Slip of the Imperial Mask

O’Reilly then said about Putin: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”–Feb 4, 2017

I remember the day well. It was the day when the leader “of the free world” gave a hint of the true state of affairs in that allegedly “free” world.

To this day I’m not sure why he said it. Why would Trump give free ideological ammunition against his own empire? Certainly not out of a feeling of remorse or some sense of historical justice. More likely then it was perhaps as a thinly veiled threat to those, worldwide, who would seek to oppose him? Something like: “You know what we are and we’re so powerful that we no longer even fear publicly telling you up front about it”.

Yes, on that day President Trump punctured the still pervasive “myth of American innocence”.A topic which has been profusely written about by Noam Chomsky among others.

American hands are dirty. They drip with blood. They are an Orwellian power continuously existing through totalitarian contradictions. Their carefully constructed mask of freedom, hides the most insidious forms of slavery.

But they are not alone. To maintain an Empire one needs allies. And these they have in abundance. They are not just the globalized elites who rule the world but any who manage to benefit and prosper through their rule. Thus American Empire is not just an elite phenomenon but, crucially, a class cutting one. Witness the recent election and massive support for Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, a cliched American puppet that doesn’t even seek to hide that fact egoistically trumpeting his facsimile to Trump. Even here in once radicalized Brazil, Empire is no longer afraid to proudly speak its name.

The roots of Trump’s remark reach deep into the heart of Empire. Another infamous quote, this time from Karl Rove underpins its formative strength. “We are an Empire now and when we act we create our own reality”. Rove is indeed partially correct. Power does create, shape, and guide subjectivities. It creates persuasive master narratives supported by boots on the ground, blaring media, vast sums of capital, and, most importantly, organizational and technological methods and means of control. Empire manufactures Truth. Empire becomes the ultimate Truth in the hearts and minds of millions. So much so that TINA (There is NO alternative) has become the hymn and mantra of our age.

As epitomized by Trump and his momentary slip of the tongue, America is made up of ruthless, cunning, highly intelligent, smiling killers; Shakespeare’s penetrating quote comes to mind here: “There’s daggers in men’s smiles”. The continual condescending smirk on Trump’s face is worthy of any Shakespearean villain.

But Trump did not make Empire. He was made by it. Profited by it. Lived by and was impeccably loyal to its tenets and techniques (as was every other American president). But, interestingly, he is the first to publicly distance himself from it as a thing of self-righteous beauty (American Exceptionalism) and instead openly reveal its decidedly Machiavellian nature.

And this is new. Ever since Bush II, there has been a strong undercurrent of what I would call the “New Machiavellianism”. Essentially it is the willingness of those in power to openly declare the instrumental and technical nature of American power as its own justification. To point to overwhelming global power as a fact to be used in whatever manner those in power ultimately choose. To reference an even older quote by Plato’s Thrasymachus, the 21st century is still a world where “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

Thus, this one time slip of the Imperial Mask bodes nothing good. It is a sign not only of the increasing arrogance of American power; but of its globally secure basis. Materially and ideologically, American power advances, expands, deepens. Alternatives to it do not multiply but are systematically attenuated. Like many in the past, ours is an Age of Empire; compared to those empires of the past this one is unprecedented in its material bounty, amazingly subtle in occluding the realities of its ever fluctuating boundaries, and expert in exercising surreptitious methods of control over its pragmatically hedonistic subjects.

 

Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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