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Opinion | Donald Trump’s Mob Rule

Both Murray Rothbard, a co-founder of the libertarian Cato Institute, and Sam Francis, a white nationalist who has become posthumously influential among MAGA elites, found in “The Godfather” novel and films a vision of a self-governing social order more admirable than our own.

Francis used the German terms “Gemeinschaft” and “Gesellschaft” to contrast the values of the Godfather with those of liberal modernity. Gemeinschaft, he wrote, describes a culture based on “kinship, blood relationship, feudal ties, social hierarchy, deference, honor, and friendship,” whereas Gesellschaft refers to a social world that is atomized, calculating and legalistic. “It is a principal thesis of ‘The Godfather’ that American society is a Gesellschaft at war with the Gemeinschaft inherent in the extended families of organized crime, and it is the claim of the novel and even more intensely of the films that the truly natural, legitimate, normal, and healthy type of society is that of the gangs,” wrote Francis in 1992.

There’s a similar dichotomy between Trump and his enemies: He represents charismatic personal authority as opposed to the bureaucratic dictates of the law. Under his rule, the Republican Party, long uneasy with modernity, has given itself over to Gemeinschaft. The Trump Organization was always run as a family business, and now that Trump has made his dilettante daughter-in-law vice chair of the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party is becoming one as well. To impose a similar regime of personal rule on the country at large, Trump has to destroy the already rickety legitimacy of the existing system. “As in Machiavelli’s thought, the Prince is not only above the law but the source of law and all social and political order, so in the Corleone universe, the Don is ‘responsible’ for his family, a responsibility that authorizes him to do virtually anything except violate the obligations of the family bond,” Francis wrote. That also seems to be how Trump sees himself, minus, of course, the family obligations. What’s frightening is how many Republicans see him the same way.

Societies fetishize Mafiosi to the degree that they lose faith in themselves. Writing about the ideology embedded in the classic crime films of the 1930s, the Marxist social critic Fredric Jameson noted that gangsters “were dramatized as psychopaths, sick loners striking out against a society essentially made up of wholesome people (the archetypal democratic ‘common man’ of New Deal populism).” When, in the 1970s, gangsters instead represented a fantasy of family cohesion, it was a response to a broader climate of social dissolution. It’s a sign that a culture is in the grip of a deep nihilism and despair when moblike figures become romantic heroes, or worse, presidents.

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