US president Donald Trump is more magician than politician. Reality is whatever he says it is. He casts a spell on supporters with exclamations and incantations, outrageous and outraged tweets and speeches, flights of fancy rather than fact. Trump isn’t hemmed in by pesky old-times notions, like rules. He does and says what he wants when he wants, acknowledging only what suits him.
In this sense, the US president resembles the early 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley, whose entire philosophy is summed up in this single commandment, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” The scandalous British “magick” practitioner was once considered “the wickedest man in the world.” He believed life’s primary principle is the pursuit of personal will, unconstrained by law, or conventional ethics, just like Trump.
On Aug. 21, it appeared that US law might prove stronger than Trump’s will, however, as his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, became convicted criminals, casting a pall on the presidency. Cohen, during his guilty plea to tax evasion and fraud, testified that the president directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women in order to influence the 2016 presidential campaign. And Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis suggested in a statement issued afterward that this made Trump a criminal too, asking, “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”
Usually vociferous and opinionated on Twitter, the president was strangely quiet about Cohen and kept his distance from Manafort, who was convicted of eight counts of criminal fraud and may face decades in prison. Trump attended a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, making just one comment about his former campaign manager ahead of the event. “I feel badly for Paul Manafort, I must tell you, he was a great man, he was with Ronald Reagan and many people over the years, and I feel very sad about that. It doesn’t involve me, but I still feel it is a very sad thing that happened,” Trump said. “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion,” he added, stating that Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump and associates’ Russian connections was a “witch hunt.”
The wording is poignant, given Trump’s own proclivity for sorcery. Whatever spell he long ago cast on his favorite media outlet, Fox News, must still be working, as reporters there either ignored or dismissed what was widely characterized elsewhere as the worst day of the Trump presidency (paywall). Fox spent most of the afternoon on another breaking story (paywall). It was not quite of the same national import but more along the lines of what Trump likes: the tale of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, charged with killing 20-year-old student Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa.
This morning (Aug. 22) Trump was back in fighting form. He pointed out on Twitter that 10 of 18 counts against Manafort weren’t agreed upon by jurors. He also repeated the witch hunt refrain because saying a thing often enough just might make it so.
Additionally, he opined about Cohen’s counsel. Despite having retained him often enough, Trump advised others not to do so if in search of a good attorney.
Trump likely hopes that if he keeps saying the word “hoax,” he can transform Mueller into a toad and make his investigation disappear. Until now, the president has had good reason to believe that if he just keeps on insulting, ignoring, and dismissing critics, things will go his way.
In this sense too, Trump resembles Crowley. Because his journey of “spiritual enlightenment” showed him he was “beyond the Gods,” Crowley relished the criticism that lent him his notoriety. He even encouraged it by referring to himself as “The Great Beast 666.” In 1923, at Crowley’s Sicilian compound—where he led followers of his religion premised on personal will “The Law of Thelema”—an Englishman died in a mysterious ritual involving cat blood. Crowley was expelled from Italy and castigated in the British press. Yet he persisted, continuing to write books, perform bizarre rituals, and attract followers.
The magician wrote a book of poems described by one contemporary critic as “the most disgusting piece of erotica in the English language.” It didn’t stop the writer from continuing to publish and even create his own religion. It certainly didn’t halt his erotic explorations. Like Trump, who has been widely accused of sexual misconduct, Crowley was unconstrained by conventional notions of relating, breaking societal taboos.
The one big difference between Crowley and Trump, however, is that one was an occultist and the other is responsible for a country. It will take some very powerful magic indeed for the commander-in-chief to retain his spell on the people if the rule of law keeps proving to be as strong as it showed itself yesterday.