Much of the commentary on the possibility of post-Trump Trumpism has tended to focus on the possibility of a much more competent populist emerging to lead this movement i.e. one who is disciplined, strategic and serious in contrast to the impulsive and instinctive character of the outgoing president. However this passage from Zizek’s Pandemic 2! (loc 1573) makes me wonder if we might see a less rather than more serious figure:
His shameless obscenities serve as signs of solidarity with so-called ordinary people (“you see? I am the same as you, we are all red under our skin”), and this solidarity also signals the point at which Trump’s obscenity reaches its limit. Trump is not thoroughly obscene: when he talks about the greatness of America, when he dismisses his opponents as enemies of the people, etc., he intends to be taken seriously, and his obscenities are meant to emphasize by contrast, the level on which he is serious: they are meant to function as an obscene display of his belief in the greatness of America.
To what extent has this residual seriousness been the foundation of Trump’s success? Or might it have constrained it? The fact he ultimately had limits, even if they’re flexible ones. It left me imagining a more sinister and comic figure, more thoroughly obscene as Zizek puts it, more able to ride the unpredictable epistemic waves which determine the political weather of American politics. It’s hard to conceive of such a figure being a more effective challenger at a national level than Trump but it’s easy to imagine how they could exercise an even stronger influence over Trump’s base, particularly the fringes of it who have taken leave of a reality shared with non-Trumpists.