Honestly, I had a plan for this week. I really did… for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. I’ll get back to my series on Theology and Fiction soon, but this is something that has been bubbling in the back of my mind for quite some time. America is on a downward spiral, and honestly I think that we are nearly the end of that spiral. In fact, I think that the popularity of E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the popularity of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign prove that we are nearly the end of that spiral. These two things have something very important in common.
A few years ago I wrote a review of Fifty Shades of Grey. I was not a fan. I actually stopped reading in depth and skimmed a significant portion of the novel because the writing was painful. Technically, the writing is grammatically challenged, inconsistent, and the present tense style (which is poorly done in the first place) is chosen specifically to make the sex scenes seem more explicit. Artistically, the story is cliched, the characters are flat and unengaging, the choices made are rarely realistic, and the setting overall is underused. Apologetically, the novel and the movie both have been condemned by the BDSM community for presenting a completely unrealistic portrayal of the BDSM lifestyle that is exceedingly lewd and violent. Morally, the novel reaches levels of graphic sexual violence normally reserved for the darkest corners of Erotica and internet Pornography. The book has no redeeming value of any kind, which leads one to wonder why it was so popular. The only reason that I can find is that it filled a desire for novelty and perversion.
Donald Trump’s campaign does the same. If you actually listen to Trump’s speeches and his responses in debates he provides no depth. Politically, he makes wild claims (we’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it because they like me?), but offers no substantive plans for accomplishing those promises. He is also inconsistent in his message and appears to have has a political tectonic shift in the course of a couple of years. Rhetorically, he is a decent speaker in so far as he doesn’t stutter, stop mid-sentence and stare at the audience, or nervously chew on his lapels, but he is far from a great one. He commonly loses his point, interrupts himself, and uses diversion tactics to keep the audience from realizing that he has no idea what to say. Logically, he make no clear arguments, even in his attacks on other candidates. His entire campaign is built around the message ‘make America great again,’ but this is a message to which he gives no substance. Morally, he is prone to tantrums on stage. He is crass, crude, insulting, and has shown evidence of racism and sexism to fairly extreme degrees. He has been supported by White Supremacists, he has had multiple affairs, and he brags about them to no end. He boasts that he has never sinned and never needed forgiveness. By all appearances he seems to have no empathy, concern, or compassion for anyone but himself, and his ‘strength’ and ‘toughness’ sound a lot like a bullies braggadocio. Further, the best that his proponents can say in his defense on these issues is ‘Well, he’s not really like that,’ which implies that he is a hypocrite who is flatly lying to the American populace about his entire personality, which should lead us to wonder what else he’s lying about. So, why is the Donald Trump campaign so popular? Again, the only reason that I can find is that it fills a desire for novelty and perversion.
In fact, some scholars have argued that modern America has reached a level of excess not seen since ancient Rome, and the fact that the majority of the American populace seems to be moved solely by what titillates the darkest parts of their fantasies and introduces them to new levels of moral depravity should be profoundly frightening. It should move us to ask what is wrong with our country that it has come to this place, and it should move us to question the fundamental validity of the American philosophy and the American dream. Perhaps this questioning will return us to what the American dream was originally meant to be. Perhaps it will force us to admit that the foundations of our nation were flawed, and that our most basic assumptions are in need of a renovation. Either way, it should cause us to question.