Donald Trump's topsy-turvy world

Donald Trump’s topsy-turvy world

The most depressing aspect of the post-electoral period in the US is not the measures announced by the President-elect but the way the bulk of the Democratic Party is reacting to its historic defeat. Notably, its supporters oscillate between two extremes: the horror at the Big Bad Wolf called Trump and the obverse of this panic and fascination — the renormalization of the situation, the idea that nothing extraordinary happened, that it is just another reversal in the normal exchange of Republican and Democratic presidents: Reagan, Bush, Trump… Along these lines, Nancy Pelosi “repeatedly brings up the events of a decade ago. For her, the lesson is clear — past is prologue. What worked before will work again. Trump and the Republicans will overreach, and Democrats have to be ready to jump at the opportunity when they do.”8 Such a stance totally ignores the real meaning of Trump’s victory, the weaknesses of the Democratic Party that rendered it possible, and the radical restructuring of the entire political space this victory announces.

The restructuring I am pointing to is made clear by yet another version of Trump’s inconsistency which concerns his stance towards Russia: while hardline Republicans were continuously attacking Obama for his all too soft approach to Putin, tolerating Russian military aggressions (Georgia, Crimea…) and thereby endangering Western allies in Eastern Europe, the Trump supporters now advocate a much more lenient take on Russia. The underlying problem is, precisely, here. How are we to unite the two ideological oppositions — the opposition of traditionalism versus secular relativism and the other big ideological opposition, on which the entire legitimacy of the West and its “war on terror” relies, namely the opposition between liberal-democratic individual rights and religious fundamentalism embodied primarily in “Islamo-Fascism”? Therein resides the symptomatic inconsistency of the US neoconservatives: whereas, in domestic politics, they privilege the fight against liberal secularism (abortion, gay marriages, etc.) — i.e., their struggle is the one of the so-called “culture of life” against the “culture of death” — , in foreign politics, they privilege the very opposite values. i.e. the liberal “culture of death.”

One way to resolve this dilemma is the hardline Christian fundamentalist approach, articulated in the works of Tim LaHaye et consortes: to unambiguously subordinate the second opposition to the first. Thus, at some deep and often obfuscated level, the US neocons perceive the European Union as the enemy. This perception, kept under control in public political discourse, explodes in its underground obscene double, the extreme Right Christian fundamentalist political vision with its obsessive fear of the New World Order. According to such a view, Obama is in secret collusion with the United Nations; international forces will intervene in the US and put all true American patriots in concentration camps. A couple of years ago, there were already rumors that Latin American troops were in the Midwest planes, building concentration camps…

The title of one of LaHaye’s novels points in the same direction: The Europa Conspiracy. The true enemy of the US is not Muslim terrorists; they are merely puppets secretly manipulated by European secularists, the true forces of the anti-Christ who want to weaken the US and establish the New World Order under the domination of the United Nations. In a way, they are right in this perception: Europe is not just another geopolitical power block, but a global vision which is ultimately incompatible with nation-states. This dimension of the EU provides the key to the so-called European “weakness,” for there is a surprising correlation between European unification and its loss of global military-political power. If, however, the European Union is more and more an impotent trans-state confederacy in need of US protection, why then is the US financially ill at ease with it? Recall the indications that the US financially supported those forces in Ireland that organized the campaign for the NO to the new European treaty… Opposed to this minority opinion is the predominant liberal-democratic view, which sees the principal enemy in all kinds of fundamentalisms, and perceives the US Christian fundamentalism as a deplorable homegrown version of “Islamo-Fascism.” Nonetheless, this predominance is now threatened. What was till now a marginal stance limited to conspiracy theories that thrived underground is becoming the hegemonic stance of our public space.

How did we end up here? One has to repeat again and again that Clinton’s defeat was the price she had to pay for neutralizing Bernie Sanders. She did not lose because she moved too much to the Left but precisely because she was too centrist and in this way failed to capture the anti-establishment revolt that sustained both Trump and Sanders. Trump reminded some of his voters of the half-forgotten reality of class struggle, although, of course, he did it in a distorted populist way. Trump’s anti-establishment rage was a kind of return of what was repressed in the moderate liberal Left’s politics focusing on cultural and PC issues. This Left got from Trump its own message in its inverted true form. That’s why the only way to reply to Trump would have been to fully appropriate the anti-establishment rage, not to dismiss it as white trash primitivism.

Remember how many times liberal media announced that Trump was caught with his pants down and committed a public suicide (mocking the parents of a dead war hero, boasting about pussy grabbing, etc.). Arrogant liberal commentators were shocked at how their continuous acerbic attacks on Trump’s vulgar racist and sexist outbursts, factual inaccuracies, economic nonsense, etc., did not hurt him at all but maybe even enhanced his popular appeal. They missed how identification works: we as a rule identify with the other’s weaknesses, not only or even not principally with the strengths, so the more Trump’s limitations were mocked, the more ordinary people identified with him and perceived attacks on him as condescending attacks on themselves. The subliminal message of Trump’s vulgarities to ordinary people was: “I am one of you!”, while ordinary Trump supporters felt constantly humiliated by the liberal elite’s patronizing attitude towards them. As Alenka Zupančič put it succinctly, “the extremely poor do the fighting for the extremely rich, as it was clear in the election of Trump. And the Left does little else than scold and insult them.”9 Or, we should add, the Left does what is even worse: it patronizingly “understands” the confusion and blindness of the poor… This Left-liberal arrogance explodes at its purest in the new genre of political-comment-comedy talk shows (Jon Stewart, John Oliver…) that mostly enact the pure arrogance of the liberal intellectual elite:

Footnotes

  1. Quoted from http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/nancy-pelosi-donald-trump-house-democrats-231716.
  2. Alenka Zupančič, “Back to the Future of Europe” (unpublished manuscript).
  3. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html.
  4. Alenka Zupančič, “Back to the Future of Europe” (unpublished manuscript).
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/28/francois-fillon-threat-liberal-values-marine-le-pen-france.
  6. Quoted from https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/lesson-of-populist-rule-in-poland-by-slawomir-sierakowski-2017-01.
  7. See http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/negation_form_2.htm.
  8. Quoted from http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/nancy-pelosi-donald-trump-house-democrats-231716.
  9. Alenka Zupančič, “Back to the Future of Europe” (unpublished manuscript).

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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