The rise of Donald Trump is a world-historical event. Since Trump came down that escalator, we’ve been living in a strange historical interlude; it has almost been as if he restarted history, but simultaneously somehow sped it all up. I think we all feel that, to some degree: the Current Era, dating from June 16, 2015, has brought new oddities and miracles every day, to which we one and all continue to exclaim, “What a time to be alive!” But the interlude ends soon. The British historian A.J.P Taylor famously called the failed revolution of 1848 “the turning point in history when history failed to turn.” No matter what the outcome of the election, history will turn in November 8th.
Why Trump? No one else could have done what he has done. Whether consciously or not, he did as Machiavelli advises in Chapter IX of The Prince. In discussing how to come to power, Machiavelli suggests that the best course for a new leader is to come to power with the help of the great, and then betray them, turning out to be a champion of the people. Because of this, they will be all the more grateful, because they didn’t expect anything from you. The people then perceive you to be acting freely, even though you may have long-term self interest in mind. This way you appear as the savior and liberator of the people against the great. Notice that Trump says in every speech, “I didn’t have to do this, folks.”
Now, Trump came from the world of the oligarchs, even though he elbowed his way into that as well; a boy from Queens, muscling his way into the world of Manhattan real estate. But when he entered the world of politics, recall that, at first, the elites couldn’t believe it. It took months for it to settle in that this campaign wasn’t an elaborate prank. That disbelief gave way to the attitude most in that class still seem to hold towards him: hatred and fear. They hate him because he betrayed them. They fear him not only because he might succeed, but because they think him mad. Only a madman would risk all of the status, the money, the powerful friends, the influence! Our apolitical managerial class of oligarchs can’t imagine another reason to risk all of those things. For what? Ambition? Greatness of soul? “Love of country?” You must be joking. Their minds can’t grasp the higher things.
Donald Trump has shown himself to be a remarkably political man. He is illiberal in a serious sense; he does not imagine politics to be a game. He understands at a gut level that the stakes are life and death: not just the life and death of individuals, but of nations. Leaving aside the sheer Caesarian force of will it must have taken, time and again, over the course of these months, to continue to consistently raise the issues of immigration, national sovereignty, and anti-globalism, even in the face of new pressures and attacks at every turn—Trump has created and sustained a significant popular movement of support. They love him. And he warmly and repeatedly insists that he loves them too.
But can he govern? Is America redeemable? I certainly didn’t think so before the Current Era. But as Ivanka said at the RNC, “Come January 17, all things will be possible again.” Trump will have to govern as he ran, like a Caesar. Like Caesar, he excels at theatrics and spectacle, and he must use this to sustain popular support, which will help ward off backstabbings and impeachment. The Trump rallies should continue; indeed, he should abolish the White House press corps and eliminate the media middle man, holding his press conferences before the people instead. He must continue to take the “slings and arrows” of the oligarchs (or, at least, appear to) on behalf of the people. He must continue to be their voice.
And what of us? We must become both Marc Antony and Octavian to his Caesar. In life, his loyal friend and advisor; in death, his champion and heir.
The Roman Republic needed Caesar to finish it off. There could be no Octavian without Caesar to clear the way. Just so, the Alt-Right needed Trump. Win or lose, history turns because of him.