Trump has lost his afflatus.

Yucky-sounding word, isn’t it? Afflatus. Sounds like something you wouldn’t want to lose in a criminal courtroom. Sounds so Trumpy.

It’s a rare enough word so that it isn’t in my Compact Oxford English Dictionary (“compact” is the word I should have paid attention to when I found it at the Strand). But, far from yucky, it is a word for something quite ethereal and powerful, even beautiful. As on-line Merriam-Webster defines it (the dictionary I should have bought at the Strand), afflatus is “a divine imparting of knowledge or power: inspiration.”

“The attack lines grow stale,” is a line in Jonathan Alter’s Times op column the other day about Trump. I glanced down at my pad where I had scribbled two words, “Tillich,” and “afflatus.” Because for quite a while I’ve been thinking about one of Paul Tillich’s books in which I picked up the word (and concept) of “afflatus,” so that I can now apply it as a warning for Trump.

Tillich was a philosopher, theologist and socialist. I’ve never been able to read philosophy, have no real interest in theology, and socialism? Yeah, okay. But the book was given to me by a beloved and wonderful cousin, so I somehow got through a volume. One thing I learned stayed in my head all these years.

Losing afflatus is a big fucking deal. Here’s my take on it:

In religious observance, worshipers are talked to (preached to) by a person accredited by the particular religion to interpret and teach the meaning of belief. To transmit this belief, to inspire the audience also to believe, a preacher must use language.

A preacher chooses words to impart his interpretations and to inspire his, uh, flock to obey him, follow his instructions, be awed by what he says. Et cetera.

This is afflatus.

Most important, wrote Tillich, the language used to impart thrilling inspiration has to change with time. Because if a preacher uses the same words and phrases for years, well, after a while his flock no longer can react emotionally. Their appearance and devotion become automatic, not inspired.

Once they can repeat all the lines they’ve been hearing, the preacher’s power is gone.

Or, in Alter’s words, “The attack lines grow stale.”

“It’s a DISGRACE.” “DISGRACE.” Everything is a “DISGRACE.” Everything is a “WITCH HUNT.” His vile, histrionic and phoney descriptions of immigrants are unchanged. His violent threats haven’t changed. His bizarre, apocalyptic description of cities hasn’t changed. The words are the same, the enemies are the same; the only people who still believe them are people who know nothing about cities, immigrants or witches.

From what I’ve read, his worshipers are departing his events early nowadays. They’ve heard him too many times before.

Trump has lost his afflatus.


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