Donald Trump and the Banality of Evil

   It is not surprising that Donald Trump is facing impeachment proceedings. It is surprising that he is finally facing impeachment proceedings. It is surprising that it took so long for him to be charged with something substantial given his record of recklessness and idiocy. It is surprising that he survived three years in the White House. And it is not just because his actions are deranged and that he is a natural born criminal but that it took so long for the American deep state to finally get to the 21st Century’s weirdest anti-establishment figure.

At this point, nothing can shock people anymore. Jesters have rarely taken over the throne of the king and whenever they have they have become kings themselves. But this man is truly rare for he is still a jester in a king’s robe. Let us not get things wrong. Trump is not evil. He is an imbecile with the confidence of a king.

It is not possible to peer directly into Trump’s mind, but evidence suggests that it is more a void than a cyclone of malicious energy. Whether he’s pulling the USA out of the Paris Agreement or dismissing climate change as a hoax, Trump’s actions have caused and will continue to cause suffering on a global scale. But he in any real sense doesn’t intend to cause widespread misery. This would assign him the sort of demonic agency of which his complacently understocked mind is incapable. It seems far more likely he is in a position that far exceeds his capacities and interests, and that when his deliberative process occasionally rises to the level of an intention, it is aimed at stoking his vanity, not serving evil simpliciter.

But this does not weaken Trump’s culpability for his actions and the terrible consequences they have wrought. It is not a defense but an indictment of Trump’s character to point out that he lacks the moral introspection that is one of the hallmarks of an ethical human life (or a human life in general). A moment’s thought would deter Trump from following the path he has chosen, but a moment’s thought he will not give.

It seems unlikely that Trump will ultimately cause suffering to an extent and degree comparable to Eichmann’s crimes. This may have something to do with the astonishing incompetence of the Trump White House—incompetence that has largely served the interests of the Republic. The fact that Trump is incapable of issuing a lawful immigration directive can be counted only as a blessing. We are in a sorry state, however, when all that lies between relative stability and calamity are the president’s limitations, which are a mixed blessing, at best. The ineptitude that keeps immigrant families together (at least for the moment) is the same ineptitude that can initiate a nuclear holocaust on the Korean Peninsula. If there is one thing Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’ teaches us, it is that banal actions—mundane, uncritical, unthinking actions—can result in disaster.