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[Boogie-Woogie: “a percussive style of playing blues on the piano characterized by a steady rhythmic ground bass of eighth notes in quadruple time and a series of improvised melodic variations”—Webster’s. Political translation: pound away with just enough cacophony to avoid boredom whilst spreading the message of capitalism, militarism, war, privilege, hierarchy, in sum, the fascistization of the American polity. Improvise the message with stirrings of ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and contempt for dissent and human rights, disguised with the steady beat of liberalism and patriotism, so as to appear the voice of American Exceptionalism. No, not my beloved Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Meade Lux Lewis, whose eight-to-the bar piano trios sing out for emancipation—the affirmation of race, dignity, social conscience–from regimentation and second-class citizenship, but Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, their followers, America itself, who themselves transmogrify the beauties of human freedom into the hegemonic thirst/quest of oppressing the world community and the less fortunate within our society for the sake of domination, riches, status, pure and simple. Like Ravel’s La Valse, their boogie-woogie careens out of control, spiraling into a vortex of Evil, never sated, always seeking more power, more avenues of subjugation, the rat running in circles trying to catch his/her tail.]
I Background. My focus here is on Trump, the glamor of easygoing fascism, sitting poolside, self-assured, sexually obsessive, morbidly accumulative, precisely one whose infantilism translates into statesmanship and deal-making, the two indistinguishable, similar to the arrogance he adopts in his approach to women (age, thirty-five and under). Hail fellow, one of the boys, what’s not to like? To answer, let’s go back a step. The brouhaha surrounding revelations of Trump’s sexism (and worse) is phony, self-serving, righteousness in the service of denial and suppression. Trump is America, and he has run afoul of its feigned prudery, which covers over its secret yearnings for everything he has done and represents. If the lid were taken off, groping would be a national pastime, but the lid—a stabilized capitalism founded on Order in its myriad guises—cannot be removed lest social discipline, as in showing deference to wealth and the wealthy, with an admixture of worship of military prestige, is diminished, and all manner of libidinal energies spill out.
America is tightly-bound in its own hypocrisy. Our novelist laureate should be Nathaniel Hawthorne, who long ago recognized the closure of the social order, in which Hester Prynne becomes the martyr-hero to America’s distorted sensibility. She wore the letter “A” which could be a stand-in for the whole alphabet of neurotic fears that plagued and still plague the society, from radicalism and socialism to a common acceptance of difference and diversity. Here, Trump, unlike Clinton, is actually a breath of fresh air: unvarnished libido (primitive biological urges often goal-directed, or simply, sexual energy), which, in valuing self-indulgent pleasures might conceivably make him hesitant about blowing up the world, a potential reticence entirely foreign to Clinton’s mega-belligerence and stored-up resentments. The comparison brings to mind Nietzsche, who, in The Genealogy of Morals, argued that it was precisely like what we see as the composite personality of Clinton, meanness, weakness, duplicitous, craving, and snuggling up to, power, mendacious, all summarized in the email controversy and her enabling of Bill in his affairs (while demonizing his paramours), which provided the context and personality structure of one who strikes out in vengeance at Enemies real and imagined. The strong are not so prompted; it is the weak who spew poisons at humankind.
A veiled endorsement, on my part, of Trump? Of course not. His underlying weakness is of another kind, the bully overcompensating for his barrenness as a human being. Yet with Trump, again unlike Clinton, the active nature of the Freudian pleasure principle is a check on wholesale destruction, including that of himself. The Trump-Putin connection, though hardly ratified, is not far-fetched in fact and conception. Trump endorses waterboarding, which per se puts him beyond the pale, outside the human community, still, however, less bathed in venom than Clinton, who gives every indication of wanting to stab Putin in the back, and also Xi for good measure. With Trump there is hope of avoiding nuclear war (a Trump Palace in Macau or Beijing would not, for him, be idle speculation); in Clinton’s case, an ideologically-driven agenda makes anything possible.
Trump is no Nietzsche, Clinton no Hester (her quiet dignity and authentic heroic proportions), both instead crude symbols of American greed, whether of power, wealth, or the combination of the two. Even uglier, from the standpoint of a depraved mental-set, is the Republican (to the Democrats’ enjoyment) growing disavowal of Trump. He at least is all surface, his lack of inhibitions tantamount to opening the safety-valve of resentments, the joie de vivre standing in marked contrast to the suspicious, censorious mind-set of his critics who dwell in a bottomless well of self-righteous negativity, hissing curses at those not thought to measure up: immigrants, the laboring poor, advocates for the democratization of power, minorities who are not given to self-debasement, those who reject militarism and the Cold War—with enough shared feeling in the other major party to define the national political ethos and mood. As fascistically-inclined as Trump is, America matches him stride for stride, with Clinton, beacon in hand, showing the way.
II The Debate and Its Aftermath. From the outset, the debate proved a nonstarter, not the questions, discourtesies of the candidates to each other, their facial expressions, charges and innuendoes of presidential unfitness, but the actual substance of their views, dead giveaways of an authoritarian position, of each, within the narrow compass of militarism and corporatism. Capitalist hegemony, suitably confrontational with Russia (China, not prominently featured), becomes the guiding principle of American governance in the achievement of world order and, of course, domestic business-banking regulatory structure. Personalities aside and their mutual hostility, their tricks and debating strategems, one finds, in all the posturing, a narrow band of ideological sameness, the arrogance of power reduced to two players in the same dark policy closet.
Even the first question (from the audience) elicited a response on the politicization of systemic virtue. Clinton [“on modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today’s youth”]: “…our country really is great because we’re good.” Trump’s mantra, ditto: “This is a great country…. [M]y whole concept was to make America great again.” If there is any doubt about the premise of exceptionalism and its widespread acceptance, it should be put to rest: Whatever America does is right, and neither candidate seeks to dismantle class-structure (hierarchical framework of concentrated power in upper groups) or renounce imperialism, ranging from intervention and regime change to market penetration and natural-resources extraction. Both candidates take for granted America’s unilaterally presiding over a process of global dominance supported through superior military means, including the modernization of nuclear weaponry.
There is no dissenting voice on essentials, nor the proposal of alternative strategies of domestic growth and foreign expansion. Notwithstanding rhetoric, there seems little reason for having two separate major parties. In fact, we are scraping bottom as sex—here for both an avoidance of articulating and discussing consequential societal policy and planning—takes over. Trump’s defense of engaging only in “locker room talk,” while Bill Clinton not only talked but acted, and Clinton’s emphasis on the sexual fantasies, groping, etc. of Trump, I’m tempted to say, appears as the sexualization of fascism via the trivialization and obfuscation of the electoral process.
Trump’s stock answer to Cooper, who, along with Raddatz, moderated the “debate,” on his groping and kissing women: “No, I have not. And I tell you [master of changing the subject] that I’m going to make our country safe. We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now…. We’re going to make America safe again. We’re going to make America great again, but we’re going to make America safe again.” It is as though Trump were combining anti-immigrant feeling with a generalized notion of “mak[ing] America safe,” through repetition conjuring up racist doctrine and perhaps an inclusive attack on what he perceives to be radical-ism. Clinton, not to be undone, quietly fuses the political and military dimensions of office: “I said starting back in June that he was not fit to be president and commander-in-chief,” the latter, in a presidential campaign, raised to the dignity of the former. She goes further by attaching antifeminism to her critique: “What we all saw and heard on Friday [the release of the video] was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women.”
And this is still the beginning. Clinton, borrowing a talking point from Obama, continues: “So this is who Donald Trump is. And the question for us, the question our country must answer is that this is not who we are.” The problem is, it is who we are. Trump’s unwanted advances on, and to, women cannot compare with established policy, formulated and subscribed to, by Obama and the government, a structural-ideological cynicism favoring death and destruction, executed routinely on a daily basis. Lechery finds a home in national debauchery, particularly when the nation and its political leadership (on a bipartisan basis) claims ignorance and/or deniability for the promiscuous murder of others routinely labeled adversaries—a prioritizing of sin in which Authority is exempted and given a free pass. What is alarming here is less Trump’s personal conduct than the barrage of opposition (the aftermath, within his own party), which neglects the claimed-legitimacy of political murder and, doing so, risks wider war and untold misery and carnage. Trump’s sole redeeming feature is that he smokes out the same callous sense of impunity in conduct that one finds in himself; he is a miniature America.
He also, to his credit, without altering his own fascistic-inclined take on policy, is to see through Clinton. When she speaks about the goodness of America and the celebration of diversity, Trump replies, “It’s just words, folks,” and goes on to list the many promises in policy-areas left unfulfilled when, in office, she had the chance to act. Then, after give-and-take on the Trump tapes (earlier, with Howard Stern) and more about the video, he goes on the offensive: “…when Hillary brings up a point like that [the Stern tapes] and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.” Clinton, of course, answers in kind: “…he gets to run his campaign any way he chooses. He gets to decide what he wants to talk about.” Additional contretemps shed little further light (Trump threatens a special prosecutor and refers to the deletion of 33,000 e-mails, while Clinton calls for more fact-checking to show Trump up), until, far along, there is discussion of the Affordable Care Act, with neither candidate seeking genuine changes in line with a single-payer system (although Trump mistakenly credits Clinton with favoring such a system).
But what I find interesting are the references to Putin and Russia, in which Clinton takes us back to the red-baiting of the 1950s. First, she charges Russia with aggression in Syria: “…think of that picture we all saw of that 4-year-old boy with the blood on his forehead because he had been bombed by the Russian and Syrian air forces.” Nominally, the point is made in connection with admitting more Syrian refugees into the United States, but, because she refuses to analyze the complexion of the rebels which she and America support against Assad, it appears the basic point is to build antagonism toward Russia: “There are children suffering in this catastrophic war, largely, I believe, because of Russian aggression.”
Clinton then links Russia up, through several steps, with Trump’s campaign: “…our intelligence community just came out and said in the last few days that the Kremlin [code, I think, for a not to subtle reference to present-day Stalinism], meaning Putin and the Russian government, are directing the attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election…. We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election. And believe me, they’re not doing it to get me elected. They’re doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump.”
Here paranoia meets opportunism, and Trump rightly comes back with a declaration that may actually hold out the promise of greater peace (a salient difference between the candidates, even if Trump’s concern is sophisticated capitalism and war destructive to that end): “…I don’t know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin.” This is not a slip; he elaborates further: “But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they [Clinton and Democrats] like to say the Russians are—she doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.” Finally, he adds: “And the reason they blame Russia [is] because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia. I know—I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.” Possibly he someday envisions a Trump Tower in Red Square, but I doubt that, or rather, see it as far less dangerous to world security and the fate of the planet than Clinton’s open characterization (see above) of Russia as an adversary.
The rest I leave for the reader to discover. As for aftermath, the glee within his own party to write him off as the presidential candidate may have for its explanation, not Trump’s outsized sexual ideas and conduct, but his refusal to join the anti-Russia chorus and attendant fear that he would not disfavor global accommodation. One never knows—but with Clinton a spirit of confrontation abroad, Wall Street uber alles at home, seems the path to election and comports with her personal convictions on political economy, ideology, and foreign policy. She, with the full consent and endorsement of the Democratic party, is in the forefront of military action, here: “I would go after Baghdadi. I would specifically target Baghdadi, because I think our targeting of Al Qaida leaders—and I was involved in a lot of those operations, highly classified ones—made a difference. So I think that could help.” She would go further: “I would also consider arming the Kurds.” On and on the march of progress. One has the sinking feeling, I have said this before, that neither candidate deserves attention and support, that America is operating in crisis mode, that the future looks grim, internally, and because of that, externally.