Thursday, 22 December 2016

Trump as Laughable Signifier of the Parodic Hyperreality of the USA

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- Bruce Long

Some time ago I developed a habit of saying that if Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of Abject Religious Delusional Devotion, then the USA would have achieved a state of being a kind of Baudrillardian hyperreal parody of itself.

As Dimitris Vardoulakis has recently also suggested - Trump may have won simply because he was laughable. I have also suggested that secularism and democracy are not only on the back foot world wide, but have long since succumbed to various parasitic and deleterious political and ideological - and religious - movements. Movements which deploy every tactic imaginable (and a few unheard of) from brute force, to slippery substitution of signifiers, to bullying and cajoling, to psychologically savvy marketing, to just plain social psychology.

In Jean Baudrillard's theory - put forward in his Simulation and Simulacra - he is concerned that the kind of grand overarching control narratives that Francois Lyotard identified as problems in modern society - everything from political spin and big lies, to religious dogma, to scientific dogmas - would be difficult to displace and even identify: the representing and interpreting maps made of our cultural, scientific, and social landscapes would become more real to us than the reality, and we would be powerless to help ourselves in the face of it.

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There is no democracy in Usually Something Asinine: just pay big to run (off at the mouth) for candidacy - if supported by religio-conservative freemarket factionalists of different but the same variety.

Image result for ridicule cartoon"But Bruce", I hear you thinking across the networked ether, "You can say stuff like you just said and your right to do so is respected".

1. No it isn't. You still pay a price in terms of reputation and social acceptance - but no one acknowledges that it is happening until you die in poverty or are professionally and personally destroyed by the biggest team(s) of the stupidest bigots - or both.
2. Sure - you can say whatever you like - but it makes NO difference to the status quo you are criticising, and just gets you beaten up per 1.

There is no secularism in such an outcome either. Secularism has to capitulate to the worst bigotries of religious conservative bullying, all the while being subverted and sabotaged by theocrats and other unconscionable sociopaths.

Vardoulakis has written that trumps ridiculous character made him a champion of the people because he sounded un-elite, whilst being neoliberal elite in fact:

I hold that Trump’s ridiculous character actually contributed to his success. The most significant issue Clinton faced was her association with neoliberalism. This was an issue that the left was aware of, even though she herself sought to ignore it. But it is hard to ignore when someone is paid a quarter of a millions dollars to make a speech to companies epitomizing neoliberal economics. The emails released by WikiLeaks did not reveal her connection to neoliberalism — they simply put on the front page something that was already known.
Trump is just as, if not more, complicit in neoliberal economics. The fact that “smart” people, as he puts it, avoid paying federal tax demonstrates the profoundly neoliberal mentality of Trump — which is to say, a mentality that understands freedom as the exercise of economic enterprise for the benefit of the individual. Thus, Trump was reassuring to the neoliberal status quo.
At the same time, the figure of sovereignty in neoliberalism is a weakened one. We all know how globalization has eroded sovereign power. What does a sovereign look like in a world where large corporations hold state governments for ransom? It is an enfeebled sovereign, an enervated or emasculated one. It is a sovereign who has been castrated.
It is at this juncture that the paradox of Clinton’s strong economic credentials really hurt her. Given her indisputable “competence,” she appeared anything but emasculated. In fact, she appeared too strong — that is, she appeared to represent the corporate side. Her strength made her look unstately in the sense of not representing the interests of the working class. The fact that Trump was “incompetent” in this context allowed him to appear as if he could represent working class interests over corporate greed.
But there is an additional element that played right in Trump’s hands. Sovereignty in a neoliberal or biopolitical context does not appear to defend any particular end. Biopolitics is, as Foucault put it, all about normalization and regulation. It is about control of the population. It is as if the means of the exercise of power lacks any end and simply justifies the further exercise of means.
A good example of this structure of biopolitical justification is the moralizing aspect of power — something that Hardt and Negri understand very well in Empire. When it appears as if there is no political end to be defended in a globalized world, then moral principles rush in to occupy the vacuum. The various campaigns of “political correctness” are symptoms of this.
Trump triumphed against Clinton as a resistance against this moralizing logic of biopolitics. His buffoonery was directed against anything that might have been perceived as “political correctness.”
But I am not sure that we understand why political correctness was so unpopular in this case. Trump was not only politically incorrect:he was willfully obnoxious, rude, willfully overly offensive (far more offensive than necessary in most cases). Political correctness is a signifier of a much larger set of core problems with faux-democracy. The main one being that it is faux. People cannot stand being treated like mushrooms and as dolt and dupes by a duplicitous duopoly and an ongoing conspiracy of same-oppressive-nonsense-different packaging. Actually, the duopoly did not even bother changing the packaging anymore: they just condescended to the populace and political correctness was a smarmy signifier and symbol of that 'fuck you people' condescension.

Unfortunately, however, most people - as it turned out - cannot really discern what is going on in such circumstances.

People perceived the Trump was saying 'fuck you' back, when in fact he was doing nothing of the sort.
The bizarre indicators of this failure of discernment during Donald-deference-due-to-disgruntlement include the abject failure of groups like evangelicals to see through Trump's bible-waving.

Now I for one think that Trump's bible waving was one of the best statements of his campaign. It was a truly masterful hyper-pragmatic tongue-in-cheek-cum-balls-out rebuttal of all things faithistic and religulous - of which the Usual State of Asinine has more than its fair share. It was the political equivalent of standing in front of millions of devouts and telling them they were stupid and yet they would vote for him precisely because he did so: but not on any self effacing basis on their part. Just because of actual dumb, dogmatic devotion. The entire evangelical American heartland (almost) cheered The Donald on while he basically told them to their faces that they were so stupid they would vote for any loony as long as that loony was waving a bible at them and making contrite type faces during what could have been prayers - or something.

Trump was telling evangelicals that their faith was part of their problem - and part of America's problem. They were - of course - incapable of hearing him or seeing what was in front of their faces, even though their complicity in his schemes proved his point completely.