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The Last Gambit of the One-Trick Pony

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The latest effort of the president to fuel both his 2024 presidential run and maximize future Newsmax followers has fallen flat. Democrats, for once, have called his bluff. So, when Trump said that sending out $600 checks to Americans was insufficient and should be changed to $2,000, House Democrats quickly pushed through a measure for $2,000 checks. Soon Senate Democrats called on Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on the bill. Despite the president’s rhetoric, Trump did not press McConnell or the Senate GOP to vote for the increase, much less to hold a vote on the measure.

The motivation for president’s empty rhetoric has become clear as day: to create a lasting image of himself as a generous “insurgent” who cares immensely for the people. Yet such legacy-boosting stunts stand in stark contrast to actual recent measures he’s taken since the election: granting clemency to Blackwater war criminals, executing people during the presidential transition, which hasn’t been done since Grover Cleveland’s days, and making wide swathes of federal land available for extractive industries.

It one of a multitude of examples of Trump’s overt, unrepentant hucksterism, which until 2017, was unknown in the White House. To be sure there were hucksters and liars, but they sheathed falsities in fine linens. When their lies were called out, they’d squirm and equivocate but would generally concede that they had “misspoken,” been “mistaken” or “misled.” Eventually, former presidents all tended to realize facts, or at least some semblance of them.

Yet Trump’s treating of facts as toilet paper is part of his allure.

If, as Baudrillard maintained, the theatricality of democratic politics is a primary element that maintains the public’s interest, then it is the pure, flagrant hucksterism, or the pure lie, that people gravitate to. In response to someone (especially a rich, powerful person) who delivers a clear, (once) uncontested lie in public with a straight face and repeats these words many times, there is the reflexive belief in many that there must be truth in it. Also, there is the sense among Trumpists that he knows something others don’t. When his followers believe him, then they’re in on the so-called special knowledge.

Why this is so satisfying is because the globalist, neoliberal world order under American hegemony during the 21st century, as Baudrillard said even before this century, hasn’t given room for radical alterity, or otherness, in worldview. Otherness has been diminished by six conglomerates owning 90% of US media and the Internet monopolies, like Facebook and Google, that magnify a monolithic perspective. While there are noncorporate news outlets that report journalistic truth, the popular drive against Baudrillard’s diminished radical alterity is the Alex Jones-type conspiracy theorist sites that have now become widely popular and concoct nearly half of Americans’ world schema.

Thus, the theater of politics that Americans have grown used to now competes with an alt-right radical alterity theater of politics – a flipside theater, which claims to be the “real truth” that they “don’t want you to know.” The flipside theater is now the rudimentary basis for so many Americans’ reality and political schema.

The popularity of alt-right fantasies wasn’t quite what Baudrillard had in mind when he mourned the lack of global radical alterity.

So, it doesn’t matter if the president has been pushing for a stimulus plan for months, which gave $600 dollars to Americans instead of $2,000. When the former passed, to look good and construct legacy, Trump pretended to advocate for $2,000. It doesn’t matter to people who live amidst the alt-right schema that Trump is criminally at fault for at least half of the 339,000 Covid-19 deaths in America. Because the political theater which calls him out for overt lies has it all wrong, from the rudimentary facts to all deductive implications.

Trump’s biggest damage to the country may be less his worst-in-centuries domestic policies but in being critical to making about 35% of Americans’ world schema one that rests entirely on falsehoods, the kind of which before were more hidden in Alex Jones, Pizza Gate sites and what had been thought of ‘out there’ online conspiracies. Furthermore, an additional 15% of Americans are somewhat predisposed to viewing the alt-right radical alterity of political theater as semi-facts, from which to argue and base political views and policies, even if they aren’t quite full Trumpists.

The spurious push by the president for $2,000 checks is one of the last gambits of the one-trick pony. But there are certainly more to come after he’s booted out. Trump will continue to operate from an alt-right sphere of radical alterity and have the fertile ear of the American public.

From there, he’ll push for, or hold hostage too, law and policy for years to come.

Peter Crowley is a Boston-area independent writer who recently had his book Those Who Hold Up the Earth published by Kelsay Books.

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