The essence of Tantra is the reclamation of excluded, forbidden, or stigmatized viewpoints and practices as a source of power.
Leave aside for a moment everything you think you know about Tantra (or check out my recent article about what it is and is not here). The essence of Tantra is the reclamation of excluded, forbidden, or stigmatized viewpoints and practices as a source of power.
Ok, now bear with me for a brief history lesson before we get to Drumpf.
Tantra arose in 5th century India after the triumph of Vedic Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in the religious sphere. Despite their differences all three religions were similar in what they stigmatized as unethical or impious.
Tantra arose as a group of esoteric traditions that offered access to excluded practices to the initiated. The more genteel version was called right hand tantra (dakshinamarga). It’s focus included new innovations in ritual and meditation, invocation of under-emphasized aspects of the divine, white magic incantations, and experimental use of the body as a spiritual tool. Right hand tantra was the more popular, “mainstream” tradition.
The less genteel, and more infamous variety, was known disparagingly as left-hand tantra (vamachara) because in India you eat with the right hand and wipe yourself with your left. Vamachara went much further than it’s well-behaved sibling. Practitioners re-incorporated animal sacrifice, created elaborate new rituals, practiced magical spells for unethical purposes (like rape), used alcohol, cannabis and hallucinogens in their practices, worshipped violent and terrifying deities, broke moral and purity norms, and practiced ritual sex (and not with feminist or healing purposes in view, again see here). Their practice was sometimes called svecchara, or the “way of the will”, i.e. freely doing whatever you want.
Left Hand Tantra aimed at allowing the forbidden as a way to release psychological forces and cultivate power. This power was felt and wielded personally by practitioners (called Tantrikas or Yogis), but by no one more than the Tantric Guru himself. The Guru had the power of initiation and authority. He received offerings, sometimes lavish ones, from his followers. One Buddhist Tantric guru was said to be so fat he could barely walk and was carried around on a litter.
The guru was not just a recipient of offerings and obedience, but also of his followers bodies. Tantrikas offered themselves or their consorts to the guru for his use. The guru’s words had power and were not to be disobeyed. His crazy behaviour was to be rationalized away, as were his contradictions or any teachings of his that seemed cryptic, flawed or nonsensical. It is quite possible that not a few left hand Tantric gurus were what we would now call sociopaths.
Which brings us to Trump.
The last several decades have seen the ascension of a set of values- feminist, anti-racist, morally liberal, multi-cultural, centrist, unilateralist, even lightly socialist. Certainly racism, nationalist and religious triumphalism, and militarism, while present, have all been subject to increasing criticism and sanction. The Obama presidency, whatever it’s significant compromises and failures, is in some ways the pinnacle of these trends.
Enter Trump, the Tantric politician. Trump’s public discourse flagrantly insulted and sexualized women in the most misogynist and anti-feminist ways. Trump has preached a crazed, hyper-violent rejection of Muslims of a type which has been rightfully excluded from acceptable public discourse. He dismissed the logic of military restraint, promising brutal violence to perceived enemies. He rejects careful, complex thought, instead promising the purity of the lizard brain unleashed.
Trump rejects the mores of political correctness which have been a medium of social transformation over the last decades and effectively helped to reshape many aspects of American morality, but which many feel to be a straight jacket. More powerfully than this- and power is the key word- Trump embraces racism. Whether he is really a serious, ideological racist or not, Trump has been a casual racist for a long time and is chillingly at ease both with racist ways of thinking and with racists themselves (providing they pledge their allegiance to him).
For all of these reasons Trump is the American doyen of the left-hand Tantra approach to politics. He is not a statesman or a politician, he is a left-hand guru, and his followers act just like good shishyas (disciples). No matter what he says or does they can not be shaken in their faith in him. They are blind to his faults. They will rationalize away any contradictions, embrace any madness in the name of his crazy wisdom. The reason is simple- like any good left hand Tantric guru he is an object of surrender and faith which gives them permission to unleash their forbidden impulses with impunity (see examples of unleashed racism and aggression here.)
Trumpism is not really a political movement at all- it possesses no real platform, no effective bureaucracy, no expertise, no coherent political ideology. Trumpism is a religious movement, a dionysian release of the furies.
This is a revised version of an article I wrote in 2016.