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The Outsider : A New American Political Activist

Updated: Jul 17, 2021




Preaching the Gospel of Trump to the United Kingdom

Introduction


The philosophical, ethical and ideological beliefs, attitudes and opinions that exist amongst some of Donald Trump's supporters are a source of speculation, not least because of the possibility that he may again run for the office of the President. Whilst it is self-evident that exploring these complex dynamics is a challenging task the wisdom of Ockham's Razor ([c 1300-1347] 1990) - that the simplest explanation that fits the facts is usually right - offers a means of formulating an analysis. Thus, this article sets out the relevance of the concept of the social outsider in the patterns of voting that resulted in the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016 and his failed attempt at re-election in 2020

President Trump's Electors

Despite his defeat by Joe Biden, Trump increased the total amount of his vote from nearly 63 million in 2016 to just over 74 million, or 46.9% of voters, four years later. Therefore, a President characterized by many in America as inconsistent, perpetuating falsehoods, promoting selfishness and dissimulation achieved increased support in the contest for a second term. Undoubtedly, some of these votes originate from committed Conservative Republicans unwilling to elect a Democrat as President and members of well established movements like the National Rifle Association and "pro-lifers" engaged in the abortion debate. However, Trump also received support from an assortment of members and followers of far right groups such as the "Proud Boys" and "QAnon". The latter perpetuates baseless conspiracy theories, rooted in anti-semitic tropes and promotes the assertion that Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of Democrats, billionaires and celebrities engaged in child trafficking.

Following the storming of the Capitol Building and the lawlessness that took place on Wednesday 6th January 2021 the attitudes shown by the mob suggested that these "outsiders', that Trump so liked to liken himself with in his unabated "tweets' on twitter, had assumed a new role - that of violent political activists. Therefore, with the possibility of more damage to the democratic process the question arises as what type of people are these individuals

Beliefs about Human Nature

The exploration of the philosophical underpinnings of the outsider's beliefs can productively start with Goffman's assertions ([1959] 1990) about human beings desire to control their self-presentation and thereby their interaction with others in their social world. It is credible then that the outsider may deny the possibility that an objective social reality can exist as they distrust any determining about the truthfulness of an experience independently of the experience itself and, therefore, by implication, social action cannot be predicted. Therefore, all knowledge is based on personal experience and the individual interpretation of social reality to the exclusion of hierarchical norms of behaviour or socially constructed interpretations of social reality. Moreover, as no experience can be fully shared by two or more individuals, the relationships between individuals cannot provide a clear-cut explanation of their behaviour. This can lead to the conclusion that all individuals might behave in a way that is, in the last analysis, unpredictable, as actions are determined by each individual’s subjective perceptions of social reality (Kierkegaard [1846] (1941). Furthermore, by implication, these outsiders might also reject the objective identification of any specific causes that circumscribes them in social roles that are part of an all-encompassing process that overshadows them.

Although those inclined towards the philosophical preferences of outsiders, as Goffman ([1959] 1990) notes, may embrace a wide range of behaviors, of particular relevance here are those exhibiting behavior manifesting as the absence of any desire to conform to opinions about universal value commitments. For them, social order is characterized by anomie (Durkheim, 1952), normlessness, distrust (Sztompka, 1996: 38) and the existentialist proposition (Sartre, ([1946] 1973: 32) that “man is condemned to be free.” At the extreme, individual autonomy would be seen as being minimal, with little scope for personal transactions. Thus, people are presumed to be unable to take control of their lives and to conduct their affairs within a social order in which everyone believes they know their place, but no one belongs or cares. In the words of Sartre ([1946] 1973: 28): “Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills, and as he conceives himself after already existing—as he wills to be after that leap toward existence. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” Therefore, since the desirability of a course of action can never be established, agreement would only follow anticipated coercion in the notion that the elite establishment will decide what the individual can think.

Outsiders might be predisposed to non-rational decision making (Portes, 1972), for the canons of rationality - validity, truth, and efficiency - are simply irrelevant. Thus, when considering issues they would focus on maximizing opportunities for at least preventing the worst outcome or a minimizing potential damage from the structures or processes of the elite establishment through their intuitive knowledge. Here, patterns, concepts and abstractions that have been impressed on the outsider's mind, gained from personal experience, becomes key to a heuristic problem solving. Apathy, as a way of dealing with life’s anxieties, would also be fully justified on the grounds that the outsider is prevented from making a difference.

Linking Donald Trump to the outsider's lived experience begins with his own self-identification as an a political insurgent who breaks political rules. He launched his re-election campaign in Orlando, Florida in a similar fashion to his campaign launch in 2015 proclaiming himself as an 'outsider' and appealing to anti-establishment sentiment with hardline immigration policies, protection of Americans' right to own guns and the indictment of the mainstream media in the spreading of "fake" news. This rhetoric however, seemed secondary to his projection as a leader of a radical right-wing movement with the capacity to dismantle a corrupt system perceived by outsiders as hostile to their already limited autonomy. Thus, the Trump rallies become an acclamation of a leader who, once elected, can be left to conduct politics by himself in a plebiscitarian linkage with his supporters (Barr, 2009). In this scenario outsiders could well perceive Trump as the best President they could get in a social arena where they may have accepted that the struggle to achieve their self-identity and authenticity has proved too great a task.


Ethical Values

The outsider constructs an internal reality that is embodied in a subjective world of representation, therefore, there can be no knowledge of causal capacity, as the sufficient and necessary conditions cannot exist without a perceptual world. Thus, it is axiomatic that the outsider's social reality perspective accepts that moral facts, which justify what constitutes acceptable standards of social action, are unknowable and thus the validity of ethical or moral claims must be denied, leaving the outsider with no choice but to embrace ethical scepticism. This contemporary concept can be traced back to the philosophy of Pyrrho[1], who lived according to the precepts of balancing opposing opinions, or suspending opinion, with the goal of achieving tranquillity. Thus, the individual is unable to decide on the truth about moral principles, as they become conscious of a gulf between appearance and social reality. Therefore, arising from this proposition, sceptics are in a state of ethical doubt, which distances them from both those who are certain they have found the moral truth and those who claim that there is no truth at all (Lom, 1998: 8–9). This position accords with the presumptions held by outsiders, particularly their belief in the unpredictability of human behaviour, as each individual is constrained by their subjective experience of a unique social reality.

In this world of undifferentiated ethical options the outsider could find guidance in the philosophy of Nietzsche ([1886] 1966) and the writings of Heidegger ([1927] 1996). Significantly, both of these academics were admired by Adolf Hitler.

Personal Responsibility

When Nietzsche identified the herd-instinct as the deliberating source of power amongst humanity that renders individuals weak but the collective strong his conclusion resonates with a fundamental element of rugged American individualism. The "herd" engages in social compromise that encourages continual moral censure, which leads Nietzsche to answer his own question — “How is man to be maintained?” — with the response — “How is man to be surpassed?” ([1883] 1967: 326). This second question leads Nietzsche's mouthpiece Zarathustra’s [2] to state — “sombre is human life, and as yet without meaning: a buffoon may be fateful to it.” However, he then asserts, “I want to teach men the sense of their existence, which is the Superman, the lightening out of the dark cloud — man” (Nietzsche, [1883] 1967: 75). The notion of the Superman is a challenge to the boldness of humanity. It is proposed that people should strive to suppress their desires for a timid virtuous conformity in a safe and well ordered society. Through this process, each person can overcome the fallacy of the human condition: as Zarathrustra declares in the proclamation “my suffering and my fellow-suffering — what matter about them! Do I strive after happiness? I strive after my work!” (Nietzsche, [1883] 1967: 364). Perhaps, when President Trump left hospital after treatment for Covid 19 in October 2020, Zarathrustra's acclamation was in his thoughts as he had reportedly mused over opening his button-down dress shirt to reveal a Superman t-shirt to the waiting photographers.

Nietzsche, in the three essays that constitute the “Genealogy of Morals” ([1887] 2003), would have applauded outsiders when they determine their own values after rejecting the ethics of duty, as the latter parade as a disguise for obedience. They have left the herd, variously labelled as groups, communities or tribes, recognising it as the social unit that has become dominated by leaders that claim to represent the common good. By this means, leaders of the herd have promulgated notions of good and evil rendering individuals weak, humble and slavish in their dependence on their masters. So, the outsiders are left to adopt a code of noble ethics, which values pride, boldness and self-affirmation. By adhering to these notions, which are free of any moral system, the individual outsider must search for the meaning of their existence even if that meaning leads to the repudiation of any possibility of human improvement. As “man will sooner will nothingness than not will” (Nietzsche, [1887] 2003: Pt 3, 28).

Outsiders might also favour the implications of Heidegger’s concept of “vulgar” conscience, or the misrepresentation caused by this emotion through the attribution of guilt, that can inhibit the development of the concept of authenticity. This state of being is an element within Heidegger's theory of self-consciousness ([1927] 1996) where the notion of “being”[3] or sein is distinguished from dasein[4] or the “being-in-the-world” that characterises the unique characteristic of human self-consciousness distinguishing it from other animals, inanimate objects or abstractions. As dasein is thrown into the world it “not only has the inclination to be ensnared in the world in which it is and to interpret itself in terms of that world by its reflected light; at the same time dasien is also ensnared in a tradition which it more or less explicitly grasps” (Heidegger, [1927] 1996: 65). Thus, pre-established norms of behaviour and social conventions in a world of representation distort the conscience that renders the individual resolute in their own responsibility by placing an assumed guilt on those that deviate from social values. Therefore, Heidegger rejects the guilt-laden notions of “vulgar” conscience and calls for individual authenticity, whereby conscience can reveal the true self to the individual.

Heidegger's assertions, rooted in the concept of existentialism, accord with the egocentic outsider making her or his social actions and social relationships the product of past experiences and happenstance. This leaves those disillusioned with both the values, attitudes and opinions of contemporary liberals and establishment conservatives, to the conclusion that they have been conditioned into a state of "vulgar" conscience and require a seminal change to occur for their authenticity to be become achievable.

Therefore, Trump, when declaring himself a victim of a witch hunt or a stolen election victory is perceived as asserting his authenticity and justifying outsiders in taking bold and possibly violent action against those who would render their leader as subservient to a manipulative elite. Furthermore, Trump's infidelities, dishonest behaviour, his denigration of immigrants and refugees and the accusations of sexual misconduct made against him can all be regarded by outsiders as unjustifiable attacks eminating from the establishment as they promote compliance with "vulgar " conscience.

The Outsider and the Consequences of Ethical Scepticism

Outsiders, in divorcing themselves from aspirations for tranquil docility, become intent on promoting each person’s fundamental right to exercise their free will. Therefore, they reject any notion that may favour indifference to social outcomes, as each person must accept total ownership of the consequences of their social behaviour in their constant striving to be authentic. This vision contrasts sharply with some of the principles adhered to by communitarians, which might well encourage the traits of humility and modesty amongst members of a particular community. In recognising these dispositions as virtuous characteristics community leaders neglect to remember that if these “virtues” are attained then such a modification of behaviour might produce a compliant populace that can be exploited by a tyrant.

However, in a similar fashion, ambiguity may arise for the outsider as they find solace in upholding the traditional attitudes and customs of their society as advocated by Trump. "Making America Great" or "Making America Great Again" requires an unquestioning compliance to a scenario whereby oppression and exploitation by an exclusive financial elite, of which Trump is a member, becomes a reality. Therefore, there is an opportunity to challenge the outsider as to their lack of pro-active scepticism as a necessary ingredient in exploring Trump's amoral constructs.

Additional anomalies arise in the outsiders support for Trump as true ethical sceptics find themselves in “an inherently unstable category” (Lom, 1998: 9), where personal responsibility to both others and to the self must act as a mediator against the notion that no behaviour is forbidden. So, if the outsider aspires to be truly authentic, then it is necessary for every situation they encounter to be analysed in depth. Then they can help themselves to avoid the danger of taking “a rosy view of our moral attainments,…[as]…the rosiness would gradually infect our view of the world” (Hughes, 1973: 110). Thus, outsiders are able to evade the ethical complacency, motivated by self-satisfaction, that can limit the extent of a person’s compassion. Furthermore, in a similar fashion, “to unequivocally claim that scepticism naturally leads to illiberality fails to acknowledge that scepticism can as logically radically open possibilities of action as well as restrict them” (Lom, 1998: 10).

The extension of the individual’s consciousness into an authentic domain pre-occupied Heidegger. Thus, dasein, or the human entity in all its ways of being, readily accepts an inauthentic existence as it takes up a secure “home” in this world. However, if authenticity is to arise from this condition then the individual must assume a state of anxiety. Here dasein has no home but instead just a disturbing awareness of the need to search for meaning (Heidegger, [1927] 1996) so that a person's true self can be revealed.

Therefore, the outsider cannot claim to follow a doctrine of ethical scepticism that offers a universal code for the redemption of America through a "Superman". But rather, through the mechanism of a strong defence of personal freedom, this code of scepticism attempts to ensure that no individual acts in a manner that contravenes his or her underlying pre-disposition and the making of their own choices in the awareness that they can create their own character. Thus, moral principles should be understood as fluid, flexible, sometimes ambiguous and only effective after individual justification. This leaves opponents to Trump's outsider proselytes with grounds to question more inconsistencies in their ethical perspective that may result in a fraught relationship of logical inconsistency between Donald Trump and his outsider supporters.

Ideological Opportunism

Donald Trump presents himself as a successful entrepreneur able to strike favourable "deals" that enhance his business empire. However, like many businessmen he has suffered his share of failures. Three of his four bankrupties have involved his ill-fated venture into Atlantic City casinos whilst other ventures - Trump Airlines, Trump University, Trump Magazine and Trump Mortgages have all imploded. Nevertheless, he has been successful in New York City Real Estate with the benefit of the business connections and creditworthiness of his father, Fred Trump, who lent him the sum of 1 million dollars to get started. Additionally the Television Show "the Apprentice," for which he acted as host and executive producer, was also a considerable financial success.

Although Trump's net worth is a matter of contention - he maintains it is in excess of 10 billion dollars whilst other analysts assess the amount as being just under 3 billion dollars (Kurt, 2020), there is no doubt that he is a neo-liberal who is dedicated to the imperative of maximising his utility in a minimalist state free from unnecessary interference from structural impediments.

Thus, Trump can embrace Ayn Rand (1957, 1965 and 1966) and her vision of superior individuals, the men and women of action who towering over little people and obstructive bureaucrats to achieve their goals. Directed by a Nietzschean will to power they combat the opposing power of hegemonic oppression by exercising their own authenticity. These objective individuals will reject all subjective beliefs by accepting reality as objectively knowable and in seeking happiness, reject altruism in favour of rational judgements made on the basis of selfishness. Thus, service and subservience to the state, or to its communities, is regarded as contravening the inalienable rights of rational beings. This ideological objectivism may leave outsiders in a state of uncertainity as their beliefs about human nature must now contend with alternative assertions concerning neo-liberalism.

The pervasive pressures exerted by the competitive, and sometimes exploitative, nature of the market on the outsider may leave the outsider drawing on her or his power of will in a struggle to achieve authenticity. However, if this struggle proves to be too much then an inclination towards self-referentiality could be generated. This means that the outsider may accept that her or his position in the arena of the free market is self-constrained which, in turn would mean that she or he would seek a relatively low level of group incorporation. Thus, outsiders, whilst continuing to reject the idea of any contraints being imposed by others on her or his individual decision sovereignty, but could willingly self-impose the constraints on their social actions that past experience suggests that others expect of her or him. In this context Ayn Rand's anarcho-capitalism, apparent in Trump's business dealings, can be accepted by outsiders as necessary part of his distinctive leadership qualities.

Furthermore, outsiders, from a their position of low level group incorporation can accept that the making of laws must cohere with an established, albeit minimal, body of legal rules. This legislation would contain both implicit and explicit directives that underpin the imperative to maintain the objective of regulating human conduct so that it is conducive to sustaining law and order. This complex undertaking is not deemed to be the business of the citizen as Hayek, in his capacity as a leading neo-liberal academic, declares that the common will is irrelevant to such a task; the appropriate rules are discerned, not proclaimed, as a result of work to “improve a system of rules which are already observed” (1973: 96).

In making this proposition Hayek‘s neo-liberal agenda accepts the imposition of a specific national code as essential for the provision of a foundation for an advanced neo-liberal order. Such a code would act to "underpin free competitive values” (1978: 21) as a result of work to “improve a system of rules which are already observed” (1973: 96).

However, outsiders, if they are to support self-interested opportunism, do need to move beyond only trusting those who their experiences justify trusting and extend to those who they can confidently estimate to be trustworthy. In this scenario Donald Trump has been the catalyst of their abandonment of their sense of hopelessness, isolation and indifference as he acts out the role of unforgiving leader by applying a process of frequent dismissal of his advisors and senior officials in a consistent series of calculations about their actions and their impact on his popularity amongst his core supporters. Furthermore, Trump's administration needed to deliver to outsiders exploitable opportunities for self-benefit and therefore also used the excuse of "the bad deals" and over-indulgence of selected people, such as black and minority ethic groups, by previous administrations as the reason for any material losses that transpired.

Liberty and Solidarity

The outsider has the distinctive characteristic of being fundamentally anti-authoritarian, an attitude that is best understood as an abhorrence of the threats and coercion that they believe represent an inherent part of state domination. It is only through the creation of a non-authoritarian society that it becomes possible for each individual to be treated with proper dignity and respect. As this higher level of inter-personal relations sociability would be encouraged to flourish, thereby creating circumstances where free co-operation between individuals can be realised in the absence of dehumanising exploitation. The paradox here is that Donald Trump is an authoritarian figure with little regard for compromise, actions are taken on the basis that the best guide to goodness should be in terms of its material consequences. However, as American Society is riven by deep divisions (Dimock and Wike, 2020) outsiders might well feel the need for protection from a leader who offers them benefits whilst avoiding the possible detrimental transformation of their society irrespective of their President's hold on power (Barr, 2009).

Moving from the issue of power and compliance, facing outsiders in relation to their federal government, finally this paper turns to an exploration of the group dynamics that can apply to their philosophical beliefs. These again reflect the egocentric nature of the outsider's understanding of social relationships as they are driven by a reluctance to engage too quickly as they are mindful of previous negative experiences. Thus, they will consider that a consensus of opinion is necessary, arising from what Sartre calls “an agreement of minds” ([1960] 1976: 531), with unity that is achieved by mutual concession dismissed as representing a subtle but persuasive form of manipulation that erodes liberty. Therefore, the outsider will integrate into a group where "the group has its practical limit in the individual” (Sartre, [1960] 1976: 524). This maxim goes to the heart of the outsider's position, which rejects the concept of democracy, as the people in a community cannot be “as an entity distinct from the individuals that compose it” (Woodcock, 1986: 30). Thus, the majority cannot suppress the minority in a social structure where the aim is to make “aristocracy universalised and purified” (Woodcock, 1986: 31), through a robust declaration of the nobility of each free citizen.

Whilst the particular type of organised groups recognised by Sartre offer a pattern of complex interdependence to authentic outsiders ([1960] 1976: 584) nevertheless these units can still provide outsiders with a political platform that rejects structural causality and preserves the capacity of the individual to define their own reality. Therefore, they can be adopted as a central tenet to the outsider’s political articles of faith. Thus, the diametrically opposite notions of “authority and autonomy are reconciled and incorporated in a acephalous co-operative” (Edwards, 1997: 65) that can ensure individual freedom from harm. Therefore, absolute liberty must be defined as being conditional upon a minimum set of communally agreed behavoural norms. When this unity of values, attitudes and opinions is present amongst Trump's outsiders then it can result in strong reactions to the perceived enemy - thus the storming of the Capitol Building arises from the logic of pure opportunism to eliminate perceived structural tyranny. Donald Trump has instigated this scenario, by accentuating the differences between his outsiders and those who are part of the establishment thereby requiring outsiders to take direct action to protect their interests.


Conclusion


This paper referred to Ockham's Razor ([c 1300-1347] 1990) not as an immediate acknowledgement that the assertions made in the subsequent analysis lacked rigour but instead to alert the reader to the complexities of understanding the motivations of this group called "outsiders' who have rejected their perennial apathy to become ardent supporters of Donald Trump. To reach a comprehensive appreciation of the perceptions held by outsiders that can withstand academic rigour the journey can begin with some simple explanations about the beliefs of outsiders that correspond with known facts. Arising from this exploration hypotheses arise, which can be operationalised and empirically tested.

It is postulated that outsiders reject conformity to universal value commitments as they live in a society that has an emphasis on wealth and personal success but with economic limits on real opportunities for some. Thus, the outsider can embrace non-rational decision making if they do not have the means to achieve the American dream and are left with a scepticism about the ethics promoted by a society that offers them unattainable goals.

Whilst Donald Trump's wealth, and the advantages it has offered, is a distant reality for outsiders nevertheless his style of anarcho-capitalism can intimate to the outsider that he has rejected "vulgar conscience" in favour of finding his own authenticity.

Nevertheless, Trump's hold over the loyalty of outsiders could be undermined by political actors re-defining the American dream to encompass the concept of social justice. In this scenario the political agenda would ensure a mutuality of benefits that does not pose a threat to outsiders legitimate vested interests thus promoting the logic of constraint. In such a political climate the spirit of opportunity can be rekindled as the distribution of material benefits strengthens structural stability.



References


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[1] Pyrrho of Elis (365-275 BC) is the founder of Greek scepticism. However, he left no writings therefore, contemporary interpretation of his thought is reliant on other scholars. Here the analysis provided in the writings of Montaigne (1533-92), with his interpretation of ancient scepticism as the distrust of the faculties and misapprehensions of humanity (Craig, 2005: 864) has been adopted. [2] Zarathustra is the hero of Nietzsche’s best-known work –Thus, Spake Zarathustra ([1883] 1967). [3] The notion of “being” is separated by Heidegger into what constitutes an arena of human concerns and interests and the things that happen to be found in that setting. Thus, a political movement reflects the concerns of its members however its tools, such as financial backing, membership records and premises only become “meaningful” when they have a “being“ in that community setting (Craig, 2005: 354). [4] Heidegger distinguishes between the arena’s of human meaning and the entities that inhabit these spaces. Hence, he differentiates between entities and human beings as the latter are dasein or “the place of meaning” in their capacity to understand what is described as “the ontological difference” between entities and human concerns and interests (Craig, 2005: 354).




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