Donald Trump and the Fear of Death
To varying degrees, everybody lives with a fear of death and, in one manner or another, attempts to deny death's finality. In the case of Donald Trump, all those steel and granite edifices emblazoned with his name have long struck me as evidence of a terror of extinction. Their presumed endurance is intended to at least assure him of a symbolic immortality. And the achievement of symbolic immortality is also, I'd submit, the underlying motive behind his decision to run for the presidency, an office for which he has no discernible vocation but which guarantees him a place in history.
A pronounced extinction anxiety is what afflicts the majority of Trump's supporters as well, and it's precisely this anxiety that—coming from his personal angst?—he recognized and addressed. I'm speaking of the white population's declining preeminence in America and of the existential dread it has stirred in much of that demographic.
The major consequence of the white American's dread has been, of course, a heightening racism which, further energized by Trump's blatant denigration of Muslims and Mexicans, played the decisive role in his election. Racism is born of the impulse to transcend a finite existence. We can talk about economics, about crime rates and about Islamic terrorism, and they are significant factors. But to dwell on them obfuscates the reality that racism is rooted in the wish to feel superior to other humans in the judgment of a higher power, in, most especially, the wish to own an exceptionalism that implicitly signals a fitness to survive one’s death in a rarefied afterworld. Presenting an effortless way to define, separate and elevate our identities, differences in color or culture afford those ill-equipped to otherwise distinguish themselves, an opportunity to claim that fitness.
For so many white Americans, the prospect of relinquishing their purchase on supremacy, and of surrendering the divine approbation that they'd like to believe attends it (a concern deeper than a loss of jobs per se), made Trump an ideal candidate.
Politically surfacing at a dire moment—during the first presidency of a black man!—Trump cast himself as a white savior and, in doing so, secured what amounts to a religious allegiance among his followers, an allegiance that blinds them to his monumental deficiencies.
But if globalization (manifested by mass migration and racial intermingling) is the phenomenon that's produced our current circumstances, it's been a done deal for awhile now. As difficult as the fact of death and the reactions that fact causes makes such a possibility, globalization needs to be embraced. The resistance to it that Trump embodies (along with comparable figures in Europe where Caucasian dominion is similarly threatened) can only be destructive to everyone. His strategies to reestablish white precedence are not merely empty of substance and futile they are dangerous. For one illustration: His pledge to reboot the all but obsolete coal industry, and revive the status of a remaining handful of white miners, by summarily rejecting measures to combat climate change is likely to have a catastrophic impact on the planet's future inhabitants, including, ipso facto, the miner's progeny.
I could, to be sure, enumerate countless more examples. But Trump's dearth of virtues as a leader and the jeopardy in which, in so many respects, he is placing us are, at this point in time, well-known to anyone with the capacity to regard him objectively. It may have been innocuous when it was confined to real estate, but a President Trump's immortality project is putting civilization itself in peril.
A former contributor to The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, Robert Levin is the author of "When Pacino's Hot, I'm Hot: A Miscellany of Stories and Commentary" (The Drill Press), and the coauthor and coeditor, respectively, of two collections of essays about jazz and rock in the '60s: "Music & Politics," with John Sinclair (World Publishing) and "Giants of Black Music," with Pauline Rivelli (Da Capo Press).