become a fiction within a fiction: a symbol within a symbol that represents both an aspect of that larger symbol, as well as an independent integer.
This, I would further conclude, leads to two outcomes:
- Trump has come to represent the embodiment of the stereotypes we might perceive of the ‘new’ Republican Party, or at least the one that has been shaped by the fundamentalism resulting from the presidency of Barack Obama. Or rather, his name, and thus his brand, has become a signifier for the rhetoric we’ve seen arising out of the Tea Party movement, which itself has signified a more solidified version of the fundamentalism that arose during the Scopes Trial in 1925, and that resurfaced as Richard Nixon’s ‘quiet majority.’
- ‘Trump’ has become a scapegoat. Since the term, and thus the man, has embodied the description above, he is aptly poised as an example against which the Republican Party, and the two other candidates running against him, might distance themselves. In this way, though he might present a threat to the Party in embodying a candidate we might all fear would ‘make America hate again,’ he is also rather useful. By pointing to his brand as racist or jingoist or even criminal, the Party can distance itself from their own similar narratives, and thus appear more appealing to a larger voting public. After all, winning the office requires receiving the majority votes of all Americans, not just those who vote for a particular party. By saying, “at least I’m not Trump,” the Republican candidates vying for their Party’s nomination can appear to look like the lesser evil, even if they agree with him, albeit with different terminology. As such, Trump has become a necessary evil, in that calling him out on his rhetoric gives them the opportunity to seem more inclusive, more willing to empathise or work for others, and thus more appealing to a voting public that might otherwise have dismissed them for the same reasons, for lack of a pragmatic comparison.
This, as well as how ‘Trump’ and the other candidates have branded themselves, as well as how they are used by their Parties and opponents as ‘symbols,’ is a type of fictionalisation we might consider as the results of Super Tuesday are announced this evening, and we get a larger perspective not only on who might be representing their political brand in the election to come, but how we might ourselves use these symbols to identify ourselves in comparison to others.