Why is Donald Trump such an enigma? Why is the political opposition so overwhelmed and divided? Trump is so many things to his opponents—a racist, a sexist, a xenophobic nationalist, an authoritarian, a traitor, and a con artist—that it is difficult to process his presidency. Adapting an ancient parable to modern times, this chapter examines the difficulty of comprehending Trump's significance. Rather than shying away from the widespread sense of political apocalypse, it urges readers to confront head-on Trump's uncanny power and the infernal transformation he has brought about in American society. Could it be that Trump is worse than anyone suspects? Our advanced democracy has succumbed to an ancient evil.
According to the Bible, there were a number of fallen angels besides Satan. Mammon, who represents greed, is another one of the Seven Princes of Hell. This chapter exposes aspects of Trump's business and political dealings that ought to make us wonder, Is Trump a mere devotee—just a Mammon worshipper—or is he an actual incarnation of the Mammon? Revealing the centrality of greed in Trump's life history and the political regime he has established, this chapter completes the inquiry begun in chapter 1. Only one of Trump's many sins is central to his history and modus operandi. Anyone wishing to understand or combat Trump must focus here, on greed, and must be willing to descend to unforeseen depths. And yet, those depths are not entirely unfamiliar. Trump and Mammon are more representative of the American experience than most of us would like to admit.
Weaving together the Biblical origin story with democracy's origin story, this chapter highlights the key role played by corruption. The fall from Eden and the fall of American democracy share the same cause: human beings' vulnerability to corruption. Evidence from anthropological and biological studies suggest that humanity can never escape the curse (and promise) of its own cognitive revolution—not just our ability to know good and evil, but our unavoidable task of choosing between them. Those Biblical and cognitive lessons overlap with lessons from the fall of the first English republic. The American Revolution later reaffirms democracy, but greed derails the project again in the forms of slavery, the Gilded Age, and 1970s neoliberalism. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down campaign finance legislation, declaring that money is constitutionally protected speech and democracy a marketplace. The court's exercise in constitutional interpretation is reimagined as a spell, summoning Mammon.
Key events between 1976 and 2014 made Trump's 2016 victory possible. This is the third era of American plutocracy (after slavery and the Gilded Age), another period of rising economic inequality, rising political inequality, and systemic corruption. Key passages from Supreme Court cases and statistics on money in politics are examined, leading up to the "April Revelations of 2014"—bombshell documents from the fields of law, economics, political science, and psychology, announcing that plutocracy had peaked once more. Trump's 2016 election is inseparable from that moment in history. These factors underlying Trump's rise to power are laid out, alongside the contributing circumstances of the election itself. A portrait is drawn of the legal and illegal forms of systemic corruption that have extinguished democratic integrity. The journey from American democracy to American plutocracy and kleptocracy is demystified. It is the journey from Homo sapiens to Homo economicus.
The depths of Trump's kleptocracy will surprise even the most cynical readers. From child detention to environmental destruction, Trump has profited from grotesque abuses of public power. After describing how he and his political network are cannibalizing the state, this chapter reveals the backstory that made such thievery predictable. Trump's long-standing association with Russia and organized crime are brought to the forefront. Addressing how to conceive of and respond to such a repugnant and catastrophic presidency, this chapter turns to Dante's Inferno and a revolutionary political agenda. Defeating Trump, his collaborators, and his mode of government will require more than tinkering around the edges. It will require changing the structure of American democracy to rule out systemic corruption. Beyond routine popular engagement, this paradigm shift depends on moral courage, even virtue—exactly the kind of awakening experienced by Dante on his own journey through Hell.