My wife was in two minds about joining last week’s demonstrations against Trump’s visit to the UK. She had been on another one last year, but this time felt differently.
On this occasion time, she felt, there was danger, as evidenced by some of the placards, of responding to the hatefulness of Trump with yet more hatred, and negative feeling.
I myself simply didn’t feel that strongly; besides which I had to work. But I think there is a risk of personalising politics, by fixating too strongly on the man rather than the meaning.
Marx wrote that it was a mistake to attack the individual capitalist, when it was actually the capitalist system itself which needed to be opposed. That any particular business owner was either nasty or nice, possesses no political significance. Similarly, we must not confuse the cause and effect of reactionary politics.
No doubt, Trump is an odious and despicable person, in terms of his personal morals and attitudes. But of more import is what he represents.
The President of the United States is the senescent seneschal of an ailing imperium. His personal posturings are symptoms of an international order which is falling apart.
With all respect to South American and Middle Eastern nations which still suffer US suzerainty, we are witnessing the last gasps of a dying power.
As we already saw with Obama’s famous ‘pivot’ from Europe to the Pacific, the US has reached the historic limits of its power.
There is a, perhaps welcome, retreat from responsibility, a pull-back from global over-reach, leaving the geo-political field to rival regional hegemons: China, Russia, Iran. Within this movement, there is, however, a dialectical ambiguity for both Right and Left.
Conservatives might welcome, for example, his anti-Abortion stance, and ‘Make America Great Again!’ But they will regret his personal immorality, and opposition to Free Trade.
Similarly, Trump’s hostility to NATO and NAFTA ought to be music to the ears of Leftists, even while they excoriate his immigration policies and white nationalism.
Trump is a sign of flux. In Tennnyson’s words, ‘The old order changeth’’; and with Yeats, ‘Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold’.
Settled truths of politics shift and shake. Trump’s Populism encapsulates, manifests, our present fluidity and uncertainty.
He is a ‘sign of contradiction’, but the opposite of that meant by Pope John Paul II’s description. Instead, Trump is an ‘anti-christ’ figure – not the Antichrist (!), but one of an opposite spirit.
This ambiguity presents a divisive presence, arising from the pit of atavistic passions, and calling forth radical and rabid reactions and responses.
As in Stalin’s conception of the individual’s role in history, Trump represents the present conjuncture of interacting social forces.
But Stalin here was building on Hegel, who claimed to have seen the World Spirit riding on a horse, when he espied Napoleon riding into Jena, after his famous victory.
Just so does Trump embody the signs of our times; but this time not in a way that is cause for rejoicing.