On Hierarchy and Trump
Updated: Mar 16
Since time immemorial, a common trait shared between human civilizations has been kept and nurtured due to its usefulness to society: the concept of a hierarchy. While in modern times the concept of hierarchy has been used to justify the need for a struggle against it, it would be insane to deny both the prevalence and relative usefulness of the hierarchy when it comes to establishing the values, belief systems, and behaviors of a people.
However, as of late, the concept of hierarchy has not only been questioned but to some extent thrown into the bin, disregarded completely. And while it would be easy to make this point using some sort of Marxist lense, as if to declare victory, I will instead make the case that this is a bad thing; and also explain the particularities that these new situations have to offer.
A common trait of any hierarchy when it comes to a society is to establish different social classes. Every social class, traditionally, existed within its own subculture and nurtured their specific traditions and behaviors, subsisting, however, directly due to the existence of the other social classes existent in said hierarchy. Society itself included all classes regardless, but what made society were the values that were imposed from top to bottom, and the sanctity of those who imposed these values was defended using various arguments, from the credibility of one’s own achievements to a hereditary line or the blessing of an entity whose authority was undeniable due to faith, amongst countless others. Whatever the society might be, the transmission of values was protected not in spite of but because of the hierarchy. And if for some reason the ones at the top had lost credibility, the system would collapse.
Currently though, it is not as simple as that. With the rapid progress of technology and the existence of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, people are now connected in a way that renders the social classes useless; common human behavior is now condensed into what gets more likes and responses from the rest of the population itself: a more common, universal pattern of behavior is promoted by the simple fact that someone did it and got a positive response; not from the hierarchy itself.
Criticism is also a clear indicator of how useless the concept of hierarchy has become: when hierarchy is taken seriously, the social criticism that tends to exist is within the real of one’s own class; with these tools, however, due to the fact that we are now connected to the point we can witness other people’s lives nearly 24/7 and everyone’s mistakes are online, criticism is very much present and directed to all social groups, regardless of any perceived credibility a person might have in the social currency that was prevalent before these tools were accessible by the general population.
The easy conclusion to take from that is that if the values of a society are defined by nothing but an instant kick of gratification and assurance from others who you barely even know, and not by people and figures one respects or feels compelled to obey, there are long term problems in managing your own expectations about life in the long term. Either if we like it or not, if our maximum source of authority is placed on the shoulders of other people in general, we are therefor dependent on them for our search of purpose in life. This is a thought that might also help explain the nihilism and increasing hopelessness of recent generations.
How it relates to Donald Trump
One interesting case to consider with this reflection would be that of President Donald Trump. Under the rules that defined the value of the old social currency, Donald Trump would be considered an authority figure of sorts; not an absolute authority by any stretch of the imagination, but his record as a businessman (as negative as it might be perceived) would grant him some sort of credibility next to those who are beneath him. And since he is viewed as a somewhat unlikable figure by a vast majority of his citizens, one would believe it would be easy to bring Trump down since his record is easily used as a source of criticism and virtually all of his statements are perceived to be offensive. Furthermore, if the concept of hierarchy is so unvalued these days, how does Trump seem to be indestructible by any form of sound or unsound criticism?
The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that the progression towards a society where social groups do not define hierarchy but popularity does, has now crafted a new sort of social currency that only a specific amount of people can have. At the end of the day, Trump was a reality TV star as well as a businessman, and his Twitter tirades at this point seem as if they have been happening since the beginning of time, being able to gather around himself vast crowds of people just to see what he has to say in hopes that his unpredictability would amuse them. The fact that they liked or disliked Trump did not matter, as they all followed him for that reason; and now, as the president, that equation has now been extremely exacerbated.
Trump represents a person who can claim to have two forms of social currency; the most recent one, justified by his popularity, and the oldest one, justified by his career and wealth. I would, certainly, make the case that some people consider his old form of social currency valuable due to the simple fact he’s also managed to master the most recent one. To put it quite frankly, if looked at in this manner, taking down Trump has been proven impossible so far, as there are very few people who can match him in those categories. While politicians hold some credibility, they aren’t s as popular as a celebrity; and while celebrities are seen as popular, they aren’t as credible as politicians. Trump is now seen as both, and any hope of taking him down would require someone who can, one way or the other, match the amount of social currency he has attained for himself, and only then try to beat him one on one. Trump’s social currency is his body armor that deflects all attacks, and he can only be truly damaged after that body armor is taken from him.
On a final thought, I must stress how I find it deeply ironic that the country that has been the driving force behind this devaluation of hierarchy decided to put into office the most complete version of an authority figure that they could find. Perhaps it is not humanity’s intentions to dissolve the meaning behind hierarchies as much as they are a natural consequence of systems like capitalism or something else I am yet to put my finger on. But it is at the very least interesting to entertain the thought that when a power vacuum is created, perhaps people are more desperate to have it filled that they might think at first. Maybe because they intrinsically believe it might return meaning into their existence? Who knows.