The “great man” of history.

Donald Trump is a weak candidate: he is a fool, lacks charisma, and is a poor strategist in politics and everything else. One has to wonder how this feckless clown could have possibly met with such success.

There have been other people like this before: Pat Buchanan is the first that comes to mind, but also Barry Goldwater. What is it about Donald Trump?

There is nothing about Donald Trump. Society has always produced people like him, and always will, but what is special is the time we find ourselves in. Apparently the United States is ready for a return to nationalism and nativism, and it is on these currents he has sailed to the nomination.

It’s these massive trends that seem to be beyond our control and understanding, so we lean on our need for narratives, and tend to focus disproportionately on the individual actors of history. Though it is through systems the actors’ scripts are written.

The world is “complex” in a particular sense: most individuals contribute a little to the large scale behavior, as would be expected in a system that aggregates all their actions uniformly – one that is effectively stochastic or chaotic on all scales. But somehow the world is ordered in some ways and not totally chaotic – there is enough structure for a few people to have an apparently large impact, so their actions reach much further than would be expected in a chaotic(or “noisy”) system. The world may be on the ‘edge’ of chaos.

My point is that the true complexity of the world is something we don’t understand, and most people fail to take a system level perspective for that reason. Human faculty is more amenable to storytelling. We like to have heroes and villains, even if this perspective makes some of the deepest problems of human society more difficult to solve.

I can take up one example to illustrate the point – not long ago, one of the disgusting things Trump said was that women would have to have some kind of punishment for getting an abortion. The media seized on this of course, and there was a lot of blather about this, but here is the problem: Trump has passed no law, and may never be able to pass any such law, but the conservative takeover of state and local governments almost complete. And it is at the local level that a slow, creeping regime of anti-choice law has been imposed in many parts of the country. It is this greater problem that is distracted from when the national discussion centers on some celebrity shitstick – it is the greater problem because Trump will almost certainly lose, but the steady loss of women’s rights will continue afterwards.(1)

I have been expecting for a few months now that Donald Trump will break the Republican party, as the tides have dictated. The fundamental dilemma is being exposed: No candidate can win the Republican primary without being staunchly anti-immigrant. No candidate can win a general election while being staunchly anti-immigrant. This transition seems to have occurred during the Bush administration, while most of white america failed to notice. I am expecting a 3rd party candidate to appear in the next few weeks from establishment conservatives. In the aftermath of 2016 (before the election, even?) there will perhaps be a tectonic shift in the allegiances of both parties, as the system reforms itself and responds to the radical shift in the country’s demographics.

I have posted here before that what lies on the other side of a singularity, or a phase transition cannot be predicted. We may find communists and neonazis, radicals left and right jumping into the melee. We are approaching the hour of extremes.


  1. Obviously climate change is another prime example, and one for which we can’t even find a proper villain to motivate our action. The bad guy in that case is us.