By Ben Zitsman and Creston Davis
Let’s start with the good news:
The baffling popularity of presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump isn’t so baffling after all. The unyielding flow of think-pieces can at last be stanched; the fevered dinner table speculation can at last give way to sullen silence and the squeak of forks against porcelain. We’ve found an answer. Trump’s popularity can be explained using a recent trend within radical philosophy―using, in other words, something that means the world to about 1000 people and nothing to everyone else. That’s why it’s our purpose here to first explain the nature of this trend, and then what it has to do with Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States.
Which brings us to the bad news:
This trend―it’s called accelerationism―is every bit as insidious and malignant as Trump himself.
Accelerationism first gained traction at the beginning of this decade, a manifestation of wider disillusionment with capitalism, but with an apocalyptic panache that makes Christian evangelicals look tame. The idea was essentially this: Capitalism is doomed to destroy itself―to bring about a cataclysm the likes of which modern western society can scarcely imagine. Once this happens, rebuilding can occur. A kinder, more equitable and humane system can rise from the ashes. But there must be ashes first. As Steven Shaviro, in his essay, “More on Accelerationism,” puts it: “...accelerationism is the idea that things have to get worse before they can get better. The only way out of capitalism is through. The more abstract, violent, inhuman, contradictory, and destructive capitalism becomes, the closer it gets to tearing itself apart.” The worse, the better.
What, though, is so wrong with that? If capitalism is, indeed, an engine of cruelty and chaos, why not cheer its destruction?
Because to do so is to capitulate. It is to embrace the philosopher’s most glamorous vocation―imagining a better world―while shirking his most vexing responsibility: contending with the world as it is. There is still work to be done.
Though an accelerationist might strenuously disagree with this assessment, let’s be clear: accelerationism is a nihilism. It prefers escaping into a lazily apocalyptic worldview rather than struggle with the world in all its complexity. Accelerationism is going to a NASCAR race to see the crashes. Accelerationism is buying your emphysemic mom a carton of smokes. Accelerationism is cutting off your head to spite your nose.
It is, in other words, the laziest form of applying analysis to the current situation.
If this peculiar, exuberant brand of nihilism seems familiar to you, it could be that you’ve recently heard one of Donald Trump’s campaign speeches. Look: It isn’t for us to say if Trump believes his policy proposals really will do what his hat says they will, or if there’s something more cynical going on. That’s between him, his God, and Paul Manafort. All we can say is, when Donald Trump promises he will do “frankly unthinkable” things as president, he sounds believable. The man has made the frankly unthinkable his stock-in-trade. Whether he’s invoking the specter of Mexican planes flying overhead to attack a rally or musing about the possibility of President Obama being in league with ISIS, Donald Trump seems to have a warm relationship with the abyss. If anyone could hasten the coming collapse, he could.
This brings us to the phenomenon of his support. Most of Trump’s supporters, it would seem, are deeply dismayed by the course America’s taken. They are white, largely. They are under-employed or unemployed. They are frightened and frustrated. Trump’s rhetoric is calculated to appeal to a commingled sense of hopelessness and agitation. He’s all easy answers and drastic action and this―to someone who feels baffled, abandoned and frustrated by his nation―appealing.
It’s a Gordian knot kind of thing, and an approach about which many of even his most enthusiastic supporters have misgivings. Yet, while most Trump supporters likely do want to make America great again, they find themselves supporting a candidate whose policies will likely do the opposite. Why?
Because Trump offers supporters a uniquely American brand of accelerationism, seductive for all the same reasons the view delineated above is seductive: Because total collapse of that which frustrates you can feel good. Because “screw it” as easy and viscerally satisfying an answer as exists. Because Trump offers a perverse kind of relief. The cost of this relief is immaterial.
Except, of course, it’s very material. Just as the total collapse accelerationists seek would ruin countless lives and end countless more, a Trump Presidency would harm America in ways already well documented pretty much everywhere else, including this website. There are some kinds of satisfaction we just can’t afford.
Ben Zitsman is a writer and journalist from Columbus, Ohio. After working for several years on U.S. political campaigns, he joined the Global Center for Advanced Studies as its director of public relations. His research interests include psychoanalytic theories of religion and American modernist fiction.
Creston Davis is the founder and co-director of The Global Center for Advanced Studies.