Thursday, September 20, 2018

Is Trump an iconoclast?

The word iconoclast is one whose original sense has altered.

"Iconoclasm is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any individual who challenges cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious."

Iconoclasm was evident among the Egyptians who began the Bull routine which became popularized among Christians as the Golden Calf cult image made by the Israelites during Moses' absence when he went up to Mount Sinai for his meeting with God to receive the Ten Commandments. Of more historical record (barring the appearance of bovine animals on cave paintings) is the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527 - 565) when there was widespread use of Christian iconography among gentiles following the legalization of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 312 AD). The opposition to religious images created political and economic divisions in Byzantine society, some of whom among the Eastern, poorer, non-Greek peoples had to deal with raids and invasions by the new Muslim empire; some of whom were the wealthier Greeks of Constantinople who presumably stood to profit by the alterations.

The Christians had their own iconoclasm as a result of literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments which forbade the making or worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything".

"Protestant Christianity was not uniformly hostile to the use of religious images.  Martin Luther taught the "importance of images as tools for instruction and aids to devotion", stating: "If it is not a sin but good to have the image of Christ in my heart, why should it be a sin to have it in my eyes?" Lutheran churches retained ornate church interiors with a prominent crucifix, reflecting their high view of the real presence of Christ in Eucharist. As such, Lutheran worship became a complex ritual choreography set in a richly furnished church interior.  For Lutherans the Reformation renewed rather than removed religious image."

Today the description of a person as iconoclastic has been greatly muted to include "critic, skeptic, renegade and mutineer" - generally someone who contradicts established beliefs, who is at worst subversive, at best rebellious. As a general proposition I consider that some degree of challenge to the status quo is healthy. My primary qualification is that the destruction of images or monuments mustn't be purely heretical, there must be some greater purpose at hand.  As archivists and historical pedants are wont to proclaim, removal of a work of art from public view need not involve its utter ruination.

Within the current political context affecting the globe (I speak of the advent of the Trump dynasty), the analysis of iconoclasm assumes what is putatively part of the Republican campaign; namely, to "drain the swamp" - applicable to mosquitoes, capitalism and government bureaucracy.  Trump's particular brand of iconoclasm is a technical challenge at least superficially because he has attacked what are traditionally sacred images of American culture - the Electoral College (falsely suggesting he won the 2016 federal election by the popular vote), mainstream news media (fake news), war heroes (Senator McCain was a loser for having been captured), women (whom any guy with money and position can grab by the pussy), labelling dark-skinned immigrants as druggists and rapists, and my personal favourite:

"One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don't go into government."

Donald J. Trump

What excites me about this circus drama is understanding the substance of Trump's condition.  It is far too simplified to call it merely the ramblings of a "fucking moron" (as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is famously reputed to have said). Foremost is the inescapable truth that Trump even won the Republican nomination in the first place.  Remember there were hard-hitting Republicans like Jeff Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Mitt Romney in the wings.  The fact that the Republican elite (who by any standard are unquestionable bores compared to Trump) seemingly acquiesced in Trump's nomination points not to their stupidity but their undying hope that his "popular charisma" (to be kind) would translate into votes for them and a vehicle for the institution of their own wider agenda.  It is yet too early to assess how successful they were in fulfilling that aspiration. But the evolution points to some incontrovertible changes to the Republican landscape.  For one thing - and perhaps most importantly - Trump's vulgarities appeal to his "base" (pardon the pun).  Actually it is unfair to label Trump's supporters as nothing but "deplorables". The disadvantaged elements of American society have just as much legitimacy as the cake-eating masses did during the French Revolution (with whom most of us true republicans would associate). What however is critical to keep in mind is that Trump's conduct is seldom related to anything remotely improving for his base, rather for his cronies and similarly endowed entrepreneurs. Trump's iconoclasm is nothing but a tool to maintain power and control.  Regrettably for many so-called principled members of the United States Congress and Senate, they have mistakenly thought to challenge Trump on the basis of his purely bullying tactics. This does nothing but strengthen his supporters whose previously diminished or side-stepped anxieties can now be expressed vicariously.

Part of the heritage of the millennials (people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century - pointedly denoting most social networking groups) is an intolerance of long-winded and unproductive argument.  This has precipitated an uncommon lapse into the vernacular by many, something which Trump clearly reflects (though I frankly feel it is misguided to credit his colloquialism to being street-smart but rather reflecting a lack of sophistication which comes from rubbing shoulders too frequently with "hoi polloi").

Dangerously for the Republicans - in their enthusiasm to adopt the popular idiom - they have unwittingly opened the flood-gates of feminism.  The poisonous feature of this enormous social shift is that old white men have become mockingly laughable and backward.  No longer do blue suits and white shirts carry the day (paradoxically reflected in Trump's own weird sartorial necktie habit).  In the process of catering to his target audience (white, socially vulnerable people), Trump has activated the sleeping giant - women. It is a certainty that in the upcoming mid-term elections women will control the outcome.  This is especially so on the heels of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination hearings.  His fraternity past if nothing else has led him into extremely uncomfortable inquisition (the sort of rubbish real men prefer to sequester as locker-room banter).

Meanwhile the Democrats have ample reason for abandoning Michelle Obama's encouragement to "go high when they go low". This is perhaps the only worthwhile legacy to which Trump will be consigned. Communication has taken a demonstrable turn. Like so many social advancements the alteration has its victims - in this case the icons of social propriety.  Yet the change was already in the making.  The recent disclosure of decades of abuse by Catholic clergy is merely part of the larger evaporation of religious practice.  Nobody is surprised that Volkswagen lied about the purity of its diesel engines. Trump's own evangelist supporters willingly tolerate his crass behaviour.  To a degree this seeming submission to vulgarity constitutes relieving truthfulness.  But it also significantly credits narrow-mindedness.  At this moment in history the challenge for women will be to push their agenda towards enhancement without the semblance of the customary male selfishness. Motherhood as a symbol may indeed survive the thrust!

1 comment:

  1. As usual 'food for thought' from you.
    Living in 'the heart of the beast' (WDC) is very strange right now. After all, Trump managed to garner less than 5% of the vote here. Yet less than an hour or two away in the heart of Virginia he reigns supreme. To the folks there It seems to matter little as to what he actually does than what he says.