“I predicted terrorism because I can feel it,” Donald Trump announced this week (exacting publicity and self-praise—who would have predicted that—from the massacre in Paris). “I can feel it like I feel a good location,” he continued, tastefully contrasting mass murder with picking a winning spot for a casino-hotel complex. “I really believe I have an instinct for this kind of thing.”
“Ha ha ha”, said everybody about Trump’s “superpower” of sniffing out terrorism (at least on the rational side of the American electoral brain). But not this writer! On the contrary, when Trump made this declaration, I was in the midst of writing an essay (about two thirds of which follows), on the very subject matter of the Republican front runner’s uncanny, alarmingly accurate instinct.
No shit, I’d even used the word “instinct” seven times (the very seven times that proceed) without having heard Trump use it once himself.
Instinct, then, is an interesting, mysterious quality, and one possessed by most of history’s biggest players. By “biggest players,” I mean those that took advantage of circumstances to seize radical power (as opposed to boring old figurehead-of-the-establishment-type power): the likes of Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler. Typically, such figures consider themselves possessed of some sort of second sight, a phantom patron (or perhaps “daemon” is the word I’m looking for?) that whispers in their ear (and theirs alone). Hitler, for instance, once told a journalist about how as he stood having a smoke one day behind the trenches during WWI, he heard a voice telling him to move: he did so, and then, having taken a couple of steps, a shell landed right where he’d been standing.
Many of Hitler’s associates remarked upon his incessant monologuing. Indeed, Hitler referred to himself as the “messenger from nothingness.” Neither did Hitler ever write his speeches down—he was winging it, ever loyal to his instincts, which led him from being considered a national laughing stock with shit hair to a position of absolute power.
“I go on my way,” he declared, en route to turning the world inside out, “with the ease of a somnambulist.”
When Trump first lashed out at Megyn Kelly, recall that his chief adviser Roger Stone instantly resigned in dismay, because the billionaire wouldn’t listen to “reason.” And indeed, who doubted that, with his misogynistic and absurd smear against a Fox New personality, Trump hadn’t pitched his campaign off a cliff? Trump’s instinct, however, whispered something else in his ear: that he could get his revenge on Kelly (no small matter to such a tumescent ego) without risking his popularity. This flew in the face of all received wisdom – and yet once again, Trump was absolutely on the money.
It’s happened time and time again.
Trump’s pious regard for his instincts is further evidenced in his approach to speeches. He improvises (just like Hitler did in his speeches, the ones Trump’s ex-wife said he liked to keep near the bed). When he attacked Carson last week, at the tail end of a ninety-minute unscripted speech, Trump clearly hadn’t given it any more forethought than a note written in ink on the palm of his hand to “remember to attack Carson.” In the immediate wake of the speech, commentators—slow to learn—were quick to call it the “beginning of the end” for TRUMP 2016. The latest polls show him now pulling well clear of his nearest Republican rival, the soft spoken, befuddled brain surgeon.
What else is improvisation but the purest possible adherence to instinct? “You don’t want a scripted president!” Trump told an Iowa audience a few months back. “Look at all the cameras blazing there. This is live, all over the place. We’re on Fox, CNN,” he went on, before brandishing an invisible script. “Look, there’s nothing” (Another messenger from nothingness?)
There is, I would suggest, a kind of theology at the heart of all this, that of any improviser—from Lenny Bruce to Charlie Parker to Adolf Hitler—the belief that the best decisions are made in the moment. Excessive premeditation, or consultation, these only blunt the cutting edge of genius, which expresses itself (in certain select souls) via instinct and cunning.
Yes, a vote for Trump is a vote for divination – for this is precisely what he is alluding to what he spoke of “good locations” and having a “feel” for the timing of significant global events. Here is a man convinced of the magical acumen of his intuition. It has after all already made him billions upon billions of dollars, and it is this intuition—this abnormal winning faculty, as he would have it—that Trump offers in lieu of policy, political affiliation, character, or any of the other usual ingredients that go into a presidential pie. He might be out of his depth, sure, but he’s got his instincts!
When Trump holds his invisible script, he is mocking the existing political alternative—everyone else—a Washington made up of lobbyists, focus groups, special advisors, academics, public relations… a kind of collective antithesis of instinct: premeditation, forethought, rationalization, logic. In dominating the Republican race as he has, furthermore (doing so, indeed, at minimal expense to himself), Trump is explicitly offering the voter an example of his ability to make successful moves which are invisible to everyone but him.
What’s for good for Trump, of course, is by no means what’s good for the rest of us, but the thing is, his instincts really are impressive, and you don’t have to think he would make (as he might put it) the winningest president ev-er, to concede as much.
Yes, Trump is doing a disconcertingly effective job—thus far—of improvising his way from being considered a laughing stock with appalling hair to the most powerful man in the world.
From Mein Kampf to The Art of the Deal? Such a phenomenon would not be entirely without precedent. It’s just like Karl Marx predicted “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
If Trump tries to buy the Spear of Destiny then we’ll know for sure.