C.S. Lewis once wrote that “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
If this is true, then Sartre was wrong. Hell isn’t other people; hell is Donald Trump, for Lewis’ definition fits him to a tee.
Trump’s worldview — we can discern it for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” — is all about his own dignity and grievances. And, to the extent that his politics serves as an extension of his personality, his vision for America is to focus on our nationalistic dignity and grievances. (To be sure, everyone has a right to dignity, but when “getting yours” becomes your entire raison d’être, this is not exactly a purpose-driven life.)
There are two primary types of leadership: Transformational and transactional. Transformational leadership requires casting an inspirational vision that ultimately earns the respect and permission of your followers. Great leaders like Churchill and Reagan summoned us to transcendent greatness by tapping into this style of leadership.
Transactional leadership is more cynical. Performance comes, not from shared beliefs or goals, but instead, from the promise of carrots — and the threat of sticks. Leaders like Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson were masters at getting their way by using this form of leadership to get their way.
Whether it’s Donald Trump’s casual comments — or his public policy pronouncements — it is clear his leadership style is more akin to LBJ than Reagan. In Donald Trump’s world, everything is a transaction. This, I suspect, is partly about transference; he probably suspects that this is how the world really works — that it’s naive to think that moderns would nobly sacrifice for things we believe in — that we are all motivated by the same things that motivate him.
We can see signs of his transactional nature in Trump’s recent comments about foreign policy. In Trump’s world, America would no longer be a beacon of hope and a force for good that operates based on a coherent vision and long-term strategic and moral relationships. We would, instead, be an ad hoc operation that wavers depending on what serves our interests best on a given day.
But this transactional worldview also is betrayed in the way he talks about women. “The central arena of life is male competition,” writes David Brooks. “Women are objects men use to win points in that competition. The purpose of a woman’s body is to reflect status on a man. One way to emasculate a rival man is to insult or conquer his woman.”
In Trump’s world, success (money, fame, etc.) bring you spoils, and those spoils include the best, most beautiful, women. Thus, relationships are not permanent or transcendent, they are, instead, a transaction where women are a commodity. To many, this feels incredibly base and primal, and patently un-Christian.
And frankly, I’m surprised that it is catching on, to the degree it is, in the party of family values. But it could be that the virtues and values that have defined Christendom and Western Civilization are now seen as weak, and that even people who are ostensibly religious now crave an earthly prince to keep them safe. Trump, our modern strongman, may have to break a few eggs to make this omelet.
And, as Edmund Burke warned, “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever.”
It’s a long way from C.S. Lewis and Edmund Burke to Donald Trump.
Matt K. Lewis is a Senior Contributor at the Daily Caller and the author of “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @mattklewis.
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