Revisiting “the repugnant other” in the era of Trump

Myles Lennon


Anthropology has long challenged etic characterizations of the contradictory other, highlighting the logics of putatively back- ward subjects. Recent punditry on Donald Trump ’ s election echoes this ethnographic imperative, calling on concerned citizens to empathetically listen to the otherized Trump Voter to resolve the alleged contradictions in his worldview. This article calls for a different ethnographic approach to elucidating this confounding political moment. Instead of searching for coherent subjects beneath Red State contradictions, we must explore the ways in which today ’ s caustic politics give a particular shape to the in- consistencies and illogical predilections endemic to the human condition. Drawing from interviews with several Trump sup- porters and anthropological literature on political subjecthood in Argentina, Indonesia, Micronesia, and Sierra Leone, I high- light three ethnographic insights on contradictions that destabilize the alleged “ spectrum ” of deliberative political subjects. In so doing, I situate the United States ’ current political landscape within the broader existential paradoxes salient to human society.


Trump, contradiction, political anthropology, the repugnant other

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/700979