The Trumpster, the US President and resident of the White House, has stated on many occasions that he is going to ‘drain the swamp that is Washington’. In school-book mythology Washington and the White House were built literally in a swamp. Wetlands, such as swamps, are unhomely homely, or uncanny, places involving the return of, and to, the repressed. The uncanny as developed by Sigmund Freud in his famous essay of 1919 is the unhomely and homely that is both frightening and fascinating at the same time.
In Trumpster mythology, Washington is metaphorically a swamp—whatever that means. Getting in the way of a good metaphor is not something the Trumpster does. Whenever he uses it at his supporter rallies he gets a big cheer. It seems to press the right buttons with his supporters. Tropes such as this one are the dreams of speech in which the repressed, such as the swamp, returns. Such tropes are placist and exercise placial discrimination of one privileged place against another denigrated (literally ‘blackened’) place. In this case they ascribe pejorative qualities associated with the swamp (darkness, disease, monsters), a natural place created by ancestral beings, to a city, a cultural place built by modern human hands.
Drawing parallels between the uncanny and the current presidency of the United States and present resident of the White House is inviting, instructive and illustrative. It demonstrates and showcases the power and pertinence of the uncanny in the tool box of political critique, demonstrates what Walter Benjamin called ‘the weak messianic power of storytelling’, undertakes an ecological psychoanalysis of the unconscious tropes of speech and engages in a talking cure of environmental illness for environmental health.
The Trumpster is a monstrous vector and vehicle for the uncanny that returns the United States to the repressed of its swamps on which its major cities were built, such as Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, New York and Washington, and in which its revolution was partly won with ‘the swamp fox’, Francis Marion, its second-most famous general (now largely forgotten), holing up, and winning out, in swamps. The Trumpster makes no mention of Marion. He is not a figure, let alone a hero, in Trumpster mythology. Rather than being the golden or silver swamp fox, the Trumpster is a comic swamp thing (as in the hero of the DC comic book series of this title) produced by a laboratory accident involving a bio-restorative and a swamp. He is a hero to some, a monster to others. The monster is not without, but within; the monster is us.
In the uncanny Trumpster the divine and the monstrous are reunited in the diabolical, a reverse engineering of the split between them with dire, and not entirely unintended, consequences. The office of the commander-in-chief and the cult of the president are combined with the comb-over king, serial sleaze, grotesque groper, monstrous mauler, junk-food eater and ‘a grand wizard of debt’ who has ‘magically escaped from several dark boxes of it’, as Richard Wolfe puts it. His folksy swamp mythology, his smattering of Christian fundamentalism (all Americans are Christians by birth, aren’t they, as a birthright?) and the support he garnered from this sect (who now prefer to rebadge and whitewash themselves as ‘evangelicals’ so that they are not associated with those other evil fundamentalists, the perpetrators of 9/11 and other terrorists), together with his racism, placism and support for fascists and ‘debt wizards’ as ‘fine people’, demonstrate the disturbing power of the monotheistic theology of ‘God’s chosen people’ and their ‘manifest
destiny’ to ‘make America great again’. Isn’t it still great? His declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the establishment of the US embassy there are symptomatic of this disturbed monotheism as a kind of reverse messianism of attempting to turn back the clock and rewrite the history of Palestine before and after Jewish occupation and reinstate on a geopolitical scale Judeo-Christian-American exceptionalism, the ‘three religions of the United States’ (except that for the Trumpster and ‘evangelicals’ it is all just one monotheism of Americanism).
The repressed returns. With the Trump-ster, the repressed swamps of American culture where the monsters of racism, placism, capitalism, fascism and fundamentalism reside and breed are returning. The Trumpster is a trickster, treater and a dumpster into which the garbage of the American collective psyche is thrown and into which those hungry or desperate enough have dived and gorged themselves on his fast food with a quick sugar and fat fix. He performs the cheap trick of promising jobs to rustbelt workers and tricks them into believing he will give them this treat by imposing tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium. All he gives them is a blow job (metaphorically speaking) with short-term satisfaction and no long-term gain—just more pain. The repressed also returns literally with a sinkhole appearing in the lawns of the White House in May 2018, which prompted some to speculate that ‘nature’ and/or the earth was taking revenge against the Trumpster in general and his loose use of the metaphor of draining the swamp that is Washington in particular (‘The White House Sinkhole …’).
The uncanny Trumpster is frightening and arouses dread and horror. He is an object of horror and fascination. Regarding him, the phenomenon of which he is a part and product (Trumpism), his modus operandi and his supporters as uncanny helps to understand, unpack and critique them. It can also help to counter them and to develop and strengthen the alternative by detheologising and remythifying religion into polytheistic environmental poetics. This means moving away from monotheology to polytheology, the study of many religions (see Giblett, forthcoming). It also means moving away from the Trumpster’s drive for monotheistic mastery over life, death and the earth to the desire for polytheistic mutuality with them. It also means moving away from the Trumpster’s monotheistic swamp mythology of the Judeo-Christian-American God of the patriarchal dryland earth to the polytheistic swamp mythology of the great mother goddess and marsh monsters of the matrifocal wetland earth. It means remythifying them from an environment- and animal-friendly point of view using the weak messianic power of storytelling. •
Freud, S. 2003. The Uncanny. D. Mclintock, trans. London: Penguin.
Giblett, R. 1996. Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Giblett, R. 2016. Cities and Wetlands: The Return of the Repressed in Nature and Culture. London: Bloomsbury.
Giblett, R. 2018a. The Dragon and Saint George: A Fairy Tale Novella. Cambridge: Vanguard Press.
Giblett, R. 2018b. Tales of Two Dragons. London: Austin Macauley.
Giblett, R. Forthcoming. Environmental Humanities and the Uncanny: Ecoculture, Literature and Religion. London: Routledge.
The White House Sinkhole: Nature Finally Says What We’ve All Been Thinking: The Earth Literally Opening up outside Donald Trump’s Residence Seems too Good to be True. The Guardian, 23.05.2018. Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/shortcuts/2018/may/23/the-white-house-sinkhole-nature-finally-says-what-weve-all-been-thinking
Wolfe, R. 2018. Grand Wizard Trump Waves his Magic Wand. The Guardian Weekly, 16.02.2018, p.19. Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/09/trump-saddle-america-debt-bankrupted-hotels