Donald the Trumpet 2

Silent Majority stand with Trump rally

[Second part of Trump essay: his followers, Trump as mainstream and ‘social’ media creature/expression. Lotsa quotes.]

4.The Angry Declassé Third of Society: the white working class followers

Trump’s followers did not suddenly appear with Trump. They follow on from other right-wing working class followers like the pro-war unionists of the 60s and 70s and the ‘Reagan Democrats’ of the 1980s: the latter white, blue-collar, mostly male, southern or rural, who defected en masse to the Republicans after President Jimmy Carter. US commentators Bill C. Davis, Vincent Emmanuel and Paul Street attempt a characterisation of Trump’s appeal to these followers:

Davis: “The women and men taking to the airwaves rattling off a line of attack on opponents and generalized virtues laid at Mr. Trump’s feet, who are they? People chanting USA and build that wall – who are they?

Are they well-meaning and good citizens? Who and what has he drawn to the surface and out of their corners of indignation?

There is a kind of a small collective kissing of the ring. A rich man. He is smart. He knows things we don’t and therefore he knows everything about everything because how else does someone who can barely put a sentence together get billions of dollars?
He gets to humiliate people. What a thrill for humiliated people. The inoculation for not being humiliated is to join the master as he mocks.

He’s real. Authentic. This may be the same as cruel. But there is the case of the bible and how well he does with The Evangelicals so he’s not cruel – he’s honest; true. And so we’ll vote for him.” […]

“These followers have been brought to the surface and we should know them – they want to be known now. They are not afraid to be known and that is the gift Trump has given them – and us. He has given them a brutal benediction on their brutality. A blessing on their lack of empathy. A license to aim their disdain at the “other.” With his harsh sandpaper screech he underlines the “others” giving cover and consolation to the Unchristian Christians. What a relief not to feel guilty about being hostile and bigoted.

These supporters reveal themselves to be both cowed and exalted by his wealth. Supporting him is like buying a lottery ticket. The promised land is the prize and his voters have an instant membership because they hate what he hates.”

Emmanuel: “Beyond racist platitudes and xenophobic rants, what’s Trump’s appeal? To me, it’s obvious: he says whatever he wants…Trump’s unscripted tirades leave no establishment political figure or cultural icon untouched. In many ways, he’s channeling decades of white working class anger and disillusionment with the American political-economic system (a system Trump has greatly benefited from, no doubt).
In the teleprompter-age, people rarely witness even a glimpse of authenticity.

…The other day, I was speaking with my father about politics when he informed me that many of his childhood friends support Trump. Most of these guys are current or former union members and absolutely dependent on the benefits they’ve earned via contracts negotiated by organized labor. Yet, they hate unions. And they loathe immigrants, even though they come from immigrant families. In short, they’re ideologically confused….They, like most people, go to work, watch sports, party with friends and raise their children. They’re not bankers, or hedge fund managers, nor are they military big-shots or political lackeys. They’ve never been members of white supremacist organizations or extreme-right political parties. In short, they’re not part of the so-called establishment.

…From the perspective of class, Trump’s supporters should be socialists or at the very least liberals. The white working class, like their Latino and black counterparts, but to a lesser extent, has endured decades of savage neoliberal economic programs. Their jobs have been shipped overseas. And their retirements have been plundered. As a result, their neighborhoods and childhood communities have crumbled and fallen prey to drug addiction and gang violence. They’re frustrated and upset, and for good reason, but at all the wrong people and institutions.” (V. Emmanuel, ‘Donald Trump, Working Class Whites, and the Left,’ ZNet, August 4, 2015)

Street: “A critical piece to add here – and Emmanuel does – is that leftists and progressives have done an exceedingly piss-poor job of connecting to, organizing, and directing that anger at the right people and institutions – that is, at the corporate and financial aristocracy and the military empire that props up the decadent, planet-murdering-death-by-amusement-and-propaganda profits system at home and abroad.

Anger and resentment abhor a vacuum. If the right has one great virtue to angry and insecure white working and lower middle class people, it is that it sounds furiously angry at evil Others who are giving The American Working Man the shaft.

It’s not just an American problem. And it’s hardly new. A left vacuum in Weimar Germany helped recruit millions of German workers to Hitler’s Nazi Party. French workers who used to vote Socialist and Communist end up backing the Le Pens for this reason. European “social democracy” and British “Labour’s” tepid subordination to the neoliberal agenda concedes considerable working and lower middle class “populist rage” to European neo-fascism. Golden Dawn threatens to capitalize on Syriza’s humiliation by Europe’s dictatorship of unelected financial institutions.

We on the “radical Left” can call it all “false consciousness” (accurate to no small degree) and even perhaps “pathetic” and run away in horror or we (as Emmanuel advocates) can try to engage with the nation’s angry white workers (and working class retirees) and try to overcome ruling class divide-and-conquer by helping those “ordinary Americans” (a curious phrase) direct their rage at the nation’s actual economic, political, and military power elites – not at comparatively powerless scapegoats.”

5.The Lie as Truth, Sense as Nonsense: Media and the End of Ideas – ‘It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS’

Trump’s opportunism goes way beyond the populist and ‘pragmatic’ politician’s usual vacillations, inconsistencies, porkies and flip-flops to outright post-modern self-contradiction, incoherence and situational truth-elimination. His ‘policies’ have as rapid a ‘turnover’ as the latest technology products, news headlines or twitter trends. “Most of what this candidate offers as policy has a shelf-life – sometimes it lasts just hours; more often it survives for days or weeks. And no policy issue is too big or too small to warrant a Trump self-contradiction.” (Paul McGeough, ‘U-turn keep the Donald on course’, SMH 12/5/16, p. 13). Some examples.

In 1999 Trump tells Meet the Press: ‘I’m very pro-choice.’ In 2016 he tells Fox News: ‘But I’m pro-life.’ Weeks later he even says that women who have abortions should be punished; and just hours later, that women are victims and only doctors should be punished. In 1999 he tells the media: ‘I would tax people of wealth, of great wealth, people over $10 million, by 14.24 per cent.’ In 2016 he favours ‘A big tax reduction, including for the upper income.’ Then a few weeks later he, albeit guardedly, flips again: asked by a reporter about his proposed tax cut for billionaires, he says: ‘I’m not necessarily a huge fan of that.’ In 2000 Trump supports a ban on assault weapons. In 2016 he does not. On Syrian refugees, in September 2015 he tells Fox News ‘On a humanitarian basis with what’s happening, you have to [accept them].’ Eight weeks later he tells a rally: ‘The refugees are going back, we can’t have them.’

Perhaps most disconcerting of all, many would seem to not really care about these self-contradictions. Truth, memory, consistency, articulateness, coherence of meaning-making (all of which formed essential features of both the modern individual and liberal public discourse) have been seemingly swallowed by the velocity, fragmentation and decontextualized meaninglessness of the image streams forming mass consciousness in the totalised spectacle of globalised consumerism.

Philosophy professor Michael Lynch thinks such flagrant self-contradictions and incoherence may even be read as a sign of a kind of post-modern Herrenmoral and ‘strength’ by his followers: “To some, that he contradicts himself so freely shows that he doesn’t care what ‘they’ [the news media, liberals, women, minorities] think. The signal this sends is one of strength: only the strong can afford not to care.” (quoted in Paul McGeough, ibid.) To the uneducated, a certain inarticulateness and incoherence may also, as in Australia’s early right-wing populist Pauline Hanson, be seen as a strength in the form of an anti-intellectual, anti-liberal-elite ‘authenticity’. Whatever they utter can then be more readily ‘believed’.

Similarly Stephen Coleman on the mass nihilism (aka known as emptiness) that has always been the essence of mass society and capitalist consumerism: “G.K. Chesterton reminded us that when people stop believing in something, they do not believe in nothing, but are more likely to believe in anything. Trump is a vessel for the deposit of American disbelief. He is the “anything” that occupies the space that would otherwise be ‘nothing’.”

Far from disqualifying him from office, part of Trump’s appeal and ‘authenticity’ seems to lie in his very ‘nothingness’, as also expressed, for example, in his breathtaking ignorance and semantic incoherence, e.g. in all matters of foreign policy. While promising to ‘make America great again’ he apparently intends to simultaneously leave the middle east, send more troops and then keep enough troops to steal Iraqi oil. Asked specifically about his proposal to send 20-30,000 troops to Iraq to fight IS, he seems to back off with the following syntactically challenged stream-of-unconsciousness:

“No, I didn’t, oh no no no, OK, I know what you’re saying…I said, well, the generals are saying you’d need because they, what would it take to wipe out ISIS, I said pretty much exactly this, I said the generals, the military is saying you would need 20- to 30,000 troops, but I didn’t say that I would send them.” Later in the same interview with the Washington Post, when actually asked about China and the South China Sea, Trump says: “We should have never been in Iraq. It was a horr- it was one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. We then got out badly, then after we got out, I said, ‘Keep the oil. If we don’t keep it Iran’s going to get it.’ And it turns out Iran and ISIS basically –”

The Post: ‘How do you keep it without troops, how do you defend the oil?’ Trump: “You would…You would, well for that – for that, I would circle it. I would defend those areas.” The Post: ‘With US troops?’ Trump: “Yeah, I would defend the areas with the oil. And I would have taken out a lot of oil. And, uh, I would have kept it.” (in P. McGeough, ‘Trump puzzles with verbal deluge’, SMH 27/3/16, p. 30)

The post-modern ‘sovereign voter’s’ choice between such non-alternatives like Trump/Clinton is the choice between two degrees of lying: between a candidate three quarters of whose speeches are lies and a candidate one third of whose speeches are lies, and this in a context where the media and public don’t much care one way or the other, with Trump’s greater percentage of lies in fact making much better ‘copy’. Here are more extensive comments by Neal Gabler, Tom Engelhardt and Paul Street on the profitable, self-feeding Trump-media nexus.

Gabler: “Donald Trump is a serial liar. Okay, to be a bit less Trumpian about it, he has trouble with the truth. If you look at Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning site that examines candidates’ pronouncements for accuracy, 76 percent of Trump’s statements are rated either “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire,” which is to say off-the-charts false. By comparison, Hillary Clinton’s total is 29 percent. […]

In an ordinary political season, perhaps Trump would be under fire for his habitual untruths, like the one that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald. This time around, though, neither the media nor the public — least of all his supporters — seem to care. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that these days, as far as our political discourse goes, truth, logic, reason and consistency don’t seem to count for very much. […]

What this means is that our politics is no longer politics in the traditional sense of policy and governance. It is, as most of us realize, a show, a game, an ongoing reality TV saga. This is nothing new. The media have been bored with policy for a long time and have been pressing the horse-race narrative over real reporting for just as long. And when they do discuss policy, as The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins observed, in a typically smart piece, they are likely to prefer the windy, absurd generalities of a Trump to the wonky policies of a Clinton. It makes better copy, and it has the added benefit that it doesn’t require any fact-checking.

[…]With their mutual lack of interest in the truth, Trump and the mainstream media deserve one another — a synergy of the showman and the gossip columnists. But do we deserve them? Only if we allow our politics to become a way of amusing ourselves rather than the way to select a leader.

Meanwhile, Trump and the mainstream media will keep the misinformation coming, on the sadly correct assumption that many of us don’t really care about facts so long as we are being titillated.”

“Where Trump and social media do conjoin, promoting his candidacy and changing our whole political environment, isn’t in the generation of noise. It is in something even more fundamental to each: Trump is the “decontexualizer-in-chief” operating in a medium that likewise is about cutting the world into bits that don’t necessarily accrete into anything sensical. […]

I say “second most” because the most important, I believe, is the way Trump, with the accommodation of social media, has used its affinity for decontextualization to decontextualize our politics. Social media are the champions of the nugget – the minute-or-less Instagram film, the 140-character tweet, the instantaneous Snapchat, the six-second (yes, six seconds!) Vine. Because nothing in social media is sustained, people may connect, but ideas rarely do. By the time you have finished slicing and dicing everything into those nuggets, you have pried them out of any larger context, any skein of meaning, any argument, any vision. In a way, social media take the Memento approach to life and apply it to everything.

Politically, this fragmentation has major ramifications. Context is reason. Context is what enables us to weigh and judge. Context removes impulse. And this is really why you cannot conduct a serious campaign on social media. Context disappears. Of course, radio lends itself to emotion and unreason and even soundbites. So obviously does television. Both can substitute the momentary for the considered.

This is one of the things the great media analyst Neil Postman decried in his book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. He fretted over the way an increasingly visceral culture had given rise to an increasingly unserious culture, with the obvious political implications. Above all else, Donald Trump is the candidate of impulse running against candidates of calculation. He is the king of the one-liner, the insult, the proudly politically incorrect slur. And that is a central reason why disaffected Republicans have rallied to him. He is nothing but bites.
All of which makes Trump not just a more outrageous and blustering candidate than the ones to whom we are accustomed. It makes him an epistemologically different kind of candidate – one who challenges the very basis of our politics. He doesn’t have to make sense. He doesn’t have to provide a program or a vision. All he needs are his zingers, so long as they are no more than 140-characters. Twitter can do that to you. And now we are getting a taste of what it can do to our political discourse.”

Engelhardt: “So much of this, of course, is about money, ratings, and the coffers of those who own TV networks. Gluing eyeballs to screens (and ads) is, of course, the real news about the news.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves couldn’t have been blunter on how the present system works. At a Morgan Stanley investors’ conference last month, speaking of the Trump campaign, he said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” And then he added, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” […]

In a sense, at its best, what the all-day obsession that’s still called “the news” really provides is the kind of rush that we might normally associate with a drug or an addiction rather than reportage or analysis. The news — no matter your screen of choice — increasingly does several things:

* It creates its own heightened, insular world to replace the world we actually live in.
* At its most effective, it’s like a recurrent floodtide washing over you.
* It has an obsessional quality, with single stories engulfing everything else, inducing a deeply skewed view of the world, no matter what event or events are being followed.

Who can doubt that the Internet, social media, email, and the rest of the package are the signature addictive activities of our age? Anyone who can put away that iPhone without resistance, or not check one last time to see if the email you weren’t expecting has arrived, should join the short line now forming at the exit. For the rest of us, let’s face it, we’re trapped here.

The “news” is a key part of this addictive package. In a sense, in an age of electronic obsession, onscreen news purveyors like Moonves may have little choice but to make it so. It’s that or, assumedly, watch your cable network or key news programs die a grim financial death.

And of course Donald Trump, he of the trademark bouffant comb-over — yes, I’m back to him — is certainly sui generis and regularly admired for the deft way he plays the news and the media. He’s less commonly thought of as the creature of the news and the media. In a sense, though, he’s their ultimate creation of this moment, the top-of-the-line drug on offer so far. If he’s also the ultimate narcissist without filters, then perhaps what we still call “the news” is itself a new form of narcissism. When you look in the mirror it holds up, it’s not you or the world that’s reflected.”

Street: “The U.S. corporate media is not fascist but it has predictably demonstrated a far greater willingness to cover an authentic neo-Mussolini like Donald Trump than to give exposure to an authentic wannabe Mitterand like Bernie Sanders. Trump’s advantage over Sanders in media attention is about more than Trump’s billions and his status as a notorious “entertainment” personality. It also reflects the fact that his spiteful far-right world view matches up with the malicious authoritarian ideological imperatives of the wealth-concentrating, mass-incarcerating, permanent war-waging, privatizing, and victim-blaming neoliberal-capitalist era.” […]

“ […] the second political and ideological function of Trump is that his ugly and vicious madness, buffoonery, narcissism, and revanchism (and that of other GOP proto-fascists like Ted Cruz and the rest) help make the “mainstream” Big Money candidates Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton look reasonable, responsible, respectable, mature, and trustworthy by comparison. Never mind that both of those candidates are deeply captive and loyal to the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire that have turned the United States into a grotesquely unequal plaything of the rich. Never mind they will both act to further the United States’ wretched devolution into a decadent rentier society in which (as Sanders notes again and again) the top 1% owners more wealth than the bottom 90% – a “world’s richest nation” where more than 45 million people (roughly 15 percent of the population) live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, where overall life expectancy has actually dropped for the first time in history, and where female life expectancy has fall from fourteenth to forty first in the world since 1985 (and where …the list of terrible national New Gilded Age indicators goes on and on). Never mind that Jeb Bush now advocates the arch-reactionary “phasing out of Medicare” or that the militantly corporatist Hillary promises to be one the most cold-blooded imperialists on record.”

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on June 8, 2016.

5 Responses to “Donald the Trumpet 2”

  1. that’s an amazing compilation, peter…certainly validates my opinions…
    but my spirit is still feeling overwhelmed/incompetent by the fractured thinking on both the right and the left…very disconcerting…gotta go do some art…

    • Thanks, Kristi. Yeah, art, poetry, a good novel, gardening, a walk with the dog or in the wilds, some yoga or tai chi or zazen…we all gotta stay sane. Also find having ‘compassion’ (feeling for an other, Buddhist ‘metta’/sending kind thoughts) instead of ’empathy’ (feeling with, identifying with) with the multitude of victims helps too… Relationships within the ‘left’ (e.g. IOPS) might need a little more kindness and magnanimity too I reckon…

  2. Friggin brilliant.
    Many serious commentators (not you, Peter) still use the word “politics” to describe the spectacle before us, but I think doing so perpetuates the problem. Language is a terrain of struggle, so if it is clarity we are after, we need to be cautious about words.
    It is funny that I, the once solid materialist, have taken this turn to the psychological, but more and more I am finding concepts like disavowal necessary components when explaining ideology. In this sense Trumpism is a condition with a history and symptoms, which you have listed in concise fashion. I wish I was more conversant in trauma, pathology and desire, not as another essentialist discourse, but as a supplement of meaning.

    As you point out we have familiar right-wing tropes (nostalgia for what never was, nationalism, etc) at a unique time of existential crisis. it is not Weimar as much as similarities do exist. Neither is it simple fodder for John Oliver comedy or NPR.

    • Many thanks Dave, much appreciated. Interested in more of your own thoughts on Trumpism too, you being much closer to the actual phenomenon of course. You’re dead right about being ‘cautious about words’. Re the psychology. I think there was a necessary turn towards it on the part of the critical left already post-1917/21 and the defeat of working class movements everywhere. Probably defined what we know as ‘Western Marxism’, i.e. reflections on ‘why the defeat? whence the inner weakness of the working class…?’ : early Lukacs (History and Class Consciousness), Karl Korsch, Wilhelm Reich, ex-council communist Otto Ruehle (using Adler’s ‘inferority complex’), Gramsci’s theory of hegemony, Ernst Bloch’s theory of historical-subjective ‘Ungleichzeitigkeit’ within classes and individuals (to help explain fascist victory in ‘Erbschaft dieser Zeit’), then the Frankfurt School in the 30/40s (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm) using Freud and looking at the sado-masochistic ‘authoritarian character’ and the ‘fear of freedom’ (Fromm), socialization via the cultural industry and the demise of the traditional/patriarchal bourgeois family and the strong bourgeois ego/individual. Now mass socio-psychology has shifted of course, as has psychoanalysis/psychodynamics, and we have mass narcissism, existential meaninglessness, mass depression/anxiety epidemics. I find post-Freudian psychodynamic narcissism theory helpful and John Bowlby’s theories of perinatal attachment disorders with the emotionally absent, materially fixated or non-validating mother figure, in helping explain some of these mass pathologies and dissociations. Decades of televised neurological re-wiring, thought control and manipulation have done their important bit too. Hope you’re having a good summer. Oh, and loved your ‘What’s going on?’ post in February BTW, Dave. Peter

      • Narcissism theory, oh yeah, New York New York. Check out the documentary Weiner sometime.

        On a meta, philosophical level (influenced by a recent re-reading of Carl Schmitt) I am wondering what John Rawls would have to say about all this. Are we witnessing the end of liberalism? That so-called moral consensus based on a shared notion of “the good” is getting harder and harder to imagine- we Americans drive down our shared freeways with our bumper stickers (plus make and model of car) expressing our “politics”, but no one imagines convincing the other side of anything. As Schmitt predicted, politics have been superseded by economics, where all antagonism is settled by the Almighty Market.
        This has always been a taboo subject, but Trump proclaims it loudly. It has nothing to do with better arguments, it is about making the best deal. And his constituency experiences an obscene joiussance in hearing a celebrity say this out loud. Not whispering, but yelling it, penis in hand.

        the other day he said: “We have to make America wealthy again.I’m sorry, but to be great, you have to be wealthy.” He was apologizing to the Christians and Moral Majority and sentimental simpletons for exposing the fantasy, but he is done with the games, the coded language.

        And then there is this grand illusion that Hillary can guide us to a rationally sutured democratic capitalist america, with human rights and equality and popular sovereignty and the whole liberal fantasy, the grown-up, technocratic fantasy. In our shared backyards (flimsy lattice fences), over the scream of the sirens, the sprinklers hiss and the mowers mow and neighbors wave good morning!

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