The Trump swerve
Updated on 06 March 2023
Where minds differ and opinions swerve there is scant a friend in that company.
Donald Trump, a New York based businessman, formally announced his candidacy for the presidency in the 2016 election on June 16, 2015. Trump said, “We are going to make our country great again;” he pledges to restore the “American dream … bigger and better and stronger than ever before” and also announced that he would be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
On that day, world history swerved [to swerve: to turn aside abruptly in movement or direction; deviate suddenly from the straight or direct course].
Ever since, the pundits have agonized over whether Donald Trump will win the nomination, whether he will be elected or over the possible impact of his jingoism on world affairs. The unspoken hope is that Trump can be stopped by rational analysis.
I beg to differ. With Donald Trump, a kind of political discourse has suddenly emerged at the core of the US and international politics which will transcend the billionaire’s subsequent fate at the hustings. Trumpism is now an undeniable fact of political life future US President or world leaders will ignore at their peril.
Better to understand the emergence of the phenomenon, let me introduce an analogy from genetics.
Our observation of the mechanical world has created a habit (Einstellung) of explaining a physical event by direct causation:
Cause => effect
This mechanistic model is one-directional. The effect is subject to the cause and cannot influence it. The model is not homeostatic or self-regulating.
In biology, however, we obtain the same result in a roundabout way: a double-negative mechanism regulates the expression of the effect. The direct relationship is present all along. A suppressor keeps the cause in check. Only by removing the suppressor, do we get expression. As a result, the system is homeostatic and self-regulating.
Trump did not create trumpism. Trumpism was there all along, yet hardly articulated: we can easily spot the precursors (remember James Buchanan or Sarah Palin?). It was wild, inchoate rage: a phenomenon at the margins of the polity. Silent social controls kept trumpism in check. By articulating the passionate rage, Donald Trump removed the social inhibitors. Now this approach to politics has become mainstream. Using a historical analogy, the Yellow River of US politics has swerved and changed course. An unpredictable singularity has taken place.
Trump’s jingoist slogan: make our country great again is so strong emotionally that any incumbent will heed it. The political system’s homeostatic regulators (the dikes of the Yellow River) have been overwhelmed.
In international relations first, this translates into: “We bring ‘order’ – you pay.” How will it resonate? It is colonialism by another name. The world has moved on, meanwhile.
After WWI, the hesitant transition of hegemonic rule from Great Britain to the US severely weakened the international relations system. Today, we should be moving from a hegemonic to a multipolar world – a far more difficult undertaking. The swerve of the US will have repercussions. Russia is big on jingoism already. ISIS is a very extreme form of jingoism (but not the only example in the region). Jingoism is North Korea’s business model. In many avatars, jingoism is likely to spread like wildfire – it is catching. Jingoism, resentment, and revanchism are likely to hamper the transition to multi-polarity.
The second consequence is at the national level in the US. At the moment, it is still hidden. Its import is no less fraught with danger. Trump is carrying out a hostile take-over of the Republican Party. In a reversal of direction, legitimacy will flow from him to the GOP, rather than the other way round. The party is about to become Donald Trump’s tool to ascendency (ironically, this is the Ottoman inheritance model: fratricide was the prescribed way to power). Donald Trump aims to cause his own legitimacy – to become the providential man.
The fear that a majority may oppress the minorities puts any democratic political system at risk as the minorities without a voice in the outcome threaten or even chose to exit. The US Constitution is a homeostatic system aimed to contain these fears. Legitimacy is the desired outcome. Over time, impersonal institutions secure legitimacy best. Personalization of legitimacy destroys the institutional legitimacy and then the institutions themselves. Arbitrariness ensues.
Well before he tried to conquer the world, Adolph Hitler destroyed the German Constitution and the German state. Had he died in 1938, the country would have looked in vain for a legitimate way forward.
Trump’s attack on the legitimacy of the GOP is an attack on the spirit and the legitimacy of the US political system. Like all revolutions, it is at first destructive: it exposes the systems weakness or even brings it down altogether. No matter that Donald Trump might fail – he will be followed by a cleverer politician.
The Trump swerve has expanded the horizon of the politically possible. Whatever the outcome next November, Donald Trump has already made the world and the US a more fragile place.
 See: Sean B. CARROLL (2006): The Serengeti rules. The quest to discover how life works and why it matters. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
 One could make the case that WWI was the accidental outcome of the interplay of such forces, which overwhelmed the rudimentary international system of the times. See Christopher CLARK (2015): the sleepwalkers. Penguin, Londom
 In Fascist Italy, the apotheosis of the leader was official policy. “When you are looking around and don’t know who to turn to any more,” the Corriere della Sera reassured its readers in 1936, “you remember that He is there. Who but He, can help you?” The writer was referring not to God, but to Benito Mussolini. Italians, he went on to say, should write personally to the Duce whenever doubts or difficulties overcame them. “He is the confidant of everyone and, as far as he can, he will help anyone.” Italians appear to have believed this, at least as far as one can tell from the letters (about 1,500 per day) they wrote to him: “I turn to You who does all and can do everything”; “Duce, I venerate you as the Saints should be venerated.” Quoted from: Christopher M. CLARK (2016): Deep in the volcano. NYRB LXIII,5
 In social policy discourse the “equality of individual opportunity” has replaced the “equality of individual outcome” as the desired social goal. This does not translate into politics, where factions vie for determining the way forward. Broad cooptation is the ultimate success of a policy. Groups who voice their concerns without results express their perception of impotence and frustration in rage.
 Albert O. HIRSCHMAN (1970): Exit, voice, and loyalty. Responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
 Sebastian HAFFNER (1979): The meaning of Hitler. Orion Books, London.
 The end of the Roman Republic was a drawn-out affair, with several personalities undertaking in turn the de-legitimization of the state. Augustus completed the task, while retaining the trappings. See Richard ALSTON (2015): Rome’s revolution. Death of the Republic and birth of the Empire. Oxford University Press, Oxford.