Over Man: The Temptation of Donald Trump
I missed it. Over all the months, as I have been trying to argue people away from voting for Mr. Trump, I failed to understand what was really going on. But since his speech at the convention, everything has become very, very clear. I now believe that his election is inevitable. Both as a candidate and a man, he is a force that we have never encountered in American Presidential politics. He calls his following a “movement” and he is correct. Progressives desperately struggle to place him into a category that they can understand and which will allow them to diminish his impact. In their blind idealism, they cannot imagine that such a man could be elected. Over and over they mumble that “America is better than that.” No, America is not better than that and there are reasons why.
But conservatives make their own terrible mistake from the other side. They hear only what Mr. Trump wants them to hear and call him one of their own. In their naïve desperation, they think that he views promises and agreements in the same way they do. He doesn’t. It is very clear for anyone not locked into an iron-clad political viewpoint that Donald Trump is neither a conservative nor a progressive. So what is he?
At the end of the 19th century, German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a book entitled Thus Spake Zarathustra. It was a compilation of his many thoughts, dreams, disappointments and sorrows. The book is not easy to understand, but one thing is clear in this and all of his writings. Beyond all else, Nietzsche hated Christianity and the Christian God. He considered this religion an ultimate statement of weakness that presented a pusillanimous deity, so powerless that all he could do was die on a cross. Far worse, this horrible weakness had spread like a hellish disease totally destroying the strength and grandeur of the ancient Greco/Roman world.
Nietzsche’s desperate hope and dream was to see that evil influence eradicated. He pronounced the “death of God”, by which he meant that since the Christian God was now dead, destroyed by 18th and 19th century Rationalism, the morality of the Bible was dead as well. What was left? Nothing. The only truth was that there was no truth, and, for Nietzsche, this opened great possibilities. In his view, belief in the Christian God was the monstrous impediment restraining humanity from reaching its proper evolutionary destination. In Thus Spake Zarathustra he called for a new breed of human set free from the theological and moral chains of the past.
What would this new human look like?
He would be an individual filled with such a dynamic life force that he would “create” his own existence. And he would do so without relying on metaphysical concepts such as God or the soul. Nietzsche called this new man “ubermensch”, which translates into English as “Over Man” or “Super Man”. I won’t use that second translation because it conjures up a trite comic book character. Physical strength is not the issue. This Super Man personifies a kind of transcendent energy that empowers everything he does.
According to Nietzsche, the ubermensch is above the rest of humanity, enslaved as we are to the herd instinct. He is deeply aware that the rules of common morality do not apply to him. He makes his own rules and answers only to himself. He understands that power exists for its own sake and only a man who is self-possessed has the right to grasp and wield it. By his actions, the ubermensch deeply influences enslaved humanity toward a new, liberated world. Among philosophers, there is heated disagreement about the application of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but regarding one fact they all agree. What he wrote has had a deep influence on all of us.
We have seen them before.
According to Nietzsche the Over Man could appear and exert powerful influence in many areas of human society. He could be a great author or composer. But what would he be like if he rose to prominence in politics and government? Nietzsche viewed Napoleon as an excellent example of an ubermensch in national leadership. Though he was dead before they appeared, both Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler were influenced by his writings and certainly both considered themselves examples Over Men as did their millions of followers. Nietzsche’s sister, who became the custodian of his work, passionately believed that Hitler fit her brother’s description. Both the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists considered Nietzsche to be a seminal influence on their beliefs. Based on the history of these national leaders, is it possible to see a pattern in the way an Over Man can take power?
First, the national environment must be right. The Man must meet The Moment. In France, Germany and Italy, the Over Man stepped onto the national stage at a time of deep crisis. In each country there was economic turmoil and great division that included violence. Feeling powerless in their suffering, citizens were filled with rage and desperation. More importantly, in each of these countries there had been a terrible loss of national identity. Millions of deeply patriotic citizens were utterly disillusioned with establishment leaders and desperate for a man who was strong enough to make things right and give them back their national soul.
Second, these “Over Men” were not given the right to lead a country with dictatorial powers based on their experience and qualifications. They were not given the right simply because they told the people what they wanted to hear. Certainly, each one spoke to his nation about their suffering, danger, economic crises and common enemies, but the appeal was on an entirely different level. How did they give hope and a vision for the future? Each of these Over Men told his nation not simply that he had the answers to all their problems. He told them that he was the answer. What amazing arrogance! Why did millions believe and blindly follow, entrusting these dangerous men with their nations and their lives? Like sheep staring into the eyes of a wolf, they fell under the power of an overwhelming personality. This Power has nothing to do with physical attractiveness or even personal charm. It is a dynamic, predatory magnetism that draws people to itself. The choice to believe and follow is never a rational one. It is purely emotional supported by the shallowest of justifications. Historically, this is how wolves take control.
Third, once people had vested their faith in these Over Men, they followed and defended them all the way to national destruction as if these leaders were their own flesh and blood. Once in power, every promise that an Over Man kept was applauded and every promise not kept was blamed on others. The Over Men clearly understood the terrifying freedom that this gave them and used it. As Donald Trump has said, he could go out and shoot someone and it wouldn’t matter. He is right. His followers would find reasons to believe that the action was justified. By placing their faith in an Over Man, it is as though they attach themselves spiritually and psychologically to him. How far can this go? The dictators in question did great evil, but their followers overlooked and excused it as though they were blind. Why? Because individual citizens had so identified with the Ubermensch that to convict him of wrong was the same as convicting themselves. They loved him like they loved themselves. And so they became complicit in all the evil things that were done. The first step of believing in and supporting such men led inexorably to all the others.
Fourth, the more intelligent and sophisticated the citizen, the deeper he or she fell under the power of the Over Man. In the 1930’s Germany was arguably the most sophisticated and educated country in the world. From the highest to the lowest, the people fell under the power of Hitler’s personality. Some of his most passionate followers were in the university and in the church. The same kind of fall took place in France and Italy.
Did these leaders deliver on their deepest promises?
For periods of time, each one did. France, Germany and Italy did become great again. Each country rose from degradation to prominence and power on the world stage. Internally, some economic wrongs were righted. Governmental systems were made to work better. Most importantly, new, potent, national identities were sculpted. How was this done? It was accomplished because these nations gave themselves up to be reshaped in the image of the Over Man. In the process each dictator came to personify the nation he dominated. Napoleon didn’t just rule France, he was France. Hitler didn’t just rule Germany, he was Germany. And the same was true for Mussolini in Italy. This perception was not simply the fantasy of a single, arrogant mind. It was a fervent, religious belief in the hearts of their countrymen. Due to the overwhelming power of their personalities, these men became the fathers of their nations. Parents named their children after them and requested that they be the godfathers. Mussolini received 1500 letters a day from passionate admirers.
How does all of this relate to the United States in 2016?
First, our greatest danger is that we think we are so sophisticated and intelligent and our circumstances are so different that we could never fall under the power of an overwhelming and dangerous personality. Certainly, there are differences between our country and France, Germany and Italy of previous centuries, but also, there are great and frightening similarities. Like those countries, in the minds of many American citizens, our country has lost her historic identity. Our very soul has been compromised. From a position of world leadership, we have plummeted into disrespect and impotence. This has happened under a vast uncontrolled bureaucracy and the weak, divisive leadership of a cold, aloof president who continually makes decisions against the national interest and whose only concern has been promoting his ideology even when it is taking us to destruction.
Add to this a faltering economy and a government that manipulates data to hide the reality of that situation; add to this ever-increasing bloodshed in our streets from both foreign and domestic enemies, made so much worse by the unwillingness of the current government to be honest about who those enemies are; add to this an invasion of people who do not share our values, and the result is rage, hate and desperation. Those emotions mirror the emotions of France, Germany and Italy of the past.
Now, for our discussion, it doesn’t matter whether the perception I described is true or not. What matters is that millions of Americans believe it with such ferocity that it brings blood to their eyes. This places us into a position of great vulnerability for the rise of an Over Man.
Let’s imagine what such an American leader could be like.
As in the past, because of his overwhelming personality, total self-confidence and willingness to do and say anything to accomplish his goals, compared to him, all other candidates, no matter their actual qualifications, will look weak and pale. This was true of Napoleon, Hitler and Mussolini. It has been true of every Over Man who has ever appeared to lead a country to destruction. It is true of Donald Trump. I believe that Mr. Trump is the American Over Man. Does that sound ridiculous? How could such a loudmouthed buffoon rise to great national power? Look at each of the three leaders that I’ve mentioned. Viewed before they ascended, no one could have imagined what they would become.
It is clear from his many arrogant statements and personal history that Mr. Trump fits Nietzschean qualifications. He views himself as above the rest of humanity. In the way he conducts his life, he is deeply aware that the rules of common morality do not apply to him. He skates straight through them. Though he claims to be a “Christian”, there is no evidence that he answers to anyone but himself. He feels no need of forgiveness for anything that he has ever done. At most, he communicates a mild regret. God has no place in his personal equation, except to gain votes. To him, power exists for its own sake and he is the man who is strong enough to grasp and wield it. It is clear that he feels it is his right and responsibility to lead America. He views himself as our salvation. “I will do this for you… I will protect you.” Never have we experienced such arrogance, which sets him apart from every other serious candidate for President in the history of this country. The only category in which he fits is Over Man. Because they have no knowledge of history, Americans try to jam him into the only categories they know. This is a terrible mistake.
Having said all of that, I believe that this is Donald Trump’s moment and he can’t be stopped. To face him, the Democrat party has fielded one of the weakest candidates they could have chosen. Like an old garbage scow encrusted with a million barnacles, Ms. Clinton coughs and churns her way along, her only qualification being her gender. Her life is so compromised by greed and perfidy, she is such a liar, that even many in her own party can’t stomach her candidacy. Donald Trump could not have hoped for a more vulnerable, but useful, candidate. Ms. Clinton is the perfect foil for all the hate, rage and desperation in this country. All he has to do is invoke her name and any serious scrutiny of his own evil life vanishes like a fart in a hurricane. Passionate stupidity filled with hate and rage directed toward Hillary Clinton provides all the cover that he could ever need. It feels almost as though the entire charade had been planned.
But there is another reason why Mr. Trump can’t be stopped and it is even more disturbing.
Like Over Men of the past in their countries, and like no other candidate in recent memory, he personifies who we are and who we want to be as Americans in 2016. This is why we are drawn to him. Whether we like it or not, he is our ideal, a man who actually lives our dreams, our aspirations and our morality. We are not a “Christian” nation. The true American god of 2016 is celebrity, success and money. We worship the glittering power that they create. This is just as true in our academic classrooms and scientific laboratories as in our churches. It is just as true for conservatives as for progressives, for Christians as for atheists.
Donald Trump personifies our new understanding of independence.
He lives by his own rules, answering to no one. Whatever he chooses to do, there are no negative consequences. Whether it’s a billion dollar business deal, or bedding a woman, everything always turns out well for him, including his children. Why is this so? Because he wills it to be so. This is his constant message of personal power and freedom to American voters. To a nation of frightened, selfish children, the message is irresistible. He will be our father. He will take care of us. He will make us great again. I contend that Donald Trump is both the quintessential American and the quintessential father of 2016.
Are you a progressive and do you think Donald Trump stands for everything you hate? Consider a few things: In a country that is increasingly atheist and agnostic all that matters is personal choice governed by an individually constructed moral code. Where did your moral code originate? You cobbled it together yourself from many sources and it is conveniently flexible depending upon “necessity”. How might you apply it? Here’s a small possibility. When you answer to no one but yourself, if you find it personally “necessary”, you can choose to kill a baby in the womb because, by fiat, you have determined that the child is only expendable tissue. This is nothing but the application of Nietzschean raw power disconnected from any Ultimate Responsibility.
When your personal ethics are determined by convenience and desire, which you define as necessity, you are living your life in Donald Trump’s ethical mansion.
But at least he doesn’t want to murder innocent Muslims. He doesn’t want to categorize them as expendable tissue. He only wants to keep them out. If it helps, think of it as an act of Planned National Fatherhood, like placing a huge condom on immigration. Our Father is only protecting us, his true natural-born children. Don’t you understand? Our country can’t afford any more kids.
Another similarity: Mr. Trump is famous in business for breaking his contracts and not keeping his word. He’s famous for doing the same thing in marriage. Have you broken your marriage vows purely because you decided it was something you “needed” to do and then you justified it? Have you ever made a business decision that went against your “ethical code” because it was convenient? How different are you from Donald Trump? You may not like his moral code, but who is to say that yours is better than his or even that much different? Who has the right to make such a “moral” judgement and on what authority can it be made?
At rock bottom, the way Donald Trump lives is the way almost all Americans would like to live. We want success in every area and no negative consequences no matter what we choose to do. Of course, our selfishness is always mediated by the desire to be considered “nice people”. That is one of the things that differentiates the average self-centered American from Mr. Trump. Over Man never worries about being considered a nice person. If he is nice or kind, it is because he deigns to be so, not because he considers it a necessity. But kind or not, he will accomplish his goals. It is unlikely that you have ever met anyone with such self-possession and confidence in his own power, who actually possesses great power.
Recently, I read a horrifying book.
It is entitled Hitler’s Last Secretary: A First-Hand Account of Life with Hitler by Traudl Junge. Ms. Junge was only 21 years old when she joined Hitler’s close, personal staff. From that point she was with him almost every day for two and a half years, ending only at the bunker. How would you like to work for an employer who was always kind and considerate and never critical, who never overloaded you or asked you to do more than you could handle, who was constantly concerned for your personal welfare? As an attractive young woman, how would you like to work for an employer who never used sexual innuendos, or made passes at you and who always treated you with the utmost respect? That was Adolph Hitler. He treated Ms. Junge like a daughter and tried to help her find the right young man to marry. He was her kind father, all while murdering untold millions.
While he was such a wonderful employer, Ms. Junge relates that every single thing revolved totally around him and his desires. But that was never because he insisted on it. He didn’t have to. She relates that all those on his staff were overwhelmed by his personality. To them he was magnanimous, but they hung on his every word. To others in other settings, Hitler was a raging maniac, nick-named the “carpet chewer” for the way he could lose control like one possessed. In two and a half years, Ms. Junge never saw that side of him. Later she understood that he was two completely different people . The closest she came to seeing that other “person” were the few times when a topic was raised that Hitler did not want to discuss, such as when the wife of one of his staff expressed concern for the poor Jews she had seen being shipped out in boxcars. Couldn’t Hitler do something to help them? At such moments, a flash of utter coldness would come into his eyes and the conversation would end never to be broached again.
In those two and a half years living in her protected, isolated environment, Ms. Junge says she never knew about all the horrors that were taking place in the outside world. For that she felt much guilt to the end of her life. So remember this in the months ahead as you hear all the glowing stories about Mr. Trump from people who love him and who have experienced his great kindness. Over Man can be very kind indeed.
As much as Progressives share the real values of Donald Trump, at least they hate his public pronouncements and sense that he is a demagogue. Far more hypocritical and blind are those social conservatives and evangelical Christians who are placing their faith in him. For decades they have considered themselves the Keepers of the Moral Flame in America. They have taken pride in their ethical vision of what America should be. But the rise of Donald Trump is bringing out the truth of what they really believe. They are motivated by the same hate, rage and desperation as people who do not claim to know God. This is proof that what has been going on in so many churches for decades bears no resemblance to Biblical Christianity at all. The pagan god of success, prosperity and security has been painted to look like Jesus. Little wonder that now Donald Trump, one of his high priests, is being “baptized” as a “Christian” so good church people can pretend he is one of their own. (This is a particularly dry baptism even for Presbyterians.)
How has this evil farce come to be?
In large part, because the Bible has become a virtually unknown book in most churches. The only contact so many Christians have with it is on Sunday morning when their pastor or priest plasters a few proof texts on a “sermon” that is nothing more than a psychological homily on how to live better. Rarely is the Bible cracked open in “Christian” homes from Sunday to Sunday. What Christians do know from the Bible is in the New Testament with a smattering of verses from the Psalms. The Old Testament is like Shakespeare, highly regarded, but never read. They have no idea what this verse means: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” They do not understand that “all Scripture” includes the Old Testament.
Is there any instruction in the Bible that would help Christians make a decision about Donald Trump?
Maybe there is. To find it, look in the Old Testament at the entire history of the Children of Israel. Certainly, they considered themselves the “People of God” just as American Christians do today. What do we see as we look at their history spanning many centuries? Over and over the Israelite nation, in its various forms, was faced with a great and dangerous evil. A powerful king with his massive armies was going to attack and enslave them. The risk to their peace and security was enormous. At those times, an awful temptation was placed in front of them. They were tempted to make alliances with an opposing, powerful, evil king whom they thought would protect them. Clearly, in their minds it was a choice between the “lesser of two evils”. Each time these temptations appeared, God warned them through His prophets not to choose what they considered the lesser of two evils. Instead, wait and trust in Him.
Certainly, in those days such an argument would have been met with the same argument we hear today. “If you don’t choose the lesser of two evils, by default you are choosing the greater evil. We must align ourselves with that evil king. If we don’t, we are choosing the destruction of our nation.” In the Old Testament, God has no patience for such an attitude. Through His prophets He says, “When you choose to depend on evil in any form, you are choosing against Me.” Over and over, the Nation of Israel disobeyed and the results were disastrous. Greater and greater evil took control of their land. Instead of freedom and security, in choosing the lesser of two evils, they bought chains.
Do you think it is different today?
Do you think God will honor today what He repudiated in the past? The message today is the same as in the past. Do not fall to temptation. Do not choose evil in any form. Do not be manipulated into such a choice by hate, rage and desperation. Do not listen to false teachers who egg you on to greater and greater fear. Do not follow wolves who will lead you to destruction. Whatever happens to America is in God’s Hands. The fact that we have two such evil candidates presented to us for President is a clear view of our nation’s future. Do you think you are going to stop God’s judgement by voting for what you consider in your vast wisdom to be the lesser of two evils?
In our form of government, each person bears moral responsibility for his or her choice at the polls. The person we vote for is the one in whom we have placed our faith. Instead of choosing evil, choose righteousness, because that is choosing life, even if it means not voting at all. God have mercy on us if evil from either side takes control with the support of the Christian Church in America. Let that church support neither and, in so doing, place her faith in our true Father, the Eternal God.
And here is the ultimate warning to Christian leaders as they speak about this election. Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:7 “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.”
Addendum for Clarification
After reading this post, a number of people, in their desperate dislike of President Obama and Secretary Clinton are making the mistake of saying that either one of them could just as easily fit the description of Over Man as Donald Trump. Absolutely untrue. They are missing the essential point. Over Man has “created” himself. He has depended on no one but himself to become what he is today. Of course, he has used people along the way, but this is only to achieve his ends. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton can say that they created themselves. It is clear that when he was a young man President Obama was chosen by powerful political forces, first to be successful in Illinois politics, and then to run for President. He didn’t create himself. He would be nothing without those powerful friends. It’s highly unlikely that Secretary Clinton would be running for President had her husband not been president first. Certainly, both Obama and Clinton would have been very successful in life, but not to the level that they have achieved. The same is true of Bill Clinton. Without his wife goading and protecting him, he never would have achieved the Presidency. Probably, like a few other governors, he would be an ex-convict by now.
After some financial help from his father many years ago, Donald Trump “created” himself like no other candidate for President has ever done. All the others depended on help from various sources, political and financial alliances, etc. Many people think this is a strength. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone. They don’t understand the level of arrogance and worship of self that such self-creating, such “will to power”, demands. It is power that does not include the slightest humility because he has never needed it. That makes him very dangerous indeed. His followers believe that, once in office, he will answer to their desires, because they voted for him. Wrong. The pattern is established over many years. He will continue to answer only to himself.