Two Famous Philosophers on Donald Trump

150401134612-donald-trump-gallery-3-super-169Much of Trump’s success so far can be illuminated by deeper principles of moral psychology that go back to two great Enlightenment thinkers: Jean-Jacques Rousseauand Adam Smith. While they differed in many ways, both Rousseau and Smith were acutely interested in the relationship between rich and poor that was emerging in 18th century commercial society. Both argued that growing inequality threatened to undermine social harmony. And their respective analyses diverge in ways that are useful in understanding Trump’s appeal. Read more here.


6 responses to “Two Famous Philosophers on Donald Trump

  1. In light of the surprisingly continued support that Donald Trump has been receiving, this article provides and intriguing answer for why this might be. Clearly, as we reviewed in Piketty’s work on income and wealth inequality, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. Therefore, I find it particularly illogical that there are people out there who fall under Smith’s description of “adoring fans”. Given Donald Trump’s track record with inappropriate comments, I find it hard to believe that anyone would adore him for any reason. Thus, I am more inclined to agree with Russeau’s idea that the poor are more likely to revolt, but have been persuaded that they need government, which the rich control. Based on this philosophy, I believe that in the coming months, there will be a falling out of Trump supporters once they realize that his policy is not actually helpful or geared towards their interests. In addition, as mentioned above, I believe that many people will begin to stand up against his harsh words and the stereotypes that he has promoted.


  2. “Trumpism” is a very interesting development that has been a great source of entertainment and despair for the future of the United States. I agree with Halie that is very illogical for individuals to fall under Adam Smith’s philosophy of the “adoring fans”, however I do understand how people would want to be in a similar position of wealth and power. As a result, I believe much of his support is derived from people who aspire to be wealthy and are interested by his constant preaching of “making America great again” which perpetuates the impression that their failures have not been their fault. This allows them to blame the broken system which creates a less internal conflict with their self worth. This then ties into Rousseau’s theory of amour-propre but in a different aspect than is mentioned in the article. Instead of gaining more self worth has Trump can degrade the other candidates in ways that individuals cannot, it seems that Trump helps to alleviate individuals’ self blame for the struggles in their life. This causes reduction of shame but turns into increased levels of spite targeted at scape goats to avoid personal responsibility. Which can also explain why people who are uneducated will blindly support the wall, rejecting refugees, etc. (Not to suggest that all people who support the wall are uneducated, just that many uneducated people blindly support Trumps audacious claims).


  3. Trump has stumped me, and definitely the majority of pundits, and this article presents decent rationale: 1) we like the rich and 2) we need to someone to voice the discontents we have.
    Trump is definitely rich and definitely voices discontents, but I think the “appeal” goes beyond this. It’s unfortunate, but people are often not nearly the rational, informed chosers we assume them to be and elections are always reflective of this. You see people glorifying candidates for a single character trait or sound bite, and conversely, you see them denigrating a candidate for a media-augmented scandal. People operate on heuristics to their detriment and while most can’t tell you a thing about Trump’s tax plans or healthcare reform (which are, at least ostensibly, surprisingly liberal), they can tell you, “Well, he’s a good business man and our economy sucks.” They take one problem and one “ability” (even though macro and micro are different beasts entirely, but that’s another tangent), and assume the person must be holistically wonderful.
    Indeed, I worry that an instinctive love of Trump is “the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”


  4. Since Trump’s emergence as a serious presidential candidate, I’ve observed his campaign with emotions from surprise and amusement to frustration and indignation, especially as the election nears and his support remains strong. This article, as several of my classmates have already mentioned, does make significant points that help explain why such a caricature of a person has been so successful in rallying unwavering support. And as is usually the case in American elections, money plays a significant role in his appeal. (Specifically, Trump’s own financial success.) I agree that this is an instance of “another sordid chapter in a long history of the wealthy tricking the poor into handing them political power”.

    But I was surprised to learn that so much of Trump’s support comes from those who “reside well below his tax bracket”. I would have thought that, along the same lines as Rousseau, this would have been a point of contention among voters, who find him unrelatable. The article, however, mentions that Trump is admired for his wealth.

    Overall, although this article was revealing in certain aspects, Trumpism still and will probably continue to baffle me.


  5. People admire and basically worship the rich (and famous), we live vicariously through them and document their every move. Smith says this is because people assume that to be wealthy/powerful all it takes is talent and effort and that one day, if we try hard enough, we can be like those we so admire. Thus if Adam Smith were alive today and analyzing the popularity of Donald Trump, he’d probably say that people are so obsessed with him because they are obsessed with the idea that if a rich non-politician can win the presidency they could too, if they got that rich.

    Rousseau argues that government was created as a way for the rich to separate and protect themselves from the poor. He would thus see this Donald Trump obsession as either people below his tax bracket refusing to vote in general OR people living vicariously through him as he bashes everyone from Hillary and Jeb to Rosie O’Donnell and Muslims.

    The question however lies in the debate over which philosophy will win out? Lower classes adoring the rich…or abhorring the rich?


  6. In the terms of Trump’s appeal, I like Rousseau’s idea that lower classes are helpless and unable to lash out at those who demean them. This connects with me much more than Smith’s theory that people respect Trump’s wealth and has great talents and efforts. I assume that it is obvious to all that this guy is ignorant and a bully. But for many, there seems to be great pleasure in watching him take shots at undeserved targets. Have we ever watched a Bush quiver in fear like we have seen in the latest debates?


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