Like everyone else who pays attention to American politics, I have been thinking a lot about the astonishing rise to political prominence of Donald Trump. What a sad thing it is that our country is in this condition where such a man, saying such things, and acting in such a way, can inspire so many people to rally to his support.
What does it mean?
Recently, George Will -- whom I no longer respect as I once did -- put his training in the classics to good use in making an apt observation: he equated "Trumpism" with "Caesarism." (Wikipedia defines Caesarism as "a form of political rule that emulates the rule of Roman dictator Julius Caesar over the Roman Republic, in that it is led by a charismatic strongman whose rule is based upon a cult of personality...")
That resonated with me, as it connected with an image that, for weeks, had been arising in my mind in relation to Trump. It's an image of Mussolini standing on the balcony with his hands crossed in front of his chest and his head thrown back in the most arrogant and full-of-himself way. Mussolini was explicitly trying to be the new Caesar in a regime that harkened back to the days of Roman dominance over the world.
(And of course this would-be Caesar willingly made himself part of history's greatest nightmare.)
"Make Rome great again," was a theme of that twentieth century Italian Caesar. And now in America our own embodiment of the ugly force of "Caesarism" is running to be president of the United States under the slogan, "Make America great again."
It would be one thing if Trump had a genuine understanding of what American greatness is supposed to be about, and if he presented a picture of what we as a nation need to do to restore that greatness by repairing the damage lately done to our nation.
But Trump's notion of greatness is all about our getting more "victories." It's all about winning. It's all based on a Caesarian lust for power. Following Donald Trump on the path that he is pointing us down would be not a restoration of what has been really great about America. It would represent, rather, an empowering of the very force that has degraded our once-great nation.
It is a picture of that force, which has arisen on the right in our times, that I present -- in all its hugeness and coherence and darkness in my new book -- What We're Up Against.
It is a force that is consistently destructive, imparting a pattern of brokenness onto everything it contacts, whether it be
• The functioning of our government (with the least productive Congresses in history);
• The quality of our public discourse on the issues (where falsehoods so often defeat the truth);
• Our constitutional system, and the rule of law;
• The state of our democracy (working to replace government for and by the people with government by the Big Money of the corporate system).
• The international order (with the chosen wars in Iraq and Afghanistan);
• The earth's climate system on which our health and that of life on earth depends (hobbling our ability to respond to humankind's greatest challenge);
What We're Up Against is both an analysis and a call to battle. And it is written to be a weapon for use in that battle.
It shows how this force is put together with tendrils infiltrating the many dimensions of our culture, how such forces can arise in civilized societies, how this coherent force operates to expand its power, and how it transmits itself through time in the cultural system.
And its goal is to summon up the opposite spirit, a flame in human hearts to defend the sacred values at stake in all those dimensions of the battle now being waged in America, a battle that must be fought and must be won.