This is a really really great blog post. I mean really. I mean there are a lot of blogs out there, and some of them are good. But this one is just, you know, so great.
There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism
Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History
A while ago when it became clear that Donald Trump was going to secure the Rublican nomination for president, a friend of mine from Croydon offered a striking parable of what was going on. Trump, he said, was like an extremely drunk stranger in a pub that everyone finds hugely entertaining, as he lolls around spraying insults and obscenities with unrestrained abandon. The smiles on people’s faces suddenly fade to alarm as the stranger produces from his pocket a key and staggers out onto the street and gets into his car.
I followed @realdonaldtrump for several years while his rage against Obama reached the crescendo of his unlikely candidacy. When he is not hectoring, I quite like listening to him. His circular rhetoric – I am so great, our people are really great. Our people are just the greatest, greatest people in the world. Ever. etc. – has a poetic vacuousness, a sort of preternatural elegance which I am sure harks back to earliest stirrings of human speech. (‘Me Tarzan’: the history of language is one of ‘unfolding’ – Guy Deutscher.) I especially like it when he does that sort of soft almost non-speaking, usually when he is sidestepping an allegation – ‘Putin? I don’t know the man’ etc. If only there was someone with integrity and benevolence able to harness modern anglo-saxon with the same unglossy directness.
But today Trump and his fascist entourage are reaching for the car keys. This shit suddenly got real.
It’s hard to fathom how, according to the polls, at least 40% of the voting population of the United States, that’s around 90 million adults, are so pissed off that they would put Trump in charge of the most powerful state on the planet. This includes the swathe of ‘evangelical’ Zionist Christians who have concluded that a female Democrat president would be worse than a sexually-depraved, anti-Semitic megalomaniac with a evident sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan. They had already reduced the total of Christian theology to an obsession with sexual mores and abortion. In fact one fascinating sub-plot to this election is the unmasking of the ‘Christian right’ as being just the ‘right’ and not Christian at all. The hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness is so stark that Tony Campolo, one of the American preachers who strident voices were always issuing from the in-car cassette player when I was a child, has now disavowed the term ‘evangelical’, which is supposed to mean ‘good news’, because it has become so contaminated with hatred and violence. It was similarly masks-off in the UK too last week where, by the temerity and biliousness of their reactions to the High Court ruling on the Royal Prerogative and Brexit, the Right have revealed their true target to be not really the European Union but the general tenets of, deeply English, traditions of liberal democracy and social progressivism.
The United States is basically unfathomable. It is seething with people and stuff made by people, mostly inhabiting the most artificially-contrived habitat in the history of the humanity. Bloated, unforgiving capitalism and the subjugation of nature. Recently I was in a cab in Washington DC and heard a short series of commercials on the radio which ran more or less as follows:
INVISIBLE INVADERS WANT TO DESTROY YOUR HOME! CALL TERMINIX AND DEFEND YOUR HOME FROM TERMITE INVADERS. IT’S YOUR HOME, NOT THEIRS!
OWE MORE THAN $10,000 IN FEDERAL TAXES? DON’T FIGHT THE IRS ON YOUR OWN. CALL THE TAX DEBT DOCTOR NOW!
COMPARE.COM! SAVING SAVE HUMANITY FROM HIGH INSURANCE RATES, ONE HUMAN AT A TIME!
To paraphrase and summarise the standard advertising message of America in 2016:
EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING OUT THERE WANTS TO FUCK YOU, AND ONLY WE CAN PROTECT YOU.
The next ad was for the Burger King ‘Supreme Breakfast Sandwich’ featuring two eggs, two sausages, bacon and, of course, ‘two slices of melted American cheese’. So this is a nation in the grip of paranoia, gorged on meat and slathered in oozing processed cheese.
Politicians seek advancement by giving electors what they want, or by just being seen to give people what they want. Good politicians try to do this without harming anyone or anything else in the process. But there are so few good politicians out there right now. Memories of 20th century cataclysms are moving towards abstractions. ‘A quarter of Americans born since 1980 believe that democracy is a bad form of government, many more than did so 20 years ago.’ Americans and Europeans are more susceptible to fascism than at any time since the Second World War. Cynicism with politics, social inertia and interminably growing inequality and the impotence of the Left is the breeding ground for fascism.
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno in the Dialectics of Enlightenment describe how the failures in civilisation – evident in the 1930s and 40s and more and more apparent today – induces in people what they call ‘repressed mimesis’. Something must be repressed and suffer in order to make the alien famililar: in ancient times, humans and animals were sacrificed, in Europe since the Middle Ages ‘the object of the illness’ became the Jews. The Jews, as we see from Trump’s and other right wing movements, are still in their sights, but globalisation now presents many other ready targets.
If Hillary is, as predicted, mercifully, elected tonight, she will have merely injured the beast and she should not strike any note of triumphalism. Tomorrow morning there will be almost 100 million very pissed-off white Americans, most of them probably with guns. There are difficult days ahead. Let us pray.