“Blustering with wounded outrage” is such a common state of affairs for the left side of the political aisle, these days, that it would hardly bear mentioning, were it not for the fact that one of the latest occasions of outraged blustering is intrinsically interesting. I speak of the meme – in its original sense of “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation” – of “God-Emperor Trump.”
Passed on by memes in the more popular sense of “a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc. that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users,” as well as by YouTube videos, and increasingly by commentaries such as this one, this is as far as I know a new concept spawned by this election cycle, and as such, is significant.
It is, of course, problematic on a number of levels, theologically not least! But although many, including many Trump supporters, use it in a humorous or even ironic sense, it is still worth taking seriously, for what it portends, and seeking to understand. And that fact that some use it with little or no sense of irony or humor at all makes it even more so!
As far as I know, the concept of “God-Emperor” originated, at least in modern times, with Frank Herbert’s classic “Dune” series of sci-fi novels, and numerous spin-offs, including movies, mini-series, and games. But it has taken on a new lease on life in more recent days with the tabletop game, video game, and novel-collection “Warhammer 40,000.”
The Dungeons & Dragons of the current generation, “Warhammer 40K” – or elements of it, anyway – have made the leap from the darkened lairs of geekdom (and I say that with great affection and empathy) to the halls of pop culture. One of those elements is the “God-Emperor of Mankind.”
The Warhammer 40K God-Emperor is not exactly a sympathetic character, nor is the future he rules – the 41st millenium – a particularly pleasant place. But he has one thing in unquestionable abundance: raw power. And it precisely power that many Trump supporters feel that they are lacking, stripped from them through nefarious and underhanded means by the politically-correct proponents of the left wing.
Do they have a point? I think they do, and here is why: one of the great ironies of our time is the way the anti-Establishment rebels of the 1960s and 70s, and their intellectual and social heirs, have become the Establishment of the late-20th and early-21st centuries. And the fervor with which they attacked the political and social orthodoxies of the then-traditional culture has been matched only by the fervor with which they have defended and promoted the social and political orthodoxies they themselves favor.
One of the most frequent and – until recently, at least – effective tools in their toolbox, or perhaps one ought to say “weapons in their arsenal,” was to tar any attempt to dissent from, discourage, or even critically discuss any element of their social-intellectual-political program as being motivated by “racism,” “sexism,” or a host of “-phobias”: homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, etc.
Since most people don’t want to be seen as racist, sexist, or unreasonably fearful (the definition of a phobia is an unreasoning or unreasonable fear), this tactic has – again, until recently – been quite effective. Unfortunately, it has been effective in stifling even reasoned discussion and debate about issues over which reasonable, intelligent, and well-meaning people can disagree. Recent examples including transgenderism, illegal immigration, and the mass migration of Muslims into Western countries and cultures.
The weakness of this approach, however, is that any tool, tactic, or technique which is over-used eventually tends to lose its effectiveness. Like the proverbial “boy who cried wolf,” labeling any attempt to debate any elements of the politically-correct agenda as sexist, racist, or fill-in-the-blank-ophobic will eventually simply not work anymore.
Either people will stop caring, or – ironically – it may even create a self-fulfilling prophecy: someone who is not originally a racist, but who gets called one every time he tries to challenge part of the received orthodoxy, may ultimately decide that the people calling him that are right, and begin to conduct himself accordingly.
But more commonly and importantly – and this is where it ties in with the “God-Emperor Trump” meme – such constant attempts to shout down and otherwise suppress any debate of important issues leads to resentment and rejection of of the concept of political correctness itself.
I strongly suspect, and I have read enough memes, articles, essays, posts, and comments to believe that this is an accurate assessment, that the majority of Trump supporters are not racists, sexists, or phobics of any sort at all, or at least no more so than any other cross-section of Americans in any other group might be (that is not the same as saying that none of them are; I did not say that). Rather, I think they are simply fed up to the gills with the very concept of political correctness, and its “my way or the highway,” “disagree with me and you’re a horrible person” attitude.
Continue to demean everyone who disagrees with you for long enough, and you are bound to breed resentment. And that is why I think there has been, and continues to be, such a groundswell of support for Trump, who has the combination of wealth, power (stemming from his wealth), and self-confidence not to care what the proponents of political correctness think of him, or what he says.
There is a reason why freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the first right declared in the Bill of Rights. The ultimate in personal, individual sovereignty is the ability to express your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, and perspectives, freely, without being shouted down or accused of various forms of awfulness. Trump embodies this absolute sovereignty, and expresses it, absolutely. Is it any wonder many of his supporters – who feel that their own voices have been stifled and silenced – call him “God-Emperor”?
If denizens of the politically-correct left think that a defeat of Trump will result in an end to the groundswell of resentment fueling his run for the Presidency, they are in for a sad awakening. If anything, a defeat of Trump will increase this resentment, not lessen it. If things continue as they have in recent decades, I strongly suspect that the ascendancy of Trump in this current election cycle will prove to be, not the last gasp of an old order, but the first rumbles of a growing frustration.
How the left chooses to deal with this will in many ways determine the future of our nation. They have, really, only two choices: to double down on their efforts to stifle dissent and compel compliance, which will only increase the resentment, frustration, and aggravation of those who believe – not without justification – that their voices are not being heard or respected; or to actually be open to authentic dialogue, discussion, and debate, which might lead to the necessity to compromise on or even (gasp!) let go of some of their cherished agenda items.
One is the course of true liberalism; the other, of incipient totalitarianism, on the model of Cromwell, Robespierre, or Lenin – all of whom began as “liberal” revolutionaries, fighting for some version of “liberty, equality, and fraternity”… but ended as dictators. Which, I wonder, will they choose?
Note: As an Anglican Christian and “High Tory” constitutional monarchist, of course, I do not believe Donald Trump is either God or Emperor. In fact, I have grave reservations about the sort of President he would make. I have long believed, and often expressed, that I do not think he has either the gravitas or the common sense to make a good President. But I also deeply fear what a Hillary Clinton Presidency could mean for this country. If those are our only two choices – and, barring some sort of epic “October surprise,” I fear they may well be – then perhaps Trump is indeed the least-worst choice.