Hope Against Despondency: Interpreting Class Post-Trump

Photo by Randen Pederson | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Randen Pederson | CC BY 2.0

We are not lacking in knowledge of our own oppression. Let’s be sure of that. Oppressive power reveals enough of its violent traces for even a casual cartographer to expose its deception … What we do lack is a rigorous critique of the historical moment and its varied modes of imaginative resistance.[i]            

While it is undoubtedly difficult to see positives through the current despondency within the United States the absence of such positivity should not be framed by the outcome of a conventional process of liberal democracy. Nor is this languishing a consequence of a singular momentary election or absence of an ‘oppositional’ candidate coming to office. Had the inverse of said process emerged, there too would remain many giving shelter to a sense of emptiness. This dearth of joy is centred in the structural reality the majority find themselves.

A nucleus of hope can, nevertheless, be mustered from all this. Difficult though it may be to imagine, a prospect can be found through the expression of a working-class mobilization that has shown an utterance of power. The world has been witness to an open, yet uniquely hushed, dynamic where certain elements within the working-class re-scripted aspects of an entire ideological and political-economic machine through autonomous-collective action.[ii]

In some regard, is this reverberation not a theme grounded in much contemporary social and political thought? The ‘screams’ argued by Holloway, or ‘multitudeinal’ mobilizations akin to Hardt and Negri, the documentation of ‘que se vayan todos’ via Harnecker, the ‘lines of flight’ and micro-politics described in Deleuze, Guatarri, and Parnet, and so on. The irony of such exhibitions, however, is that they have not played-out in the manner by which progressives once envisaged. An undertone taken from the pre-election period was something that certain theorists of identity politics, in particular, were not prepared for. Through everyday cultural expressions of both language and discourse (i.e., shaming, bullying, trolling, narcissism, etcetera), large swaths of the US population identified with that encapsulated by and through Trump; a ‘one of us’ thesis. He spoke, acted, and played a script on which many can, sadly, relate. Much like Martin Seymour Lipset’s important work on the subject alluded; social movements are not always expressed nor found in the way many might opt them to be.

Calling attention to this is important. Enclosing Trump as a solitary force for bigots, racists, misogynists would be politically tragic, as it is simplistic, in that it fails to recognize the manoeuvres of such narratives. There is a more imperative underscore of why and who elected this candidate that must be teased-out. Particularly unique to its empire, the United States has promoted the adoption of a unique sociocultural tendency that individually personifies power through a singular-form identity (i.e., communism equates to Stalin; fascism equates to Hitler; terrorism equates to Bin Laden; and so on and so forth). Here again, the ‘problem’ is increasingly manipulated through the mediation of a centralized figure; this time taking shape as Trump. This is an unfortunate and tragic hegemonic metaphor, as it dissuades recognition of a (more profound and entrenched) structure beyond an easily identified proximal subject. During various rallies it was not uncommon to see select individuals wielding signs that collectively read the slogan, ‘the silent majority stands with Trump’. It is now known that a certain truth was foreshadowed through such posters; writ large by many (so-called) everyday US citizens. As troubling as this avowal was, and remains to be, there is an important take-away; one that may even, perversely, be characterized as hopeful.

As capitalism increasingly demonstrates an incapacity to be ecologically sustained, alongside an expanding scale of exploitation unforeseen, a question remains as to how such a system remains substantively unchallenged. Many on the Left have long-associated this absence as a lack of class consciousness. Rather than fully subscribing to this viewpoint, the sociopolitical tsunami recently delivered to the United States (and world), suggests a recognition has very much emerged toward a general understanding of the everyday inequitable realities under capitalism. This is not to evoke, in any way, that this class awareness is absolute or even refined, as evidenced through the manner in which sizeable segments of the working-class displayed their latent power by electing Trump to power (or in supporting Clinton as the case may be). Nevertheless, of importance is that class consciousness is not in a state of lag but active in its capacity to rally some measure of awareness through an attempt to respond to perceived injustice – however misguided and individualized as they may be. Rather than a lack of class consciousness a more accurate assessment is that there exists a lapse in the ability to articulate our collective alienated relation to capitalism and recognize those there with us.

Today it is clear that much work needs/is to be done. An immediate and important aspect of this effort is to recognize how our contemporary class consciousness is currently being expressed. As evident, it is a class-identity channelled through an autonomous individuation associated with self-interest rather than a body correspondingly divorced from the means of production and consequentially exploited. It is essential that a clear understanding of where one sits in relation to the distal structures of power be grounded in a recognition of the State and the means of production. What then needs to be taken off the shelf is a class consciousness of shared-relation(s); a collective recognition of alienation as a class rather than a singular neoliberal by-product (or subject).

One may do well to take note (and solace) in the words of Henry A. Giroux who suggests what is truly needed is a medium through which to (re)direct these dormant antagonisms in a direction of substantive social change.

The good news here is that when you look at the anger in the United States and you look at the anger that’s emerged in England over these broken economic-political systems, the real question is how do you now direct the needs of that anger away from the discourses of hate, bigotry and racism into a labour and political movement that actually recognizes and can articulate what the conditions are that people are facing in a way that people can recognize the possibility for individual and collective agency?[iii]

It is of worth to recognize the value that even an inch of consciousness has when actively rebuffing facets of the capitalist structure. Not wishing to underplay the severity of its current proximal direction, the actions carried out by certain blocs of the working-class within the US provide a larger example of the potential for very real cracks to further emerge within the fortified conventions of class power.[iv] The step forward is to then move beyond the reactionism of such expressions of undeveloped class consciousness to those which seek a more protracted effort that transitions power to the hands of the marginalized; negating the external class-based xenocentrism that has befallen the proletariat for a politics of internal solidarity.

For the potential of class-lines to become more acute in soundness and clarity further steps of heightened consciousness can (and must) be reached. An availability of this heightened awareness have already presented themselves through cases emerging. Take, for example, a recent interview with one particular Veteran of the US Armed Forces and factory worker. Like many within the US, this worker was informed that the factory in which he has laboured for almost two decades was scheduled to close due to an executive decision to transfer the manufacturing facility to Mexico. A conflicted and reluctant yet eventual supporter of Trump, he put faith in the narrative of the President-elect (and his employer’s promotion thereof), which spoke of renewed prosperity through measures ensuring jobs scheduled for closure would remain in the US. Immediately following the election, the worker referred to his “demoralizing” emotional-state and that the mantras presented under Trump’s pre-election campaign have proven to be “just a big let down”. The basis for his angst-ridden post-election hangover was that on 11 November the company informed the workers they had chosen to sustain their original decision to move production south-of-the-border.[v] As recently expressed by Slavoj Žižek, it is during such moments that a possibility exists for a fundamental recognition of the “authentic enemies” to become clearer for the working-class rather than those manufactured by the dominant-class to distract them.[vi]

A response to ‘actually-existing’ capitalist activity was made during the recent US election and this cannot be negated nor dismissed. Now is the time to decide in which direction class consciousness should move. As Yanis Varoufakis recently stated, “Trump’s triumph comes with a silver lining. It demonstrates that we are at a crossroads when change is inevitable, not just possible”.[vii] The issue is in what direction shall the proletariat work to collectively guide this change.


[i] Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux. 2015. “Cultures of Cruelty,” in Disposable Futures: The seduction of violence in the age of spectacle. San Francisco, CA: City Lights. p.10

[ii] Nor is this a singular ‘event’ but rather something that can be framed within a broader global context via Brexit in the United Kingdom.

[iii] As quoted in Harrison Samphir. 2016. “Theorizing a new radicalism: Henry Giroux on how to change the world,” 28 September On-Line https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/theorizing-a-new-radicalism-henry-giroux-on-how-to-change-the-world Accessed 15 November, 2016.

[iv] Expressions such as #BlackLivesMatter, Idle No More, Occupy and other important struggles of late are additional scenarios (while markedly different in substance) that highlight a gravitational pull toward critique; an intrinsic depiction of distrust and anxiety aimed in the direction of power at a distal level.

[v] CBC. 2016. “As It Happens” 15 November On-Line http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.3851754/worker-hopes-trump-keeps-his-promise-to-stop-factory-moving-to-mexico-1.3851756 Accessed 15 November, 2016.

[vi] Slavoj Žižek. 2016. “Trump Against the Machine: How political elites failed,” 12 November On-Line http://bigthink.com/videos/slavoj-zizek-on-donald-trump-presidency Accessed 12 November, 2016.

[vii] Yanis Varoufakis. 2016. “Trump’s Victory Comes with a Silver Lining for the World’s Progressives,” 11 November On-Line http://theconversation.com/trump-victory-comes-with-a-silver-lining-for-the-worlds-progressives-68523 Accessed 17 November, 2016.

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