Donald Trump and Family

Enter the Medieval Clan

This week we have experienced a shift in global politics, which we are still struggling to understand. One way is by imagining a post-liberal, clannish, medieval society.

When Donald Trump stepped up to make his first speech after his election to become president of the United States of America, he surrounded himself with his Barbie-doll family, including the “black sheep”, Tiffany. Here they were, all lined up looking like the plastic dream of any little girl from the Mid-West. It is surely only a short while before Mattel crumbles and refashion their dolls according to the precise measurements of the Donald’s wet dream of the perfect woman. We all know what she looks like: Ivanka.

They live as pigs

Molly Forbes getting her water in from the Stream
Molly Forbes getting her water in from the Stream

The opposite character in this unfolding drama is of course Molly Forbes the heroine from the film by Anthony Baxter: You’ve been Trumped! Today, Molly Forbes is 92. For years she have refused to leave her cottage in Balmedie, which is on the edge of Trump’s failed golf course project in Aberdeen. According to the film, her experiences included the six-times daily harassment of security personnel, floodlighting through her bedroom window, and famously the cutting off of her water supply. Also Trump had a wall built and spruce trees planted; officially in order to prevent his golf guests having to view her deplorable and ugly home, in which they – to quote the Donald “live as pigs”. Unofficially, in all probability, to make their lives miserable.

As is well known, this story was told in 2011 by film-maker David Baxter, demonstrating without doubt the collusion of politicians, the powerful entrepreneur and the police. We also know that Trump afterwards threatened to sue theatres and broadcasting companies, which dared to show the film (including BBC in 2012). Lately, October 2016, Baxter released a second installment – You’ve been Trumped Too! – which was screened freely in American cities and on Facebook. This film included a new film with Molly Forbes, in which she tells that she was still without the water supply, which she alleges Trump cut off five years ago [1]. It also includes previously unseen extracts of Baxter’s interview with Trump.

Law of the Land

Trump Int. Links. Source: Wikipedia/Alanatabz
Trump Int. Links. Source: Wikipedia/Alanatabz

“If the land had no law, then he would have the most who could grab the most by force”, it famously says in the prolegomenon to the Medieval provincial Laws of Jutland from 1241.

In view of the above  Molly Forbes tried to sue him in 2011, reacting to the final threat by Trump to enforce a “Compulsory Purchase Order”; this would allow the local authorities to obtain her land in order to secure the proposed development of the Golf Course, for which he had obtained a dubious planning permit (the dunes were designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but are now helplessly destroyed. Unlawfully, it appeared afterwards, she was refused legal aid and had to drop the case, which led to a claim on her to pay £50.000 in costs to Trump. Finally, in 2012 a judge decided that she was not liable as it might be argued that it was a breach of EU law if lack of funds alone stopped a citizen’s court challenge. (Which naturally makes you wonder what rights she would have in post-brexit Scotland.)

Tormented Voices

Receiving the feudal oath: From Liber Feudorum Maior, II, fol. 116 © Archivo Historico Nacional
Receiving the feudal oath:
From Liber Feudorum Maior, II, fol. 116 © Archivo Historico Nacional

All this should remind us of one of the great reads of medieval History, Tormented voices by Thomas N. Bisson. In this he tells the story of peasants living in 12th century Catalonia trying to reach out to their liege lord, the count Raimund Bereguer IV and his successor King Alfonso I, complaining about the harassment of local lords and petty nobles.

These complaints consisted of the usurpation of lordly powers, the imposition of uncustomary taxes, the constraining of people by throwing them into prison, cutting off the nose of a woman, threatening to blind peasants or cut off their feet. As another complaint tells us, people became so afraid that they went away with their possessions to other places as they dared no to appeal to the king “as you are far off and they are near us”.

Famously though, the fragments of parchment which were scrutinised by Thomas Bisson did not just include the official reports from the bailiffs, but also the testimonials of the poor people, who had to live through this. Just listen to the voices: “… and he pulls our beards and beats us badly… his castellan cuts our trees, requisitions our houses, demands provisions… he took two horses away.. and one ploughshare and looted his house and dishonoured him and beat him”. Finally, they also included a complaint that “they also dishonoured us and our wives”. It should, as Thomas Bisson reminds us, be remembered that medieval Catalonia uniquely was the only place where the very real pain of obliging the lord, who claimed the right of the first night – that is sleeping with the bride on her wedding night – has been documented.

What does this remind us of if not: “And when you are a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Feudal Societies

Thomas Bisson argues in his small, but significant book that these poor peasants did not live in a “stateless society”. There was a sort of state with a judicial system and they tried to appeal to it. However, the system, which the peasants appealed to was not so much presided over by the Count or King in their roles as guarantees of the peace; rather, they appealed to them in their capacity of being their liege lords, who just also happened to be overlords of the Principality of Catalonia and thus lords of the petty barons running rampant in the Pyrenean foot-hills. As such the Counts of Barcelona had very real and vested interests in keeping competing clans of the principality happy. Thus, the violent habits of the lords – habitual ways of subjugating people by exploiting power, profiteering, disciplining and confirming domination – were allowed to run rampant, not because the state was week, but because this is how things are done in Clan societies, where might is right.

The Rule of Clans

King René's Tournament Book, Ms. fr. 2693 56v/57r. Source: Wikipedia
King René’s Tournament Book, Ms. fr. 2693 56v/57r. Notice the strict division between teams and the audience. Source: Wikipedia

What are clans? This is explained vividly in an extraordinarily gripping book by Mark Weiner, The Rule of the Clan. He writes that in societies governed by the rule of the clan “a person’s social and legal role is determined by his or her place within the kinship group. For instance, the role of women in clan societies is to physically reproduce the clan itself and this role shapes all the legal rules affecting them, from their ability to sue or be sued to their property rights” (p. 12); and – we may add – their rights to abortion, drive cars, go unveiled, avoid “grabbing” etc.

Such societies ruled by clans thus differs in a significant way from societies of contract, where individuals are no longer legally subordinated to their extended families; instead, “ the legal order is directed toward fostering the ability of individuals to chart their own life course, economically, professionally or personally” (p.12).

Now, the point which Mark Weiner makes is that if a state is weakened or even fails, clans will prosper simply because they provide the one thing, which failed states cannot deliver, which is security, be it economically, legally or emotionally. He also makes the rather extraordinary claim that the future is harbouring a resurge in the importance of clans, simply because the international order provides the possibility for not only transnational but also global refuges for entrepreneurial people living in eroded liberal states. Simply put, individuals begin to cluster into groups to protect themselves and assert their interests. Over time, these groups consolidate their power, “becoming more important to the social order than the individuals the liberal state once nurtured”(p. 16). Be it kin groups, multinational corporations, religious groups, racial groups or criminal gangs, they are all set to be strengthened in the near future.

Fans from Leicester Club 2016
Fans from Leicester Club celebrating their win of Premier League 2016

And yes, what we have been witnessing in USA during the election are numerous people looking for ways and inspiration to overcome the loss of income, jobs, and honour in a world, which was literally screwed by Wall Street during the financial crisis. Then the circus came to town in the form of Donald Trump followed by the retinue of his clan fulfilling people’s need to be informed on how to form clans and outlining the idea of what such a clan looks like; down the road he simply did an impressive act of show-it-don’t-tell, demonstrating how to build and nourish such a clan. In this perspective it is no wonder that Trump got away with his “locker-room talk”. Who is less admirable than an alfa-male, who is not able to get a new and younger model every time the old one begins to wrinkle? After all, this is what we have come to expect of any leaders, be they of the free world or hiding in murky despotic corners. It is often forgotten that Muhammad did not seek to make allowance for polygamy; his aim was quite the opposite, to limit the number of wives to four! it is obvious his aim was to curtail the number of family alliances one Bedouin might be able to have at his command.

The Future

Joe Perticone posted a short video to Twitter with the caption: “Secret Service agent choke slams reporter.” It shows the moments immediately after the choke-slam, in which Morris is struggling against the agent as the man hovers over the photographer Christopher Morris. Source: Twitter/Joe Perticone
Joe Perticone posted a short video to Twitter with the caption: “Secret Service agent choke slams reporter.” It shows the moments immediately after the choke-slam, in which Morris is struggling against the agent as the man hovers over the photographer Christopher Morris. Source: Twitter/Joe Perticone

Mark Weiner’s book is a treasure trove for anyone trying to grasp the global drama which is currently unfolding I front of our eyes. Even if it is not a comprehensive survey of clan societies past and present, it does offer a blitz raid through the societies of the Nuer, medieval Iceland, contemporary Palestinian Authority, Anglo-Saxon England and Islamic Arabia. In between, we get thoughtful readings of the novels of Walter Scott, are invited to see the film, The Avatar, in a new light, and taken for an opera tour of Wagner and his “Ring der Nibelungen”.

A virtual tour de force, he stresses that clans will always be with us because they represent the precondition of the liberal societies, which grew up alongside the clans. This explains why we will constantly experience a world where these two ideal types are rocking up and down on a perpetual seesaw.

Right now, however, the future is rather dim. It seems we are stuck at one end of this seesaw held down by a fat, old ugly duck. In this future, it seems as if religious organisations overlap with families providing social security in exchange for people adhering to their norms and internal codes of law, which are policed by elders forming “court-like institutions. Militant trade unions and guilds might play the same role, but it is reasonable to expect that their institutional interests will be more at the fore than solving individual plights. Interspersed throughout this landscape will be criminal gangs upholding their own violet sets of rules. As is already the case, the borderline between vigilantes, police and gangs will be difficult to trace. Finally, transnational corporations will begin to fill out the security needs of most (of “their”) people: education (read Trump University), monitoring international borders (read paramilitary security organisations), managing natural resources (read “build  a wall”).

The State

The "Medieval" clan of Donald Trump. Source: Wikipedia
The “Medieval” clan of Donald Trump. Source: Wikipedia

Nobody can live without family or friends; but also, nobody can flourish without  law and order. Subsequently Weiner tells us that in the end the growth of a robust public identity is the only way in which to counter the urge to bulldoze the downtrodden, be they Barbie dolls, blacks or bonnie old Scottish ladies like Molly Forbes.

In all this, the State is thus not to be maligned. On the contrary “the clan points to the need for individualists to support the state. It highlights the need for people dedicated to individualism to foster strong and effective government capable of vindicating the public interest. People dedicated to individual freedom must have the clarity and the courage to defend the state that makes freedom possible”, writes mark Weiner in his conclusion (p. 206)

Which leaves us where? We live in a mediatized world in which the Donald obviously feels more at home on talk-shows than in the House or on the Hill. This seemed to be just fine for a nation of couch potatoes, spending 2.8 hours per day in front of their multiple sets. Young people, though, were generally disgusted (they would have voted for Sanders). And they get their news from mobiles, websites and podcasts.

In this lies our hope, writes Mark Weiner, who believes that the ability to utilise social media is a way of connecting across all these borders, which are poised to be policed by the clans of the future. Much maligned as a “Cats Paradise”, FB was actually the place where people went Wednesday morning to vent their grief and frustration. Funny, wry, and despondent messages went back and forth as a kind of collective therapy. However, this would never be enough: we also have to invest in the education and formation of middle-class professionals, writes Weiner. What this might mean is not exactly spelled out. Let us therefore add, that one avenue would be to lift the burden of teaching youngsters on a voluntary and free basis and develop free educational systems of the highest quality, which might lure them to our classes. Finally we have to work to turn the clans into clubs and associations, on the way ripping them of their ability to wield the sword or pass the judgement.

In this new medieval world, there is ample work to be done.

Karen Schousboe


[1] It appears that her son recently payed for the reinstallation of water out of his own pocket, see: Farmer Forbes Gets Worldwide Support Against Trump


Meet the Trumps: a look at America’s new first family 10.02.2016
By Mazin Sidahmed
The Guardian 10.02.2016

Donald Trump deserves his frosty reception in Scotland
By Anthony Baxter
The Guardian 24. June 2016


The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals About the Future of Individual Freedom
by Mark S. Weiner (Author)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013
ISBN-10: 0374252815
ISBN-13: 978-0374252816





Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis, and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140-1200
by Thomas N. Bisson
Harvard University Press 1998
ISBN-10: 0674895282
ISBN-13: 978-0674895287






You’ve been Trumped!

Molly Forbes Interview from Tripping up Trump on Vimeo


Donald Trump and Family on election night: A Medieval Clan. Source: Ace/Rex/Shutterstock