Lecture Notes: Reading The Terms of Order in the Age of Trump – Pt. 2

One thing has become very clear: From this text, one could derive endless insights. It is, quite frankly, never done with us.

So to continue, Robinson’s subject, leadership, is imagined to be not only rational or necessary, its very possibility is assumed. In fact, it requires us to assume that in the absence of leadership there can only be terror.

Yet, leadership is required by the crisis-experiences that accompanied the political (see Part I). Those crisis-experiences created the very rationales that required the logic and assumptions of leadership. And thus authority. Political thought then asserts that the leader is necessary, assuming that leadership will resolve the crisis-experience, all the while obscuring on whose behalf the crisis is understood and imagined, particularly the crisis-experiences germane to market societies.

In this construction, the leader cannot simply be part of the mass. The leader must be deviant, that is “extraordinary.” It is here where we might apply Robinson’s appreciation of the term to Donald J. Trump. While deviance has taken on a pathological turn within the behavioral sciences, what Robinson, following Mapheus Smith is indicating here is something different.  The leader is deviant; someone: “whose attainments, in terms of a set of goals are considered high; “whose status is recognized as superior to others engaged in the same activities; “who emit(s) stimuli that are ‘responded to integratively by other people” (49). Elsewhere, he cites Murray Edelman who identified the following characteristics of the “extraordinary” leader: intelligence, knowledge, skills, certainty, responsibility, capacity to give direction, success, conspicuousness, potentiality (40).

In some ways, Trump’s ascendancy has exploded the idea of the leader as deviant more than any exemplar thus far. Yet, we did not need Trump to see this. We merely needed to understand that all “political leadership  is the actualization of a myth, a legend, or as it were, a social ideology” (44-45). And in the case of the present order, “The market society informs the political authority of Western society. It is at its roots. The constructs of the market or economic society are one set of the material factors which service the political authority episteme” (55). In other words, the idea of the leadership is rationalized and premised upon the “eufunctionality” of the market society and thus the political.(In this sense, the desire to characterize Trump as socially or psychologically deviant is less helpful–if not ableist; his non-deviance vis-a-vis the relations of power are far more critical).

But this analysis of Trump’s leadership would be perhaps too simplistic and unsatisfactory a reading of Terms. While political leadership–and particularly Trump’s brand– cannot be said to constitute the substantiation of anything resembling justice, morality, or right-living. There is as Chapter Three, “The Question of Rationality,” suggests, much more that needs to be explained. We need to better understand the meaning of followership. And it is here where the irrational comes into view. Robinson, engaging a wide array of thinkers, asserts that political leadership becomes the attempt to contain or direct the subconscious irrational impulses considered to be continuances from the pre-rational or primitive order. Its presumptions toward rationality then perhaps cause us to endorse or “vote” for its representatives, because we desire order. And we fear order’s opposite: terror. Yet the desire for order, according to scholars such as Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, and Norman Cohn, gave the world National Socialism (Nazism). Robinson desires that we utilize a mixed paradigm (the juxtaposition of traditions that are rational with those that are irrational) to offer a better vantage point than social science has thus offered. We can perhaps speculate that the maintenance of whiteness, required the “order” of Donald J. Trump as an attempt “to avoid the experience of terror” (107). If the above is right, such an avoidance is impossible, the past (and present) suggests that much more of humanity has “known order through terror” and has realized “terror in order” (106).

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