Donald Trump and the politics of nostalgia

AHMAD Politics 435

Let me start with a grand statement because, you know, what the hell, it’s election season: it’s a fact that the defining spirit, the zeitgeist, of contemporary politics is a profound and deeply embedded narcissism which, it turns out, blossoms from a sort of really sad and in certain ways poignant emptiness that’s really, really tough to talk about with anything like clarity or coherence.

The gist, to just go ahead and frontload our discussion, is that nostalgia functions as a societal dark matter: it’s invisible, it’s basically primitive (or it’s born from the interactions between the lizard part of our brains and our neocortex), and it binds us together with its Force-like mystique. It’s nostalgia that explains why Adele and her pop ballads about pining for long-lost lovers (you could make the argument that she’s just singing a single extended song and that, Christ, this must’ve been one absolute hell of a guy she let slip away) pexels-photo-88680 are so massively popular, and it’s nostalgia which governs the plotlines and story elements of blockbuster films and pretty much ensured from the very first pitch that Fuller House would be a hit, and it’s why, to make this relevant, Mr. Donald J. Trump’s campaign has been so brutally, and surreally, successful — the slogan, of course, is MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, and it’s that last word that offers the clue: it’s steroidal conservatism, George W. Bush if Bush were Godzilla, Trump through a neat trick of physics taking us into The Future via The (Golden) Past. Even the way he speaks — the cadence, the repetitions, the Trump Stump — bears his basic message of Return out.

That message, to be succinct, is this: Remember when things were simple and we were all happy? Well, if you elect Trump, we’ll go back to that again!


It’s a message that resonates — and not just with Republicans: witness the rock-star popularity of Bernie Sanders, whose super-reductive corporations-are-evil-and-so-are-rich-people sermon (which he’s been preaching for decades) has connected with his supporters in what feels like a much deeper way than Hillary Clinton’s pragmatic protect-Obama’s-legacy message has with her supporters. Bernie’s message is extremely simple, it’s Manichean, in fact, and his disheveled, angry appearance* is consistently prophetic. Hillary’s politics, on the other hand, are (let’s call it) complicated and really sort of Republican at times, and she smirks a lot, and her presidency would be dynastic in a not-so-subtle way. And too, frankly, Fighting for us is nowhere near as fun a campaign slogan as #FeeltheBern.

That message, to be succinct, is this: Remember when things were simple and we were all happy? Well, if you elect Trump, we’ll go back to that again!


The argument advanced here, albeit in a roundabout way, is that simplicity is central to political rhetoric, and that it’s connected to the nostalgia used to deflect and/or distract from our Big Deep Terrors about Life, the Universe, and Everything. That (mostly white) anger that Trump has used to propel his campaign, that’s got pundits and politicians on the left and the right making comparisons to Hitler and various other twentieth-century fascists — it’s fueled, I think, by fear. Not of socialism or terrorism, but of reality itself, which is both way bigger and much tougher to see or talk about, of the complexities involved with daily living.

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My name is Randy Patterson, and I’m currently looking for a job in youth services. I have 10 years of experience working with youth agencies. I have a bachelor’s degree in outdoor education. I raise money, train leaders, and organize units. I have raised over $100,000 each of the last six years. I consider myself a good public speaker, and I have a good sense of humor.

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