I’m pleased to run this guest piece by S.D. Kelly, particularly given the direction the Trump campaign has gone in the past week.

A dozen years after his death, the ideas promoted by the historian and philosopher Jacques Derrida still wield a powerful influence. This holds true even for people who have never heard of Derrida. In fact, it might even be especially true for people who have never heard of Derrida. During his superstar academic career, Derrida wrote thousands of pages and lectured to thousands of students, dismantling the constructs of a very logocentric world through the philosophical and critical approach of deconstructionism.

Reading Derrida’s work is like going to the dentist’s office: It’s not fun while you’re in the chair, but it pays off in the end. However difficult the task of reading Derrida may be at the time, his work illuminates the concepts that animate the culture outside of academia, the place where most of us live.

Deconstructionism became an ascendant mode of analysis (however much Derrida himself resisted associating deconstruction with critique) in the last half of the last century. It is the source from which all of our subsequent -isms live and move and have their being. In a funny sort of tension, deconstructionism exists alongside, while completely undermining, the prevailing modes of literary criticism: the popular approach of reading a text as a feminist or Marxist, or within the framework of queer or gender theory.

These sorts of readings may have a certain political resonance, but even they cannot withstand the assault of deconstructionism. In the end, deconstructionism renders the text itself meaningless, never mind whether or not it is sufficiently feminist or Marxist or whatever. The deconstructionists achieve this feat by pulling apart the text itself, breaking it down into something far less than its sum, examining text word by word, and then calling into question what each word means. In this exercise, a holistic approach to a text is no longer possible, as no internal logic or structure to a text is discoverable. To paraphrase Yeats, it is not that the center of a text cannot hold, but that there is no center.

The End of Words

The stories people tell through literature are composed of words. It seems so obvious that it would seem hardly worth stating: Words are the building block of communication, whether spoken or written. As unassailable this idea may seem, however, words are precisely the base element Derrida dares to deconstruct.

According to Derrida, words—the signifiers—mean nothing apart from context, and context comes from other words, all of them subject to the same limitations of meaning. Words acquire meaning only in the negative, the opposite of what the word is saying. The word strong becomes meaningful only in relation to the word weak, and so on. Without wading too deeply into the thick swamp of semiotics, it could be said that by breaking down words into discrete signifiers, Derrida and his fellow deconstructionists have uncoupled words from meaning. To be clear, deconstructionists themselves make no such claim, and don’t consider themselves responsible for whatever happens after words are rendered meaningless.

“Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text, but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is no rock, but thin air,” wrote the literary critic and Derrida contemporary J. Hillis Miller. So Miller, at least, is off the hook. He’s not undermining the meaning of a text; he’s just showing the rest of the world that a text can’t possibly mean anything.

But while ideas may seem harmless enough in theory, they are not so harmless in execution. Propose an idea in the vacuum of the academic world, of publishing papers and attending conferences, and it doesn’t seem to take up any air. A single proponent of a particular idea can get away with saying any old thing as long as it is demonstrated inside the vacuum.

But this is the problem with the vacuum: It doesn’t exist. Ideas matter, and the positing of an idea carries consequences. Ideas are viral. No matter how abstract, they manage to spread far outside the confines of academia, affecting the general population. The people engaged in the material work of the world, that of changing diapers, stocking store shelves, fixing cars, and so on, are not immune to whatever is cooked up in the lab by the theoreticians, even a concept as esoteric as deconstruction. The movies actually get this point right: The eggheads come up with a big idea and a scrap of DNA from a charming old fossil, and the next thing you know, regular people are being trampled by a massive genetically-engineered dinolizard.

The ideas emanating from deconstructionism go have long since escaped the laboratory of the university. College graduates, people who now comprise nearly 40% of working-aged Americans, according to the Lumina Foundation, have carried and spread the spores over the last several decades. These graduates have gone on to occupy positions of influence at every level of American society, from media to education to politics. Deconstructionism has been in the water for a while now, and Americans, no matter the demographic, are drinking from the same source.

Trump as Deconstructionist

No cultural event illustrates this more than the political ascendancy of Donald J. Trump. Much is made of the fact that his supporters are primarily working class whites without college degrees, the population that would, superficially, seem to counter the dissemination of deconstructionism and other abstractions. In fact, Trump supporters are often cited as finding their candidate to be refreshingly free of obligation to all the -isms and associated politically correct speech. Feminism, Socialism, Genderism: Trump refutes it all through plain speak, through “telling it like it is.”

This sounds great, except for the fact that—thanks in large part to the work of the deconstructionists—there is no longer an is. Americans no longer share a reality, culturally speaking. They don’t even believe in reality, except in an individual sense—the sense of personal narrative. This is why Trump can get away with saying one thing and then its opposite. What he says is true enough for a lot of people, even if what he is saying today differs from what he said yesterday. His supporters don’t care., They have come to implicitly understand that words themselves no longer signify any kind of objective reality. (In fact, they understand it better than the current denizens of academia, who have countered the chaos of deconstructionism by attempting to enforce the cultural script of gender, sexual consent, etc.)

How Trump says what he says, and how he makes you feel when he says it, is the closest listeners can come to ascribing meaning to the words that come out of his mouth. Do you listen to Trump and grow enraged? Well then, his reality is not for you. Do you listen to him and grow enamored? Well then, his reality might intersect with yours, at least in enough places to compel you toward him at a rally or in the voting booth. The meaning of the words Donald Trump actually uses matter less than the way his words make his listeners feel. This is appropriate in its way, since Trump’s speeches perfectly represent the deconstructionist zenith: the negation of words.

This is why one could read, in an attempt to figure out just what is going on in this bizarre election cycle, a hundred different insightful think pieces explaining Trump’s dominance in the Republican primary race and find that each explanation resonates as true. Trump is leading because he appeals to rage, Trump is leading because he appeals to fear, Trump is leading because he will protect Christians, because he’ll kick out illegals, because he’ll ban Muslims, because he’ll build factories, because he’s rich, because he’s a businessman, because he’s anti-establishment, because he’s a political outsider, because he is self-funded, because he’ll stop ISIS, because he’ll build a wall, because he’ll keep them out, because he’ll keep us in.

“What deconstruction is not? Everything of course! What is deconstruction? Nothing of course!” — Jacques Derrida

Trump is everything and he is nothing. What Trump says, the words he uses, are made significant only in terms of the signified, which has been reduced to Trump himself. Taken alone, his words have no fixed meaning. It should not be shocking that a candidate such as Trump emerges; he is truly a man for our time. And it should not be shocking that regular Americans support him. They are people of Derrida’s time.

Very well, Then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes, wrote Whitman, our national poet of the Self. A contemporary elaboration on Whitman might read:
Very well, then. I contradict myself. I can say whatever I want, Words don’t matter.

Trump embodies contradiction in the manner of Whitman’s multitudes: stylistically, rhetorically, physically—layer after layer, image after image. From his hair-not hair to his successful businesses-not successful businesses. He is this and he is the opposite of this. He is strong and yet does not show restraint. He utters contradictory statements so perfect in their contradiction it is as though he has created a new form: palindrome as political rhetoric.

Trump, however, is no ideologue, even if, for a moment here and there, he sounds like one. He will not demand that society conform to a particular set of ideals, a particular way of being, other than the one which he is feeling at the moment. And if his particular, momentary way of being, the fragment of the fractured whole that composes his Trumpian self, troubles you, then that is your problem.

The world is no longer logocentric, words no longer mean anything, and this is not Trump’s fault. Trump is not to be held solely responsible for the fact that, when he is front of a crowd, or in a debate, or in an interview, telling it like it is, there is no longer an is. Our politicians make a practice of speaking words into the void and seeing what happens next. If the madness that follows the political rhetoric at a rally demonstrates the dismantling of society itself, don’t blame the practitioners. Blame the theoreticians for a change. Blame Derrida.

S.D. Kelly lives with her family in coastal New England where she writes and works with a local nonprofit. Follow her on Twitter at @s_d_kelly.

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  1. […] MERE ORTHODOXY Blame Jacques Derrida for Donald Trump. […]


  2. Fantastic little piece. Thanks for writing it, S.D, and thanks for publishing it Mere Orthodoxy.


  3. II Thessalonians 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


  4. Roseville Garage April 2, 2016 at 9:10 am

    Shepherd Thoughts has no lack of Christian blogs, Christian videos, podcasts, and articles based on Biblical views and thoughts. You may learn the early expansion of Christianity over there.



  5. John A. Connolly III April 2, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    If words have no meaning, then why do we keep writing them? I think Mr. Derrida is stuffed full of wild blueberry muffins, and I don’t buy his literary philosophy (or the commentator’s thesis) for one bloody minute. Donald Trump is simply a liar and a con-artist. As James Thurber wrote, “You can fool too many of the people, too much of the time.” And Trump is doing just that–far too well.


    1. You’d be surprised to learn that Derrida never said words are meaningless and that this text is full of shit.


  6. Timothy Lavenz April 2, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    “Words no longer mean anything” is the exact opposite lesson to be learned from what Derrida wrote and taught.

    That people took the crudest and laziest interpretation of his ideas and made them even stupider through simplification, stereotype, and cliché, is really not an excuse. This author is doing the same and ought to be ashamed.

    Before you blame Derrida, how about you actually read? There’s countless other concepts at stake in his text – responsibility, friendship, historicality, hospitality, faith, decision, the other… Contrary to her ridiculous quote, deconstruction is not “nothing” because “nothing is anything” or “everything is nothing” (or whatever she said), but because when you try to define it alone, as an isolated term, branch of academia, or form of knowledge, you lose everything to unspecificity and vagueness, just as this author has done. You can use it to justify anything, if you forget that, at bottom, what is at stake for deconstruction is justice and the just relation to the other (including the foreigner and stranger).

    I can’t believe people read and accredit this drivel.


    1. Allen Jeffrey Gurfel April 3, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      Absolutely in agreement with you.


    2. Tobias Haller April 3, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Spot on. Don’t blame Derrida, especially when you don’t understand him.


    3. Agree completely. It’s unclear that this author has even the slightest clue what she’s talking about. Jamie Smith provides a far better take on Derrida in his book on post-modernism for evangelical readers.


      1. Actually, I’d say that it’s completely clear that this author doesn’t have the slightest clue of what she’s talking about.


  7. Inaccurate reading of Derrida, but there’s something to the idea that words seem less meaningful or function differently now. But I think this has more to do with the increase in social complexity as a result of specialization and media differentiation, leading to bubble worlds from which people lack a shared language. Also the basic fact that politics requires more media spectacle than ever before, so no politician succeeds by saying the same thing over and over. One unfeasible way to improve the situation might be to take politics entirely off the air.


    1. Exactly. The mere fact that a text can have a range of multiple meanings does not imply that it has no meaning. It merely means that it lacks a singular meaning. Of course, that’s always been true. What’s changed in recent years is that white, conservative Christians no longer control the levers of power and can therefore no longer force the culture to accept their preferred meaning.

      I assume that the writer is a Cruz supporter. I can’t see how one could just as well make the same criticism against David Barton, who runs Cruz’s super-PAC? Oh wait, it’s because white evangelicals feel flattered by Barton’s writings, so his “ideas” take on the status of “truth.” Again, this strikes me as further virtue-signaling from evangelicals who prefer Cruz to Trump. Of course, Cruz is just as hard to defend as Trump; I suppose that’s why it’s easier just to criticize Trump.


      1. It’s true that Derrida never said that texts are meaningless. I’m not really an evangelical and don’t know what virtue-signal means, and Cruz gives me the creeps.


        1. To “virtue-signal” means to say something with the intent of showing that one is a Good Person with Approved Thoughts. For example, it is the difference between someone voicing disapproval through actual thought vs. desperately letting everyone know that you do not support that mean man, lest they think you might. The former is sober conviction, the latter is casting about for approval. It’s a fascinating concept that explains a large portion of what you’ll see on social media.


    2. Silverback Gorrilla April 4, 2016 at 4:21 am

      It all boils down to people having very short attention spans. After decades of media assault and informational avalanche, people have shut their reason completely and are thinking on auto-pilot. That is why candidates like Trump are a symptom not a cause, yet concerning nonetheless. To put this in a food analogy, people have grown so lazy and fat on fast-food, that they cannot be bothered to try the delicate aromas of a home-cooked meal, least of understand and admire the rich savory taste of haute-cuisine.


      1. If Donald Trump’s candidacy represents fast-food, which presidential candidate, in your estimation, represents “the delicate aromas of a home-cooked meal” and “the rich savory taste of haute-cuisine”? I support Donald Trump because I figure he gives us about a 30-40% chance to meaningfully disrupt the duopoly’s agenda and take on the looming mathematical disaster of ballooning national debt, but I would never compare him to even my least favorite candidate with such a metaphor.


        1. How do you feel about him today? Dec. 14, 2018


          1. disqus_urhw8ZbKUs wrote

    3. exactly… I would compare trump more-so to Baudrillard, however, I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone but trump and his supporters… this whole piece is based on the freshman idea of the platonic philosopher-king conspiracy…


  8. I’m sorry, but deconstructionism isn’t a thing. Derrida constantly had to refute overhasty reductive polemics like this, which sought to turn his philosophical points into an -ism, and caricature that -ism as a threat to reasonable discourse and thoughtful argument.


  9. someone was briefly exposed to derrida through a lazy text book reading


  10. “without wadding too deep down the swamp of semiotics” I will persist to build a straw man argument that will sell my narrative..


  11. if we want to consult a French writer and philosopher to explain the rise of Trump I’d suggest we go with Jacques Ellul’s account of the populist agitator in Propaganda.


  12. AngryUniverse April 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc.


  13. I don’t understand how anybody who has read and understood Derrida could have written this. The only thing that is somewhat similar between Derrida and Trump is unique hair.

    The idea that words don’t mean anything or that there is no “is” … these are not from Derrida. If that is what you think the culture believes (and I think you are wrong about that), you can’t blame Derrida. When asked whether language could refer to anything other than itself, Derrida made it clear that it could:

    “It is totally false to suggest that deconstruction is a suspension of reference. Deconstruction is always deeply concerned with the ‘other’ oflanguage. I never cease to be surprised by critics who see my work as a declaration that there is nothing beyond language; it is, in fact, saying the exact opposite. The critique of logocentrism is above all else the search for the ‘other’ and the ‘other of language’.

    It is this “other” that preoccupied a lot of Derrida’s thought. What is missing from a text? What is left unsaid? Who is forgotten? His project was a deeply ethical project and Derrida should be seen as addressing the question of what is our obligation to the other. The stranger, the outsider, the foreigner, the forgotten.

    This is completely opposite of Trump’s ideology. You say he has no ideology but that is false. His ideology is nationalism. Us vs them. How do we make America great again? By kicking immigrants out, by “winning” with trade, by attacking protesters. Get ’em outta here. The list of concepts that Timothy listed – “responsibility, friendship, historicality, hospitality, faith, decision, the other” – is nowhere to be found in Trump’s ideology.


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It’s true that Derrida considered his project to be a deeply ethical one in considering the other, which I allude to briefly when I mention his preoccupation with the space in between a word and its opposite. The idea of privileging a certain understanding of a text at the expense of the other is certainly compelling. And I realize it is audacious to write 600-word treatment of Derrida, especially one that uses the word “meaning” multiple times, and have no expectation of satisfying deconstruction apologists. Derrida himself very ably deflected critique from his contemporaries (Foucault, et al.) and doesn’t need the help of hysterical internet commenters in saying that he wasn’t saying what certain readers think he was saying, no matter how long he’s been dead.

      My contention is that words belong to all of us and when theoreticians take on words — a shared meaning being the whole point of language, to put it in basic terms — the rest of us get to take a crack on understanding what it is the theoreticians are positing about words. This idea that deconstructionists considered language to be “devoid of meaning” (to quote The Atlantic quoting Harold Bloom) is certainly nothing new and can actually be supported by how deconstruction works in the actual world of real language, the street-value of deconstruction so to speak. And what is the point of academic theory if doesn’t offer a function?

      As far as Trump’s ideology, I don’t agree. You’re right in that he *does* speak the rhetoric of Nationalism. He also speaks the rhetoric of free trade, Christian persecution, the locker room, classic liberalism, the Monopoly man mascot (who doesn’t speak, but would probably sound like Trump if he did), fascism….whatever. Sometimes his rhetoric exists at the same time as its opposing rhetoric. Trump’s ideology is Trump; his internal consistency is his only consistency. I don’t think this qualifies as ideology in the generally understood sense. For the purposes of this piece, I’m interested in the way words no longer have a shared meaning, as demonstrated by Trump and his supporters. When Trump “objectively” says execrable things by the standards of civil society, his supporters simply don’t hear his words as execrable. The Hitler analogy breaks down at the point of ideology, but also at the point of rhetoric. Even Hitler parsed his words more carefully in the early years when speaking to a general audience, because (arguably), words had more of a shared meaning at that point in history.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment, and I appreciate the opportunity to work out the idea of “the end of words” in this space. – S.D. Kelly


  14. Timothy Lavenz April 7, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    I hesitate to post this long response because I know the potential accusations I’ll receive: that I’m “hysterical,” a poor angry scholar, a deconstructionist apologist, an academic, or whatever. I hope it’s understood, I’m none of those things. I enjoy writing and I don’t like the fact that this article is spreading falsehoods. Plus, the editors of this website have said they want an intelligent conversation to unfold. I hope that can be the case.

    First, consider how the author describes her experience of reading Derrida: like sitting in a dentist chair. It’s a suggestive image: mouth awkwardly jacked wide open and held there out of necessity; body pinned nearly upside down in a way that makes spatial orientation difficult; the other with a metal hook and water spray digging, in order to “clean,” at the only exposed bones in your entire body, which you also can’t see, making you bleed and wince; the fear that some problem will be found and you’ll have to keep coming back to that same chair until it’s fixed… I point this out only because, in the spirit of Derrida, we could say that such metaphors are never just metaphors. They are not asides or mere rhetorical gestures; they belong to the whole weave of the text.

    The author puts herself in the position of a reporter who has ventured into the unpleasant zone of deconstructionist abstraction in order to bring back to the public what she’s found. My purpose here is not to strip her of her right to advance her own “interpretation.” But interpretation should not just be a free-for-all, where anything can be said, and where it doesn’t mean anything to accuse. In my opinion, she has twisted Derrida’s ideas to the point of unrecognizability. Her piece does a disservice to those who have never read him and, for those who have, it simply sounds hasty and uncareful.

    As many commentators here have agreed, the author fails to demonstrate even a basic understanding of Derrida’s work. She seems to have paid no attention to its philosophical precursors or to the problems of structuralism, linguistics, and psychoanalysis to which it was responding in the 1960’s, outside of which it is hard to see the reason for Derrida’s overall strategy. Instead, she relies on undergraduate level clichés (no matter if big name figures also spread them!) that miss the point entirely and get everything backwards. These misunderstandings have unfortunately become so widespread over the years that today they pass for accepted knowledge and give people a pass for not reading. But this is no excuse. Some examples:

    —(1) “Deconstructionism renders the text itself meaningless.” No, it’s rather that no one reading of a text ever exhausts its meaning. A text can’t be reduced to meaning, not because it has none, but because it exceeds it. Its “play” can never be halted. Also, the context in which a text is is never saturated or exhaustively determined either. No one controls who will receive it, whose hands it will fall into, or to what purpose it may be put. A structure can never rigorously be closed, there are always openings. The center doesn’t hold, not because there isn’t one, but because any part might be one. A reading should remain respectful of these openings, this indeterminacy of context, of authorship, of direction and intention, of constant decentering and recentering. It does so by focusing on the text’s uncontrollable play, on its asides or marginal remarks, etc. Furthermore, interpretation is already writing-reading, differing. It already changes the whole network, tearing through the whole fabric of history, altering it, non-negligibly. Or again, an event can always come that forces us, or allows us, to read the entire language differently, that obliges us to invent a new language.

    —(2) “Deconstructionists have uncoupled words from meaning.” No, it’s only that there is no one meaning to a word, and this plurivocality can never be neutralized, no matter how ravaging the attempt. A plurality of meanings are always brought into play, especially when considering the relations between words (all of them, in all their resonances, not just as opposites) and between other texts, other factors in the world, etc. The point is simply that it is their difference and relation to each other that makes them signify, not any one word in itself. Derrida calls the “transcendental signified” that which puts, arbitrarily, a stop to this play of differences; but it can never rigorously be accomplished. If deconstructionists have uncoupled words (texts, traces) from anything, it is from the traditional, metaphysical notion of the voice or consciousness as words’ ultimate source, self-presence as bearer of full meaning, authorship, expression, sovereignty, and so on. This is of course too big of an issue to get into here, but it is the main one! The text escapes what we say it says; rather than then losing the text to meaningless, we deliver it over to the reception of the other. That’s the risk of deconstruction’s strategy: to lose the thread by dispersing it, to multiply the threads, to send what no one person could ever send…

    —(3) “Deconstructionist zenith: the negation of words.” Not at all! What is at stake is the opposite: an increased attention to words, their plays and hidden fronts, all the slippages of meaning, the surprise attacks, convergences, divergences, splittings, ambiguities, interruptions, flourishes… This attention is not at odds with what another commentator has quoted Derrida as saying: “The critique of logocentrism is above all else the search for the ‘other’ and the ‘other of language’.” The question revolves around the non-simple way in which this outside gets inscribed, the impossibility of inscribing it, and how one “writes” given this impossibility (knowing that it’s also not a question of leaving some original, pure, uncontaminated outside to itself). At stake is the production of texts that take words to the limit of sense, which open them to nonsense, dispersion, loss, alterity, etc., while refusing to remain satisfied with appeals to silence, raw emotion, or mysticism. Material texts that are events, interventions, rearranging and de-ranging the dominant orders and codes, the rules of linearity, of unified meaning, of authorial voice, of conscious intention, etc. Needless to say, this is no simple operation. As much as it proliferates openings, it also multiples the chances of being very misunderstood.

    One might also note more generally that Derrida’s work clearly springs from a love for words and for the power of what words can do (from arbitrating disputes to signing untranslatable events). Thought itself is predicated upon a “poetic experience of language” (cf. Sovereignties in Question). Contrary to a denial of the link between language and being, deconstruction affirms it while also drawing attention to the link between language and what can never be reduced to (present) beings or Being (i.e., differance, the trace, spacing, alterity, the other, the to-come, etc.). “Words don’t mean anything” is the exact opposite lesson to learn from what Derrida taught. On the contrary, they mean much more than we think, or can; more than any one person even *could* think. Consciousness could never once hold even the tiniest fraction of this meaning together; thus the dispersal, the play, the pleasure in deferral, in getting lost, in starting over, in rephrasing, etc. More importantly, it is simply a lie to assert that, in a deconstructionist approach, one doesn’t consider oneself responsible for the consequences. On the contrary, there is a total radicalization of responsibility, a deepening of it to an infinite degree. This is the constant theme. Worry about the other never leaves; making room for the other is the “reason,” the duty. This is deconstruction’s strong connection to Levinas’ ethics of hospitality, which has left its mark everywhere in Derrida’s work (cf. esp. The Gift of Death, Adieu).

    Now, failure to understand is one thing, especially given the difficulty of Derrida’s writings, its playfulness and (so it may seem) “misdirection.” Publicizing these misunderstandings in such a patronizing, critical tone is another. But it is something else entirely to assert authority on the whole matter and to judge this entire body of work, essentially *incriminating* Derrida specifically — a dead man, a philosopher-poet who struggled all his life against obscurantism, simplification, phallocentrism, nationalism, egoism — in the rise of a potential fascist in Donald Trump. My question now is: Does it really mean nothing to raise such accusations in public? Does the author really want to be taken seriously with these charges? Or is this what someone else referred to as “teaser journalism”? Is the purpose of this article really to “understand”?

    Without one fact or textual reference to substantiate her claim, she draws the entire culture of apathy and nihilism in America, the fact that we “no longer share a reality, culturally speaking,” back to the influence of “deconstructionists.” She fails to name them but refers to them like a street gang. She fails to analyze how “they” first interpreted and applied Derrida, and if this was correct. She also fails to say how their ideas disseminated into our culture in any concrete way. On top of that, for anyone even remotely acquainted with Derrida’s thought, the notion that you could trace it all back to the “same source” is the worst error. As for Trump’s rise, so many social, geopolitical, economic, and media factors are ignored that it’s hard to even get the list started.

    In short, it is irresponsible speculation. At best, her generalizations are absurdist provocations, at worst, they spread damaging simplifications and set a poor example for others. It infects novice readers with an aversion to reading Derrida closely (disseminating a text always has potentially dangerous consequences like this, most of which we’ll never see, which is why being responsible with our words is so important). It supports misreadings already in circulation and propagates them in a totally uncritical way and without any reference to anything Derrida actually wrote. Finally, it glosses over an entire register of other concerns in his work as if they didn’t exist: responsibility and ethics above all, but also friendship, invention, hospitality, faith, decision, death, the other (including the foreigner and the stranger), the animal — some or all of which might actually be helpful in our common struggle to understand the Trump phenomenon, to combat the rise of fascism, to think through our historical moment, etc…. To whose benefit, then, is this body of thought being dumbed down so much? Who is helped by insinuating that Derrida’s work somehow paved the way for Trump? Before what tribunal is this charge being raised? Or are we just kidding around…?

    For me, it’s sad to see deconstruction — which is not a method, a form of knowledge, or an academic discipline, but a thinking and writing practice, an ethics devoted above all to justice, to a more just future, an almost impossible ethics that Derrida and many others have been diligently developing for decades — slandered in this way. It is sad to see this man and this heritage so accused, without the slightest care for thoroughness, fidelity to the text, or attention to detail (be it textual or socio-political). I don’t buy the author’s comment below that she just wants everyone to be able to take a crack at understanding what theoreticians posit. That’s fine, of course. But there’s nothing like that here, nothing generative or creative or helpful whatsoever. Just blame, lazily executed.

    I believe that articles like this, with their click-bait titles, uncareful argumentation, and overwrought conclusion, play a role in the degradation of the “intelligence” of the public. Not only that, they mislead and discourage others from engaging with an author and a way of thinking that could actually enrich our thinking and help us be more lucid. I have written all this, not to air my own grudge, or to accuse the author of malpractice in return, but to try to make up that gap, to share my disappointment, and to point out the dangers of publicizing such unfounded claims. Instead of denouncing deconstruction as a scourge, we should simply read further.

    For whoever has read this response this far, I thank you.


    1. Isaac Aughenbaugh August 6, 2016 at 3:22 pm

      Thank you very much for writing this. I actually greatly appreciate your well though out response.


      1. Timothy Lavenz August 6, 2016 at 4:50 pm

        You’re welcome Isaac. Glad it was of help.


  15. […] no longer share a reality, culturally speaking,” writes S. D. Kelly in Blame Derrida for Donald Trump. “They don’t even believe in reality, except in an individual sense – the sense of personal […]


  16. […] like it came from someone who “learned [philosophy] from the back of a cereal box”). This one, which is much better-written and more informed, but seems to oversimplify things (something we […]


  17. Yes, like some of the other readers I have to say this is a really poor, completely ill-conceived article. To suggest that words were meaningless for Derrida is just laughable.


  18. casualmannequin May 22, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    I think it is really funny that people are coming to the defense of Derrida with the intended meaning of his works instead of the meaning that his work has developed in the public sphere which does create the sort of relativism that is being shown here with Trump. Well played author.


  19. Utter garbage


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