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Why I’m Not Convinced Trumpism Means Anything


I’m just going to tell it to you straight: Donald Trump is a Rorschach blot. Nothing more, nothing less.


When I was in college, my friends and I had a hypothesis—call it the Universal Girlfriend Hypothesis—that for any girl G and any boy B there is some sequence of utterances and gestures x such that B’s performance of x results in G becoming B’s girlfriend. The hypothesis can be expressed G(x)<–>B, so long as you’re not too fussy about that sort of thing.

In addition to its deeply problematic gender politics, the Universal Girlfriend Hypothesis is radical because, as the name implies, it is universal. It posits that for any boy/girl pair—Sean Hannity and Lena Dunham, Cesar Chavez and Ann Coulter, yours truly and Kim Kardashian—some combination of cleverness and daring will yield a swoon.

Although we never proved G(x)<–>B, its mere potentiality opened up exciting new avenues of research and conjecture. My own principal contribution to the field was postulating two classes of sequences that I believe exist at the bounds of the discourse. I called them the Groundhog Day Sequence and the Pitt-Clooney Sequence.

A Groundhog Day Sequence is a set of utterances and gestures so long, and containing such a wide array of (sometimes contradictory) information, that it suffices to land any girl. A Pitt-Clooney Sequence occurs when, for a particular boy, call him B1 , any combination of utterances and gestures suffices to land any girl.

Whatever madness or gesticulation emanates from Trump’s puckered lips or squat fingers, they’re smitten.

I believe Trump supporters, mostly, are ensnared in a Pitt-Clooney Sequence. Whatever madness or gesticulation emanates from Trump’s puckered lips or squat fingers, they’re smitten. But, crucially, Trump’s is also a Groundhog Day Sequence. He’s blithered and hand-waved for so long that he’s taken just about every conceivable position on every possible issue. An alienated voter looking for a savior—like a lonesome woman looking for a date on a Friday night—could thus cull from that cacophony and assemble a soothing sequence she could live with.

This—Trump’s Groundhog Day Sequence—is related to an awesomely named principle of classical logic called the principle of explosion. It states that from contradictory premises, anything at all follows. That looks like this:

By stipulation, all swans are white.
Since all swans are white, the disjunction “All swans are white OR I am a golden god” is true.
By stipulation, not all swans are white.
Therefore, I am a golden god.

Many Trump voters, I think, are falling afoul of the principle of explosion by cherry picking from Trump’s Groundhog Day Sequence. More importantly, so are many of the smart commentators—like Tucker Carlson, Matt Continetti, and Michael Brendan Dougherty—who warn that the rise of Trumpism signals a sickness and a decay inside mainstream, fusionist conservatism.

That’s because one cannot tell a story about what policies, or ideas, or even sentiments Trump’s rise ought instruct the GOP to adopt without picking selectively from his oeuvre. His oeuvre is, of course, compatible with many such stories, some of which are dramatically at odds with others.

Trump is assembling a (maybe) winning coalition comprised on the one hand of voters who would vote for him no matter what and on the other of voters who are so despairing—like the terminally single foraging for companionship before last call—that they’re willing to overlook his many contradictions and absurdities. He’s won the latter by saying everything, and the former without having to say anything at all.

So I’m not convinced there are any real lessons to be drawn for the GOP or conservatism in Trumpism. Or, if there are such lessons, it’s not yet clear what they are.