Trump is more medieval than enlightenment. Like many medieval monarchs Trump is vain and willful. He takes pleasure in pleasure itself. He enjoys battle and glory; he understands extravagant display and is unbothered by practical politics. He has a court — who was the Mooch if not a particularly second-rate jester? He’s capable of almost unbelievable petulance and juvenility. Medieval kings traveled widely. Mobility was the key to leadership; they had to see and be seen. England’s Edward I made 2891 journeys in his 35-year reign, a move every five days on average. Trump’s rallies aren’t so much fascism reborn as they are a simulacrum of this 13th-century power-politics. In the course of the 2016 campaign, Trump held 323 rallies, attended by over a million people. Since winning the presidency he’s held dozens more. For Trump, the rallies are the ‘real’ part of politics, not briefings in the White House. Perhaps this was true of some kings. They are bored of the prattling of priests who ran their palaces, only feeling truly monarchical when on the road, preparing to be grandly entertained by some desperate-to-impress baron.
America is full of medieval resonances. BLM has all the trappings of a millenarian cult. Flagellants — genuinely! — appeared at anti-racist protests over the summer. The middle-classes, according to Joel Kotkin, are the most disadvantaged estate in a new feudal system. The harvest of the economy is reaped by a tiny oligarchical minority. Religious feeling, if not institutional religion, endures and flourishes in all sorts of ways — consider the revival of astrology in recent years. Under Trump, American culture has seen the grown ever more irrational, magical and visual; all were hallmarks of the medieval era. Christian guilt is climate guilt. Sumptuary laws are political correctness. Succession, HBO’s dynastic comedy, dramatizes this neo-medievalism better than anything else. ‘History never repeats itself,’ Voltaire once wrote, ‘man always does.’