After a caravan of Donald Trump’s supporters descended on Portland, Oregon, this weekend, aching to grapple, he praised them as “great patriots.” In cheering them on, Trump is pointing them, and others like them, toward a specific target. What he seeks to eliminate is politics itself.
Politics is such a ubiquitous term in the English language, such a seemingly fixed part of American life, that its existence is assumed and its definition rarely considered. Our concept of politics, descended from antiquity, is that society can peaceably settle its differences of opinion and interests. For politics to properly play its becalming role, citizens must agree on rules. Discussion, persuasion, and a willingness to accept temporary defeat are the political means by which a society adjudicates its inevitable conflicts. When a society discards politics, violence assumes its place. This threat is already evident in the deaths of two people protesting a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and that of a member of a right-wing group in Portland. Another president would make a show of easing tensions, but Trump deliberately escalates them.
Since Donald Trump first announced his presidential bid in 2015, he has promised to dispense with politics. At first, this promise seemed banal in its familiarity—so it initially struck many voters and journalists as more benign than it should have. Generations of rich men running for office, after all, had promised to replace the values of politics with the ethos of business. Besides, the art of the deal is what every great parliamentary leader claims to practice.