Donald Trump and the Failure of Language
Nietzsche famously once wrote, “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.” As one of the few great minds of the past who would not have been surprised by the existence of a President Donald Trump, Nietzsche’s understanding of language would partly explain his acceptance or his anticipation of Trump. Modern linguists have found that no matter what language we speak, each child is born with an inherent understanding of grammar structure. Language is not only close to what makes us human, it is at the center of what makes us members of civil society. Donald Trump is neither of those things, in too many important ways.
Words also necessarily reduce. We may say we see a chair, but the specifics of that chair may never be fully described. The listener/reader simply knows what a chair is, in the simplest sense. Grammar, words, and language all fail us miserably when we attempt to confront the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. Even that statement is emblematic of this inherent impotence; because it is more accurate to say that words and language are a smoke screen for whatever the actual phenomenon is that we attempt to describe when we apprehend Trump.
Many have said he has a unique relation to the truth, or that he is not always factual. The utter weakness of such descriptions begs the irony that he might actually be like you or I. The strongest related statement we think can be made is that he lies. That falls well short too. One has to know the truth in order to lie. Donald Trump does even not know what it means to know something, as George Will has observed. What we say are Trump’s lies are really the eructations of a malevolent id. Donald Trump only wants. And when he sees something, he either wants to take it, rape it, or destroy it; and sometimes all three.
It may be closest to the truth to think of Trump as a cosmic Jeffrey Dahmer. When he is through raping America, he will kill her, and eat her. All that will be left will be some body parts in his refrigerator. Another supposedly strong statement is that Donald Trump is a traitor. One must be an American to betray her. Trump is as much an American as colon cancer is the person who has it. Betrayal is a specific act. The only thing specific in all of this is the descriptive language we weakly use to describe it all. His treason is an accidental byproduct of his consuming or destroying all that is in front of him.
His spiritual catamite, Anthony Scaramucci, has said Trump is Pacman. We all think, “Oh, a video game.” But what the Mooch is really saying is that Trump is a mindless, directionless, two-dimensional avatar of consumption and destruction. In a sense, Trump’s most ardent lover has offered the most poetic and accurate description. All of these supposedly strong statements merely give cover to the Biblical plague that is Trump. They only normalize him, but not so much as the more normative statements, such as that he is narcissistic, or that he does not care. The locusts are not narcissistic, nor do they know what not caring is.
As soon as someone says, “President Trump,” they are evoking a universal understanding of service, unity, and leadership, all of which are the opposite of what Trump is. All other merely descriptive statements are a virtual fifth column, unlocking the gate to let the Vandals in to sack the city. Nietzsche would also recognize that we fail when we say Trump is evil, because he is beyond good and evil. He is as amoral as an amoeba. He does not know and cannot know if any of us actually exist, or if anything exists beyond the boundaries of his skin, except as fodder.
There has been much hand wringing about the press having normalized Donald Trump. It was and is ineluctable. The second we speak of him, we betray ourselves. He is unspeakable. Our faith in grammar, our spirit or mind, and our dependence on words, our recognition of the humanity of others, are the pant leg, sock, and shoe that mask the fetid and noisome gangrene that is consuming our leg.
The simplest way to understand the way language fails us in this is to recognize that all the scandals, all the outrages, all the shamelessness and shamefulness, are all one thing. And they are the same thing. The rapacity, the selfishness, the meanness, the lack of boundaries, the treasons, each and every alarming and unprecedented act, are all impossible to properly describe or categorize, because they are all the same one thing. Trump is not man, but a monstrous malevolent id, a mindless cancer, a Dickensian grotesquerie. He is the Biblical plague, gangrene, Grendel, and Jeffery Dahmer. There are no words.
All of this raises the most alarming questions about the Republican politicians who continue to support him. What human being abases himself before the unspeakable horror that confronts his society? What kind of person worships the high priest of human sacrifice who demands faith in his inviolability? When the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and the ceremony of innocence is drowned, what man or woman falls on their knees before the rough beast?
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.” Perhaps the same could be said of this satire.)