Back in 2012 — several years before the 2016 US election that saw what many believe was an inept, incompetent, lying, Russian agent and con artist get elected to the US presidency — associate professor of philosophy Aaron James wrote a book called, “Assholes. A Theory.” It wasn’t about anyone in particular, although it was easy to see others — including many contemporary politicians and celebrities — in his definitions and classifications. It was somewhat satirical, but also a serious attempt to define a psychological personality while using the vernacular.
The original “theory” was also produced as a film in 2019. I reviewed and commented on the book back in 2014, with additional comments about it and its relevance to our local municipal council, in 2017 (while some of the council changed in the 2018 election, many remain and thus the comments are still valid).
James then conflated his ideas into a smaller edition, published in 2016, called “Assholes. A Theory of Donald Trump.” Somewhat of a truism in that title, as we recognize today. James wasn’t offering a political ideology to convince anyone of Trump’s assholeness. That was a given. Rather it was an attempt to frame his assholeness in the larger concepts of asshole-ology and how it reflected his inability to assume the role of president. It was in many ways, a non-partisan approach to Trump, for which it was criticized by those looking for more reasons he would be unfit as a president (as if there weren’t already enough before that election).
For me, while I found the books entertaining, they were somewhat overkill. Assholes are, like the definition of art, a personal, subjective view, as in: I don’t know much about art, but I’ll know it when I see it. Clearly millions of Repugnicans didn’t see Trump as the asshole millions of others did, and even after four years of his turning America into a shithole, they still don’t, so no definition of assholeness can fit securely around anyone. But it is somewhat cathartic to read them again with an “I told you so” sense of superiority, pointing at the last four years of Trump.
Now another election approaches. The USA has suffered four years of Trump’s egregious mismanagement, lying, corruption, nepotism, racism, abuses, insults, and incompetence. Protests, violence and rage have erupted across the country, and armed neo-Nazis are on the street killing unarmed protestors. During which their president has uttered more than 20,000 lies.
Every sane person with an IQ higher than room temperature hopes Trump and his corrupt, venal, lying, racist, pseudo-Christian cohorts get booted out of office this time. Repugnicans and their Talibangelists, of course, want them to stay because while some now reluctantly agree Trump is an asshole, he’s their asshole and they’d rather have their asshole in Washington than anyone else no matter how much more literate, competent, coherent, classy, intelligent, stable, faithful, empathetic, or honest any Democrat is. For Repugnicans, trifles like morality, honesty, competence, religious faith, empathy, and ethics have no role in their choice of leaders.
But let me not digress. I wanted to return to that latter book again, in light of the upcoming US election. Does what James wrote about Trump’s assholeness and unsuitability as president still remain true? I would argue it does, and is still relevant.
James considered Trump both an asshole and an ass-clown. The latter is sometimes seen by others as entertaining; a buffoon; and they easily overlook the ass-clown’s more serious, and dangerous, side.
Let’s first look at how James defines an asshole. In a piece on the PhilosphersMag site, he defines it as,
…the guy who systematically allows himself special advantages in cooperative life out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunises him against the complaints of other people.
James doesn’t mean by “guy’ that his definition only applies to men, but males certainly make up the far greater portion of the category than women (for example, you seldom see armed female vigilantes firing on unarmed protestors, or women driving pickups with loud mufflers, both of which fit the asshole definition). James furthers added two qualifications in a HuffPost article:
- Second, he does such things from an entrenched sense of entitlement.
- Third, he is entrenched in this sensibility so to be immunized against the complaints of other people.
Even his supporters cannot argue that these do not fit the narcissistic, non-empathetic Donald Trump to a “T”. James also believes that assholes are created by nurture, not nature, through any or all of a variety of social functions or failures:
- Gender norms, which encourage boys to be assholes while discouraging girls;
- Proliferation of narcissism via social networking and self-esteem parenting;
- “Asshole capitalism”, a model of capitalism in which citizens feel entitled to unlimited personal enrichment even at social cost.;
- Weakening of “asshole dampening systems” like the family, religion, the law, the regulatory state, etc.
I cannot argue where James is right or wrong from a psychological perspective, or whether he’s missing the effect of some genetic anomaly in the individual that prompts antisocial, narcissistic behaviour, but he seems to have captured the essence of the asshole rather well. And of Trump himself. I had hoped James would come out with a revised edition this summer, but apparently not. Still, it’s worth reading (or re-reading) his little book to remind yourself why Trump is both unsuited for office, and an asshole.