Prelude. The terms I have used to discuss the overall phenomenon of Trump’s campaign and presidency and attendant phenomenon are “experiment,” “disruption,” and “clarification.” As I write at the end of January 2019, it appears that the “full court press” against Trump, aimed at removing Trump from the White House, is taking shape. It may be the case that, even now, the Trump experiment and disruption is essentially over—curtailed to the point of non-existence. This is a very bad thing, in my view, and I hope that the disruption, at least, has a few more rounds to go. Not least terrible regarding the establishment restoration to come is the fact that we now have a “resistance” and a “left” that is all for this restoration. What I hope will remain is the Clarification.
The Clarification has to do with what is fully inside of the neoliberal globalist finance-capital order, what is not inside this order, and what might be a point, or set of points, on the edge of the order, something that is close enough to the limit of what the system can encompass that it creates a disruption and an opening.
Just to clarify the Clarification in advance of proposing a hypothesis on the workings of this disruptive edge: In my view, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is to be found in the Democratic Party (from the Clintons to the DSA and the supposed “fresh faces” of November 2018) and in the Left as currently constituted (including its supposedly-more militant wings, such as Antifa or Marxist parties employing the terminologies of fascism and socialism), that contributes anything positive or worthwhile to this situation. Everything there, wittingly or unwittingly, only contributes to the system’s extraordinary and brilliantly-evil assimilative powers. (However, having used the words “absolutely” and “everything,” I do offer one small, but significant, concession on this point in section 4.)
If the Trump experiment and disruption are truly over, then the need to amplify the Clarification becomes all the more important.
This is yet another ridiculously long article, in fact the longest yet in this series. Someone who was attacking me recently as a “privileged white male” dismissed what I wrote in response (where I attempted to get to the main question, which is the Identity Politics Left, or IdPol Left as I’ve recently taken to calling it, and how this “left” is functioning in an anti-liberatory way and as a mere adjunct to the Democratic Party), and also attacked the length of my argument, saying this length itself was the sign of being a privileged white male. This, said my attacker, was also reason to not read what I had written. This person closed with, “Brevity is a virtue in making points, dude,” and then she erased the whole thread. I would say, at least in the present context, that brevity works well for scoringpoints, and I’m attempting to do something else—to explain something, to understand something, to work through some things. The things I’m trying to understand are complicated, and it is a complicated and even weird time.
My concessions to people who have a hard time with the length of this article are to break things up into sections, to attempt to not make my paragraphs too long, and I’ve provided some “hooks” in the form of bold lettering. Perhaps those who prefer to skim can more easily find the subjects that interest them. I hope all this helps.
However, I am not going to concede anything to the IdPol Left that thinks it’s all just a matter of putting a label on something or someone and dismissing it/them thereby—“because we know what this is.” No, I don’t think you do know, and the failure of far too many “smart, educated” Democrats, leftists, etc., to investigate and consider more deeply what was going on at the Washington Mall demonstrates this to an extreme degree.
There are some anachronisms here, already—perhaps they will help in terms of tracking where things might be going with the Trump phenomena (disruption, etc.).
The sections of the article are: 1. All you’ve got is hate: The theodicy of Identity Politics versus the smile of a white, male, teenager; 2. Where have all the flowers gone? From 1968 to the IdPol Left; 3. Going Yellow, or back to the boiling frog?; 4. The fourth hypothesis:Neoliberal globalist order, the Trump disruption, and the gathering coup; Coda: Redemption, zero-sums, emergence of Yellow.
1) All you’ve got is hate: The theodicy of Identity Politics versus the smile of a white, male, teenager.
Again a message to my liberal and left friends (that is, Democrats and those to the left—progressives, liberal feminists, Identity Politics people, etc.): Everything you do not want to face about what the Lib-Left has become is concentrated in the Washington Mall incident.
The horrible attacks on a smiling male teenager, Nicholas Sandmannn, speak to the essence of the Left now—that it has no ideas, that it has subordinated itself completely to anti-universalist and anti-working class Identity Politics, that its “methods” are snark, name-calling, the crude neo-positivism of throwing out a “fact” or two (joined with the inability to analyze or even read), arrogant and superior attitudes toward “ordinary people,” creating/falling for stunts, doubling down on judgments that were ridiculous to begin with, and now simply nothing more than pure, self-righteous hatred, and the accompanying vitriol.
What were the sources of the hatred and vitriol that was hurled with self-righteous fury at Nicholas Sandmann? Here is a list of answers to this question, not all of them applying to each and every liberal/leftist, and with some overlap, but generally descriptive of how such a despicable mob of haters has collectively aggregated itself—through, of course, the relatively safe-haven (for them) of social media cyber-bullying.
1) An Identity Politics that is always ready to condemn a white male out of hand, even a kid, a teenager, a young person.
2) An Identity Politics that is ready to believe the most noxious, reactionary crap, as long as it is said by a woman and/or person of color.
3) An Identity Politics for whom class exists only as a marker of being expendable and deplorable.
4) Fearful and cowardly virtue-signaling especially on the part of adult, middle-class, white males, often “professionals” and academics, who want to be quick to assure those around them that they aren’t like those deplorables.
5) A State Feminism (of the sort seen in Title IX institutions in universities) that holds that all maleness is “toxic masculinity”—or could become such at any moment—that must be curtailed, punished, destroyed.
6) The erroneous view, self-serving for the left, that Trump is a fascist (a Nazi, or “even worse than Hitler,” some are saying), and therefore the MAGA hat is equivalent to the swastika or the KKK’s white hood—and therefore it is right and necessary that those who display these symbols should be condemned, their houses and schools burned down, physically assaulted, or even killed (one suggestion, from a producer at Disney, was to run Nick Sandmann through a woodchipper).
7) The “idea” that it doesn’t really matter whether some white male is “guilty” of what is being said of him, or it doesn’t matter how small the “crime” is, if there is something to point to—a supposed smirk, something about posture, wearing a hat representing the elected president; what matters is that any white male is already guilty—of being born, essentially.
8) The related “idea” that, whether “guilty” (of a smirk) or not, it really doesn’t matter what happens to this or that white male (no matter how young), or all of them, for that matter; this opens the door to what may as well be called the “Herod solution.”
9) The also related “idea”—and this is Identity Politics in its essence—that we cannot talk about Nick Sandmann in universalist terms, as a “human being.”
10 ) The related, racist “idea”—which again is Identity Politics—that a person-of-color, a Black Hebrew Israelite or a Native American, somehow cannot be as full of crap as any other human being can be; here we might remember that Jehovah’s angels can only do good, and also that (Biblically-speaking) they do not agency—in other words, these so-called “African-American folks” (as some put it in reports of the incident, not taking a single second to determine who these “folks” are), in the theology/theodicy of Identity Politics, have no agency.
11) The also racist idea that people-of-color ought to automatically escape all scrutiny as to what they are really up to, what they actually say or claim, who they are connected to; this “idea” is the “race” version of the sexist idea expressed in “I believe her” –in other words, there are no standards or principles of ethics or politics or character, there are only “identities”; this has the (probably unintended) effect of treating women and people-of-color as simultaneously enlightened oracles and as lesser animals acting out of instinct.
12) The “idea” that people cannot be understood as belonging to any universal category, and that there cannot be universal principles, but that, at the same time, a hierarchy can be established among identities; this hierarchy then supposedly explains how everything social can be understood in terms of identity, but some identities do not count; in other words, this is the previously-empowered identity hierarchy flipped over.
13) The problem (or contradiction) in the previous schema that is not addressed by just saying that “two wrongs don’t make a right,” or even that the simple, “dialectical inversion” or “overturning” of the pre-existing power schema only leads to the mirror-image of that schema, at most: the problem is that there is nothing truly political here, there is only a mechanics (and a very crude mechanics at that) of power; this Identity Politics can never serve the vast majority of people, and will not even serve the majority of people specified within any given Identity group (whether previously treated as “other” or not).
14) Lastly, the “simple idea” that anything that serves to discredit Trump, whether based on anything true or “solid” (e.g., something more than an identity-based perspective on how a facial configuration is to be understood), is fine, and any harm that is done to individuals in the pursuit or wake of this effort, is justified. The justification is that Trump is and/or represents an existential threat to the world—one might even say “humanity,” if there was such a thing—and nothing so quaint and outdated as basic decency toward a human being (of course, there are no human beings here, and we’re dealing with a deplorable-by-birth here, a white male) or backing up for a moment and trying to understand and not being merely reactive should stand in anyone’s way—this is an emergency situation!
15) So, I can’t resist, nor should I: it can be added to (14) that the “hate-work” of this anti-Trump “resistance” has the “positive” outcome for the resisters of allowing them to puff themselves up with self-satisfaction and self-righteousness, and with a kind of certitude that one would think would be reserved for some truly revolutionary emergence or flowering of a new truth upon the scene. But, of course, a new truth is not only quite obviously not a part of the Lib-Left agenda, they themselves are quite clear on not wanting anything of that sort. They are beyond being anti-revolutionary, they are rabid in their rhetoric and other efforts toward getting back to the stable status quo of the establishment. An extra-bonus for the white middle-class professional and academic males who are rushing to be a part of this ridiculous and horrible mob of hate-mongers, is that their militant virtue-signaling represents a truly toxic masculinity, added to the already obnoxious self-righteousness of the ridiculous, LARPing, social media anti-Trump movement.
In other words, taking off from these last two points (14/15), Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is real. TDS has made a great many Democrats and leftists into messed-up people—apparently too messed-up to see how being consumed with hate has rendered them unable to think. These people may think they are justified in their hate and hateful rhetoric, but they cannot (and likely do not) deny their hate. But hate is poisonous.
Thinking through this, I can see now why some of my friends have responded to my articles on the Trump Clarification by saying that I’ve always hated liberals. I do not now, nor have I ever “hated” liberals. I’m not a hater, and I find it hard to even hate the most despicable people, at least those among the living, whether they be Dick Cheney or Hillary Clinton. I have my limits, but, at the same time, I do not think hate is helpful in matters of real politics, or in fighting against anti-politics, even beyond the poisonous role that hate can play for being able to think to begin with.
None of this means anything to liberals and leftists who now revel in hate and take pleasure in it. Perhaps some reading this, if they are not connected to social media, will think that I am exaggerating. Anyone who followed Facebook in the days after Friday, January 18 will know very well what I am talking about. I do not want to repeat here all of the ugly things that were said about Nick Sandmann, though an expression such as “sniveling little shit” would be somewhere in the medium range of the vitriol—but what especially stood out was that many were really enjoying hurling such epithets. All that is par for the course for Facebook, where you can be called an idiot or worse for thinking Led Zeppelin III is better than Led Zeppelin II, but it hardly vindicates the Left to say that they are operating on this same level these days.
(And yes, to satisfy the limited logic of Democrats and those who think we have to support Democrats at the national level no matter what, I do think Dick Cheney is several levels of despicable beyond Hillary Clinton—but that is several levels beyond a line that HRC is on the same side of.)
What the Left has in fact “achieved” is a situation where the previous exaggerations and dystopian fantasies of right-wingers have been brought to life. What were previously absurd or at least highly-exaggerated characterizations such as “feminazi” and “anti-white racism” are now realities. It’s almost as if the Left, and liberal feminists and race-oriented activists said, “You think we’ve got these things? We’ll show you!” If this was about more than power, it would be hard to blame these identity-oriented activists, and I will credit at least some of them with thinking that it is about more than power, at least in the beginning—but now the rhetoric of this IdPol trend, and its ways of working and its associations with people such as the Clintons and with the electoral system generally, gives the lie to this in more recent years.
Regarding “anti-white racism,” for many decades, along with people who were more representative of the Left of the Sixties, as opposed to the IdPol Left, I have been skeptical of the idea of “reverse racism.” I remain skeptical. If the only time a white person in U.S. society thinks about racism is in the narrow terms of when it seems to affect him or her personally and negatively, and otherwise has no interest in the question, that isn’t “reverse racism,” it’s simply a manifestation of white racism. Furthermore, there has to be more to understanding a situation where a white person feels aggrieved when some question of race is involved than a trite “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“Anti-white racism”—is it really “racism”? Probably not; it’s IdPol stigmatization and condemnation, though, and it is not good and nothing good will come of it for anyone.
The IdPol-motivated people who made these attacks in various forms of media and social media, when presented with a different narrative than the one they are all too comfortable with, doubled down on their ridiculous and hateful claims, and now, in recent days, they’ve moved on to something else, with nary a thought to the tremendous damage they have done.
No doubt the same people will give no thought to the arguments I am making here—because, after all, these arguments make things complicated, when in reality everything today can be understood so simply: Trump is a fascist, you (whoever) are not jumping on the bandwagon to condemn Trump, therefore you are a fascist, racist, misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, and an idiot, to boot. This is the “simple” theodicy of Identity Politics; in its supposed secularity, and for its target audience, it has far more appeal than any of the great world religions,
Robyn Urback of the CBC News wrote that the way she and others “jumped the gun” in a rush to judgment of Nick Sandmann and the Covington students “ought to be one hell of a wake-up call” (cbc.ca, 1.21.19, 5:20pm). The haters however, were already too woke to hear this call. As Urback writes, clarification of the real situation “might as well have never come”; “The contextless narrative had already been repeated by media outlets across the globe, and the school had already issued a statement and announced it was considering expulsion.” (School administrations these days stand ever-ready to cravenly cave to the IdPol Left.) To her credit, Urback’s wrote this article very quickly, just a few days after the incident—and yet she still asserted that “The students’ behaviour was incredibly disrespectful, of course, which those who have been blindly defending the teens ought to acknowledge.” No—she remains too blind and needs to dig deeper.
Still, good on this honest person.
Unfortunately, such people either in the MSM or on social media are few and far between. In fact, the reaction of the haters has been to accuse anyone who says that we need to look again and think again of “gaslighting.” This goes to the combination of points (7) and (8) above and the idea that it’s all very simple and cut-and-dried: it doesn’t matter what happens to any individual in the momentous resistance struggleof the anti-Trumpers (who so bravely put themselves on the line on social media every day!) and, in this great struggle for IdPol justice there cannot be any second thoughts, further investigation, etc.—in fact, there cannot be any thinking or investigation, period, that just gets in the way. So, it’s just a matter of the right word for dismissing any movement toward thinking and investigation—in this case, the word is gaslightling. Of course, then you can have a few more epithets thrown in for good measure, “fascist,” “racist,” etc.
It is fascinating, though, that in the wake of the MSM/IdPol-Left narrative on the Nathan Phillips/Nicholas Sandmann encounter, apparently a significant part of the BuzzFeed and HuffPost teams of “journalists” have been fired. Obviously, they are redundant if they do no investigation and only follow their IdPol-Left motivations in what they piece together from the MSM for their own “journalism.” Maybe they thought “journalism” is supposed to be like the journaling they did for classes in college.
Meanwhile, people recommending that these fired “journalists” “Learn to Code!” have now been deemed to have engaged in offensive behavior by Twitter, despite the fact that HuffPost itself had an article titled, “What we need to encourage girls to learn how to code” a couple years ago (10.6.17).
How did things go from “All you need is love” to “All you’ve got is hate”?
How did things go from “The people united will never be defeated” to “The establishment united will never be defeated”?
At the very moment (speaking in terms of a historical moment) that President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that U.S. citizens should be concerned about the rise of the military-industrial complex, that embryonic complex went into high-gear to insure that it would do nothing but grow and spread and dominate from that moment on.
At the very moment when candidate Donald J. Trump announced his intention to “drain the swamp,” that same swamp of the bought-and-paid-for political class (and its retinue of lobbyists, consultants, etc.) went into feverish activity to not only maintain its status but to extend it.
Every element of the establishment is fighting against Trump, either frontally or through subterfuge, with the White House minders now taking full or very close to full control. The latter is what is pushing the recent actions on Venezuela, I am guessing, not only as a way to further attack a country that was abused throughout the previous two administrations (and with the great majority of Democrats on board with the recent actions), but also (and perhaps more significantly) to push Trump off of his generally interventionist stance. This stance is so unpopular with the establishment, that Trump has to put his message out there on Twitter, from the time of night and in the place where he might have some privacy. Then your average liberal criticizes Trump for how he does things.
This is a wonderful moment for the establishment, when it can all get together on one goal, and have the neocons on board with the neoliberals, and the IdPol Left cheering them on.
And it’s a terrible moment for the rest of humanity; what better symbol of this than hatefully beating up on a smiling teenager just because he stood where he was already standing, waiting on a bus back to a small town in Kentucky?
2) Where have all the flowers gone? From 1968 to the IdPol Left
It is almost inconceivable to imagine now—there was a time when people protested the war on the people of Vietnam; now they protest the nervous smile of a teenager.
This from Miami Herald commentator, Leonard Pitts, Jr.:
Indeed, what gave the image its initial, visceral power was the sense that his expression was one we have seen before. It was on the face of an SS man as he cut off a rabbi’s beard on a Warsaw street, on the face of an Alabama state trooper waiting at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Heck, it was on the face of a hulking high school boy as he prepared to dunk a smaller kid’s head into the toilet. It was the eternal expression of the bully at the head of a mob. …”
The face of an SS man? What can one even say to this?
Trying to make it real, but compared to what? One element of real racism here is that black people, like this commentator and like the “African-American folks” known as the Black Hebrews, can’t be called out as being just as capable of being full of shit as anyone else on this planet, just like this Native American “healer” who runs an operation getting funds from George Soros, among others. No, we have to automatically snap to attention and say, “I believe her,” because she’s a woman—and, maybe that is something to consider, but then it turns out that most of the story, Christine Blasey Ford’s, Nathan Phillips’, is a lie. “Oh, but he’s a Vietnam veteran”—one might wonder what kind of “healer” makes a point of claiming such a thing, but it turns out to be not true in any case. Pitts’ statement is an insult to that Warsaw rabbi as well, just as the “resistance” to Donald “worse than Hitler” Trump is an insult to anyone who fought against real Nazis or was their victim.
What do you see, oh great sages of liberalism and leftism and feminism, when you look upon the face of Hillary Clinton? I see an actual murderer and warmonger, someone who calls black youths “superpredators,” someone who played a major role in the policy of mass incarceration. But actually, I don’t see that in her face, or anyone’s face, without knowing something about the history of this person. But good to know that the IdPol Left is open to what we might call the “New Phrenology.”
I think I have some understanding and feeling for why many black people are just fed up with white people, and why many women have had it with all males—but what’s going on when this sort of thing is coming from white males? It’s just virtue signaling, perhaps a good deal of it motivated by fear.
And, great sages, what do you see when you look upon the face of Elizabeth Warren? Have you never seen a smirk there? But of course in her case it can be forgiven, because she is a Native American!
And what actual good can be claimed for such vitriol in any case?
We’re really at the lowest point of Identity Politics here, until the next stunt comes along. Especially for the IdPol-bots out there who themselves are white males, enjoy your virtue signaling until someone sees something they want to see in your face, your smile, your posture.
Fascism is a system, or a systematic way of enacting a deeper system (namely capitalism); it does not come from the smile of a young person who has shown a great deal more sense and maturity in all of this, indeed qualitatively more, than the people who are using him to vent their frustrations at Donald Trump.
There are no individuals in Identity Politics, that’s part of how it works to have some collective identities based on race, gender, sexuality, etc., that are continuous fonts of wisdom, whatever they say on any subject—and where, ironically, the credit then goes to the individual “sage” for saying it—and other such identities that are simply terrible, no matter what. A nervous smile …
What’s next? The logic of IdPol demands no less than a “Herod solution”—just strangle all white males in the crib, or drown them in the river, especially if they are rural, Christian. This is no more outlandish a claim than the horrible, mean, and slanderous things that are being said about Nicholas Sandmann.
But I guess this is what you do when you’re a “left” that hates the working class and doesn’t have a problem with endless, ever-expanding wars.
The Left these days positively requires“fascists” to justify itself. How else to explain making a teenage boy the object of such hatred and vitriol? How else to explain stunts based around characters such as Christine Blasey Ford and Nathan Phillips, whose stories are so filled with falsehoods and suspicious connections?
This is not the Left of (and around) 1968, even if there were some seeds of what has become the left today. There were some very important momentsin the period from about the middle of the Reagan administration to about the middle of the Clinton administration (so, roughly from 1985 to 1995) that led to the left reshaping itself significantly into the Identity Politics Left that it is today. These moments bear more investigation, and we may not find a singular moment when the turn from the Left of 1968 decisively became what we see today. However, the process of morphing into what we have today has been decisive, and this IdPol Left (the abbreviation of Identity Politics also has the value of its resonance with idiotic—which is appropriate, because the basic methodology of this anti-politics is not thinking and investigation, it is reactive labelling) bears no resemblance to the radical Left of the Sixties.
There are some—indeed, too many—who were part of both lefts; but as individuals they have changed decisively, too.
There are still things to learn from the Sixties Left, lessons both positive and negative. In larger terms, though, revolution has to be reinvented; revolution now will partake of, participate in, the “communist invariant” (the hypothesis and the Idea, as Badiou puts it), but its instantiation will have to be something new and unexpected.
The IdPol Left today wants none of this—they invoke past glories and terminologies to support non- and even anti-emancipatory “politics.” (By this I don’t mean “reformist”—people pushing for serious reforms is not the problem.) Then again, the newer generations of IdPol activists and ideologists don’t know or care about the Sixties or anything from before they were born, or even before the last year or two. What could have been a great strength, with this mix of generations in a truly radical left, is now just an eclectic agglomeration with different ideas about how to play power games. Because what they have “in common” are IdPol-defined differences, they will never amount to anything in terms of an independent political position, and instead will keep doing what they are doing, which is to subordinate themselves to establishment power centers—that is, until they just turn on themselves. Smiling at the wrong time and place is a good way to get yourself condemned and expelled from the IdPol Left.
Where have all the flowers gone? Far, far, irretrievably far away.
3. Going Yellow or back to the boiling frog?
This is something I wrote to post on my Facebook page, with the expectation (not hope) that my friends list would get cleared out a bit:
I would like to raise some basic issues for your consideration, as I attempt to think through this particular moment, and I would really appreciate help and advice on moving forward, even if this means telling me you disagree with me. Having said the latter, I don’t mean people who disagree with me because they hate Trump and want him out—I already know about that. What I need to hear instead is some analysis on where things stand, here in the last week of January 2019, in terms of the Trump disruption, clarification, and experiment and the possibilities for things to continue to open up.
This is not a pleasant time for anyone who opposes the attempts of the neoliberal globalist finance-capital order to restore itself to full control, and who opposes the ideologies that this order uses to create willing, self-righteous subjects, namely Identity Politics.
The spectacle of people going after a teenage boy and his friends who were waiting for a bus, and defending actions of a wacked-out religious group and a professional bullshit artist, simply on the basis of the first being a white male (and Catholic, rural, a Trump supporter), and the latter pair being African-American and Native American, respectively, is sickening and even heart-breaking to me. This incident expresses the complete inability of liberals, the left, liberal-feminists, and certainly the Democratic Party, to make any positive contribution to the world. Indeed, in this episode, all they have is hate and vitriol.
At the same time, we now have whatever is going on and is perhaps about to go on with Venezuela. Although it may be that the radical reformism of Hugo Chavez has run its course and is up against its limits, such that it doesn’t especially matter if Chavez’s successor, Maduro, carries on, I am absolutely opposed to American involvement and intervention in this situation—as I am to all American intervention.
Some are saying that this situation represents the assimilation or capture of, or the capitulation to, the Deep State by Trump and the very few around him who he can actually trust.
Some have added to this the fact that Trump hasn’t pushed through with the Wall as further evidence that it is over with Trump.[This statement became an anachronism as I was writing.]
In both cases (and some others), people are saying they’re done with Trump.
In articles I’ve written (at counterpunch.org) especially “The Trump Experiment” (11.14.18), I’ve argued that there is something with Trump that continues to deserve support, namely the elements of (what I call) disruption, clarification, and experiment—the latter in the sense of something that is not fully-enclosed in the existing social system, and that represents something of a significant departure (even in some respects a radical departure, if not exactly a revolutionary one). I am calling this the “Fourth Hypothesis”—the first two hypotheses being support for either of the establishment parties, the third hypothesis being that only revolution will solve things, and the four hypothesis being that the third hypothesis is essentially right, but perhaps something could appear in the midst of the system that is not entirely controllable by the system. I do think it is an uphill battle to sustain such a thesis, and it has been an uphill battle to sustain the thesis in the case of Trump—but perhaps this is a battle still worth waging?
This last question points to my sense that we should not let go of the Trump disruption, especially, too quickly—those of us who have supported this, or who have seen some good possibilities there.
Since Nov. 9, 2016, there has been a concerted effort by all elements of the system to either tame or oust Trump. The latter has not yet been successful, but has the former? Again, I don’t want to give up too soon.
I will call this amalgamation of all elements of the system the “establishment”; this includes the ruling class, the political class, the mainstream media, and also, most crucially, the Deep State. For the moment we don’t need to get into defining or more clearly understanding these elements, especially the last one, or what unifies and what divides them. What can be stated very clearly, I think, is that the establishment is unified against Trump.
Attempts at taming Trump completely have generally failed, and that’s a good thing for the disruption, clarification, and experiment.
Of course Trump has been held back and undermined in all kinds of ways, but he also has pushed back in various ways and has not been entirely stopped—even if some of his victories have been more in the realm of “rhetoric” or, better, “clarification”—in other words we see who simply stands with the establishment and who does not want to stand with the establishment. I have heard MSM people snickering about how “all Trump has is his base,” as though this can simply be dismissed, since, after all, these are people who don’t count for anything in terms of the system or the establishment. And of course there are a lot of “ordinary people” (as opposed to power players) liberals and leftists out there talking large in the same way, even though they don’t count, either, except perhaps in academia. Most of them won’t count there, either, after the establishment reformation and neo-liberal corporatism and its ideologies of Identity Politics and State Feminism finish the job of destroying anything worthy of the name “humanistic education.”
Their incessant virtue-signaling, to the point of comparing a teenage boy who kept his cool, while some career activist was getting in his face to pull a stunt, to some kind of Hitler Youth, or to Hitler himself (perhaps driven by the stupid and offensive “thinking” that I heard from one of my liberal friends, that Trump is “worse than Hitler”—and one of his liberal friends called me a “cunt” for saying I would like to hear how the case could be made for this), saying his family’s house ought to be burned down, etc. belies a certain desperation, but it also serves to puff these people up. Aided and abetted by the MSM, the loudness of these self-righteous voices can make it seem as if we are dealing with a very large majority here, especially when they are ready to call anyone who disagrees with them a “racist,” “misogynist,” “fascist,” etc.
(I will have a good deal more to say on the Washington Mall incident in a subsequent article. I believe what is at stake in this “incident”/stunt is another attempt, as with the Christine Blasey Ford episode, to take the methods of Identity Politics, State Feminism, and Title IX “national,” beyond the university.)
There has been an ongoing, soft coup against Trump since at least Nov. 9, 2016, and various surges aimed toward reigning him in (with a very large surge going on right now, with this Mall incident, the government shutdown over the Wall, Venezuela, backchannel undermining of the Syria pullout, etc.), my sense is that things are at a turning point. Perhaps this surge will finally work—I really don’t know if Trump is simply caving, or if what is coming out of the White House is more from the “internal resistance.”
For sure, we are seeing that not only is it immensely difficult to drain the swamp, but that the swamp is fighting back vigorously. Of course, the swamp has to do this, but what makes it even worse is that what used to count as the Opposition in the U.S. (loyal or disloyal), the Left, is right there with the swamp. Whatever happens, it is hard to imagine the Left (progressives, etc.) ever reemerging and separating themselves from the neoliberal establishment.
To put all this in a nutshell, the forms of truly oppositional politics are in a malaise, and require a thorough reinvention. A pair of simple questions: Is the “fourth hypothesis” viable in and of itself, even if the opportunities for its application have to be understood as quite rare? Does the Trump disruption, clarification, experiment still bear support in terms of this fourth hypothesis?
It would be the easiest thing in the world to walk away from this, and it does seem we have some fair-weather sailors out there. I think we’d better think deeply about giving up on the only opportunity we might see for a real disruption to business-as-usual in a long time—because the alternative is back to the neoliberal slow-boil of the frog, along with re-doubled effort to make sure nothing like the Trump disruption slips through the establishment’s nets again.
One might wonder, though: if the need is to go Yellow before going further, then wouldn’t it be better if the White House passed back into Democratic Party control?
Only if Trump pushes things to some kind of limit before this happens, and only if the deplorable base is activated, and activated and organized in a better way than it is now, I would argue. This means that Trump will have to put himself on the line in both a very smart way and in a way that will undoubtedly be quite dangerous for him personally. What will not work is if Trump simply allows himself to be completely assimilated to establishment control and just rides out his time in the White House.
But I think it is far too soon to think that he has simply caved to this course. Clearly the maneuvering here at the end of January is very complex. On the part of the establishment, this maneuvering is aimed at three goals: 1) to further limit the space for movement by Trump and the few he can trust; 2) relatedly, to present a full-court press from different elements of the establishment, aimed at creating every possibility for Trump to lose his footing; 3) set the stage for the end-game of the Trump administration, whether this turns out to begin with an attempt at impeachment (which I think will be signaled by a break by Pence with Trump—and notice that all the “official,” non-tweet announcements on Venezuela are coming from Pence) or something else, but that one way or another will be a coup.
Please, those who like to remind me that “impeachment is a constitutional process,”just ask yourselves: Do you think that, when Bill Clinton was impeached, there was nothing more there than a “constitutional process”? In the case of Trump, there is a good deal more at stake on the part of the establishment than there was with Clinton.
The latter case was partisan disagreement within the ruling class about the direction things were taking in the economy (my view is that it was between two sectors of U.S. capital, or possibly three sectors, as represented by the new tech sector and the ever-more-concentrated and insane gambling sector of finance capital, on one side, and the traditional industrial manufacturing sector on the other side) and the question of how best to take advantage of the dissolution of the Soviet Union to further extend and consolidate U.S. global hegemony. That these two large areas of capitalist and imperialist endeavor were each riven with conflict and to some extent in conflict with each other is why things were left in the muddle they were already in—to be resolved to some extent by the events of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, but in a way whereby both major questions remain with us today.
No, in fact Trump is a much bigger problem for the establishment than Nixon was, too, which was also ruling class infighting.
So, when we think that Trump is simply caving, let’s please bear this in mind.
Let’s not forget that there have been some real achievements, starting with the cancellation of the TPP; or, even before Trump was elected, his takedowns of the Clintons and Bushes. They and other establishment politicians are attempting to stage comebacks, and they are having a lovefest among each other that is made even more sickening by the fact that the liberals and left and feminists and progressives are eating it up.
This is some heavy stuff, it’s not for fair-weather sailors. It’s definitely not always pretty, either, and it doesn’t mean we should not speak out against, for instance, the involvements of the U.S. in Venezuela, and especially against military intervention. We should, we have to. And in fact in doing this we need to speak to the anti-interventionist line that Trump has taken previously, and we need to point out that the Democrats (with a very few notable exceptions) are at the head of the line to push intervention further.
In this same vein, while of course it has to be pointed out when the actions don’t live up to the rhetoric, the rhetoric should not count for nothing, either. While there have been real, concrete achievements, much of what Trump is doing and can do is in realm of rhetoric or what might be called “thematization.” Please remember, we are talking about ordinary working people, the working class, for the first time in decades. When the establishment gets back in full charge (I don’t know how to quantify it, but I would guess that the establishment remains in at least 90-95% charge now, and even mostly in the White House, though the presidency itself obviously counts for something), this discourse on the working class will be shut down, and workers of all colors, genders, etc. will be punished, and not just the deplorables.
Strategically, a great deal will depend on what cards Trump has to play, and when he plays them. But even more, for anything better to happen, things have to get outside of the “political” arenas the establishment prefers to play in, and out to the base, and even further to the people in general.
(In the latter case, “the people,” this is why it is important to call out the disgusting establishment narrative that says, for example, that one can just look at a white, teenage boy and see the face of a Nazi.)
With these things in mind, I turn to my proposal of the “fourth hypothesis.”
4) The fourth hypothesis: Neoliberal globalist order, the Trump disruption, and the gathering coup
This line of thought originated in the reflections I’ve been pursuing on the possibility of a Yellow Jersey-style movement in the U.S.
I originally chose a different title for this chapter, one a little less arch. Then I thought I’d go for the archness, because it really does appear to me that some heavy stuff is going to be hitting the fan very soon.
A good problem is one that defies existing methods … but whose solution promises a real advance in our knowledge.
–Jeremy Gray, 2006 on the “Millennium Problems” in mathematics.
We could say there are three hypotheses and a fourth hypothesis.
The first two hypotheses are those that are heard all the time, and represent the two poles of conventional “politics.” The third hypothesis represents the rejection of these politics; it is heard some of the time, but generally drowned out by the loud shouts of those advocating the first two hypotheses.
First, thinking in terms of left and right, there is the argument that the only way we will have a better society, and one better representing the ideals of contemporary liberalism and even socialism (and rights, the welfare state, measures to address inequality, etc.) is to support the left pole of the existing political structure, that is, the Democratic Party.
Second, again thinking in terms of left and right, there is the argument that the only way to advance the goals of traditional conservatism (limited government, non-interference of the state in the marketplace, recognition of inequality/hierarchy as natural, rights of the individual as paramount) is to support the right pole of the existing political structure, that is, the Republican Party.
Now, I don’t mean to present these “alternatives within the system” as completely simple-minded, even though, frankly, I also do not take them very seriously. One reason to not take them seriously is that, generally, the proponents of one do not take the other seriously. It’s a bit like the old line about being religious in the sense of taking one’s own religion to be true, while rejecting all others. Without getting into the complexities, let’s leave it for the moment that both the Democrats and the Republicans generally do not address the real issues of a society entirely wrapped up in State- and Corporate power (the corporations operating globally, in their giganticism, can be called “state-like”). We are under the dictatorship of capital, as Marx argued long ago, except that capital has become a million times more complicated and cunning and both brutally and subtly powerful than when Marx and Engels wrote their great Manifesto. Among the powerful subtleties of capital in the last fifty years—and, yes, one can say since 1968 specifically—is that it has found many brilliant ways to bend everything that goes under the heading of “the left” to its will.
However, I opened with these two hypotheses and the point about the proponents of one not taking the proponents of the other seriously because a contradiction is revealed especially in the case of the Democratic Party hypothesis. That is, those of us who support the third hypothesis are repeatedly told by proponents of the first hypothesis that it is wrong to not participate in the system of electoral politics, that indeed we absolutely must participate. I am sure that anyone here who supports the third hypothesis has, over the years, experienced quite personally the objections of the first hypothesizers (for the latter, of course, there is no “hypothesis,” which goes to the root of the problem). I know that I have.
Perhaps some CounterPunch readers will remember Alexander Cockburn’s position on the Clinton/Dole election—that, if forced to choose, he would choose Dole. Cockburn expressed this view when he wrote his two-page “Beat the Devil” column for The Nation, and quite likely it was this view, among others, that led to one of his pages being taken away and given to Critical Legal Studies-scholar Patricia Williams (who I heard publicly lamenting this and many other views that had been expressed by Cockburn). I repeated this perspective the next day in one of my classes at DePaul, and said that I agreed with it, which led to some serious rhetorical backlash from one of my students, especially.
Somehow it has been completely forgotten that Bob Dole (of all people) was painted as some sort of horrible monster. Sure, Dole seemed like the archetypal angry old guy who would yell at kids to get off his lawn. At the same time, at least he didn’t seem like a bullshit-artist of the Southern-type (I’m from the South, so I have some feeling for this). None of this really matters, other than that one can see how Dole would be forgotten by the same Democrats who have either forgotten or who now embrace the Cheney/Bush administration.
I am very happy to report that the student from 1992 (she can remind me what the class was) came around sometime before 2016, and reported to me that she was now on my side on the matter of electoral politics, at least where the two establishment parties are concerned. Will any of the first hypothesizers come around in the coming years? It’s hard to see that happening, especially when many of them are at present supporting what will amount to a coup, no matter how they try to prettify it. What is for sure is that none of them will be around to take responsibility for what they are supporting.
(I don’t want to get into the discussion of “third parties” here, but it is interesting, of course, that the contradiction manifest with proponents of the first hypothesis applies, often in a personal way, to those who advocate and vote for a third-party candidate. The latter are in fact doing what they’ve been told to do, and yet, gee, the first hypothesizers aren’t happy about this, either. While calling Trump and/or the Republicans “fascist”—though the actual leaders of the DP tend to avoid this term—is it not very interesting how absolutist they can be?)
To be clear, the contradiction of the first hypothesizers is that they demand that you participate in the system, but then they condemn you if you don’t participate in the way that they wanted you to.
To be clear in my own case and what my friends among the first hypothesizers are taking personally: I did not vote for Trump, or for anyone, but I did write against Hillary Clinton; I was not sorry when she lost, and I am not sorry that Trump won. I am sorry that the Democrats and so-called Left cannot take the measure of their own supposed principles and accept that Hillary lost the election and Trump won the election. I’m sorry, and I truly mean this in a compassionate way, that a significant part of the U.S. population has lost their minds and are so swept up in stuff about Russia or sexual liasons (and wouldn’t one think that Democrats would especially see how ridiculous this is?) or the idea that Trump is evil and an idiot and a fascist—and that, by extension, Trump supporters are these things too.
I’m sorry that these anti-Trumpers cannot confront actual issues (and, yes, I include the border/immigration issues here) and raise actual solutions in the terms in which they are supposedly committed to possible solutions. (Of course there is more to this last part, which goes to the third hypothesis.)
I do support what I have called the Trump experiment, disruption, and clarification, and with very few exceptions, rather than respond to any arguments, liberals and leftists have called me a fascist, a “purveyor of GOP talking points,” stupid/brain-damaged, and/or have taken it upon themselves to inform me of various “facts” in the neo-positivist way so common today, such as the “fact” that Robert Reich is not a “neoliberal,” he’s an “FDR Keynesian,” or the “fact” that Trump’s Syria pullout was done in some slipshod, emotional, “off-the-cuff” way. There’s a lot of crude neo-positivism around these days, but I’ll deal with this “fact methodology” elsewhere.
In reality, this approach really comes down to the fact that, for them, anything having to do with Trump is evil, fascist, stupid, more corrupt than anything ever seen before, etc., and so there’s really nothing to understand.
The third hypothesis is that there are no real and lasting solutions within the system to the basic problems the system is encountering. This hypothesis goes hand-in-hand, dialectically, with Marx’s argument that the basic problems of any system, problems that threaten to break the system apart, are caused by the system itself. And yet the existing system seeks to perpetuate itself come what may. Therefore, the only real solution to the deep and humanly-devastating problems of the system is the creation of another system: a revolution, and the development of procedures for unfolding the new truth of that revolution, and the formation and fidelity of subjects who are formed in the light of this new truth. Or, without the terminology from Alain Badiou, just call it a revolution.
Those truly committed to the third hypothesis may or may not participate in the official “politics” of the existing system, but, even if they do, they do not do so with any sense that some real and lasting change is possible. Accordingly, it seems to me that those who support the revolutionary hypothesis would tend to have a good deal of skepticism toward claims on the order of, “this time, things are really different.”
This skepticism would be different from a dogmatism that simply asserted that there is no possible way that electoral politics could ever matter in any significant fashion. At the same time, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
It could be argued that the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections were different. I can think of four reasons for 2004: 1) The powers that be called a halt to the 2000 election, so it was important to see whether another presidential election could proceed; 2) The administration installed in the 2000 election was arguably “fascist,” in that it advanced the Patriot Act, which abrogated the Constitution; arguably there was martial law, in principle, if not entirely in everyday experience; the “intelligence community” and security state was unleashed from any restrictions (more could be said, but certainly it was a deeply obnoxious time); 3) the president told easily-discredited lies to begin a “war of choice,” against a country that had not attacked the United States; the president went around and against the United Nations and other international institutions to do so; the “Bush Doctrine” was grounded in the idea of unlimited sovereignty for the United States and limited sovereignty for everyone else (except Israel); 4) Even if Kerry did not win, at least millions of people could signal to the rest of the world that they wanted the Bush administration and agenda to go.
I don’t really accept these reasons, but at least they are something worth talking about.
In 2008, I can think of a couple reasons: 1) After eight years of G.W. Bush, who at least on the surface did not appear to be too bright (indeed, he appeared to consist in only appearance), and Dick Cheney, who truly was evil, it seemed like a good thing to show that the United States could go for someone who seemed pretty smart, spoke well (though he wasn’t the giant of rhetoric that some painted him to be), and at least didn’t come across as sinister; 2) The election of a Barack Obama, as an African-American, came with certain expectations; either Obama would meet those expectations, or there would be a great surge in mass activism that would force the system to accept substantial reforms—or, this same mass activism would assume a more anti-systemic character.
None of that amounted to much of anything. More or less the United States continued in the same groove set by the G.W. Bush administration, and in some important ways that groove was deepened. Some progress was made in rhetorical terms, and that is not entirely insignificant, but it is not overly significant, either. And, during the Obama administration, the Democratic Party accelerated its embrace of Wall St., “American exceptionalism,” and Identity Politics (especially when it served as a rhetorical cover for the first two). Probably the most important social development was greater acceptance of marriage equality; again, this was not insignificant (and certainly it was right morally and in terms of the Constitution), but even this was fed into the ideology machine of a “broader patriotism” for American hegemony in the neoliberal New World Order.
On some level we don’t even have to talk about Obama in order to understand this. Everything mentioned above was already in the cards. As George Friedman argued in The Next 100 Years, there is a twenty-year cycle in American presidential politics, much as there is a business cycle. Nothing is pre-determined, but there is a general outline for maintaining the status of American capital, and Obama followed this outline. (This should be surprising to no one, but it apparently was surprising to those who were “disappointed” in Obama. But now they can go back to their worshipful stance.) Furthermore, there has been a general embrace of the neoliberal globalist New World Order by both empowered wings of the establishment.
Chicken Little claims to really be telling the truth this time. The people inside the DP-left bubble believe him. Actually, based on the Dole, G.W. Bush, and Obama examples, it’s all a bunch of Chicken Littles in the bubble. That in itself doesn’t mean that Chicken Little might not be right this time—broken (analogue!) clocks, etc. What’s different? Intelligence? Again … Bush? –but many others, too. Corruption? –Bush, his family, Rumsfeld, Cheney, were all war profiteers in wars they started. Papa Bush was not only “in the loop” in Iran-Contra, he was the loop. Hillary Clinton ran the State Department as “open for business” for the Clinton Foundation, according to people working in both places. Trump is trying to get out of these wars that have gone on forever now and that were part of an agenda that was on G.W. Bush’s desk from day one. Collusion with Russia? The ridiculous, open-ended, Mueller investigation (run by an establishment operative) has found nothing, so it’s moved on to whatever it can dig up, and making deals with the little fish to get the big fish. Let’s look at Clinton collusions.
What’s left? That Trump is a fascist and is busy installing a fascist regime with the help of the Republican Party? The evidence is lacking, very seriously lacking. Not that the Democrats would use the f-word in articles of impeachment. They’ll use corruption and collusion, and maybe even the supposed payment of hush money to a prostitute, though, and even the left who knows that this is bogus (at the very least no worse than what the Clintons have done) will go along with it, because they like the idea that they’re fighting fascism and they’re part of some “resistance.”
That sounds a lot better than just being tools of the establishment, and they’ll hope for some reward when the establishment reestablishes itself fully; there probably will be some reward, on the backs of the ordinary working people, in other words the deplorables, who very likely will be punished. So, it also helps to consider ordinary working people as deplorable, so you don’t have to feel bad for them. As things get back to “normal” and more jobs are sent away, the Identity Politics and State Feminism crowd can just raise a big ol’ chorus of “Check your privilege!”
Why should anyone give up the third hypothesis to the people who are all about elections, except for the one that put Trump in the White House?
The establishment, with the Democrats and the left (including State Feminism) leading the way, have done a brilliant job, and I don’t mean this sarcastically, of pushing the abandonment of the third hypothesis. All one hears from the anti-Trump movement is either that “revolution is not in the offing for the foreseeable future” or that “there’s never going to be a revolution.” Either way, all we can do is support some supposedly leftward movement and fight Trump.
What is important here is that, if revolution is not in the offing in the near future, it is for the same reason that Trump is not a fascist and is not installing a fascist system in the U.S.—there is no general crisis of American capitalism at this time.
This is why people have to know that stock market volatility is being artificially manipulated, by the Federal Reserve and by the leading institutions of finance capital, such as Goldman Sachs.
There is not a crisis for these institutions of capitalism, but there is a major annoyance for the establishment. This annoyance is all the more galling to them because they had done everything to ensure that their operative would be in the White House.
In other words, the presidency of Donald Trump was not in the cards. Trump outmaneuvered the rigged electoral system; he even outmaneuvered the people who do the rigging. But the establishment is working overtime to see that this does not go too far and not much further. Still, they have a problem on their hands.
One would think the establishment having a problem on its hands would be a good thing to the left,just like one would think that the left would be pleased that Trump is actually doing something, despite “the resistance in the White House” (in this case Gen. James Mattis), to bring U.S. troops out of the Middle East.
But if what was supposed to be the left and even the radicals and revolutionaries won’t keep the third hypothesis alive, then other ways will have to be found to do it. Fortunately, this hypothesis does not depend first of all on subjectivity or ideology, it depends on material conditions and the emergence of a new truth.
Regarding material conditions, then, we had better keep the third hypothesis alive, because it turns out that something that was not in the cards presents us with a fourth hypothesis.
(Philosophically, this hypothesis owes as much to Derrida as to Badiou.)
The fourth hypothesis is that sometimes there is an element that arises in the system that is not fully contained or circumscribed within the system; this element can act as a bridge to further action outside the system to bring about systemic transformation.
This element is something that “should not have happened” from the standpoint of the system. It is not yet the “impossible” of the situation, that which can completely break open the system,”break the world into two” (in Nietzsche’s memorable phrase), but it was not in the calculations of the system.
This element—let’s just call it the “bridge”—may, however, be the point in the system where things could begin to spiral toward a much larger opening, toward a real crisis for the system, and toward what Lenin called a “revolutionary situation.”
The bridge exists despite the calculations of the system, and yet it also exists because the system has attempted to do everything it could to prevent the bridge from existing, or perhaps “emerging” is the better word.
There is nothing certain about the bridge. Many people thought that Obama might be a bridge, again not so much in terms of his program (which wasn’t really specified that carefully, it was mostly the vague rhetoric of Hope and Change, and the hope that was inspired by the very idea of having an African-American president in a nation-state erected on the foundations of the most grotesque slave system), but in terms of rising expectations. Historically, revolutions have happened not at the lowest ebb of the existing system, but at the point where it appears things could turn around and there are rising expectations. It turned out that Obama was more on the order of a “ruse of a bridge,” the sort of thing that Paul Piccone (founding editor of Telos) warned about with his “false negativity thesis” (significantly, an elaboration on Adorno) and that the Situationists were always on the lookout for—“spectacular revolution,” so to speak.
This does not mean that people were wrong to hope that Obama would be a bridge, and that they shouldn’t have attempted to push things that way. Nothing is certain in this territory—indeed, one thing that has to be completely let go of with both the third and fourth hypotheses is the kind of smug certainty that people feel entitled to under the two “establishment hypotheses”—another way of naming the first and second hypotheses.
In other words, it may be the case that the truth or falseness of the bridge can only be seen in retrospect, and depending on what the people do with it. Furthermore, whether the proposed bridge—again, let’s think about Obama—was really just a ruse to begin with, or something on the order of an experiment to see what can be done within the confines of the system, can only be seen in 20/20 hindsight. Even then, there’s no certainty. A failed experiment is still an experiment and worthy of respect; what may have been intended as a ruse can still get out of hand—again, depending on what people do with it.
(A simple example: a song in a different context can become something else. “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd goes from cynicism to revolutionary anthem in the mouths of black youths in Apartheid South Africa. “Born in the U.S.A.” goes from another look at the underside of the American Dream when sung by Bruce Springsteen to a Hollywood happy-ending success story when used by the Reagan campaign back in 1980—until Springsteen put a stop to it.)
All of this bears further thought. Unfortunately, what we have under the establishment hypotheses, especially under the first hypothesis, is now an anti-experimental realpolitik mixed with the usual (and I think cynical, at least when it comes to older leftists) excitement over some “fresh face” who is really going to get something done, this time. This kind of thing, along with the prevailing Identity Politics/State Feminism regime in universities and colleges now, does a tremendous (and again, cynical) disservice to the young people who are “educated” or “getting educated.”
However, of course it has to be frankly admitted if people were a bit burned out on hoping that Obama would be a bridge, it is not hard to see how they would have the greatest difficulty in seeing that Trump is a bridge.
Here, though, more specificity is needed—we have to look at the milieu of the people who had those hopes, and see that they are different from the people who were not so turned on by Obama. In other words, we have the bright young things of middle-class academia on the one side, and the deplorables on the other. It seems reasonable to assert that the general functioning of the existing system depends on the idea that “neither the twain shall meet.” The experience of radical uprisings and actual revolutions, on the other hand, very often seems to show that people have to cross the lines laid down by the establishment for something really new to happen.
This crossing of lines happened in 1968, when the workers joined the students of France in revolt. Now what could go much further in France is if the students and more middle-strata people joined the workers wearing the Yellow Jerseys. In the light of what an explosive combination could result, it is not hard to see why the IdPol-Left has to keep pushing the line that the working class in the U.S. is deplorable—backward and reactionary.
It is more than obvious, then, that the system has every interest in keeping such a meeting from happening. Indeed, the establishment has every interest in encouraging the contradictions among the people to become increasingly antagonistic. Despite there being a real basis in historical social reality for what has been fashioned into Identity Politics (and this basis remains to be addressed in the serious, deep, and thorough-going way that is necessary), sometimes it almost seems as if Identity Politics came together through conscious and less-conscious efforts aimed precisely at deepening the contradictions among the peopleand leaving violent confrontation as the only form of addressing these contradictions.
(Considering the alliance of State Feminism with Identity Politics within the Democratic Party, and considering the other parts of the DP configuration where the real power is concentrated, the previous assertion is not so far-fetched. I’m not saying it’s a plot or conspiracy—indeed, it is little more than the divide-and-conquer strategy of all capitalists and colonizers. With this last expression I am thinking of Habermas’s great argument about the “colonization of the life-world.” What is important here is that, while there is a basis, or a concatenation of “reasons” why State Feminism and Identity Politics exist, neither of these forms of anti-politics really address this basis—in patriarchy, misogyny, oppression of persons for their sexualities and gender identities, and racism and white-supremacy—either “ultimately,” or even in the shorter-run of things. This is not only for the fact that these ideologies have been fashioned, in their main manifestations as the new mainstream of Democratic and left “politics,” as excluding class as a question—this is the flip-side of the exclusion of capitalism as a question; it is also because these ideologies are mainly about power and not about truth, and certainly not about the discovery of a new truth—which is the flipside of saying that these discourses are not about political universalism.)
It used to be a commonplace of what we called “right-wing” or “conservative” politics that a larger uprising of people in the United States would in reality be a kind of “race war”—or, at least, that’s how people would be encouraged to understand things. Of course, we are not just talking about Republicans here, but perhaps even mainly Southern Democrats, of the Strom Thurmond/Jesse Helms variety. Now, however, the Democratic Party has found a truly ingenious way to house the same outlook within its environs, and most of the left has at least tacitly bought into this; in other words, anyone can see that the infinitely diverse world of color, gender, and sexuality in the “global”-(ist!) frame is to be preferred to the “rural” world of the depolorable ordinary working people. After all, who cares about these people anyway, and where’s the excitement and adventure?
Hillary’s deplorable-ploy backfired in terms of gender, or at least in terms of men and women. Democrats and the left of course regard these ordinary people who more or less seem to accept these binary designations as deplorable for this very acceptance, hence the whole language of “cis-,” another part of the State Feminism/Identity Politics ideological arsenal that presents itself as merely descriptive (how many times lately have we heard people say, “Oh, I don’t mean cis- in a derogatory way”?—yeah, right), but this terminology plays no emancipatory role. For that matter, the terminology of “cis-“ is vastly overreaching in what it claims to know about the feelings of girls, boys, women, and men (that they are “comfortable with the gender they were born with”), and that is because it is based on the primacy of feelings in the operation of the State Feminism/Identity Politics regime to begin with. Hillary’s ploy backfired especially with women, the majority of whom are working class and who have working-class parents, brothers, sons, and (crime of all crimes) life-partners (or, God forbid!—husbands).
However, the deplorable-ploy did work to some significant extent with people of color, and with “educated” white millennials and iGens and their comedians and actors of choice, who are falling all over themselves to talk about what a load of crap “white people” are. This has been such a hard nut to crack for any radical, emancipatory politics that it would be unjust to pretend to say anything substantive about the “race situation” and the deep intermixture of race and class questions in the United States. Strategically, however, one thing that is absolutely necessary is to call out the deplorable-ploy for what it is, a way to divide people against each other, with no emancipatory purpose whatsoever—indeed, quite the opposite, and this is how the Democrats have become a completely reactionary organization, no matter what “exciting, fresh faces” they put forward.
One other strategic comment … Among the people of color and the white millennials and iGens who are in the university system, there is something that should be brought forward as a way to get them off of the deplorable-ploy of State Feminism and Identity Politics. That is, the males among these groups know that, in principle, they are screwed in this system (in other words, Title IX). Many of their female cohort, and I might venture to say it is even the majority, also know that this is the case—and I would argue that women are also abused in this system, what Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt call the infantilizing culture of “safetyism.”
Now, obviously,this could go two ways—and that’s the issue with everything here regarding the “bridge hypothesis.” Certainly, in taking on the Stasi-like methods and undefined-but-seemingly-limitless power of the State Feminist/Identity Politics apparatus in the university (again, Title IX), things could go in a very reactionary direction. The added difficulty is that it would be in the interest of this apparatus to have things go that way. But imagine if a campaign was organized under one simple demand of political universalism—“Due Process!” would be a good place to start.
Here we would see precisely the problem that needs addressing in the broadest terms, throughout society and in our political discourse—namely that, our terminology of liberal and conservative and left and right stands in the way. Imagine the aforementioned campaign. It is not hard at all to imagine this campaign being initiated first of all by students who consider themselves “conservative,” perhaps students who belong to the College Republicans. After all, the main call for due process that is at least being heard more broadly is coming from Betsy Devos—and it is significant that the gathering coup against Trump seems to be gearing up to really go after Devos also. Many courageous women, many of whom would call themselves “liberal,” have also made this demand—including the eminently sane, as I like to call her, Emily Yoffe, and several law professors at Harvard, and for their trouble have been called “rape accomplices” and the like by Title IX supporters.
This is significant, because what are the left and today’s liberal feminists likely to say about this proposed “Due Process!” movement? Everyone knows that it would be hard to imagine them sayinganything that could be understood as argumentative discourse. Yelling and screaming of insults, perhaps along with some bogus statistics from the “campus rape culture” file, that is what one would get from this left/feminist crowd. Next the Title IX office of whatever university, or some part of the administration that is afraid of/beholden to that office would shut the movement down, and probably charge some of the due-processors with sexual harassment, maybe suspend or expel them. Title IX feminists and leftists positively freak out, and find it “very uncomfortable” (in a way that is fodder for administrative and legal—or illegal, unconstitutional—action), to hear terms such as “due process.”
But perhaps a moment is coming when there will be enough general turmoil and chaos where such a movement could push through, and connect with larger, universalist-emancipatory agendas, build bridges and cross bridges.
The campus example is somewhat of an extreme case for now, but it is still instructive. I think it will become more instructive if the coup against Donald Trump succeeds in getting him out of the presidency, that’s what could lead to the aforementioned moment. My other point here, though, is that the left that is under the sway of State Feminism and Identity Politics has come to the place where anything to do with the working class and anything to do with universalist emancipatory goals is just off the table and is met with insults.
So, if these things are going to get back on the table, they will almost certainly come from unexpected places, and those of us who really do support the third hypothesis will need to figure out ways to encourage and support the fourth hypothesis.
To return to the larger point, beyond this crazy campus world: to put things very simply, an uprising of deplorables will be painted as a “race war,” unless there is significant progress in building the kind of bridges that need to be built.
That will be very hard, perhaps in some ways just as hard as what it would take to have the needed revolution against the whole establishment. In terms of the recent French experience, I would put it this way: First we must have Yellow.
First we must have Yellow, in order to open the way to Red. But to have Yellow in the U.S. we will first have to invent/discover/open the way toward a deplorable shade of yellow.
When the establishment restores itself to full hegemony, this will become a different battle—though one that needs to crucially carry forward the Trump Clarification to navigate toward what is truly emancipatory, and away from IdPol Leftism.
If those who are part of the latter start to break through their IdPol limitations, and start to reinvent the radicalism that is actually needed, then great—we should never deny the possibility of redemption. In the meantime, however, we should not hold our breathwaiting for such a thing to happen, and we should not easily give up on the opportunities that are here now, which most likely will not return any time soon.
Remember, the establishment does not see the Trump disruption as an opportunity, they see it as a major annoyance, to be shut down by whatever means necessary. The IdPol Left, on the other hand, does see an opportunity here. What characterizes this whole “Left” is that they are running full-steam ahead with an opportunity for opportunism. They need for there to be “fascism” for their own form of leftism to make sense. They need for the majority of the working class to be characterized as deplorable, backward, racist, etc., to justify themselves. That is messed-up, obviously.
Wherever things go next, people who reject the neoliberal globalist finance-capital order need to take advantage of the fourth hypothesis while we actually have it.
Coda: Redemption, zero-sums, emergence of Yellow
If any liberals or leftists out there are thinking about jumping ship from the anti-Trump movement, and getting themselves sorted on what is really going on, it seems to me the decisive moment for this is here, or at least coming very soon.
Certainly this is the right time to break with the anti-Trump movement when it can only manifest itself in the kind of self-righteous hatred seen in the Washington Mall incident. As a “stunt” (which is what the incident was turned into), there is something addictive about the hatred people are feeling, when it is mixed with the triumphalism that ordinary people who are Democrats, leftists, etc., are led to anticipate with the excitement of getting rid of Trump and getting some exciting new Democrat in there. This is a high that people will find hard to break with, but it is something really sick that cannot possibly lead to anything good.
Hatred is a poison in any case, but this is even worse, because this hatred is manipulated for the sake of power.
Seriously, for your own good my liberal and left friends, get away from that.
Now, I know that one reason people have not been able to break with this high manipulated by the pushers of hate is that they think that, if they break with the anti-Trump movement, and with placing their hopes in the Democratic Party, they will have gone over to the truly dark side. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that liberals and leftists, the IdPol Left, have tremendous concern about anything that might give aid and comfort to Trump. (It is beyond their ability to understand that anyone might feel the same about the Democrats, even though many millions do feel this way.) However, the point that one has to work toward is that this is not really about a person named Donald J. Trump, with a personal history.
The question is first of all the disruption that the election of Trump creates in system, the clarification that this disruption provides, and the experiments that this disruption may make possible.
As for who Trump is as a person, there is one point that stands above all the others—namely that Trump is not a politician, and he does not come from the horrible swamp that is called “politics” in the U.S. This is what makes the idea of the fourth hypothesis applicable in our present moment. I will not argue, dogmatically, that nothing could ever emerge from the swamp itself, or even from the Democratic Party, that could also activate this hypothesis, though I find this very, very unlikely. After all, we have had the Obama experience already. Indeed, this is why there has been such an effort in the past few months to relaunch the Obamas, the Clintons, and even the Bushes, to make it appear that they represent real alternatives. That’s just ridiculous, and only people who will fall for anything in the name of “destroy Trump” will fall for this crap.
To go in that direction requires this notion that Trump is one of the worst people who ever lived, “like Hitler”or possibly “worse than.” Just as calling the anti-Trump movement some kind of “resistance” is an insult to people who participated in the French Resistance, this kind of Nazi talk is an insult to the victims of Nazism.
This kind of offensive playing with history is really aimed at constructing the idea that, no matter how bad you think the Democrats and figures such as the Clintons are, it is somehow out of the realm of any kind of possibility that they could even come even remotely close to the alien-to-everything-human “thing” that is Trump. Again, this is where TDS is real, because that is just an insane idea.
The power-players who push this idea don’t themselves believe it, it just serves their power interests. There is a small group of people who represent the real power players of the Democratic Party and the IdPol Left, and, unfortunately, there is a very large group of people who are dupes for this crap.
We can expect nothing but more of the same from the former group, the power players. They will continue down the same path, and they really have no choice but to do so. Elizabeth Warren is a Native American, Nathan Phillips was trying to intervene to prevent a white mob from attacking some African-American folks, Nicholas Sandmann is equivalent to an SS officer cutting off a rabbi’s beard in Warsaw, Donald Trump is “Hitler or worse than Hitler”—that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
Just as with what the Trump disruption is all about, however, the ordinary people just posting stuff on Nick Sandmann on Facebook and whatnot really went too far. Except this latter case is actually more significant than what people say, in a power-motivated way, about Trump—because this episode is both about and also not about Nick Sandmann. That is, it is about some horrible, ridiculously obnoxious stuff that people said about an innocent 16-year old and about what ought to happen to him. It is about thinking that it’s somehow okay and fine and even righteous to say this horrible stuff and then to keep doubling down on it and then to just move on to something else, because of the color and gender of the person.
But I believe that redemption is almost always possible, and this is the moment for it for those who care about these things. Whether you get on board with the Trump disruption or not, this is the moment to make a clear break with the establishment.
This also means getting on board with the possibility of the fourth hypothesis,in other words the possibility of another world than that of the establishment—the establishment that encompasses both parties and much else that has already been discussed.
I will even go so far as to propose this olive branch to those who are committed to the first hypothesis, the hypothesis that the Democratic Party is the limit of what is possible in the world of U.S. “politics”: if, somehow, a true outlier of the DP is nominated for president, then that would be an election worth paying attention to. I started this series of articles in March 2016 with a piece subtitled, “Hoping for a Trump-Sanders election.” If the Democrats nominate Sanders or someone further out than Sanders this next time, great. That’s the sort of thing that opens up fourth hypothesis possibilities.
I am hoping my DP/IdPol Left friends understand that there is a very small chance of this happening, and, of course, ordinary people have very little, if any, influence on these things in any case. It is very, very unlikely that anyone in the DP could benefit from the kind of surge that Trump did in the RP, which was about as close to something like “democracy” as can happen in the U.S. To get this kind of “democracy,” it helps to be a billionaire and a media-figure outside of politics. None of the “fresh faces” of the DP are even the latter, much less the former.
And so, most likely what will happen is that the Dems will select some establishment figure again, and the DP/IdPol Left will fold into that, or, in reality, remain folded into that.
DP politicians and power-players can’t really use the sort of rhetoric that others on the IdPol Left uses to demonize Trump. The latter depends essentially on portraying Trump as an inhuman monster, and now, by extension, a 16-year old Catholic kid from Kentucky is treated as a monster as well. while Nathan Phillips and the Black Hebrew Israelites are presented as “African-American folks” and a brave, Native American “elder.” As I’ve said, Phillips and the Black Hebrews are as ordinary as any other ordinary people in that they are capable of being full of crap—though, for sure, these particular men(who exhibited, by the way, far more signs of “toxic masculinity” than the Covington boys did) are full-time bullshit artists.
Incidentally, Hitler of course is treated as an inhuman monster, and one of the ways that he was “demonized” in the U.S. during the war was the claim that he was some sort of sexual deviant and probably “homosexual.” Isn’t it “interesting” that such a term (which I place in scare-quotes because that’s the term that was used) was employed to depict the inhumanity of Hitler, when the Black Hebrews called the Convington boys “faggots”? Somehow, Nathan Phillips didn’t find this problematic, but he heard other things (such as “build that wall”) that are not heard on any of the videos of the incident.
Those of us of a certain age may remember an episode of the TV show, from the black & white era, “Outer Limits,” wherein a human man volunteered to be turned into an alien-looking being and to seem to come to our planet as an enemy invader. The idea was that, in the Cold War, there needed to be some tertium quidto unite humanity. The idea is the usual one, well-represented in political discourse from Plato to Hobbes to Carl Schmitt, that the only real unity is “unity against.” (“The Architects of Fear,” Sept. 30, 1963, written by Meyer Dolinsky.) Is it not of great significance that the Dems and the IdPol Left need this sort of monstrous (third) “thing” to motivate their unity? It is also significant that figures such as Dick Cheney didn’t do the job for them (and, in a way, even Osama bin Laden was off-limits, thanks to their IdPol multiculturalism). The employment of this strategy in the time of Trump is one reason why I’m very skeptical about the Democratic Party being able to initiate anything that could open to the fourth hypothesis—and therefore certainly there is no hope at all of anything that has anything to do with the third hypothesis.
Again, let’s remind ourselves that the Gilets Jaunes in France are protesting the equivalent of Hillary Clinton, not that of Donald Trump.
And, what the employment of the “third thing” as inhuman monster strategy says in this particular moment is that the Democrats are the “most-establishment” (using the latter term as an adjective) of the establishment parties. Therefore, they, and not the Republicans, are the most reactionary in this moment, not the “lesser evil.”
(One person commenting on my “Trump Experiment” article said that this kind of logic is “Strasserism.” That again seems a way—albeit more sophisticated—of labeling something rather than investigating and making an argument or constructing a theory.)
Any discourse that begins with the premise that Donald Trump is an inhuman monster (like Hitler, or “worse”) and therefore beyond redemption, while somehow avoiding the same question in the case of Hillary Clinton is ridiculous and illegitimate. The fact is that, as a politician (and, I would argue, as a businessperson, for that matter), nothing Donald Trump has done even comes close to some of the terrible things HRC has done.
It even seems likely that this reality is why the discourse has to be skewed the way it has been by the IdPol Left.
At best, at most, the Trump phenomena I have discussed (disruption, etc.) and Trump himself are on the edge of the system. The question is whether this is something worth supporting, or wagering on. That’s the fourth hypothesis, and there is the question, for sure, “What else have you got?” This is the “zero-sum question,” but before we go there, let’s take one more moment with the question of who or what we are dealing with here.
To bring to a head what the foregoing has to do with the idea of redemption, here’s the two points that I think are most crucial for the IdPol Left:
1) This is the moment when ordinary people Democrats and IdPol Leftists need to break with their hatred—they need to break with this very openly, they need to apologize and criticize themselves for going along with or furthering the hatred and vitriol shown in their reaction to Nick Sandmann and his classmates. You need to strive toward redemption in this moment, and if you cannot do that, then I do not see how your hateful dogmatic mindset and comportment can be helpful to anyone, in any way. I do not see how the Democratic Party built around this sort of thing could even conceivably give rise to anything that is even remotely defensible.
If the DP creates the scenario for a true “outlier election,” perhaps in the form of Tulsi Gabbard as Trump’s opponent (if Trump lasts that long), then that can be another discussion. In the meantime, find something better to do than poisoning everything and your own selves with hate.
2) Get out of your affect-driven epistemological rut, which renders you incapable of thinking in terms of social structures. Even apart from your vitriolic emotionalism, the problem is not that you aren’t “smart,” it’s that you think you already know everything. In terms of the way things are “supposed to work” when the neo-liberal globalist establishment (encompassing the far larger part of both establishment parties) is fully in command (I won’t cite the first line of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Manyet again, but it describes what I’m talking about), it is true—you do know everything, and it seems you are down with it—at least when it comes to the inhuman monstrosity of Trump. Take a lesson from Hillary Clinton and her campaign: she/they knew everything, too. Pride goeth before a fall.
Here we see something about the fourth hypothesis, too. This is the hypothesis of an experiment at the edge of the system. The “everything” that Hillary knew (and apparently still knows, as in “What Happened,” no question-mark needed) and that ordinary Democrats and the IdPol Left know is absolutely set against any kind of “experiment”—why would you need an experiment, when you already know everything? Thus the omniscient knowers of everything, absolutely knowing that they could not have been wrong, have to attribute Trump’s being in the White House not to an election that they lost, but instead to Vladimir Putin and Russian interference. Please, before you dig your heels in on this, just think through the logic a little.
If there really is, or at least has been, a “Trump experiment” (perhaps over now, though the State of the Union address gives me some hope that it is not over), then the same logic by which we attempt to understand things structurally and not in terms of some demonizing theodicy leads to the idea that whatever avaricious aims drove Donald Trump in his dealings as a businessperson (which, however, does not speak structurally to the real driving force of capitalist enterprises) are not what is driving him as president (and previously as a candidate). In other words, perhaps Trump is aiming for some sort of redemption, as most of us are.
I don’t expect too many to follow me in this thinking, and I realize that Trump is not like most of us (as they say, “the rich are different”). But none of the other things (I won’t call them arguments) one hears about Trump’s supposed motivations, such as greed and ego (or narcissism) make sense to me, and they obviously didn’t make sense to tens of millions of voters. And again, Trump has never used politics to make money the way the Clintons have, not even remotely. And Hillary “What Happened” Clinton, to all appearances, has less interest in redemption than about anyone one could think of. Unfortunately, this attitude has transferred itself by osmosis to those who demonize Trump. Now’s the time to get off of that bandwagon.
But the other reason this is important has to do with the Yellow Jerseys in France. Is it possible that Donald Trump is actually trying to do some good things, and that, in any case, the disruptive, clarifying, and experimental aspects of what Trump is as a phenomena are making positive contributions toward more radical developments? For this to really take off and, I think, for Trump to do much more than (at best) sit out the rest of his term with other people running things (the worst kind of people, such as Bolton, Pompeo, and Abrams), there will need to be something like the Yellow Jerseys in the U.S. There is, however, a similar question regarding redemption, though actually an even more difficult question, in France.
The Left in France and in the United States (and elsewhere) is ambivalent about the Gilets Jaunes. This is because many of the workers who are wearing the Yellow Jerseys in France are sympathetic to Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement national (RN, National Rally) party (formerly the National Front—FN). Marine Le Pen has done a good deal to remake the party her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen—often referred to as “Le Pest” in French Left circles—founded; this includes the expulsion of her father from the party in 2015. It is often said by people on the right that the origins of fascism are found in socialism; the example most often given is Mussolini, who supposedly started off as a socialist. (And, of course, we are endlessly told, also by liberals, that “Nazi” stands for “national socialist,” etc.) All of this is not exactly right, though perhaps it is not entirely wrong, either. Be that is it may, the question posed by the Gilets Jaunes is whether things can go the other direction—Can there be a redemption of Marine Le Pen from her origins in what is generally considered a fascist (or at least fascistic) organization? Or is it the case that making the connection between ordinary working people, many of them in dire straits, and the popularity of either Marine Le Pen or Donald Trump among them, is nothing more than the Strasserite version of fascism?
I think in the case of Trump this last question is more easily set aside than in the case of Le Pen, at least on the ideological plane. What is significant on the practical plane is that the form the protests of the Gilets Jaunes have taken in France also does well enough to set aside the question.
This too is first of all a structural question, and secondarily a matter of a particular individual, and I think the proof is in what either is or isn’t an opening to the fourth hypothesis. On the whole I think the proof is good and worth supporting, in both cases.
Just staying with the U.S. now, I want to turn to the question of whether the Trump disruption is worth supporting, in light of possible alternatives.
The more interesting and valuable critics of the direction I have taken regarding the Trump phenomena (such critics being few and far between) have argued the following points:
1) That Trump is, in the end, still an operative of a party and a system and a ruling class that is rotten through and through;
2) That Trump, whatever the appearances, does not represent a disruption to, or departure from, the existing social structure; the “Trump disruption” is spectacle;
3) That disruption to the establishment, the system, the spectacle, is indeed a good thing in general, but not every disruption is good, and the Trump disruption in particular is not good and does not portend anything good (and more than likely on the contrary);
4) That this is not a “zero-sum game,” in that there is more out there than either Trump or the Democrats; the real road ahead lies elsewhere, and it is not necessary that those who reject Trump will simply end up supporting the Democrats, any more than that it is necessarily the case that the only escape from the Democrats (understood as the current bastion of the neoliberal globalist agenda) is Trump.
I hope the reader will understand why the discussion of redemption is important here. For Trump to be a disruption, clarification, and experiment in a good way, he has to be something significantly different from the existing structures and ways of doing things, but without being an “inhuman monster.”
(Though let us bear in mind that everything that is truly different and new, every revolution, is called “monstrous” by at least some segment of the population; to use a less contentious example, John Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” were called “anti-jazz” in 1961 by Downbeatwriter John Tynan. Coltrane became canonical, as did Stravinsky and, at least in principle, Schoenberg; but John Cage and Cecil Taylor, on the other hand … .)
For my argument to work, Trump has to be “different,” but he also has to be a good, or at least “helpful,” difference—and I define “helpful” here in terms of an opening to real politics in the midst of the prevailing anti-politics of mere power machination.
(And, not incidentally, these remarks stand as a rejoinder to the blithe form of multiculturalism that underpins Identity Politics, whereby “difference” is the key concept, and all differences are equal, good, and equally good. Identity Politics has its “dirty little secret,” though—certain differences don’t get to count as such, especially “class,” and certain other ones are bad, especially the difference of the white male, whose every gesture can be readily interpreted as malicious and coming from a place of entitlement. Now, in the latter case, apart from the ridiculous readiness to demonize someone because of their “birth race” and “birth gender”—such demonization being an essential gesture of fascism—there is certainly something to arguing that work has to be done to lift people up who were disadvantaged and oppressed before. Identity Politics only comes at these questions as a matter of power, however, and under the illusion that Justice is a finite thing. Unfortunately, too often the “conservative” reaction to this fundamentally redistributive approach, which leaves the basic social relations intact at least in terms of their power configuration—for someone to “win,” someone else has to “lose,” “justice” as “adjustment”—is no more than merely reactive. And, indeed, these “conservatives” are the ones who started that game; it’s just too often that the “alternative” to this game has been, or become, a mere reaction formation. This is where Justice, this infinite idea, has to be something truly different, something truly exceptional from the existing order. Again here I am drawing on both Derrida and Badiou.)
These arguments have come at my proposal of the Trump experiment from different quarters and with different levels of clarity; no one has put these arguments together, however, in as clear and powerful a form as my dear friend of many years, Nina Frankel. I dedicate this “Coda” and this attempt at a response to her and to our friendship.
Now, I have responded to these issues over the course of my CounterPunch.org articles since March 2016, but let’s just have something direct and very analytical here. And let me add that, far from dismissing the concerns encapsulated in the four points enumerated above, I take these arguments not only very seriously, I also take them as not being entirely wrong, even if not being entirely right, either. After all, if these arguments were so clearly wrong, I wouldn’t have such a hard time making the case that I am trying to make.
For the sake of clarity, I will again enumerate. At the end of each point made, I will place in parentheses the numbers of the points above to which I am responding.
1) To be fair, two elements were left out of the “zero-sum” point, namely that this is not only about Trump, but also the Republican Party, and not only about the Democrats, but also what I am calling the IdPol Left. Here I want to just address the argument, which I have put forward, that whatever the IdPol Left (even the more militant and supposedly radical parts of it, such as the Refuse Fascism! Group, or antifa) think they are doing, they are in the end going to do no more than to restore the Democrats to power in the White House (such as that “power” is, for the political operatives of the locus/loci of real power)—and this will have no good results in terms of the “real politics” that is needed. Indeed, it will have bad results for whatever possibilities there are for the fourth hypothesis that may be presented by the Trump disruption. My main point here is that, even extended in this way, there is no alternative to the zero-sum game to be found on the “left” side of that equation. This is important, because it is in this “left” direction that everyone has looked ever since the French Revolution defined its seating positions in parliament. (4)
(Please remember that, in the name of not being dogmatic, I did allow that something could conceivably develop on this point, even perhaps in the Democratic Party, from a “true outlier.” It will take a good bit more than the usual eagerness of the usual crowd of liberals and leftists about some “fresh face” to make this case, however.)
2) For sure, there is uncertainty about what Trump is now, much less what he will be “in the end.” There is a momentous struggle, I think, raging at the present time, to ensure that “in the end” Trump will be just another Republican president whose leanings are “conservative,”“right-wing,” with some elements of libertarianism, and at least some rhetorical elements of evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity (where the distinction is unclear to Trump because this isn’t his milieu). In other words, there is a good deal going on, most of it in what is supposedly Trump’s “own party,” to bring Trump back into the established mix for being just another Republican, like the ones he ran against in 2016. But isn’t this effort telling? Isn’t this effort indicative of the fact that Trump is not just “another Republican”? (1)
3) Assuming—and this has to be questioned—that we are not yet “in the end” of the Trump phenomena (of disruption, etc.), is it not significant that there is not only a tremendous effort to make of Trump “just another Republican” (even if there are different sides of this establishment party, essentially around what Daniel Bell called many years ago the “cultural contradictions of capitalism”), rather it appears that there is an effort on every part of the establishment, including institutions such as the CIA and FBI, and then extending to the IdPol Left and others who imagine themselves as the alternative to the establishment, to either bring down or at least fundamentally reign in Trump? Is this all just spectacle, of either the Orwellian or the Debord/Situationist sort?If so, this is definitely quite “meta”—in 1984there is an endless war, going on somewhere, but the leader is not trying to get out of it. And you don’t get to call the leader a fascist, a Nazi, or a motherfucker. So perhaps it’s more of the kind of sophisticated spectacle that the Situationists wrote about, or that Mark Crispin Miller wrote about in his great article, “Big Brother is you, watching” (from Boxed-In: The Culture of TV, 1988); something in the vein of what Gramsci called “the coercion that commands assent,” except going much further. This spectacle is one that commands and shapes enthusiasm and even dogmatic faith. I do think there is this kind of spectacle at work in the U.S. and most of the world today, but in the U.S. it is a spectacle of the establishment, with special attachments for the Democrats and the IdPol Left. The question is whether Trump has at least one arm outside of this spectacle, in a way that provides a real challenge to this spectacle. I think the reaction of the spectacle to Trump would be quite different if he were simply a part of this spectacle, or part of the establishment apparatus in general. (2,3)
4) It seems as if the “not this disruption, some other, better, disruption” argument assumes we’ve got a lot of disruptions out there to choose from and that there is a better one out there. Turning to the language of spectacle again, I would say that anything that even remotely appears as a disruption on the side of the IdPol Left is indeed a spectacle without substance, or (again to invoke Paul Piccone) “false negativity.” Furthermore, the Democrats certainly do not want any real disruption, their whole schtick is their “competence” in running and working with finance capital in the global market—of course they want that to run smoothly. There are large dislocations with such a system (for example, when George Soros’s currency manipulations led to the Southeast Asian economic meltdown in 1997), but the U.S. establishment tried to contain these to countries outside of the world-power system (i.e., what we used to call the Third World). What the Democrats excel in, that is of special appeal to finance capital, is displacing workers in the U.S. in a way that does not cause major disruptions—to the capitalists themselves. Donald Trump has called attention to this, and that by itself is unforgiveable. (And that by itself is why Bernie Sanders could not be allowed to be nominated.) Yes, it can be argued that, in reality, Trump has not actually done a great deal for the workers (though I don’t accept this), but just to make something called the “working class”—words never heard from any establishment politician—in any way visible is considered a very large disruption to the rule of finance capital. I would say this is a good thing, even a great thing—and in a way it is a great thing precisely because it shows that something that mainly exists in discourse, in rhetoric, turns out to send the establishment into a tailspin. What else is out there that is creating this kind of disruption? Let’s remind ourselves that we (the people “who make history, but not just as we choose,” as Marx put it) do not get to choose the disruption. But those of us who are trying to theorize this thing, the Trump phenomena, also need to take seriously (as the IdPol Left does not) our responsibility to make of real opportunities what can be made of them. (4)
Now, do I think that I have answered fully and completelywhat I take to be the truly serious and therefore truly valuable objections to my attempt to theorize the Trump disruption, clarification, and experiment?
No, as a matter of fact, I do not believe I have—and there is a very important reason for this, quite apart from whatever deficiencies may be present in my own work. We are talking about an experiment here, we are talking about a disruption that may or may not go anywhere; we are talking about a clarification to the existing state of things, and what possibilities lie in this existing state; we are not talking about, at least directly, the impossible new thing that is necessary but that cannot be anticipated. We cannot talk about this thing—if we could, then we could also anticipate this thing, and then it would not be the new thing.
And let us be clear, the Trump phenomena, and Donald Trump himself, is not this impossible new thing. Indeed, an objection that could be and ought to be raised to my arguments, that fits with what my friend Nina has argued, is that Trump and the Trump phenomena (again, plural—the disruption, etc., and some parts working better than others at any given moment) for all that they may challenge, be a disruption to, or at least be a major annoyance to the anti-political order of the establishment, they themselves are never outside of the circuit of anti-politics. I do not think this is wrong.
The fourth hypothesis is that something arises in the order of things that disturbs the order of things—something that, if it goes in certain ways (that cannot be determined in advance), could lead to larger openings, openings toward real change. The fourth hypothesis sits on the edge of anti-politics, on a circumference of a circle where the circle might be broken.
Another way of putting this is that there is no certainty about the fourth hypothesis, and this lack of certainty is integral to what the hypothesis is about. A risk has to be taken, a wager has to be made.
The most serious risk, as understood by the current Left is that of fascism, or something like fascism (perhaps it would mostly be right-wing cultural authoritarianism—which, I agree, would not be good). My view is that these things are completely obsolete when it comes to the smooth functioning of a neoliberal globalist agenda, and therefore they will never get too far. (This in addition to not thinking that Trump is a fascist or that his “regime” is “installing fascism” in the first place.) So, my argument, on the other side, is that the real danger is that everyone will go along, IdPol fashion, with the herd mentality of just labeling things (and issuing death threats to sixteen-year olds, and similar noxious bullshit) and then hoping Mueller, Congress, or the CIA will take care of the Trump disruption. I’m more than aware that what I view as the real danger—of returning the frog to the slowly-heating pot—represents the great hope of liberals and the horizon of what calls itself “the left” these days.
And so, one last time, if individuals who are supporting the Democrats or who are part of the IdPol Left scene, whose horizons are limited to the anti-Trump movement, it seems to be me we are in the moment for breaking with your thoroughly-outworn ideas and, more recently, what has turned out to be a program permeated by the ugliest hatred.
To conclude, finally, the furtherance of everything that is uncertain and simply “on the edge of anti-politics” here can only be taken to the next level by that main ingredient of real politics, namely the people, the masses.
Trump has done many good things on the edge of anti-politics, despite very serious opposition. To be sure, he—or whatever combination of elements makes pronouncements and policy come out of the White House—has done some less than good things and some bad things, too. But the good things are the things that go to disruption, clarification, experiment. And, as I said, some of these things are “merely” or “purely” rhetorical, simply that certain words have been said, and yet these words have actually been very important. In the State of the Union addressthat finally took place on February 5th, Trump used the expression “working class” at least twice (and other terms referring to the working class otherwise), and he also referred to “foolish wars.” Find me another State of the Union address, possibly ever, that used these terms. These are forbidden terms within the prevailing anti-politics, and most of all within that part of anti-politics represented by the Democrats. To be clear, the way that Trump used these terms was good, too.
There were other things that were good, and other things that were bad—the questions of risk and opportunity that I’ve put forward here includes the idea of letting the devil take the hindmost. (Certainly lesser-evilism Democrats should have no trouble understanding this.) The problem is that even the things that are good are still within a certain realm, one that puts Trump on the edge of anti-politics but not beyond this edge. That is, Trump remains in the world of making deals in terms of the general scheme of power machination, with terms set by capital. That he is perhaps trying to address these terms, trying to go from a globalist agenda to a “nationalist” one is significant—hence the resistance to this, and here one sees where IdPol rhetoric works well for the Democrats. There is also a significant shift in that Trump does not come at these deals like other politicians do, but here we see the limitations of the businessperson’s perspective, too. (Just to use a literal example of “which hat one is wearing,” though, there is a lot more significance in the hardhat that Trump has sometimes worn at construction sites than the helmet Michael Dukakis wore with is silly head sticking out of that tank.) The element in all this that is missing for there to be real politics is the masses.
If there is an opening here, a possible break in the circle, this will only go so far, and not nearly far enough, as long as the people do not come forward as a political subject. For this subject-formation to occur, however, an event has to occur, something that will bring a new truth into the world.
Here we see why the IdPol Left, and most of what we have called “the left” until now, is in an epistemological rut—they know too much, they know everything, and so when new things emerge, they will not see these things.
What kind of organization would best serve taking a non- or post-epistemological direction, an ontological direction. This is a very difficult question that as yet has not been solved. One can see why people revert to existing models, of course, and perhaps some are a little better than others, but fundamentally this is a mistake.
Within the parameters Trump has his base, and he does various things to activate this base. Some of these things are not at all bad, either, as again evidenced by the fact that the IdPol Left has only derision for these people, and labels. Some assembly is required though, to get to what is at least an implicit critique that Trump is raising: that you cannot go on about the market as a recognition of merit in one’s work, and as the most rational method for distributing resources while not providing decent or, often, any jobs for people, by offshoring manufacturing, by replacing workers with “immigrants,” and by advancing a system of casino-like finance capital wherein it doesn’t matter how hard or well someone works.
Obviously, Trump could go a lot further in putting all this out there, except for the various realities that would come into play: he would encounter opposition unlike anything thus far; probably he himself cannot fully comprehend what it would take for the critique of even this aspect of capitalism to become a material force; the latter because, at the very least, there needs to be economic conversionof the sort that seems to happen in some European countries, perhaps especially Scandinavia, but for various reasons cannot happen in the U.S.
(For a long time a large section of the liberal left, of the DSA-type, has had a fantasy of what I like to call “Swedenism”; they have failed to notice that the Swedish model from the days of Olaf Palme is long gone—and it is gone in large part because of the neoliberal globalist agenda that the U.S. has promoted in recent decades. Also, the U.S. is not Sweden, it does not occupy nearly the same place in the global order Sweden does. So, liberal professionals and professors, enjoy your Saabs while they’re still running—and they do run a long time—because they’re not making them anymore, and Volvo is now Chinese-owned.)
Stuck in their IdPol rut and derision for the working people, the current left does nothing to help with this need to thematize this basic contradiction of life under capitalism. You would never know from today’s left that Marx was critical of unlimited immigration, because of the way it downpressed wages and undermined worker organization, and the way it provides a safety-valvefor countries such as Turkey, who supplied many guest workers to countries such as Germany—and Sweden. In the latter countries, guest workers replaced the “real proletariat,” while the white, European workers were trained, in systems of economic conversion and education, for more technical and professional jobs. That can work in a certain international order, but that is eroding at present. In any case, nothing of the sort is in the offing in the U.S., whatever the Swedish socialist fantasies of Bernie Sanders or the FDR Keynesian fantasies of Robert Reich.
Then again, the use of the term “socialism” by most of the left now has almost nothing to do with Marx; in its IdPol form, “socialism” now rejects the working class, and instead of aiming to exercise the rule of the workers over the bourgeoisie on the way to a classless society, the hipeoisie of the IdPol Left hopes for a piece of the globalist pie in their aim of legislating ordinary working people out of existence. Along with ruining any viable notion of “the left,” this group has pretty much ruined the notion of “socialism,” too.
Okay, just to sum up this problem of thematizing quite simply, this is a matter of stating quite loudly that you cannot tell people to work for a living if there is no work. You cannot tell people to work for a decent living if there is no decent living to be had for work. This is the situation in which we have our present, broken working class, quite a bit of which has fallen into some very bad habits, and other segments of which are finding “work” in feeding those bad habits. In the latter case, of course, they are ultimately serving the ends of the unit of globalizing capital in the U.S. that aims to get rid of the current working class and to replace parts of it with immigrants.
The only thing that will seriously begin to address these problems is a massive economic conversion.
There is, though, one FDR-type idea that could open the door much further to this kind of conversion within the existing system, if Trump is brave and visionary enough to try it. This has to do with his mentioning of the working class and foolish wars in the State of the Union address. I’ll just put this very simply. The U.S. needs to get out of other countries. That, however, would mean putting even more pressure on the main form of what remains of a more comprehensive “welfare system” in the U.S., namely the branches of the U.S. military (especially the Army and Navy). At the same time, there is no end of conservation work that needs to be done in the United States. What needs to happen is for a significant part of the military forces to be trained as a new form of the Civilian Conservation Corps. If it has to be called the “Military Conservation Corps” or some such, then whatever. The current Army Corps of Engineers could be set to work on building the border wall.
I am an anti-imperialist and an internationalist; in this age of neoliberal, globalist, finance capitalism, however, it seems the best way for these still-lofty ideals to be pursued would be a period in which the U.S. pulls back into itself, does what it can to sort itself out, and gets out of everybody’s business.
As for how this will come about, I do not believe that Trump can do these things on his own, with the few around him he can trust, and through trying to make deals on the ground of anti-politics. The deplorable working people of the U.S. need to come forward in a new kind of way, a way that takes up the path in France that has been opened up by the Yellow Jerseys, and a way that deepens the significance of work, real work, for what this society is and could be. There has to be the absolute recognition of the worker, of the working people, as central to this society, as central to any society, which also means the absolute demand that there be work—good work, work whereby people can have a decent life and also expand their range as people, and work that also shows its value in terms of not allowing financiers (and their political representatives) who do nothing that should be termed “work” to steal and control (and often undermine) the value that this work creates.
The opening to the door beyond capitalism is in bringing to the forefront this basic contradiction, that you can’t tell people to work for a living and then not have work for people. We can go from there directly to Brecht’s great line about it being more honorable to rob a bank than to own a bank, because, if there are no real jobs, decent jobs, within what is called the “legitimate” economy, then it is perfectly rational to find a source of income outside of the legit economy. What is even more rational, in the sense not just of material needs, but of ratiocination, is to question the basic parameters of a system that forces people in such a direction.
The Democrats think they have a solution to this problem by eliminating the working class, and replacing the existing working people in the U.S., when the jobs cannot be eliminated or shipped overseas, with “immigrants.” Most Republicans, if not exactly supporting this agenda (though many do, e.g., Bill Kristol, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and obviously the Bushes), still fear unleashing the kind of mass upsurge that it would take to defeat the agenda. That upsurge put Trump in power, but he is also not sure what to do with it, it’s not his world, really, as much as he has attempted to speak to this mostly-hidden world of ordinary working people who don’t count for squat in the U.S. these days.
The problem isn’t something personal about Donald Trump, but rather the things that are personal about him make it both difficult for him to really give full voice to these ordinary working people and, at the same time, have put him in the position whereby he is the person who has to do it. Whatever his actual aims and sympathies (though he is many times better as an actual straight-shooter than the Clintons, Elizabeth Warren, and most of the other Democratic establishment and even upstarts), he is the product of the anti-political system, as well as the product of certain contradictions within capitalism itself.
And yet he has opened certain doors, at least a crack. Whether or not Trump still has the gas in his tank to open things further, everything that could go from anti-politics to real politics, meaning truly liberating politics, comes down to the active and increasingly systemically-aware participation of the people. It is a long way from recognizing the contradiction of “you must work but there is no work for you” and what Brecht said about owning and robbing banks to the larger and deeper understanding of the workings of things, but if people keep going down that path, and if there are some new intellectuals and “thought-leaders” who can frame things in a way such that theory can become a material force, then perhaps this Trump Disruptiuon and Experiment can turn out well.
At least, in terms of the Clarification, this experience can teach all of us a great deal that will serve us well when the restoration comes.
This is not anything the Democrats and their “left,” “feminist,” etc., allies want. Quite the contrary. There is only obfuscation there, with academics in the Humanities contributing “theory” to help explain why the working class does and should count for nothing, why “identity” is everything. It’s obviously a new day when Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham are saying much more interesting and important things about the workings of the system and its effects on ordinary people than IdPol Leftists, who now have nothing but robotically-repeated labels and outright hatred on offer.
The door on what this is really about opened further with the hateful attack on a sixteen-year old Catholic boy from Kentucky, who smiled when some maniac provocateur got in his face, when he would have been completely within his rights to deck the guy. Instead, Nick Sandmann modeled well what is actually needed—not the Herod solution recommended by the IdPol Left, but rather that of another ancient King, Ashoka.