A Hater for All Seasons

tags: election 2016, Trump

Garry Wills is Professor of History Emeritus at Northwestern. He is the author, most recently, of "The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis." (March 2016)

There was something almost mystical about the past year of Donald Trump. He was everywhere and nowhere—a distant mirage appearing to be close up but recognized as a mirage until it suddenly solidified as we bumped into it. Those people who thought he was false and flickering now find him unbudgeably close, a road block in their path or a boulder to be climbed over. How can one man can be such a shape shifter?

There was a time when homosexuality was called “the love that dare not speak its name.” Trump deals in hates that dare not speak their names—but he has found ways to give them sotto voce expression. T. S. Eliot popularized the notion of “an objective correlative”—what he described as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events” that becomes the “formula” that anchors what would otherwise just be fugitive emotions of fear, suspicion, and belief. Eliot was speaking in aesthetic terms, where the objective correlative was not meant to convey truths but to carry instantly felt emotions. This is a form of artistry that, translated into the realm of political speech, Trump has mastered. He partly disguises but enhances the force of a whole series of interlocking hates—black hate, Muslim hate, woman hate, and “Mexican” hate—by giving each an objective correlative.

1. Black Hate. Trump first stumbled on the power of his objective correlatives in 2011, when he said he had sent private investigators to Hawaii to expose Obama’s birth certificate fraud. These fictitious investigators of a fictitious crime are typical of the way Trump creates a concrete image to let people fill with whatever uneasinesses they feel about a person. He does not have to say outright that Obama should not be in the White House because he is black. The objective correlative is like a Rorschach ink blot. People will see different things in it. ...

Read entire article at NY Review of Books

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