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Something Far Out of the Norm is Liable to Happen

“In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one ‘episteme’ that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in theory or silently invested in a practice.”

A great deal far out of the norm has already happened in Donald J. Trump’s presidency. Norms seem to be in his view, weak spots, vulnerable points of attack, often surprise attacks because some norms have been taken as staunch realities for so long. That’s a serviceable definition of a norm: a way of behaving and thinking that long has had residency in the order of things.

If you believe as Foucault did that any order of things is itself a kind of bricolage in which what we say, practice and institute are tied into a privileged way of knowing, the norms derived from such a totalizing fabrication are actually grounded in shifting sands. We have always known this, on some level of our cultural imaginary, but as any order that enables the trains to run on time, crime to be adjudicated in courts, meritocracy to bestow its rewards, and unrealized gains to be realized in due course, it hasn’t made much difference whether our order of things has no real authenticating bottom or celestial sanction. Crimes have always been done by finding weak spots in the order of things.

Our financialized hyper-capitalism operates in all those places, confounding into arcane mysteries, undetectable maneuvers and intricate webs its practices, or, as with the Great Recession, its crimes. The order here is dark affiliation whereby a political/social order of things is a cover, a front. Order is alibi.

Because with us the economic order infiltrates our entire cultural imaginary, its departures from, say, Constitutional order, or any moral order, or what we call the Western Tradition of Rationality and Realism, always get a pass.

It should not be surprising that the practices of Wall Street do not respect any order beyond the order of le ROI, return on investment, because the operations of capitalism have no order, are as stochastic and chance ridden as a Taj Mahal roulette wheel. (Note: Trump pointed to a Taj Mahal workers’ strike as cause for that Vegas casino’s shut down, but he couldn’t project Federal charges for money laundering, for which he was fined ten million dollars, onto those workers.)

Norm busting to any noticeable degree has never reached the office of the President of the U.S. as it now has with Donald J. Trump. Right up a House impeachment, Trump has gotten a pass. He didn’t simply bust a norm; he was charged with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, major violations of what is held to be the Constitutional limitations of the presidency and a Constitutional checks and balances of all three branches of the Federal government. What the Senate’s refusal to convict revealed is that Trump, in their view, didn’t violate anything meriting impeachment, and, most importantly, both the powers of the presidency and Congress’s role in checking and regulating were not lapidary, but actually, norms in the sense that Trump viewed them. They could be disregarded and/or subjected to “alternative” interpretation and understanding.

In following through on Trump’s subsuming Constitutional order, or what we had always assumed was an inviolable order, into himself, the Senate opened Pandora’s Box, and the outcome of that will be observed on Nov. 3rd, or much later or not at all. Whether Trump’s violations of a democratic order as well as all moral order will stand in the future as a defect inherited, like extermination of the indigenous peoples and Black African slavery, or, like those, repressed in the American mass psyche so that we can continue to bask in American “Exceptionalism” has, of course, as is our way, alternative responses.

Over the many years I taught Modern/Postmodern Culture, I was asked whether a postmodern order, one which said what we had of the things themselves was what we said we had, could produce a government, a viable social and political order that government could uphold. I was basically being asked whether a deconstruction of reasoning and the reasoned nature of the real would undermine any attempt to form a commonly accepted order of things. If, as the fairy tale goes, the boy successfully undermines the naked King’s authority and reveals to all that the King is just a naked guy, what kind of order proceeds from that, if any? What’s the impact on the creation of any order of things when we see that pretensions of universal and absolute grounding in reason or the same coming from some celestial authority equally universal and absolute are stories we’ve told and live within?

My response over the years remained the same, all pre-Trump responses, though he wasn’t unimaginable considering the path to the hyperreal we were on: stories narrated by power need to be identified, weighed and, as needed, countered. Observe the continuum of power, the hierarchical order and its effects permeating words, actions and ways of knowing. If you get that proportion in some balance, an equitable order of things can emerge, whether it’s a forever order or not does not matter.

The privileged power spot since Reagan put it there has been the nonsense of market efficiency and so on. It’s sequestered a lot of money in top spots and so power has coagulated there. Trump’s appearance on the stage, however, has created a far more primitive and brutal power presence. Either some demagogue such as himself was destined to come along or, if not, a revolt against a totally unequitable economic system would emerge. There was no alternative here because Voodoo economics had immiserated so many. We went with the celebrity wanna be autocrat because it melded better with the Reality TV American cultural imaginary. An understanding of how enslaving our “free” enterprise system is has always been just too laborious an assignment.

What we see in Trump’s campaign against any order that obstructs his own will are iconoclastic acts that have not been found criminal because there is no authority outside and above all three branches of government to which appeal can be made nor is there any internal hierarchy of authority recognized by all three branches. The Constitution, like the Bible, can be quoted from opposite sides of the street. There is no one agreed upon interpretation emerging from those words, such words not bearing the intentions of the Founders nor determinate in meaning. Words float, as does meaning. Pace Trump appointee Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

More deeply, what Trump has caused us to see is the porosity and indeterminate aspects of the Constitution as well as how inequitable the Senate is, how vulnerable to autocratic takeover the presidency is and how important the House of Representatives is in representing equitably the voices of all Americans and thus how disastrous has been Trump’s defeat of all resistance the House has made to him.

Even if Trump loses this election, there’s a whole lot of ruin he has already caused. However, because we live in an unanchored, mercurial order, on levels of an American cultural imaginary, of an economic system that demands inconstancy, of an online, twittering way of interrelating, and of a fractal politics such ruin has an expiration date. There are new productions and constructions right now moving from inconceivability to representation. For example, fears as well as defensive plans regarding global warming will not abate. A view of a wealth gap that has mocked any notion of “the general Welfare” can only become clearer. The weaknesses of the undemocratic composition of the Senate as well as the Electoral College as well as the vulnerable points of attack of our 233-year-old Constitution are now more marked than ever. And the lethal and heartbreaking consequences of simply being black in this country, of having with racism maintained a very imperfect Union, will not now relapse into inconceivability.

What has become Trump’s America can be compared to a battlefield in which a kind of triage order emerges. We can’t get off this battlefield unless the Democrats win the Senate or the Senate dissolves itself, or the Democrats repair the holes in the Constitution, or the Democrats somehow wipe out the idea that there are “alternative” facts, or the Democrats replace the Twitterati with the legacy press, or the Democrats complete that part of FDR’s New Deal that Southern Senators on behalf of Jim Crow had voted down and do so without screaming “Socialist,” or the Democrats complete what Reconstruction failed to do, or, bring a clear account of this presidency into every grade from the 7th onward, or, finally and most importantly, alleviate the conditions of lethal wealth disparity that generated the febrile passions of Trump’s followers.

Actually, no one of these Herculean tasks will obliterate the damage Trump has already done to an order of things that to him must seem like an order of suckers to whom W.C. Fields can sell his talking dog.

It’s not prophecy but simple extrapolating or pursuing a causal path to see that Trump is setting election matters so that he can’t lose.

It doesn’t take much in our two levels of reality reportage, on and offline, to confound and confuse all matter and all minds. Thus, if Trump loses and claims this or that was how he was cheated, the clarity of results will cloud, muddy up. Will disciples on either side take to the streets to establish clarity? Good chance this will happen as taking to the streets to find common understanding is the present go-to approach. The furor of seething ferment may push lame duck President Trump to declare what the Congress empowers him to do with the National Emergencies Act, 1976, i.e., declare a National Emergency. If Trump has lost the election, it will be in his interest to push further into a declaration of martial law which will put him in a position to dissolve whatever he wants to dissolve, declare the election a do-over at such time as martial law, which he authorizes and which authorizes his authority, makes a fair and honest election possible. Most likely, Trump will decide that for the good of the country, he remain as lifetime president, or at least until the order of things is preserved by baking or drowning socialism out of the Democratic Party.

Some of this tragic drama may play out if Biden loses, or if the Democrats win both Senate and the House, but it’s doubtful that it will even reach the intensity and endurance of Black Lives Matter protests. Whether there’s a transference of the anger of those protests to a kind of Biden as Prez Matters is a poor bet. Whether this Antifa army that Trump blames for everything is actually an army and shows up or just a scattered bunch who don’t like fascism is a ten to one deal. Whether suburban women show up in city streets waiting until after curfew to run amuck has a very good chance of not ever happening. Whether the young take over the government as they did in the 1968 film, Wild in the Streets, party, burn and storm the White House is an action with about a three-day run. In short, liberals may hit the streets with banners, crazy hats and wigs, umbrellas and cell phones but probably not with guns. They shouldn’t expect accommodating behavior from local and State police.

Will the Senate stand behind Trump in all these moves? Their track record — see, impeachment trial — is not good when it comes to deciding whether to support the democratic order or the clear autocratic push of Trump. Given the track record of the Republican Party you can expect that they will prefer Martial Law autocrat Trump to the lurking socialism of Biden’s handlers, anticipating the Dow Jones will do alright under Martial Law after a few downturn days.

Will the military enforce the Martial Law or the election results showing Biden as the winner? Will the Secret Service escort Trump out of the White House? If he shows up with a battalion of MAGAs at Biden’s inauguration, who will be sworn in? In short, what power compliant order of things will prevail?

Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey .

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