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Trumpery is an archaic word for fraud, taken from the French tromper, to deceive somebody. Shakespeare puts it into the mouth of his rogue Autolycus, who boasts of defrauding the gullible with his worthless trinkets: “Ha, ha! What a fool Honesty is! And Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman! I have sold all my trumpery . . .” (A Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene IV.)

(Illustration by Michael Daley)


The dictionary definition of Trumpery is threefold:

1. Worthless thing: Often something showy that seems appealing at first glance.
2. Nonsense: Empty or ridiculous talk.
3. Deception: The deceiving of somebody, or schemes conceived for the purpose of deceiving.

In all three senses, “Trumpery” denotes the bill of goods that Donald Trump is seeking to sell to America. The subject of this essay, indeed, is not Trump the man, but the meaning of Trumpery. Millions of words have been devoted to the political, psychological and satirical dissection of the Donald, but far fewer to the cultural phenomenon of Trumpery. What we are witnessing is more than the rise of an individual, mesmerising though he may be, not only to Americans, but to the entire free world. Trumpery is the cult of a personality, certainly, but it is also the ascendancy of a cast of mind, a climate of opinion, a broadly-based sociological fact. Never before have we witnessed such a prodigious confidence trick perpetrated on the most powerful and prosperous people on the planet. The free world looks on in bewilderment at the prospective triumph of Trumpery in the land that gave us pragmatism.

Trumpery is the revenge of the rejected in more ways than one. Though Trump himself disclaims ideology, he is in fact one of the “madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air” evoked by Keynes: they “are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”. More by osmosis than by design, he has picked up the ideas of Reagan’s former communications director, Pat Buchanan, and his “paleoconservatives”. Buchanan ran three times for the presidency between 1992 and 2000, but he fell out with mainstream Republicans, while relishing the notoriety provoked by his thinly-disguised anti-Semitism. The paleocons’ ideology of “nativism, protectionism and isolationism” was dismissed in 1996 as “a philosophical corpse” by Charles Krauthammer, the neoconservative Washington Post columnist. Now the paleocons are back with a vengeance, in the guise of Trumpery. Conspiracy theorists, kooks and crazies of all kinds flock to the Donald’s banners, from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan to Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. But so, too, do millions of decent, law-abiding, God-fearing Americans, oblivious of Trumpery’s dubious, even nefarious pedigree.

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listening
May 16th, 2016
11:05 PM
Great article, from an American conservative who will not be voting for Trump. A few points of disagreement from the ground where I stand. First, this article and Peggy Noonan's (and to some degree Murray's) are heavily portraying this as the liberal, educated elite against the poor or increasingly discounted members of society that are disgruntled because they are socially dismissed, afraid, and unable to prosper. That may be part of it, but it really, truly isn't what I'm sensing on the ground. Deeply rooted in American culture is the idea that all men are created equal...we are taught from birth that rebellion against elites is noble, the independent cowboy is our hero rather than the bookish professor or supposed (Enlightenment version) intellect. While our elites might like to think that the average American cares about what they think...it generally is the absolute opposite. This is not a situation where the "elite" as depicted in this article (though this is a questionable term...does that merely mean secular? Liberal? famous in certain quarters? The average evangelical Christian is more highly educated than the average liberal...who are we talking about here?) are living in large estates and the rest of the population serves as their maids and butlers. This is a situation where millions of people of the same worldview and way of life live and work and thrive with relative comfort (compared to any other era the world history and just about every region of the world today) and don't necessarily pay a lot of attention to the "elite." They have their own music that outperforms the music of the elite by exponential percentages, their movies are the ones that inform the choices of the studios of Hollywood, their news programs go unwatched, their churches are full while those of the elite are emptying, etc., etc. I remember a PBS special that focused on Walmart and those who shop there. The most interesting part of the program was how confused the commentator was that the people of Walmart were not driven to insane jealousy because they weren't a part of the group that don't shop at Walmart. He seemed absolutely disconcerted at their total apathy regarding the importance of "his kind of people." It was apparently vitally important his identity and that of the group he identified with that the rest of society understood his superiority, and he was truly miffed that they didn't care or find him to be superior at all...in fact they probably have a lot of reasons to find the "elite" to be morally inferior and less happy and fulfilled. Americans aren't angry because they feel belittled, they are ticked because they are well aware of their worth and they are in rightful high dungeon that our politicians don't know their place in terms of serving the people. We have watched as the work of our military has been totally undermined and Iraq has sunk into anarchy, at the egregious abuses of separation of power go unchecked, and the fact that horrific corruption has exposed (Planned Parenthood, IRS scandal, a Sec Def using a private email server, Benghazi, etc. etc.) and yet nothing is done about it in Washington. This is a nation where not getting things done is considered totally unacceptable. Trump has used a tone of outrage that reflects their contempt. What I believe they are badly and tragically mistaken about is that Trump is just as corrupt and a part of the establishment that he has been attacking. He has no scruples to guard him against such dishonesty. They have allowed their anger and impatience to blind them, and this profound immaturity is going to devastate our country. On the other hand, that deep, ragingly powerful sense of independence and the dignity of the individual might be the very thing that rears up again after four more years of insanity to bring about a better set of choices for the next election. If Trump fails them, which he likely will, it will not be pretty, and perhaps at that point we can look forward to a chance at a better candidate.

amcdonald
March 24th, 2016
4:03 PM
No Bible,Koran or Shakespeare is of use here. We don`t know what will happen in America. Most of the anti-Trump brigade are virtually monosyllabic. Only Camille Paglia describes his appeal correctly. It`s easily Googled. It`s an age of Tartling (Zizek`s definition) not Trumpery. Only the Kurdish army, Uruguay,the USA and Israel are enlightening rather than endarkening. Vote Brexit (as Julie Burchill has it at the Spectator online.)

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