The Predictable Trump – Part III: How Trump Wins

Donald Trump does not speak ‘what is on peoples’ minds,’ of course, but he articulates the legitimate demands and frustrations of Americans for them. Americans of all folds are well aware of being short-changed by the system on a daily basis, but they are not equipped with the political language to articulate their underprivileges and unfreedoms. Corrupt unions, the divided ‘left,’ and the defunded and demoralized American education system have proven largely incapable of equipping the masses with tools and narratives for intersectional, collective organization and mobilization. In this political void, Donald Trump’s nativist narrative poses an alternative articulation to the anti-Wall Street slogans of the likes of Bernie Sanders, even though both candidates plumb the historical depths of the same well of disillusionments. Although critics from all over the political map are aware of this gap in emancipatory narratives, I hold that their analyses of Trump’s alternative language remain insufficient.

Critics such a Cornell West that argue for opposing and resisting Trump through a campaign of fact and truth discourses underestimate the spectacular nature of his power. Holding Trump accountable to his words, or existing laws and norms, is seemingly impossible because he is popularly mandated to oppose precisely the established (and hypocritical) narratives and modes of accountability. Indeed, legal and political scholar Walter Benjamin identifies the savvy modern sovereign as the one who, in times of crisis, successfully represents the figure of the unpredictable. Trump’s performed unpredictability appeals to the destitute by portraying him as the one above and beyond the existing relations of power and constraints of history – and so as the only one unrestrained enough to be able to finally “drain the swamp.” Indeed, the more facts and truths are offered against Trump, the more miraculous his eventual accomplishments – and so unbridled the nature and extent of his power – will appear. Trump is well aware of the potential of this spectacular game, an awareness that set him apart from the very beginning from Hillary Clinton’s sombre message. What is more, Trump’s unpredictability appeals equally to the powerful because, in the long run, and by underlining the spectacular efficiency of autocracy, it works to undermine the public’s trust in institutions of democracy. The growing distrust will only justify the delegation of increasing political powers to the autocrat. More critically, if successful, the autocrat’s brutal praxis of decisionism and pragmatism will amass and assume a guise of moral and historical inevitability. And the autocrat can exploit this aura of invincibility to further popularize and trivialize the image of democratic politics and to discredit historical observers and the narratives of social movements. It is important to note that this analysis of the public reaction to Trump does not amount to ‘psychologism’ – quite the contrary. It is because the majority of the American constituency finds itself irredeemably entangled in historical relations and consequences – that it can neither identify nor loosen – that Trump’s aesthetic brand of politics appears as capable of breaching the web of the status quo. The clandestine transfer of catchy corporate lingo (of “getting things done” or “stirring the ship”) from the backstage of The Apprentice to the official scene of U.S. politics is a calculated strategy. In it we are dealing with nothing short of the assassination of the image and possibility of politics, a project that has always been the ultimate promise and prize of neoliberalism.

In view of this danger, philosopher Gilles Deleuze holds that modern acts of sovereignty cannot be resisted only through information wars. In fact, our times and minds are already saturated with undigested information, and contrary to common perception it is the very abundance of facts and information that works to conceal the relevant and important truths. And not only because the oversaturated news cycle renders critical narratives invisible, but also because the impersonal hegemony of information-floods render all entities equally and so neutrally complicit in all the atrocities perpetrated within the neoliberal order. Indeed, the mass media effectively employs unbridled dissemination of information as a tool of eclipsing factual narratives with lesser “alternative-facts” and information. These competing counter-narratives serve, in turn, as widely accepted justifications for retaliatory measures and politics. The trick is to not hide the brutality of neoliberalism but to demonstrate it in its most gruesome details in order to justify the role of the savvy neoliberal state as the sole guide and path to surviving this brutality. There are too many examples of this informational eclipse and the vicious cycle of brutality that accompanies it. Terrorists rely heavily on narratives of mass complicity to justify crimes against civilian populations.[1] During the presidential debates, Donald Trump justified his own corruption by cunningly (yet correctly) pointing out the terms of Hillary Clinton’s corruption. Airing of the establishment’s dirty laundry for the first time, on national TV, was Trump’s single most unpredictable and so effective move: he made himself appear as the bad karma of the establishment, its destroyer. Demographics tied down to the evil of existing and established facts may very well prefer the liberating chaos of alternatives truths.

The relentless bombardment of information also relies on a politics of pure image, one without the necessary and supplemental narratives and contexts. Such imagery provides impetus to ahistorical narratives and allows the bombarded observer to take the supremacy of his class, racial, or cultural status for granted. For example, the popular conception of all ‘Muslims’ as religious extremists finds context only in the decontextualized TV image of the ‘brown person’ fleeing wars and bombs, an image without the histories of colonialism, imperialism, and interventionism that give rise to the present plights of her and her ‘lookalikes.’ Indeed, I suggest that the average ‘neoliberal citizen’ has grown entirely forgetful of the historical narratives that inform the economic and cultural hegemony of the West. It is sadly forgotten that all liberal values held in such high esteem, such as ‘human rights,’ were not seamlessly inherited from Western modernity. Rather, they were demanded and exacted from the ‘European male’ through the hard toil and sacrifices of anti-apartheid, anti-colonial, and anti-patriarchal social movements of those living in and outside the margins of Europe. The average ‘Westerner’ has come to take the accumulation of his current privileges for granted, and more dangerously, to view them as markers of his own cultural and racial supremacy. And because of this historical short-sightedness Western democracies have grown prone to democratic complacency and to giving free reign to the rise of autocracy. The latency of this historical forgetfulness is exemplified by the political and electoral lethargy that made the rise of Donald Trump possible at all. Needless to say, this lethargy is sustained through the overproduction of an idealized and radicalized image of Western hegemony; an image contrasted daylily to the miseries of the rest of the world. It is important to note that my critical view of the value of information does not minimize the effects of propaganda and the manufacturing of consent. Rather, I aim to highlight the manner in which the true potential of ‘truth-narratives’ can be manipulated and released by the state.

Finally, other critics, those that await the mythical ‘big mistake’ by Trump to oust him from office, equally underestimate the spectacular nature of his political power. Walter Benjamin identifies the modern aspect of the political mob as its fateful capacity for the lumping of disparate individuals, that is, for bringing together in one galvanized, spontaneous group demographics that share divergent sets of political and economic interests. In our times, the social media, in addition to dissemination of information, inadvertently work to give a unified face to the demands and concerns of various antagonistic social groups. For example, social media trends aggregate the voices of pro-Trump LGBTQ communities (frightened by the threat of ‘radical Islam’) and pro-Trump conservative Christians (frightened by equal rights for the LGBTQ community). The overlapping of the support base for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump under #antiestablishment should also be viewed from the viewpoint of this compounding effect. Accordingly, Trump’s ‘one big mistake’ will likely only reconfigure, and not significantly decompose Trump’s media-savvy support base. It is important to add that this technological understanding of the political mob does not reduce the concrete nature of the legitimate frustrations vented by various American groups. Rather, it demonstrates the way in which contemporary political demands are perverted despite their sincerity. Trump, an expert rhetor and mediaman, is well aware of this perverting power. Indeed, very early in his campaign he made a point of the fact that he could “shoot somebody” in the middle of Time Square “and not lose any voters.” Trump has assumed the face of a growing backlash against the status quo, a return of history whose scope and focus is wider and more specific than Trump’s administration and support base and, in fact, encompasses and represents emerging sentiments all over the world.

 

[1] The Syrian government’s blatant justifications of war crimes are disguised in ‘anti-interventionist’ narratives that conceal the intervention of Assad’s Russian, Iranian, Lebanese allies.

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