Liberals still don’t get it. Trump is the political Anti-Hero for the post pc era.
Original painting artwork courtesy of Jason Liosatos.
If politics flows downwards from culture, then it was only a matter of time before a politician mastered the role. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump cracked that code.
Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Frank Underwood are just a few recent examples of the enormously popular characters who have, each in their own way, stood in for the role of the complicated bad guy who fascinates millions of Americans.
Antiheroes have long found homes in Westerns, gangster movies, and crime dramas, such as Al Pacino’s portrayal of Miami drug kingpin Tony Montana in “Scarface.” Tony begins an epic decline and fall in the film with a nasty fight with his wife at an exclusive Miami country club. She publically humiliates him in front of a bunch of dumbstruck, WASPy, black-tie wearing, golf-playing white hairs by loudly accusing him of being a murderer, a drug dealer, and incapable of being a decent father.
If Tony were a classic hero, this would have been the beginning of his moral reckoning and his search for repentance. But this is “Scarface,” and Tony is no hero, so he responds to his public exposure as a criminal in polite society by turning the mirror back on his audience and dressing them down:
“What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of f—in’ a–holes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be. You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your f—in’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you.”
Al Pacino plays Tony Montana in Scarface.
A criminal’s longing to be accepted by rich people who aren’t criminals themselves isn’t a new theme. Nevertheless, considering that Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay, Tony’s rant is likely commentary about the hypocrisy of supposedly “respectable” people in cutthroat, capitalistic, Reagan-era America who are substantively no different than Tony is. All these well-to-do Miami types wouldn’t be caught dead associating with someone like Tony, even though they know full well that the cocaine business is making them all rich, and many of them probably abuse his product.
Thus, from Tony’s perspective, what’s the point of being decent when the people who supposedly model “decency” have none of it themselves? Wouldn’t a sign of moral contrition to these people be a perverted mockery of moral contrition? Wouldn’t it be degrading even for Tony?
Tony isn’t a hero or a villain: he’s an antihero. You probably won’t admit to rooting for him, but if you enjoyed watching him stick it to those (presumably) stuck-up hypocrites, then it’s likely that you did. He’s everything his wife said he was, sure, but at least he has the balls to be honest about it.
Donald Trump, the Political Antihero
Trump replicated this scene in his inaugural address Friday, a “declaration of war” against “the establishment” whose “victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”
He acted similarly in a jaw-dropping performance at the Al Smith Dinner just days before his election. With every hiss-inducing joke at Hillary Clinton’s expense was an unsubtle middle finger to everyone else in attendance. Consider his opening remarks:
“And a special hello to all of you in this room who have known and loved me for many, many years. It’s true. The politicians. They’ve had me to their homes. They’ve introduced me to their children. I’ve become their best friends in many instances. They’ve asked for my endorsement and they’ve always wanted my money. And even called me really a dear, dear friend. But then suddenly, decided when I ran for president as a Republican, that I’ve always been a no-good, rotten, disgusting scoundrel. And they totally forgot about me.”
In other words: even if I have been a no-good, rotten, disgusting scoundrel, what does that make you? At least I don’t pretend to be decent; you people, on the other hand, have the gall to pretend that you’re any better than I am. Let’s dispense with the fiction that you would have treated me with any less contempt if I had bothered to live up to any of your standards of decency in the first place, and acknowledge that they have nothing to do with decency per se, and everything to do with power. Your presumption of any moral superiority is a willful, bald-faced lie, and I’m going to keep calling you on that crap until it puts me in the White House.
Many have argued that Trump is the product of political correctness (PC). This is true only in part. Rather, both PC and Trump’s response to it are fruits of the postmodernism that has long ascended to the heights of our culture: the nihilism in the common presumption that all truth is relative, morality is subjective, and therefore all of our individually preferred “narratives” that give our lives meaning are equally true and worthy of validation. Tony tellingly lectures his audience, “I always tell the truth, even when I lie.” His character was a man ahead of his time.
Postmodernism: Trying to Do Good Is a Waste of Time
Postmodernism is the source of the emphasis that our culture puts on authenticity, and the scorn it directs towards phoniness. After all, if the only one true thing in the world is that all truth and morality are relative, then anyone who pretends otherwise is either an idiot or a fraud. Hence the contemporary appeal of the antihero, and the disappearance of the traditional hero.
Heroes who stand for traditionally good things in a world where everything supposedly “good” has long been discredited are corny Dudley Do-Rights who are at best too stupid to know better. Antiheroes, by contrast, ingratiate themselves with their audiences for their gritty realism and their candor, no matter how bad they are.
Frank Underwood breaks the fourth wall with his viewers and brings them along for his evil schemes; Walter White’s moment of redemption is his final admission to his wife that he sells meth because he likes to, and not to do right by his family; and Tony Soprano establishes a close bond with his daughter early on when he admits to her that he’s not actually a “waste management consultant.” In the postmodern world, there is no greater virtue then authenticity, and there is no greater vice then phoniness.
Postmodernism is also the source of the assumptions underlying the glib jokes of late-night comedians who exhibit disdainful prejudice towards patriotism or religion, but show bitter judgment towards any form of perceived prejudice. It is the baseline for just about every plotline in funny shows about aimless, self-centered people like “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Archer.” It is hyper-prejudice against prejudice, or in the words of Evan Sayet, “a cult of non-discrimination.”
In contrast to the many religions, systems of moral thought, and other ancient traditions that have distinguished every effort to better the human condition, postmodernism presumes that all of these endeavors are the cause of human failure. It therefore operates according to just one moral imperative: discredit anything that other people presume to stand for goodness, because the belief that anything is superior to anything else inevitably results in prejudice, interpersonal strife, and inequality.
Thus, the Venus de Milo has no more aesthetic value than a crucifix in a jar full of urine; Beethoven’s symphonies are no more profound than the latest round of top 40 hits; all religions are fundamentally the same, and their “moderate” postmodern adherents are all comfortably represented on the “Coexist” bumper sticker. In a sense, it isn’t culture at all, but rather an anti-culture that measures success insofar as it deconstructs anything that other people value.
Postmodernism Merely Hides Its Hypocritical Idealism
Provided that the postmodern man believes in nothing and values nothing, one wouldn’t be unreasonable in concluding that he cares about nothing. But anyone who knows postmodern man also knows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, the “cult of non-discrimination” is filled with bright-eyed idealism about making the world a better place, and in the cases where it challenges baseless prejudice, it does make the world a better place. Like other utopian visions that seek to remake human beings into something alien to their nature, however, it is incapable of compromise, and thus lends itself to hypocrisy and fanaticism…
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