The Scapegoater

The Scapegoater September 2, 2015

A couple of weeks back, I suggested that part of Trump’s appeal lies in the fact that he resists the scapegoating dynamics of contemporary media and politics. He refuses to take blame. 

That, Girard would have us believe, undoes the whole scapegoat mechanism; by unmasking the system, it energizes those who have been scapegoated by the system. Many ordinary Americans feel that they’ve been victimized by American elites, and they relish the spectacle of someone standing up to the victimizers.

There’s another, more obvious, Girardian dimension to Trump, though. As much as Trump refuses to accept blame, renounces the sacred rites of apology, just as much he blames. He may be the anti-scapegoat, but he eludes becoming a scapegoat by relentless scapegoating.

In Trump’s case, the scapegoats are international enemies and competitors—China, Mexico, the European and Middle Eastern countries that treat America like a “patsy,” always ready to help but always left un- or underpaid. 

Trump’s form of populist nationalism (perhaps all forms of populist nationalism) relies on the demonization of an “other.” If there’s a problem with violence and drug gangs, it has nothing to do with our own moral collapse—it’s Mexico sending in the rapists and murderers. If American corporations have left the country, it’s not because of imbalanced taxes or unions—it’s the Chinese playing dirty. 

Girard wouldn’t be surprised by the energy of the crowds that Trump attracts, or the semi-miraculous coalition he’s building from all sides of American politics. This is the effect scapegoating has: It binds together a society suffering the fragmentations of a “sacrificial crisis” by concentrating all energy on the scapegoat. 

Girard would also warn us to beware of the profound dangers of founding our national greatness on scapegoating. 

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