A philosophical examination of the concept of the “asshole” through the lens of our most relevant current example.
In this follow-up to Assholes: A Theory, James (Chair, Philosophy/Univ. of California, Irvine) continues his study of assholes with a disquisition on the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republication party, billionaire businessman Donald Trump. The author probes his subject’s spectacular penchant for loud, brazen self-promotion—not to mention outspoken racism, classism, and xenophobia—and finds that he satisfies three main conditions for being labeled an asshole: “He allows himself special advantages in social relationships, and does so systematically; he’s motivated by an entrenched (and mistaken) sense of entitlement; he’s immunized against the complaints of other people.” In fact, it seems, Trump is the very epitome of the term, an exemplar of asshole-ism who unabashedly touts a “transplendently simple narrative: “Crisis: America is losing; Villain: Our very stupid politicians; Resolution: Start winning again; Hero: Trump, because I’m a huge winner and we’ll all win together.” Asinine, yes, but apparently effective, since, as the author writes, “for the showman, the story doesn’t need any further detail if it feels sensical; it only has to ring as music in the ears of the audience.” Apparently, that message has rung true to a surprisingly—and frighteningly—large portion of the American public, who appreciate the bluster and the unapologetic trash-talking: “Some people get punched. Trump is a hero, and America is Great Again.” It’s a wearying, repetitive message, and some readers will find James to be a bit rough with his dead horse. However, the narrative is swift enough, and the author makes his points clearly and convincingly. Perhaps it could have served more appropriately as a longer magazine piece, but the book is a timely reminder, as we enter the down-and-dirty run-up to the general election, that Trump is “anathema to our democratic republic.”
A slim, witty, and wise addition to the vital conversation surrounding arguably the most controversial presidential candidate ever.