[This is an extract from Slavoj Žižek’s appearance at Left Forum on May 22nd 2016. The primary topic is Trump and the Republican Party, but he digresses among others to WikiLeaks, normalisation of torture and rape, and of course toilets. Transcript below the video.]
…today. I’m sorry. I speak too long, I will start to, try to, cut it short a little bit.
I want to address, with Trump, what Amy was addressing; Donald Trump problem. You know, my problem is only this one: I think Trump is disgusting, like you know, with Trump I become a racist: like, is this really one of us, is he civilized? I have no problem with Blacks, Jews, Arabs, but I have problem not being racist towards Trump.
But my point is another one, I think he’s a confused opportunist and I fear, if you ask me frankly, I wonder if you would agree, I fear much more somebody like Ted Cruz in the White House. Because, with Trump you can see clearly how he improvises, does disgusting statements, but then he counteracts with things which are not totally wrong. He said we should talk with Russia. He put a much more balanced, suggested a much more balanced, attitude in the conflict Israel-Palestine. He said that he wants, basically, didn’t he say that he wants health care to be even expanded, he’s for raising minimal wage and so on and so on.
I’m not saying he has any deep convictions. I’m just saying that he’s playing a certain opportunistic game, and I don’t think there is really some evil person behind. It’s much more in somebody like Ted Cruz. Just look at Ted Cruz’s statements. So, but nonetheless, something is going on with Trump. What?
Do you remember, I always liked this example: a wonderful scene from Luis Buñuel’s film Le Fantôme de la Liberté, Phantom of Liberty, where, in one short scene, the relations between eating and shitting are turned around. So that, you remember, so that people are invited at a home and in the living room around a big table there are toilet seats. They sit there, they defecate and then one child asks the mother: ‘Mommy, I have to go to that place where….’ He means eating, no? And mother said: ‘No no no, don’t talk about this publicly, go there discretely.’ And he locks himself in a room and quickly eats sandwiches, no? So, I was always thinking of this scene when Donald Trump was unflatteringly compared to a man who noisily defecates in the corner of a room.
I claim: But are others really any better? Weren’t Republican debates like this scene from Le Fantôme de la Liberté, where they were all defecating there? And, I mean, referring to this as to a general tendency, it’s not just here that Republicans are defecating in public. Is Erdoğan not doing the same? Is Putin not doing the same? Was Netanyahu not doing the same, when he claimed that it was Husseini, a Palestinian mufti, who suggested to Hitler to burn the Jews and so on and so on?
I think something is happening here which should effectively worry us: disintegration. And here we – the left – should not be afraid to take over from the right-wingers the topic, which is their favourite topic: the “ethical degradation” and so on and so on. What Hegel called “Sittlichkeit,” not morality but mores, customs, the thick background of unwritten rules, is effectively, lately, disintegrating. What was prohibited to say publicly ten, twenty years ago – like for example advocating torture – now is more and more accepted. That’s how I read Amy when he said about Ku Klux Klan and so on and so on. And why is this, for me at least, so important?
Because, you may say, but who cares about manners today? We have much more precious problems. No, manners matter. Here also, as Amy said: words matter. And, here what we need again to provoke you is a new dogmatism.
In what sense?
Let me take the example of rape. I wouldn’t like to live in a society where I had to argue all the time that rape shouldn’t be done. I would like to live in a society where, at a gut level, spontaneously, as an unquestionable dogma, rape is out of the question. I would worry very much if I were to be in a society where I would have to argue all the time again and again against rape.
This reminds me of a wonderful anecdote, it really happened, I saw it on TV, when Ronald Reagan was president. Some journalist in one of the few conferences the president gave, some journalist ask him about: is it true that some of the people he invited for his dinner are Holocaust deniers? And he said ‘No, whenever when at my dinner table somebody denies Holocaust I always protest and claim there were concentration camps.’ Of course, the question is: ‘But what kind of people Reagan has for dinner if he all the time has to defend there?’
So what I’m saying is that we need dogma – or, it’s the same with torture. Of course people torture. And here, I am totally open, who knows? In a totally desperate situation I would maybe have tortured someone – I cannot guarantee you. But it’s absolutely crucial to remain hypocritical enough here, not to make it publicly acceptable. You know, the moment you legalize torture, legalize in the sense that today we have legalized already, we render it publicly acceptable, it’s the end.
Why is this happening? Here we come – and then I will immediately finish – to the central problem that I see. This ethical decay, or whatever we call it…. Yes and there is another, sorry, wonderful thing here. Did you notice how, if you are old enough – I am – in the ’60s all that, upheaval and so on. Usually the radical protestors were using dirty words to shock the establishment. Now, it’s almost the opposite, the more you go to the right-wing the more they are vulgar. And I think we should proudly accept, shamelessly exploit this fact. No, today, we – the Left, whatever remains of it – are the only true defenders of simple common decency and so on. We are the “Moral Majority” in practice.
Ok, but, let me go on quickly to finish. What is happening today is something absolutely incredible. What Chomsky called manufacturing consent, the way our democracies effectively function is falling apart. Because, you know, how our democracies function, one should be open and describe it in a critical way. For many people, they don’t really want substantial democracy. They want the appearance of democracy but with clear indication how you should vote. Consent is manufactured, and don’t underestimate this attitude, which I found the most terrifying attitude, which is the attitude of, like…. I had even a debate with Julian Assange with this, because he still thinks that by bringing out through Wikileaks, whatever, he’s teaching people something new. Basically, I don’t think so. In a way, we all knew it. The problem is that we knew it but decided to ignore it. We wanted to act as if we don’t know it. People accept that publicly they are against torture, but I claim even maybe the majority of the people would have said something like ‘Ok, ok, some things had to be done but let’s do it discretely – I want to be able to pretend that I don’t know about it’, and so on and so on. And this is what Wikileaks and things like this prevent you from doing.