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Monday, January 30, 2017


All appetite and instinct

by Tom Sullivan

Dan P. McAdams, chair of the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, attempted to answer the question, Who are you, Mr. Trump, when you are alone? in an Atlantic cover story on Donald Trump last June. After Trump's first week as president (which McAdams never thought would happen), Atlantic interviewed him to see how his views had shifted. He replies (emphasis mine):

The first is that I would double down even more on the idea that what you see is what you get when it comes to Trump. The piece starts off with this uneasy sense that Donald Trump is playing a role. I wanted to get behind the mask, but by the end I’m frustrated because there’s a lot less behind the mask than you expect. You expect there to be some kind of deeper philosophy that might explain what he will do as president, and that’s very difficult to find. So I end the piece by arguing that he’s always fighting to win, even when it’s not clear why.

Now that Trump has won the election, we’re seeing this dynamic continue to play out. He’s still fighting, even though the election itself, and the battle that was the campaign is over. Most candidates want to win the election so that they can become president, but it seems like Donald Trump wanted to become president so that he could win the election. It’s all about winning, but even now that he’s won he can’t seem to let go of the fight. He continues to fixate on the election, and is now disputing—without evidence—the numbers on Hillary Clinton’s victory in the popular vote count. I think he’s going to continue to create chaos and attempt to emerge out of the confusion and uncertainty he creates as a victor.
A nation whose identity is so wrapped up in its faith is nevertheless idolatrous, I argue, often worshiping faith itself and missing any more soulful meaning. A priest I know once said Americans believe it's important that a man have faith. Not faith in anything in particular, just faith. Freedom is an idol like that for many Americans. It is an empty worship word. Freedom is an end in itself. More is always better But not freedom from anything or to do anything, just freedom. For Trump, it seems winning works the same way. Winning is an end in itself. But like the dog that chases the car, he doesn't know what to do with it once he's caught it. With King Midas, gold became a thing to acquire more of, not for a particular purpose or to satisfy a financial need. Possessing it and acquiring more became an end in itself. One might say the same about winning and power. For those so addicted, the hunger can never be satisfied.

For a dozen years I have described the modern corporation as an "artificial person," simply less intelligent and well-rounded than the androids of Ridley Scott's "Alien" movies. Instead, more like the shark from "Jaws," a soulless creature driven primarily by appetite and instinct.

For years I've warned that in fetishizing business, we as a people risked becoming what we beheld and devolving into homo corporatus, or else becoming slaves to our own creation. Ridley Scott's "Alien" films portray "the Company" as a faceless, democracy-supplanting engine of profit, a legal rather than technological or biological threat. Like Goldman Sachs, the fictional Company is everywhere. But until last night, I still thought of corporate personhood in the real world as an abstraction. Like McAdams, I missed Trump's victory. I never saw this coming — governance by a walking, talking corporation in sad, human form. Appetite and instinct and little else. When Mitt Romney said, "Corporations are people, my friend," my first thought was, "Yeah, but would you want your kid to marry one?" Now I guess someone should ask Melania's parents.