Thursday, May 5, 2016

If Donald Trump were a meme, here's what he'd mean....

Mural and photograph by Thierry Ehrmann, Saint Romain au Mont d'Or, France.
This photograph is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license as established by Wikimedia Commons.

Presidential Campaign Posters: Two Hundred Years of Election Art
I don't usually follow the political drama of US presidential campaigns because the democracy in the US is a farce calculated to keep people feeling enfranchised so they will pay their taxes and give their children up for wars that protect the interests of the rich abroad. A campaign is a tale full of sound and fury.... Once the so-called two-party system resolves itself to two ultra-right-wing candidates, one positioned slightly to the left of the other, we begin a quibble analogous to arguing over which coin is better: the one with Abraham Lincoln on the front; or the one with the Lincoln Memorial on the back. Ultimately, the president, elected of either party, is a technocrat representing the Corporate Dictatorship at the helm of that great bureaucracy, the consortium of corporate America, the US Government. There will in the long run be little difference between a Trump presidency and a Clinton presidency. In either case, the ruling class is so alien to the general population that it is a foreign occupation and a colonization, and many of the mysterious tragedies of American life are not readily understood because they are not perceived in the context of a colony, where such events are commonplace. (Going postal, for example, is an example of what psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon, in an appendix of his book, The Wretched of the Earth, calls colonial psychosis.)

In the unlikelihood that Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, I will register to vote for the first time since the 1980s because Sanders presents the possibility (but not the certainty) of someone other than a mouthpiece for the dictatorship, though I find it hard to believe that in my Weltanschauung such a different candidate could be elected or, if elected, keep his head on his shoulders.

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American Conservativism enjoyed a brief holiday between the 1960s and the 1980s from the kooks and fanatics that tend to follow it rather in the manner that a rag-tag entourage of Dead Heads followed The Grateful Dead whenever and wherever they went on tour. In the 1960s, with Senator Barry Goldwater as its de facto leader and William F Buckley, Jr, as its spiritual mentor, the Conservative movement distanced itself from the extremists and conspiracy theorists of the John Birch Society. Buckley's magazine, The National Review, outlined party philosophy in clear, rational if not humane terms. In an article that Buckley wrote for Commentary Magazine, he provided an example of what he called the Birch Fallacy used by its founder Robert Welch:

“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists” (William F Buckley, Jr. "Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me." Commentary Magazine, March 1, 2008).
By identifying the methodologies of the John Birch Society, Buckley was able to deconstruct their hysterical utterances that were born of the climate of McCarthyism, and that deconstruction created a thinking class of Conservatives. The Birch Society, by the way, was responsible for the conspiracy theory that fluoridation of public water supplies was a Communist plot.

Ronald Reagan was the last hooray of this season of cold-hearted reason, probably because of Reagan's reliance upon stirring the sort of passions inflamed by demagoguery. For example, Reagan ignited the outcry against "illegal aliens." As blacks, emancipated after the Civil War, migrated out of the south to escape segregation, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, institutionalized racism, and a generally hostile climate, southern agricultural producers replaced them with Latin Americans as a source of labor. This gradual shift from black to Hispanic agricultural labor had been ongoing for over a century when Reagan spun it into gold. Enterprising lawyers inside the Reagan administration realized that the technical illegality of the lower ten percent of the American workforce could be parlayed into an economic advantage. By playing up the illegality of the workers, the US was able to deprive them of minimum wage, employment benefits, and due process of law. An uppity laborer could be deported at will. A whole class of laborers—the lowest class—were made illegal even as they remained in use and vital to the American economy.

The workers were subject to state institutionalized harassment and racism even though the economic fortunes of the US rested upon their backs just as it had on the backs of antebellum slaves. A government readily has the power to declare open season against a class of people, but it's best to provide some justification just in case there are any good Samaritans in the general populace. So agricultural laborers were branded as "illegal aliens" who are stealing people's jobs.

Harry was really upset to learn that job thieves were entering a porous border in great number, and he went to a place called Bubba's Gun Shop and bought an AK-47, which he carried on long marches aside the Tortilla Curtain. I asked him what he was doing down there, and he said, "I'm looking to kill me a Meskin." Fortunately Harry tired of his racist tirades and marching before he hurt anyone, but for me, Harry's hunting trip was an object lesson in demagoguery. I saw how well respected leaders could inspire people—whole populations, or at least the intellectually challenged half of the bell curve—into dangerous courses of action. Reagan was a "great president" because he knew just how to use his suave assuring voice to reach into and massage people's hearts and assure them that workers were ugly and undesirable and perhaps even worth murdering.

In the twenty-eight years since Reagan, Bubbas and good ol' boys like Harry, hearts set aflame by demagoguery, have been on the rise. Religious fundamentalists, like those who blew up the World Trade Center, have increased violence against specific targets like abortion clinics, and like their counterparts in the Mideast, they seek a theocracy in the US. In symbiosis with the mindset of the fundamentalists, the State sponsors hate lists: "illegal aliens"; Muslims who, despite Islam being officially declared "a beautiful religion," are equated with terrorists; and ex-offenders who, though they have served their time and present little risk to society, walk about with scarlet letters on their backs.

Right-wing protests in this country—not by the Buckleys and Goldwaters but by their working-class constituencies, mostly poor, uneducated, lower-class people—are living proof of a terrible form of control in which people who stand the most to gain from a policy protest the most vehemently against it. Right wingers gather in public and flaunt their arms, yet the greatest number of shooting deaths are carved out of their number. They protest against anything the least bit redolent of Socialism, like universal access to healthcare, because they confuse socialism with evil or, worse, Satanic. The United States is indeed one of the richest countries in the world, but the demographics of the great majority people reflect a quality of life of a poor country. In a list of countries ordered by the GINI coefficient, a measure of a country's wealth distribution, the US stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Turkmenistan, Qatar, Gabon, Russia, and Uruguay. Because the GINI coefficient has real-world meaning, the US shares similar statistics with these countries for rates of crime and imprisonment, high-school drop-out rates, and mental and physical illness. How the most severely afflicted segment of American population came to be the most vociferous element against programs to alleviate their suffering is a mystery, but my suspicion is that some sort of real-life dystopian control is afoot. Yet, that sort of Control is a monster because it is now incarnate in one Donald Trump.

Nostalgia is one of a demagogue's favorite tools, and Trump has promised to take us back to when America was strong again. Scapegoating is another favorite tool, and Trump has blamed aliens—both legal and illegal—as the cause for America's recent weakness. As a demagogue, his skill lies in sensing what his audience wants to hear, and his audience comprises the sort of people who watch reality shows on television and who are predisposed to hang blame on aliens, the nationalist Other. Xenophobia is a splendid tool for the politician who knows just how to pronounce it so that the educationally and intellectually disadvantaged understand it. He will not follow specific policies riddled with subtleties calculated to accomodate numerous exceptions. He will use broad and blunt actions that people who do not think critically will readily understand. It's an easy program to recognize: we've seen it before.

Hillary Clinton is clearly more of the same: like most politicians, she has that background in law as an attorney, and she is familiar with the workings of the Washington bureaucracy, the perception of which equates it with corruption. It's true that Clinton's being a woman will draw to her a bloc of mostly women voters who will vote for her on the basis of her gender alone, but many people realize that she is an attorney and represents those interest groups drawn to attorneys, and that as president she would likely rule more as an attorney than as a woman.

But along comes Donald Trump, a Washington outsider whose simple, tough-guy rhetoric immediately wraps around his under-educated working-class constituency's minds the way bacon wraps around the mind of a hungry dog. Trump's got nostalgia, the good old days, and scapegoats that we can get mad about together, one nation under, well, Trump—Hail victory! and all that. That's a large bloc vote, larger and more fanatically motivated than those who want to vote for the nice politician who happens to be a woman.

So instead of yet another Lannister from the Clinton Dynasty on the throne, we're about to get the High Sparrow from a mindless flock of birds. The one real consolation in this is that our world has to get a lot worse before it gets better, and maybe after a nightmare with Donald Trump, next time around we'll elect Bernie Sanders or someone even more distinct. Germany's bout with Fascism left it as a fairly liberal-minded country, didn't it?

Appendix: Barry Goldwater and UFOs

Perhaps Barry Goldwater isn't as rational as I led you to believe: I found this interesting passage in his entry in Wikipedia:

On March 28, 1975, Goldwater wrote to Shlomo Arnon: "The subject of UFOs has interested me for some long time. About ten or twelve years ago I made an effort to find out what was in the building at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where the information has been stored that has been collected by the Air Force, and I was understandably denied this request. It is still classified above Top Secret." Goldwater further wrote that there were rumors the evidence would be released, and that he was "just as anxious to see this material as you are, and I hope we will not have to wait much longer."
The April 25, 1988, issue of The New Yorker carried an interview where Goldwater said he repeatedly asked his friend, Gen. Curtis LeMay, if there was any truth to the rumors that UFO evidence was stored in a secret room at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and if he (Goldwater) might have access to the room. According to Goldwater, an angry LeMay gave him "holy hell" and said, "Not only can't you get into it but don't you ever mention it to me again." In a 1988 interview on Larry King's radio show, Goldwater was asked if he thought the U.S. Government was withholding UFO evidence; he replied "Yes, I do." He added: I certainly believe in aliens in space. They may not look like us, but I have very strong feelings that they have advanced beyond our mental capabilities... I think some highly secret government UFO investigations are going on that we don't know about—and probably never will unless the Air Force discloses them. (Cooke, P. "UFO Quotations—The United States Congress". Bible UFO. Archived from the original on April 8, 2013. Retrieved March 3, 2012).