Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Donald J. Trump, son of Fred, that brought countless ills upon the Americans!
Or, rather, don’t sing. Fulminate, seethe, thunder, wail, gnash your teeth. Glory in the righteousness of your judgment. Your impulses are certainly just. How could they be otherwise? They’re yours! So give in. Rage against his rage. Imitate it. Become it. Roll on the ground and slather that rage on your naked bodies and howl until your bellies distend, your hands and vocabularies shrink, your interiority vanishes, and your hair and skin turn orange. Unleash fire and fury. Do not be ashamed, even if you find yourself aroused. Deny yourself nothing. This is America, after all. Let’s live inside our hate proudly. Let’s abolish all differences and proudly become the very thing we hate. Give in, like a bacchante losing her shyness in the endless carnival present of the blood orgy. Give in to that irresistible, insatiable desire — and call it freedom. Because, in America, it is. We’re free and we can’t fucking help ourselves.
Scapegoat the bastard. Saddle him with all the guilt he refuses to acknowledge — guilt for breathing lies about election fraud and for provoking an insurrection that got people killed, for fumbling the government’s response to the pandemic and getting even more people killed, for weaponizing child-separation and dehumanizing immigrants, for cozying up to murderous dictators, for not giving a shit about China’s genocide of its own people, for casually committing sexual assault for decades, for enriching his parasitic family on the public dole, for leading evangelicals into brazen idolatry, for corrupting every institution and individual in his orbit, for his coarseness and stupidity, for being a low-class ape in a baggy suit shitting on the Resolute Desk, for making himself an albatross around the neck of much-needed populist reform, for showing America’s enemies just how miserably weak she is.
But don’t stop there. Force him to carry the guilt of failing to have been a Russian catspaw or a finger-on-the-nuclear-trigger warmonger or an actual-not-metaphorical fascist. Force him to bear the burden not just of his own sins — real and imputed — but of your sins as well. All of America’s sins stretching from neoliberal imperialism and the war in Iraq all the way back to slavery and the extermination and expulsion of the continent’s indigenous peoples. Saddle him with all of that clotted, wormy transgression and slap his sagging, sloth-blanched ass and send him doddering stiff-legged and stroke-prone into the wilderness.
Why the flippancy, Justin? Something awful was perpetrated against our country. Can’t you be morally serious, even for a little while?
Dear reader, I am being morally serious. Deadly serious.
Scapegoating is our oldest, most powerful technology.
For the overwhelming majority of human history it has been the chief means by which we have contained our violence and restored social peace in times of crisis. Its power is waning—at least everywhere the Christian gospel, which declares the innocence of the victim, has permeated culture — but it remains a potent, if temporary, solution to civil discord.
As I’ve summarized elsewhere:
The late interdisciplinary scholar René Girard understood that we appropriate the desires of those with whom we identify. When the object of desire cannot be shared, rivalry ensues. That rivalry is intensified and reproduced mimetically, in symbols, images and language; left unchecked, conflict spreads like a contagion. In archaic societies, this ‘mimetic crisis’ was resolved through the scapegoat mechanism: the community turns unanimously against a single victim, whom it deems responsible for the crisis, and vents that rivalrous energy in murder. Over time this process is recapitulated in sacred ritual, the original victim having been deified for its power both to destroy and to heal.
A simple, relatively recent example of this process in action is the temporary suspension of political acrimony and unification of purpose after 9/11. The country had been torn by a foolish impeachment saga followed by one of the most contentious elections in its history. But, provided a clear villain in Islamic terror, and its avatar, Osama Bin Laden, America experienced an intense, even cathartic period of “rallying around the flag.”
It was short-lived solidarity, of course, because the War on Terror attributed more guilt to its enemies than could be rationally defended. Mimetic crisis can only be dispelled when a community genuinely believes in a victim’s guilt. But when a victim is known to be innocent, writes Girard, “social catharsis weakens and disappears. Instead of reconciling the community, the victimization must intensify divisions and dissensions.” Which is precisely what happened with the Iraq War, both domestically and abroad.
Because of this, the solidarity bought by scapegoating Trump—imputing to him responsibility for the long-running, slow-burning mimetic crisis that preceded him—will necessarily be fleeting because we all know that while he is guilty of much, he is hardly guilty of everything, our social discord as such.
But feeble, ephemeral solidarity is still solidarity. And while scapegoating will necessarily cause us to resemble him more, if we are being honest, most of us already do, in one way or another.
In his latest newsletter, Luke Burgis warns of the dangers of succumbing to negative mimesis in our current moment:
Aggression is highly contagious. And it is most contagious when people have weak ties between them, when they are isolated, when they are alone.
It’s early 2021, and the pandemic is raging. Many people are alone. Many people are scared. Tension was already at a fever pitch. And given the actions of Jack Dorsey this week, it’s hard to imagine that fever not rising. If we were at 102–103° F before, we’re now about to enter the danger zone of brain-melting.
Except that we won’t see it. With the ban from Twitter (and other platforms following suit), the heat is simply going to go underground, where the pressure will continue to build until it eventually pops.
This is unquestionably correct. The refusal of Jack Dorsey and other progressive oligarchs to restrain themselves will result in reprisals from the right. Because we are talking about extremely asymmetrical power, those reprisals will likely become violent, soon. Shutting the right out of our most important public square is beyond foolish. The cost of “building alternatives” to the left-controlled internet infrastructure is prohibitive. The cost of long guns and fertilizer is not.
Why, if the dangers of mimetic escalation are so grave, am I advocating that we scapegoat Trump?
The answer is simple: I believe we’re past the point of no return. The left has already seized upon the Capitol Hill insurrection as its Reichstag Fire. It was always going to pursue implementing something like a CCP-style social credit system to consolidate its power; now it can do so using arguments similar to those given for expanding surveillance under the Patriot Act after 9/11. I have little faith that Republicans will manifest spines soon enough to do anything about it. But it’s possible. What is impossible is achieving any sort of effective opposition that includes Donald Trump. Because his mere presence in a coalition is delegitimizing, he must be cast into the outer dark.
Scapegoat the bastard.
Impeach and remove his sorry ass immediately. Marginalize only the worst of his enablers while re-embracing the rank-and-file. Enjoy the brief comity this buys you with your more extreme political adversaries, and then prepare for the next escalation.
But maintain hope. It’s always possible that if we stroke our hate-boners hard enough we’ll be blessed with enough post-climax sobriety to get on with the work of rebuilding our country.