I’ve watched the first two live ‘debates’ between Trump and Clinton, and am determined to watch the third, at 2 a.m. (our time). Friends tell me they can’t – it’s all too depressing. Kajsa, in Stockholm, says she won’t watch it alone. (We saw the last one together. It helped, being able to cling on to each other.)
Why is it that I’m so attracted by this sort of thing? I watch films of Hitler’s speeches, too, transfixed, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. It’s only political horror that thrills me this way; I don’t watch disaster movies, for example, or horror films, or any kind of fighting, or pornography. Trump, in fact, seems to be my own particular form of pornography. I watch him with deep loathing, but I have to admit that his loathsomeness is part of the attraction. I also feel dirty afterwards. What does that make me? Is it a male thing? Or am I a pervert of some kind?
Trump possesses an undeniable charisma, but by definition it is, in the last instance, a mystery why we are drawn to him. Of course, the historian would understandably be excited by an emerging leader of his type. Cataclysmic social change, with a heavy bias to the negative, is regularly accompanied or caused by the advent of the ‘great leader’ – whether mythical or real – and the irrationalist personality cult that grows up around (mostly) him.
It must be in our cultural DNA to be awed at some level by these figures. Even someone as rational as Max Weber, writing before the appearance of Hitler, famously looked to a future charismatic leader to pull Germany and civilisation out of its torpor.
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