Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair
Seldom do situations provide so much self-evident clarity that only few words are needed. We are now in such a situation or would be if what words mean had not returned to a new Tower of Babel. There is an anarchy in our thinking and our chosen twittering that makes it difficult to rid ourselves of the demons of our American mass psyche.
It has been suicidal to ignore the epidemiologist, preferring to assert our individual freedom.
The roots of our illusions regarding personal autonomy and freedom can be traced to everything from our mythical independent Frontier spirit to Emerson’s advising every individual to follow his own instincts (very Trumpian) to Ayn Rand’s quite irrational “rational egoism” to the assertions of Margaret Thatcher in which, following Friedrich Hayek, she held that society was an expression of personal choices. A society fashioned by rational design, a Liberal/Socialist dream, did not exist. Thinking could not surpass a natural evolution of personal choices. Some arcane “aboriginal self” grounded every personal decision of educated and uneducated. Reagan focused more narrowly on government, asserting that it couldn’t solve problems but was itself the problem. Each American was endowed with a superlative personal ingenuity.
This line of “thinking” has been deeply absorbed in the American mass psyche. It was far easier for Reagan to turn the country from any interest in solidarity, governmental or communal, than it was for Thatcher, not only because England and Europe had not our own exceptional “rational egoism” cultural pedigree, but because they had a sad history painfully learned of the Will to Power exercised by madmen.
We Americans, it seems can easily place our own (and President Trump’s) sublime instincts as equal or superior to epidemiologists such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, and professors of atmospheric physics, such as Prof. James Hansen.
The upshot of such stupidity is that we are in the U.S. reaping the whirlwind of our illusions as President Trump exercises his own dark Will to Power over American cities he declares in need of “law and order.”
You can expect, given the makeup of the American mass psyche, that he will have his usual proportional success here, a proportion that the Republic Party needs to remain viable. The fear of the Republic Party is that unless the throng Trump has delivered to them are continuously fed on a politics of passion, the economic message of the consequences of wealth divide being finally taken up by Democrats may penetrate. There is no question that the GOP has conflated its own future with Trump’s. This has been a Mephistophelian bargain.
Because there is very little residing influentially in the American mass psyche not attached to the lobbying of our hyper-capitalism, most unleashed by a digitally enabled globalized, financialized, arcane economics, that form of capitalism that has created our Grand Canyon of a wealth divide, our expression of personal freedom is yet another product of a casino roulette like capitalism. The logic behind this connection is as simple as Trump’s stirring up an order vs. anarchy foment and attaching the latter to his presidential 2020 opponent, Joe Biden.
Capitalism’s gambit is just as obvious. As Federal Government regulations loom as the only possible challenge to a falsely named “free enterprise,” and as the solidarity of unions threatens the bottom line of profit, and as any solidarity on behalf of the environment, the poor and the public good also threaten that bottom line, our hyper capitalism has lobbied mightily to make Americans feel most comfortable asserting their individual autonomy while mocking all attempts to put the public good and the lives of others as equal to or superior to their own autonomy.
We are now fractionalized to the tenth place, making us, as with an army, no threat to the maneuvers of our gone wild hyper-capitalism, nor those of our gone wild president.
This is a kind of long present virus in the American mass psyche and it is now doing us harm as we stand bitterly disunited, dispersed, fractionalized in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, our personal attachment to an autocrat on the march, Donald J. Trump, derives from our own illusionary sense of a personal will to power matching his own. That he takes all the illusions of self-empowerment to the Nth degree has the kind of broad, spectacle appeal that we have been suckled on with Reality TV. He never seems too over the top, too clearly the circus clown because we’ve been at home in a hyped hyperreality, one both online and offline, for far too many years.
Long before we put ourselves personally as the final arbiter of what this pandemic means and what it can do, we put our own opinions regarding global warming as final and not to be challenged. It’s very much like being in grammar school and having your opinion disproved and asserting “Well, I don’t care what you say. It’s my opinion and you can’t change it.” That unfortunate imbecility, expressed everywhere now from social media to the classroom to the Office of the President, existed before Trump came along. He’s more a creation of it than a creator of it, though he encourages it the way Hitler encouraged latent antisemitism in the German mass psyche.
Trump did, however, draw many to him by dramatically high stepping his disregard for everything, from the Congress and the Constitution to every branch and agency of government. He went beyond all the unwritten formalities of presidential candidate and Presidency, launching ad hominem attacks on Twitter like nasty graffiti on a bathroom wall. Bringing his assault on all that had been built for over 200 years to a street level did not upset far too many. It was the kind of brawl, of crushing and destroying that a “social” media had nurtured.
Unobserved also is the way he has destroyed the sentence, that is, our ability to find meaning and hence convey understanding through language. He has, in short, crippled the bridge we need to reach each other via rational discourse, destroyed what Matthew Arnold held to be culture’s defense against anarchy. We’ve isolated meaning within the silos of our own opinions and choices. When we talk about a Trump psychopathology, we are motivated by our witnessing the silo of his own thought and expression.
In so doing all of this, Trump emblemized the anger every “freedom loving, ‘I Do Me!'” American launches against any challenge to such.
If he could shoot a man on 5th Avenue and be admired for it, he was telling us something very scary not only because he would talk about doing such a thing and others would remain fixed to him but because this was an announcement of anarchy that we failed to recognize.. And now, as of this writing, 183. days 02. Hours and 59 minutes later, we are getting deeper into anarchy and further from common understanding as to how to control it.
In response to the question whether he would accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, Trump declined to say he would. If he decides the election is “rigged,” in his words, he will challenge the election results. Whether he will call in the armed forces of Home Security as he is doing in Portland is left for us to imagine.
However, the fact that a candidate for presidency declares that his own personal determination of those results counts and not the votes of Americans is clearly reason to declare his candidacy un-Constitutional, an action undermining our elections and therefore destructive of an instrument of our Constitutional democracy. He is thus more of a threat to the integrity of those elections than a Chinese or Russian interference in our elections.
The fact that we evaluate anarchy and pandemic in the rise and fall of the stock market tells us how deeply our “free enterprise” has eroded our integrity, or more precisely, our rocky road to trying to establish a national integrity that includes not just the rich proprietors, the Wall Street players and the corporate dynasties but the forsaken. We know that leaving people forsaken is what our chosen economics does in defense of an order of privilege.
There is no comfort in saying that anarchy, which our president is not fighting but creating, and pandemic have no order of privilege. It’s in their nature to be equal dispensaries.
In addition to identifying anarchy in our path to meaning and understanding, and also in the actions and words of a president fomenting anarchy as a way to replace democratic power with his own will to power, there’s the anarchy of passions aroused, of anger bursting out without a clear path.
Confining wrath, as well as dread of being shot to death by police while black, to a legislative and judicial response as well as to nonviolent and peaceful protest is not what we see now in the Portland uprising. What we have is a mixed turmoil which gives President Trump the opening to put down that turmoil in the name of law and order.
As this 2020 presidential campaign goes on, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Alicia Garza, asserts that Biden is far away from the changes that Democratic voters want to see and “candidates like Joe Biden who refuse to meet the moment miss an opportunity to be on the right side of history.” The key point of distrust here is Biden’s refusal to support defunding the police. Clearly, however, Biden’s refusal to defund police and replace them with community control robbed Trump of an attack that would have resonated mightily not only in the fearful Heartland but also in neighborhoods where poverty breeds anger and anger breeds lawlessness. Of course, Biden’s refusal has not stopped Trump from persisting in saying that Biden wants to defund police. Trump will double down on falsehoods as if volume and repetition always win the day.
The path that Black Lives Matter is on to end systemic racism does, however, place them at the heart of a battle to redeem this electoral democracy, now on the edge of autocracy and already plutocratic, to diminish transnational corporate power in the name of people not profit, and to expand the minds and hearts of Americans toward a common Good which is not exclusionary.
Getting Trump out of office is comparable to staunching the bleeding first thing. In this instance, it is pulling ourselves back from the edge of autocracy. Informed voting and regulatory legislation could, if tried, prove worrisome to a deeply entrenched hyper-capitalism and transnational corporate power. Dispelling the illusions of individual autonomy would be a first step toward a learning process. In that regard, an equitable amount of financing for public schools regardless of how poor a neighborhood is would be both an economic inequity and a racist remedy that could be realized in the next generation. When Trump leaves so does Secretary of Education DeVos and her plans to defund public education and replace it with for-profit education where “God’s Kingdom can be built.”
When the order of God’s Kingdom to displace anarchy was replaced by America’s Founding Fathers, who were themselves fathered in the Enlightenment, anarchy was displaced by reason, commonly shared and accepted. Now our reasoning together toward shared understanding has collapsed into an absurd privileging of personal choice and determination to such a degree that our science is held to be no more than a narrative with political motivation and conspiratorially concocted. The illusions of our own self-empowerment and an autonomy that we clearly do not possess brought the avatar of all that nonsense to the presidency.
Whether we can scrutinize and detach ourselves from all the illusions and demons of our mass psyche, and so avoid further anarchy and the deaths it breeds, will have its first revelation this November.