The phrase “politics of resentment” has been used to describe the bravura style of mass influence employed by demagogues Mussolini and Hitler who harnessed the grievances and resentment of people screwed by the powerful. What does a resentful audience respond to? Strong expressions of undisguised malice.
We will hang these traitors from lamp posts! (huge applause) We will punish each of these sick and audacious criminals with a slow painful death! (chant) We will not let these rapists get away with their crimes against the innocents among us! (grunts of approval) The day of our long-denied vengeance has finally arrived! (fists pump) Lock her up! (chant) etc.
Malice is all that remains when every other imaginable avenue of improving a situation is blocked. You could call malice a moral failing, a failure of imagination, or a character flaw, but it has its psychological uses. Malice, which is aggressive and directed outward toward a hated enemy, is seen by most people as a more vital emotion than hopelessness, an inward focused depressed admission of defeat in a rigged game.
Malice gives the illusion of power. You say I’m powerless? FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT, I’LL KILL YOU! Feels better than “Jesus, you’re right, there really is nothing I can do after being fucked the way I was…” doesn’t it? An illusory feeling of manliness, since malice, which feeds on a sense of worthlessness, only diminishes a person, though it’s seen preferable to an admission of hopelessness to most people, I suspect.
Arguing based on malice, which easily takes Reason out of the discussion, explains a lot about our politics today. Mr. Trump is a master of malice. He comes by his maliciousness the old fashioned way– hopeless envy of others. He comes by this honestly. He was not his father’s first choice to run the family business. He was a spiteful little bully, and not the smartest of the five children, by a long shot. The first born, dad’s favorite, was not cut out to be the ruthless steward of his father’s fortune, he broke his father’s heart and died a broken man himself. The fourth born, the second male in line, the spiteful little bully who kept acting out, was sent away to military academy to learn self-discipline and to “man up”, then kept out of the wartime draft by a powerful father who was grooming him, relentlessly and demandingly, to take over his empire.
Mr. Trump squandered everything his father gave him, more than $400,000,000 in today’s dollars. Then he tried to take control of the family fortune before his father was dead (he was deep in debt and needed the money). His father exerted himself one last time, had his lawyers stop his impetuous and hotheaded son from wasting the rest of the family fortune. When the old man died, Mr. Trump ignored his father’s wishes that the Trump properties stay in the family and sold off his father’s entire empire at a loss. He needed the money. Taking a hit of a few hundred million did not seem that big a deal, in light of the circumstances. He and his sisters and little brother all did very well, the proceeds of the sale, although the properties were sold at a steeply discounted price, made all of them very, very wealthy. Vast wealth is never enough for someone filled with malice.
Trump has to realize, on some level, that he is not a very good businessman. He was a blustering snake oil salesman, trying one scam after another to increase his fortune, to shore up his losses in bad deals and foolish decisions in his other businesses. He was a failure in every business he set up, declaring bankruptcy several times. He had the fabulous good luck of “Reality TV”. At the time he was approached by TV producers about fronting a show about his fabulous life he admits he was virtually broke. Pointing to a homeless bum on the street near Trump Tower he reportedly told his daughter Ivanka (according to them both) that he was basically in the same boat as that worthless fucker.
Then he got to play his dream version of himself on TV. A winner who never made a wrong move, ever. A sought-after mentor to the most ambitious contestants on his zero-sum winner-take-all show. He was transformed, by “reality TV”, from a wealthy attention seeking jackass to an icon of American success, America’s greatest winner. Millions watched him play this character on TV, waited for him to deploy his winning catch phrase every week as he eliminated another contender to be his apprentice. Somehow “you’re fired” resonated with millions of downtrodden Americans who apparently lived vicariously through Trump’s gold-plated persona. Go figure. Building this carefully stage managed image of himself as the smartest businessman in America was his greatest achievement. He owes his great success to a great network television production team and to his own his ability to harness and channel malice. At malice, he is simply the best.