I popped open my laptop after breakfast to catch up with the latest news. To no surprise, Donald Trump’s face was plastered all over Internet. This time Trump had posted a picture on social media, eating tacos from Trump Tower, wishing everyone a Happy Cinco de Mayo, and exclaiming that he loved “the Hispanics.” Seriously? How could someone so blatantly insensitive be a legitimate candidate for the office of the President of the United States?
Suppressing an overwhelming urge to post a nasty, personal comment on some website about this picture, I instead surfed over to a poetry site where I reread these profound lines from that most philosophical poet, T.S. Eliot, one of my favorites:
We are the hollow men/ We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw.
Alas! / Our dried voices, when/ We whisper together/ Are quiet and meaningless
Vowing to resist the mindless tide of angry Trump-related polemics, which has swamped any effort to restore even the most minimal rationality to the American political conversation, I decided to act appropriately (rationally), and begin this calm philosophical study of Donald Trump: What is his relationship to knowledge and language? What is the nature of his mind? What is his relationship to other persons qua moral agents?
Eliot’s verse certainly goes a long way to answering these questions: Trump is a Hollow Man, whose mind is filled with nothing but “meaningless”, dead clutter –no poetry, no wit, no knowledge, and no empathy for other persons. This taco stunt revealed not only his ignorance about Spanish culture—Spain and Latin America have a varied ,often European, non-Mexican cuisine—but a blatant willingness to crudely stereotype others that has become his trademark— a failure of empathy, or emotional intelligence. Trump helps us answer the fascinating philosophical riddle posed by Eliot’s opening lines: a mind can be “hollow” yet “stuffed”– that is filled with emptiness (lack of moral feelings, absence of knowledge etc.). Donald Trump is the abyss Nietzsche warned us against.
The one apparent trait described in Eliot’s profile of Hollow Men—they speak in “quiet” ”dried” voices like the elderly—that Trump does not seem to fit actually is appropriate. His trademark bellicose, bullying style masks his hollowness. George Orwell in 1984 captured the emptiness of this demagogic mind. The Orwellian dystopian state mixes political rallies filled with rage and bullying directed at crude political stereotypes, with a political language –Newspeak—that has been emptied of any references to “freedom” or “human rights.” (Significantly, Trump never refers to the language in the Declaration of Independence, or any other key historical document that defends freedom, though he has advocated torture, which is Big Brother’s standard operating procedure).
When I mull over of all of these traits, as well as that cringe-worthy, taco-related photo-op, I think immediately of another philosophical concept: Solipsism.
British philosopher, A.E. Taylor defined Solipsism as the doctrine in “which I have no certain knowledge of any existence except my own, everything else being a mere state or modification of myself.”
Though philosophers long ago refuted this theory—how can I communicate the theory of Solipsism to other minds if the latter are problematic?—“Solipsism” actually serves another important goal, namely as a conceptual framework useful to profile the emerging privatization of the self as a culturally, politically, and socially significant trend. What a privatized self/ solipsistic self is was described nicely in this blog about Donald Trump posted on Huffington Post—though the author does not use those terms:
[Donald Trump is an] “emptiness [filled] with a sound and fury meant to gratify his needs in the here and now,” … “others exist only as an extension of himself.”… [His] “behavior… “reflects the hollowness within… the humanity of others [being] of no concern.”
In this taco photo-op Trump is immersed only in his own consciousness; the independent humanity of his ‘Hispanic’ audience is problematic. In other words: a portrait of unsullied solipsism.
These are exactly the representative traits that I profile in my CrossCurrents essay as generally emblematic of the privatized Hollow Men, who lack empathy with the suffering of others, while dominating them for their own personal gratification and private ends. As I observe in this essay, such selves occupy every level of contemporary society. Donald Trump is not unique.
About the Author
Thomas White is an independent scholar, who has published essays, poetry and fiction , both in print and online journals, in Canada, United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. White is also the founder of the Takoma Park (MD) Socrates Cafe discussion group, facilitating from 2008 to 2013. He loves the Socratic adventure, and specializes in demonstrating the perennial relevance of philosophy to every aspect of the human condition.
Enjoy White’s CrossCurrents article, “The Hollow Men: Moral Evil as ‘Privatized Self’“ freely through June 30.
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12 thoughts on “Trump and Moral Evil”
I like your insights about the privatized self. Do you think Jesus and his call to “take up your cross and deny yourself?” Might be a way forward to combat the growing trend of hollow men? I wonder what Elliot would say to that question? Unfortunately too many Americans use Jesus not as a way to deny themselves but to forward their own agendas of dominating others.
This is sad, since Jesus may the be best model of empathy we have ever seen.
Thanks for your kind comments about my insights. No it is great mistake to limit empathy to a particular religion. Buddhists express empathy too, but it is also a mistake to think that you have to be a Buddhist or a Christian to express empathy. Empathy is a HUMAN trait, not a sectarian one. As you said religion is full of hollow men. If you can read my full essay, which is free until June 30. I discuss evil religion that is well populated by hollow men. I like Eliot’s poetry, but it is relevant to everyone, no matter what their religion. Eliot studied philosophy well before he became a Christian. It is a mistake to understand my analysis of moral evil only through a religious framework. For example, I use Plato to understand the problem. Try to read my essay if you can.
I like your insights about the growing trend of privatized selves. Do you think Jesus’ call to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow him, is a potential way forward? I wonder what Eliot would say to that question?
Unfortunately many Americans misunderstand Jesus and use his name to dominate others for their own gratification and personal ends. This is tragic because Jesus is the best example of empathy we have ever seen. Like the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers K organized religion is full of hollow men too.
So Solipsism as defined by Taylor is now little more than a recognition that each Man of our age, including Mr. Trump has truly become ‘the measure of all things’. The Sophists have won. . . for now.
As for “religion” (not to be confused with Buddha or Christ) being a cure for this malady, Western society killed God in the Nineteenth Century to paraphrase Nietzche’ in favor of science and now in the 20th and 21st, Western society has killed Science. Where do we go now?
Perhaps philosopher’s should daringly stick their legs into the same river twice and renew the battle against the sophists?
Lots of generalizations here, stereotyping, labeling. Any person or group that disagrees with your analysis is now labeled as a hollow man, or straw head.
So, just how many illegal immigrants do we have from Spain, as opposed to South or Latin America? The taco bowl that Trump is showing is loosely representative of our southern neighbors, not Spain. You are really reaching to find grounds for complaint here.
These comments may have committed a fallacy known as argumentum ad lapidem, or ‘stone throwing’–though these ‘stones’ thrown by these comments are actually lightweight pebbles of no consequence. As to the ethnic issue read this:’The U.S. Census Bureau defines the ethnonym Hispanic or Latino to refer to “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race” and states that Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, any ethnicity’. When Trump depicts ‘Hispanics’ as taco-eating, illegal immigrants, with an inclination to rape, he IS stereotyping. As to disagreeing, no apologies as many are seeing the advent of Fascism and its American incarnation–the very antithesis of philosophy. For example:
So now, again, we have more labeling. In this case, a “diagnosis” of a perceived problem. As if a diagnosis, whether correct or not, is some sort of stamp of credibility or competency.
In truth, this Fascism of which you speak is turning the truth on its head. Our Constitution is anti-fascist by its very nature. To have Fascism in this country, the Constitution has to be rewritten and re-defined. It is not the Constitutionalists (Conservatives, Libertarians or independents) trying to re-write or redefine our founding documents. It is the progressive liberals, and the Socialists, who are trying to redefine our socio-economic system that has been in place for over 200 years.
To have their way, the progressives have to suppress free will and free thoughts and ideas. It has been proven that the best way to do this is to invoke a socialist political and economic system.
The free enterprise economic system of our Constitution is inclusive of all ethnicities, not exclusive. It gives all a chance to succeed. (Hence, the HUGE numbers of people trying to get in this country from countries where few have chances at economic success or religious freedom.)
Certainly no wonder that socialist countries around the world, and throughout history, have been only moderate successes economically, or down right failures, economically. The socialist countries, whether communist, fascist, or some other form of dictatorial government, have all been characterized by a strong central government that lords its power over its citizenry. And, have been the most murderous of any governments in the history of the world. This murder took the form of starvation, death camps, executions, and rounding up its citizens in the dark of night, never to be seen again. The ones chosen for extermination were the dissenters, the thinkers, the prosperous, the influential. All were threats to an all-powerful government where its citizenry were intimidated into following its tyrannical leadership.
It’s certainly no surprise that Stalin lead a socialist country, as did Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Mao, Castro, and the list goes on, and on, and on. All of them murdered by the hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of its citizens, who were threats to their ideaologies. All in the name of equalizing the playing field, and yielding to the citizens who coveted the prosperity of others, but who were unwilling to work for their own level of prosperity in any peaceful and meaningful way.
I hope that philosophy people, as well as anyone with an interest in the fascinating subject of illogical thinking, will parse the above comments. So far (and still counting) I have come up with these fallacies: http://www.iep.utm.edu/fallacy/#RedHerring
I really hope that teachers interested in illustrating logical fallacies in operation will assign the above comments as textbook examples of said fallacies. I invite others to note other fallacies.Enjoy!
In addition to the other fallacies in the above comments noted, I should have added the Straw Man Fallacy:
More diagnoses, not truthful statements.
Your “red herring” in this is that now you are trying to characterize comments, illustrate traits, or “faults” of the author, rather than truly answer the subject and intent of the comments.
You serve to illustrate your own fallacious arguments. Yes, let’s have professors use YOUR arguments to illustrate fallacious characteristics of your arguments, shall we?
So, let me pull YOU back in to your original comments. You commented about Trump’s eating a taco bowl. You are totally dismissive of why he was eating it on THAT DAY. It was the 5th of May. Cinco de Mayo. Whose holiday is that? MEXICO’S. So, another “red herring,” fallacious argument of yours is to go into a discussion of Hispanics or Latinos when Trump was only talking about Mexicans, a subgroup of Hispanics or Latinos.
And it was YOU, Mr. White, who brought up the subject of fascism. You added a link to the Washington Post article, of which I commented. There is, therefore, no “straw man” to set up and knock down, unless it is you, and your intent, to introduce “Mr. Straw Man” to the discussion. YOU, Mr. White, are again the best illustrator of your own violations of effective arguments.
I always love reading philosophers’ arguments, lol. Socrates. Glaucon. Tweedly Dee and Twiddly Dumb up there. So third blind eye opening.
“Your fallic fallacy flicked all over my f-ing face, fam.”
“Nuh-uh your freaking fallic fetish fallacy flop flip ‘n’ fickle tickled all over MY face fam.”
“What does it mean”
“Well, dodo #1 would say it means what it means”
Nonsense beating around the mulberry bush. Everytiem. How about y’all have a little bit more self respect and try debating ideas with substance…especially if you want people to take you seriously.
I’ve got fancy words.
You’ve got fancy words.
But who’s got the biggest fancy words of them all?
This is a last call for philosophers to stop bickering about fallacies amongst themselves in the quiet recesses of the Internet, and actually get big, get bold and make a difference in society.