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Up Ahead

“Oh, Pangloss!” cried Candide, “what a strange genealogy! Is not the Devil the original stock of it?”

“Not at all,” replied this great man, “it was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds”

Voltaire, Candide, 1759

Up ahead a short distance is “The Blue Wave,” a wave representing the hopes of the anti-Trumpians for a chance to stop President Trump and what they see as his destruction of liberal Constitutional democracy and his creation of an illiberal autocracy.

Truly, Donald J. Trump is a man who magnetizes on both poles, attracting to his followers in a way that casts aside all evidence brought against him, and repelling to those who can see nothing but ego anxious to consume the whole world. If these Congressional elections were a referendum on Trump and a foreshadowing of future Democratic glory, a low tide result for the Democrats would strengthen Trump’s hold on the nation.

After assessing this landscape it seems that very little will change in regard to hostilities though the triggers for battle will change. A Democratic House of Representatives is sure to take actions fuelling the fires of Trump supporter rallies, likely to occur frequently. The daily victories that Trump achieves on Twitter will not disappear. Nancy Pelosi will find herself forced to reply on that same message board to the American people, a messaging that President Trump owns.

In short, “The Blue Wave,” at high or low tide, will not cleanse our dissolving state of politics in the U.S.

Voltaire hilariously satirized Pangloss’s view that everything happens to create the best of all possible worlds. But as we now are advised by Successmagazine to say “No!” to negativity, I temper the Devil at the stock of our corruptive clime withsome Panglossian optimism.

For instance, with a Democratic House to deal with, Trump may pivot to those places he can win House approval, or extend his policies and rhetoric beyond his base. He may follow through on a one trillion dollar infrastructure plan, taming Big Pharma, a health care overhaul built on the ACA, acceptance of anthropogenic climate change by re-joining the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, push for a middle-class tax cut, uphold and praise the Fourth Estate, divest his investments or put them in a blind trust, read carefully his daily intelligence briefs and be instructed by them.

Up ahead a few clicks in time and space is Robert Mueller’s report to Congress that Trump was a co-conspirator and that a grand jury be formed. Mueller could also indict the president, such indictment carried out after Trump leaves office. What we see up ahead is that report thrown into the moshpit of social media, including the President’s own ever ready dispatch, Twitter. What remains — report or not — is a climate in which the President’s own words offer a new truth: “There is no proof of anything.”

Pangloss would of course see a Mueller report accepted by Congress, now with a Democratic House, and indictments and impeachment proceedings resulting, without bloody rioting in the streets.  Or, Trump is found innocent of all charges and suspicions beyond minor infractions and this is greeted without tantrums or acrimony by the Democrats.

Up ahead, we can expect that Twitter, Facebook and all the social media we cannot put back in the box will keep tribal clashes and reptilian brain exchange going. We’ve been told this is the democratization of information, the liberation of every American’s voice, the equal time, open challenging of whatever your opinion and your facts feels the urge to challenge. “By giving people the power to share, we’re making the world more transparent,” Mark Zuckerberg tells us.

In the real world, what we are now seeing is a sharing of reptilian brain hatreds, animosities, bigotries, paranoia, fears and a strong man’s desire to crush fantasized enemies and straw men. What social media is verifying for us is an observation made by the psychiatrist Clotaire Rapaille that the reptilian brain always wins in the marketplace, an observation we can extend to social media. An M.I.T. study found that falsehoods on Twitter were 70 percent more likely to be re-tweeted than accurate news. Attachments made on a visceral, pre-reflective gut level are our first responses to anything and they are only amended and altered with a secondary critical scrutiny.

Point blank: the powerful impact of social media on our lives has caught us at a moment when we totally lack such critical scrutiny. We are thus caught in a sudden storm of either motivated or thoughtless opinionating.

What are being made more transparent then are the worst devils of our human nature, which we are unable to resist or restrain. We are online more easily exposed to what is brutalizing and dehumanized us. Nietzsche reminds us “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” 

Up ahead, we will be a lot closer to seeing that all “social” media stands as the instrument, high tech and fascinating, as it is, not for expanding our mutual social binds. What is actually the case is that what we now have, without possibility of a return to sender, is a never ceasing broadcasting and enabling of poor, opinionated, deeply flawed understanding and primitive gut level, knee jerk response to easily pushed hot buttons.

Up ahead, there is a fractured, contentious social order that is no more than a manic order of a Trump rally. In the view of historian Jill Lepore, the present state of political debate is debased, “newly waged almost entirely online . . . frantic, desperate and paranoid.” (Sean Wilentz quoting Jill Lepore’s These Truth: A History of the United States,” The New York Review of Books, November 8, 2018).

Panglossian optimistic view: The social media young paladins will suddenly and miraculously exit their algorithm bubbles and know the full extent of what they’ve unleashed and also how to deal with the problems resulting beyond the technological — linguistic, political, sociological, moral, philosophical, psychological within the frame of what history reveals as what is both old and new in the whole context of what they are confronting. Mr. Zuckerberg’s dream of enhancing human interrelationship and liberating all voices will be achieved by technocrats such as himself.

Up ahead, at a slightly greater distance, you can still see Donald J. Trump as a favorite over any Democratic candidate in the 2020 Presidential election. Why? As David Brooks points out: “In politics you can’t beat something with nothing.” The something is what Trump offers. “[T]he good, decent people of the heartland are being threatened by immigrants, foreigners and other outsiders while corrupt elites do nothing.” (“The Materialist Party,” The New York Times,October 23, 2018) And the nothing is what the Democrats offer. “You can appeal to women as women and to ethnic groups as ethnic groups, but it’s very hard to make a universal appeal to Americans as Americans, or defend the basic American norms that Trump calls into question.”

If we look at the back road, we see that while Republicans “in the post-Reagan era …deliberately coarsened political debate,” Democrats “substituted the politics of identity for the politics of equality, and embraced a technocratic elitism that ‘jettisoned people without the means or interest in owning their own computer,’ above all blue-collar union members.” The Democrats swerved from any concern with a wealth divide and the economics that axiomatically creates it to a concern for marginalized groups threatened by an American society that ignored them and denied them equal rights and social justice.

That oppression pre-dated Trump. The question then is what kind of platform would Democrats offer in 2020 that challenged Trump’s authoritarian, autocratic mission that goes far beyond oppressing women, the LGBTQ and minority communities? Trump is thus campaigning on a wide politically, economically, socially and morally revolutionary terrain while Democrats are trying to universalize in importance what already antagonizes those Americans not anxious to see America “brown and gay.”

While Trump conducts a politics directed only at his base, Democrats conduct a politics directed only at their base. The difference here is that Trump swings wide and low, unchecked by any understanding not already his own, and has, in our age of spinning the hyperreal, swung for the bleaches. Anyone opposing Trump must bend to tactics that seem easy to expose but easily only in the eyes of those seeking to expose him. He has caught the Democrats in a retreat from any confrontation with the growing wealth divide, which increased under President Obama, and pitching its tent on the fringes of the heartland, which had not been pressured by marginalized subcultures, which barely existed in non-coastal U.S., to move away from red blood Americana values, a reality Trump has exploited masterfully. As the case with any revolutionary, Trump has taken us into a new world, one whose road leading to him we have been building since Reagan. And this Trump world presents to us what Bill Maher calls “New Rules.”

“[W]hoever is nominated in 2020 will need to be not just ideologically correct, but the right sort of counterbully.” (Michael Hirsh, “Who Will Speak for the Democrats?” quoting Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, The New York Review of Books, November 8, 3018).

A “counterbully” must bully for humanitarian values, anti-anti-Semitism, anti-xenophobia, anti-racism, anti-homophobia anti-hate speech, not to mention countering the bedrock of our economic system: profit, self-interest and the unimpeded functioning of greed. It is far easier to bully for greed and all the rest than for sharing, sustainable growth and neighborly concern, or, a love thy neighbor attitude when neighbors are as scheduled for extinction as books in boards.

We have been bullied out of a civilized way of being and fallen into a dark abyss we believed we had stepped far way from, always believing that up ahead we would be even further removed from the abyss. The very reason Trump appeared at all was because a former middle class occupying an increasingly disaffecting and demoralizing dysphoria united with a bottom quintile formerly not showing up on our voting radar.

Reagan certainly did roll out the red carpet for the investor class, sucking the financial well being out of everyone who didn’t live on dividends, but Obama spent eight years doing nothing about a growing wealth divide, which grew further during those years, nothing about a gerrymandering that undermined Democratic power, and nothing about labor being knocked out of the ring by capital. And that preference for capital, which should have been foreign to a party once endorsing an economic bill of rights, became clear when none of the financial sector looters in the Great Recession 2008 were brought to trial.

Panglossian view:  The Democratic Party will successfully unite a faction seeking to check market rule and a faction devoted to enfranchising any variety of marginality that appears. Political debate will turn from its online wild spree to gatekeeper information sources that go beyond 280 characters. Nationalism and autocrats will return to where history has repeatedly, before the digital age, buried them. The Democrats will by 2020 recognize that while there should be an equal number of women in political office, being a woman is not itself a political or ideological platform, nor is being young, non-white or LGBTQ.

Up ahead, at the same point we can see a Republican Party bent at the knee before Trump and hoping to survive his defeat, no matter how it is delivered. We see a Democratic Party doubling down on its inadequate counter to Trump at the same time a growing number of its younger members are expanding the platform from the marginalized to the issue of a wealth divide at the root of both the anger and rebellion of the Trump supporters as well as explaining why he is now the president of the United States.

Up ahead further ahead we can see those progressives seeking to emulate the achievements of Scandinavian social democracies possibly founding a third party, a party uniting the goals of the European Green Party and those following in the tradition of Eugene V. Debbs, the IWW and the labor party movement in the U.S. More likely what we will see up ahead is a Democratic Party fighting its own internal war as well as the expansion of populist, nationalist, and far right tribes.

Panglossian view: The Republican Party not only disowns where Trump has taken party and country but also revisits its devotion to Reagan voodoo economics and recognizes a resulting wealth divide as having its beginning here. A third party appealing to wage earners and environmentalist is formed, eventually replacing a Democratic Party too attached to capital while imitating Republicans in putting labor and the environment in the back seat.

Up ahead, say in about ten years, we can see a new generation of conversational AI systems answering all the scattered bits and pieces of questions that come to mind as we pursue our daily lives. Amazon’s Alexa will have been replaced by an entity further along in the alphabet, Cassandra perhaps. Minds with robotic prosthesis. Right now, access to the several million responses Google comes up with in a nano second is in actuality allowing an instrument we use to shape a shaping process of interpreting and understanding our own minds need to create. And this growth of understanding has little to do with speed or a ranking of sources most often used. Neither speed at which answers are given or their plentitude nor the robotic assistance in this creates the questions we are not disposed to ask.

When a number of Trump supporters were asked to point out one good thing they could say about Democrats, they all said they could not. The same held true when the anti-Trumpians were asked. It does not matter if Alexa or the Google Assistant or any of their heirs up ahead are present when questions that should be asked are not and when questioners are already lost in their own personally motivated reasoning. Thus, what leads to asking the questions required is not a ready to hand answering machine but the development of ways of knowing that are not at all dependent on instrumentation and tools useful but not essential in such development.

Panglossian view: We will as new generations of cybertech, robotics and AI evolve, reach different conceptions of ways of knowing and ask questions within reality frames that remain inconceivable to us now. The Singularity will have happened.

Up ahead, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, things are not bullish, using the language of the economic system of ever expanding growth and ever higher returns to share holders, all of which is warming the planet to uninhabitable levels for humans. Whether those orders of life we refer to as “lower” may survive at a greater rate after we are gone than during our tenure, we will never know. To quote the report:

Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts. {3.23.4}

 Up ahead, but how far up ahead? Perhaps we can move inland from the coasts, or take an Elon Musk rocket to a spa-like space station. David Wallace-Wells is not so sanguine:

Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century. (“The Uninhabitable Earth, ” New York Magazine, July 9, 2017).

We now know that climate change was a big loser for the Democrats in the 2014 Congressional elections and we can see that the Democrats doubling down on health care now in the 2018 elections has made them shy of the issue, in spite of the fact that the October 2018 IPCC report was so predictive of disaster that if marketed should have arrested every voter’s attention and concern. Democrats went elsewhere and Republican follow the President’s own motivated skepticism. There is thus no political direction here as we can find among so many other nations.

We do not look too far up ahead perhaps because we fear global warming disaster looms and like an alcoholic who will not stop drinking because he will not give up his bottle, we have so much we will not give up and see little need when we calculate we will miss the doomsday of global warming in our own lives. Surely, President Trump takes Louis XVI’s view: “Après moi, le deluge.”

The young cannot possibly take this view. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by putting global warming mitigation as to where their vote will go.

Panglossian view: Of course Pangloss, who stubbornly bends reality to his philosophy of “It’s always all good,” will tell us that temperatures will not rise in the near or distant future and that the conscience of every dividend recipient of fossil fuel stock will be assuaged, their greed vindicated, and their wisdom in not giving up profit for the planet’s sake confirmed.

 

 

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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