Donald Trump’s presidency has been so strange it has caused columnists around the world to try to conceive of new frameworks to explain politics. But what if what is needed is really an old framework? In 1955, Edward C. Banfield visited a village in Southern Italy and described a dysfunctional politics based on the pursuit of personal and family profit above all else. He called the practitioners of this anti-social morality “amoral familists.” It was the behavior of the mafia and it is the behavior of Donald Trump and his cronies.
The amoral familist will, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family” and “assume that all others will do likewise,” Banfield wrote. Trump has appointed his daughter and son-in-law into White House positions and put his two sons in charge of his business empire. The Trump administration has used official outlets to hawk his family’s products and has raked in cash from foreign diplomats staying at his DC hotel in the hopes of influencing him.
The effects of this lack of character and the assumption that all others lack character as well corrode to the core of a political system. Banfield noted how the locals in the small town had no trust in politics, and as such, no one trustworthy ran for office, and no one trusted the government to solve their problems. “[N]o one will further the interest of the group or community except as it is to his private advantage to do so.”
Banfield noted an additional 17 points that describe specific things one would expect to see in a society of amoral familists. It is worrying how many appear in Donald Trump’s United States in varying degrees.