Boredom: How Trumpism Ends

Boredom: How Trumpism Ends August 9, 2023

Soren Kierkegaard defines boredom as a sense of emptiness and examines it not as an absence of stimulation but as an absence of meaning — an idea that also explains why it’s possible, today more than ever, to be overstimulated but existentially bored. Trump doesn’t care about politics. As president he never read policy papers or legislation. He preferred taking his intelligence briefings in picture-book form. The mechanics of governing didn’t matter. What mattered was keeping Trump interested.

Trump’s aids had difficulty keeping Trump on topic in his speeches. One aid confessed that the slogan, “Build the wall,” was placed in Trump’s major stump speech, in an attempt to keep him on topic. No one seriously thought building a wall between Mexico and the USA was a feasible policy. They were trying to keep their candidate engaged.

He managed this by creating conflict between himself and other politicians. He berated and insulted women, African Americans, immigrants, the leaders of other nations with lines that would be a stretch for any drama. The outrage was fake but powerful. Trump needed the conflict, the unending battles, to fight the boredom of being the president of the United States.

Donald Trump, producer, director, and leading man in his own reality television drama – “The White House Is Mine” – operates out of Kierkegaard’s understanding of boredom. Trump somehow realized that millions of Americans were bored by the progressive pedagogy of “political correctness.” They were tired of watching their manners, holding their tongues, and attempting to understand systemic racism. Trump, already endowed with the ideology of white supremacy, tapped into this large percentage of the population bored by civic virtue. Trump offered to set them free from the strictures of correctness and wokeness. The Bored One became one with a bored populace.

Trump said out loud what his followers had been dying to say for more than forty years, but they were restrained by the knowledge that such things should not be uttered in public. Trump wrote out an old script giving voice to white racism, sexism, fear and loathing and hatred of Muslims along with contempt for the poor.

Trump’s boredom shows up most graphically in the six hours each day that he spends watching television. He could not live a day without it. He reads and watches stories about himself, sending journalists feedback, calling TV shows, and always trying to influence coverage. His staff delivers screenshots of his TV coverage to him after major events so he can see how he looks. MSNBC argued that “it can’t be healthy” that Trump turns to TV for foreign policy guidance, watches every day from roughly 6:30–9 a.m., and uses the same language of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity in his tweets and speeches.

Trump’s need to be stimulated by conflict, kept interested by television, slogans, insults, lack of decorum, rants, and resentment rises from the deep boredom in Trump’s soul. He is an empty man. There’s no reality there. What you see is what you get: Loud, obnoxious, disconnected from reality, spoiling for a fight, and pretending that he is the permanent resident of the White House.
I am convinced that boredom will be the end of Trumpism. Indictments will not finish him; MAGA will vote for him even if he is in the federal penitentiary. Their hearts will swoon at videos of Trump in jail as they exclaim, “He looks great in orange; it matches his perfect hair.” He has already proven that being a serial liar only enhances his reputation as a tough, strong man capable of taking out the liberals.

Evangelicals can sing praise songs at maximum decibels, speak in unknown tongues, pronounce strange prophecies, embrace conspiracy theories, and damn the rest of the nation to hell, but it will not stop the boredom creeping into their souls. Trump and MAGA will expire from boredom.

There’s a sense of emptiness in Donald Trump and MAGA. No matter how many rallies Trump has, the emotional high leaves MAGA with a hangover. No matter how many outrageous lies Trump tells, the emotional outrage that stimulates MAGA lasts only for a time and then there must be another stimulant. It’s like being on drugs that become addictive. Donald Trump is both toxic and addictive.

Donald Trump is the most bored public figure I have ever witnessed. In order to combat his personal boredom, Trump entertains himself by playing with the emotions of his followers. Rhetorical scholar Joshua Gunn argues that Trump’s political style is perverse, meaning that he is aware of the dangerous games he plays and the social conventions of democracy, but he violates them anyway. His constant disavowals, his reliance on resentment and anger, his transgressions, his denial of reality, are all underwritten by a perverse form of enjoyment that frees his supporters from legal, rhetorical, and psychic strictures.

How many people will Trump call stupid, mentally ill, or idiot before we realize that it is impossible for that many people to be that deranged? How long will we tolerate a man who says that everyone else is a liar when he is the only one telling absurd, huge lies?
Kierkegaard thought that a vital faith and a deep commitment to Jesus Christ were the only cures for boredom. The irony is that evangelicals know Kierkegaard spoke the truth and they have chosen the glories of the world offered to them by Trump. They have not noticed that the man of emptiness can only make empty promises. In the end, they will be as bored as their Master.
No wonder Kierkegaard claimed “Boredom is the root of all evil. It is very curious that boredom, which itself has such a calm and sedate nature, can have such a capacity to initiate motion. The effect that boredom brings about is absolutely magical, but this effect is one not of attraction but of repulsion.”

Trump and the evangelicals are caught up in a series of misguided diversions. They attack fabricated enemies that are of no real consequence in the life of our nation. The diversions created by Trump and his allies are repeated relentlessly: “voter fraud” and “election integrity” and “Stop the steal” and “Make America Great Again.” Add “wokeness,” “replacement theory,” and, “Fight like hell” alongside endless diatribes about “critical race theory” and you have a agitated populace with empty slogans and no real policies for government. It keeps people engaged in the emptiness – all of it disembodied of definition, purpose, or meaning, but all of them capable of striking fear in the hearts of voters.
The diversions of Trump and the evangelicals ignore the frightening realities of the immense challenges facing us as a species. One example shows the challenge: Climate-denial. How can evangelicals sleep at night knowing they are in league with politicians who are pushing the most epic form of “fake news” our culture has even known – climate-denial? Climate denial will destroy us unless we intervene to stop it. There is an absurd recklessness to playing politics in pulpits with climate denial as Trump and his fellow Republicans also running for president. Evangelicals are in a theological bind: They have stopped preaching that the sinners will go to hell, and they have started aiding and abetting the kind of government policies that will turn earth into hell.

Kierkegaard offers a biting assessment of boredom: “The other class of human beings, the superior ones, are those who bore themselves… They generally amuse others — at times in a certain external way the masses, in a deeper sense their co-initiates. The more thoroughly they bore themselves, the more potent the medium of diversion they offer others, also when the boredom reaches its maximum, since they either die of boredom (the passive category) or shoot themselves out of curiosity (the active category).”

What did Neil Postman say? Postman said that the contemporary world was better reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement, rather than by Orwell’s work, where they were oppressed by state violence. According to Trump he is being hounded, persecuted, and mistreated by the oppressive violence of the Biden Administration. We are more likely to be a people oppressed by our addiction to amusement. With Trump, people are “amusing themselves to death.”
Television shows tend to grow old, run out of new plots, new crises, new ideas. They become boring and then they are canceled. The Trump reality show, with its cast of millions, will eventually expire from that kind of boredom. The constant reruns will start to grate on everyone’s nerves. Even evangelicals will feel spooked by the longing for something of substance that can’t be reduced to a slogan. Something will well up in their own empty hearts and they will start crying and they will not know why they are crying, but they will sense that some distant joy, some deep feeling they once possessed is calling them back to a life of faith.

Boredom sinks in only gradually. There’s little to notice at first, but boredom keeps marching on and on and on. Finally, it consumes every fiber of our being. This boredom, this radical emptiness, will be the end of Trump and MAGA.

At the funeral, someone will pronounce the truth, “The damn boredom finally got you, didn’t it?”

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