An American Meta-Narrative

A Response to, “The Post-Modernist Appeal of Donald Trump”

Postmodernism is an intricate theory of concepts and ideas in relation to culture, the economy, politics, and society as a whole. Jean-François Lyotard in his piece, “Answering the Question: What is Post-Modern?” delves into the mystery that is postmodernism, and its connection to culture. He explores and challenges in great detail the effects of postmodernism on culture mainly through the use of art or literary examples. Lyotard further argues that in a sense, postmodernism is a challenge towards the meta-narratives that are prevalent within society.

A meta-narrative, defined by the Oxford Dictionary is, “an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provide a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.” To Lyotard, meta-narratives have been used throughout history to define and unify a period of time, revolving around a common idea, or an overall truth. For example, the Enlightenment appeared as a meta-narrative with its own values set in rationalism, reason, and scientific discovery. The Enlightenment was later replaced by a new universal truth centred on irrationality, rejecting reason and science. This meta-narrative was Romanticism.

Meta-narratives seem to unify a population toward a single truth. This concept has lead to great discoveries and cultural works of art that are admired and treasured in the present. Through postmodernism, Lyotard argues that meta-narratives are not always a positive encapsulation of society. Meta-narratives, due to their exclusivity and primary focuses can lead to the inadequate emphasis on other smaller, but just as essential narratives. For example, almost all religions that are centred in an ultimate truth, with an ultimate purpose or design are meta-narratives. At a time, each believed they are at the height of civilisation and are responsible for bringing others to this prime. This can result in the loss of other cultures, and the increase of racism, sexism, and inequality in other fields. An important consideration is to wonder whether meta-narratives still exist today. If so, what is the meta-narrative of the 21st century?

In Alexandra Wyatt’s, “The Post-Modernist Appeal of Donald Trump,” there is a deft connection between Donald Trump and Lyotard’s views on postmodernism. This is shown through the explanation on how Trump gained support with the use of fear through stereotyping developed in western culture. Furthermore, this includes his contradicting belief in the world, and diverging tactics from prior campaigners, giving him a post-modern appeal. However, recently, Donald Trump was not only inaugurated but inaugurating the meta-narrative of the 21st century.

Donald Trump is known for many things he says; shocking most of the population while receiving a variety of reactions. While campaigning, Trump used the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” As discussed in “The Post-Modernist Appeal of Donald Trump,” this phrase insinuates the idea of a golden age, a time of glory for America. That in times of desperation can provide comfort for some, yet unease for others, as “America” and “great” can be argued to reflect different time periods based on who’s opinion is voiced. Trump has introduced a meta-narrative centred in this universal truth of “Making America Great Again,” and by doing so, claiming to make America the height of civilisation.

Lyotard would view Trump as a walking contradiction. He is seen to have a post-modernist appeal, by defying the norm, however, he introduces exactly what postmodernism critiques. Through Lyotard’s eyes, he views postmodernism as a sceptic of meta-narratives, something to perhaps not be outright denied, but constantly question its universal truth. Furthermore, Lyotard believes the world should revolve around small-localised narratives, which emphasise and accentuate the diversity of world as it is. Perhaps instead of “Making America Great Again,” Lyotard would have suggested, “Making the World Great Again.” Thus fusing together greatness with the inclusivity of all of those smaller narratives. The population of America has also become aware of aspects of Trump’s meta-narrative, which can be seen in a recent march in Washington.

Whether known or unbeknownst, citizens of America have reacted with a post-modern appeal. On January 21, 2017, millions of people around the world, joined together to voice their own smaller narratives at the Women’s March in Washington DC. Advocates of women’s, reproductive, LGBTQ, worker, civil, disability, immigrant rights, and environmental justice gathered together to show a united front. This shows that within Trump’s meta-narrative there will always be small-localised narratives that hold a voice and strength. Proving to the world there can be unity in diversity.

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