Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.
– Max Horkheimer
On January 21, 2017, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, more than 500,000 people demonstrated in the Washington D.C. “women’s march,” with an equal number of demonstrators in Los Angeles, 250,000 in Chicago, 250,000 in Boston and 500,000 in New York City. Smaller protests took place in 500 other U.S. cities as well as in 100 cities worldwide. The global protests in Mexico City, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Sydney, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol and Belfast remind one of the idea that when U.S. elections are involved, everyone around the world except Americans should be given the right to vote, especially as the U.S. considers itself as having a unique mission to lead democracy globally. The myth of this unique American mission as global policeman has now evaporated under Trump’s bellicose inaugural speech, which threatens to make “America First” and to conquer anyone who does not cower to its economic and political interests.
Indignation at the bellicose fear mongering of Trump, with his misogynist, racist and anti-immigrant rants should not altogether eclipse one of the reasons for his winning the election, even if he was three million souls short of the popular vote. Trump won four states in the de-industrialized rust belt – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – where the effects of globalization and free trade deals are understood by people who lost their jobs and where Hillary Clinton did not bother to campaign. Much of the workforce in those states is African-American, women and immigrant workers.1 Trump’s claim is that the potential wealth from American industry has been redistributed overseas. This wealth, however, has not been redistributed, either overseas or domestically, but has gone to the swelling coffers of the billionaire class, of which Trump is a member.2 Today the wealthiest eight billionaires control as much wealth as roughly four billion people, the poorest half of the world’s population. These eight billionaires – why not consider them feudal lords – are the people that Trump represents. If this sounds like an Illuminati conspiracy, then we can generalize and find, according to Credit Swisse, that to wealthiest 1% own more assets than the bottom 99% of humanity, and the richest 10% own more wealth than the bottom 90%.
A few years ago I had the idea that an “invisible party,” potentially called “sleeping giant,” would have as its purpose the propagation of knowledge about globalization and neoliberalism. Once the population was apprised of the workings of neoliberalism, it would be in a better position to understand its political mission. This might have been an illusion I had, a way to resolve the ideological deadlock of either considering the largely educated, in this case American, public as either manipulated by the elites and the media, or knowingly responsible for civilizational regression. These options can be contrasted with Slavoj Žižek’s notion of the proverbial Frankfurt School hotline, where when worker politics fail to galvanize popular mobilization, western Marxists turn to Freudianism for explanations. Formulas that I use regularly are post-enlightenment schizo-cynicism and pretense misrecognition. It seems that those voters in the rust belt – the ones who should have voted for Bernie since he proposed similar forms of economic nationalism but without the chauvinism (a benevolent capitalism without capitalism) – gave credence to the critique of neoliberalism but without the requisite critique of capitalism. The sleeping giant awoke and it would have been better, it seems, had it stayed asleep. To a large extent the same holds for the various forms of identity politics that will be awoken by Trump’s neoconservative policies. Political correctness should not be our reply but rather a greater awareness of how today’s capitalism is integrated with the promotion of diversity. As Thomas Frank observes, the rise of Trump is largely due to the negligence by the Democrats over the last four decades of the issues affecting the working majority.3 Historically, fascism in Italy and Germany was a reaction to the rise of socialism, adopting its workerist solidarity and diverting its critique of capitalism in favour of economic nationalism, social darwinism and eugenics. In the context of the liberal welfare state such nationalism had a small chance of cosmopolitan egalitarianism, as long as Cold War policies could keep socialism in check. We cannot say that this is the same situation today since even communist governments are today neoliberal regimes. No regime change in any country prevents the spread of neoliberalism, which everywhere it operates creates massive wealth inequality.
It is expected that in the next few decades automation will eliminate two thirds of the jobs in Europe and North America. For today’s indebted, overeducated and underemployed precarious forces, this will represent a similar catastrophe as de-industrialization has represented for the blue-collar workers of the outgoing generation. The capitalist state has sought to offset declining rates of profit in the last few decades by siphoning off public wealth and handing it over to the rich, eliminating organized labour as a political force, moral conscience and mechanism of economic redistribution. It will seek to continue to do so in the so-called “post-capitalist” universe to come. Even if new forms of universal basic income were invented, capitalism will seek ways to recoup this extra income, as David Harvey cautions, such that living conditions are reduced to the bare minimum. Trump’s job is to create the political conditions that will safeguard the interests of the wealthy in the coming age of economic, technological and social instability. Consequently, his cabinet is stacked with billionaires. His education minister, Betsy DeVos proposes reinstituting child labour; his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is hostile to democratic rights, wants to limit access to voting, wants to keep Guantanamo Bay open, supports mass surveillance, opposes abortion and defends police violence; his secretary of health, Tom Price, opposes Medicare and Medicaid; his Islamophobic housing minister, Ben Carson, is against Obamacare and other social programmes; his minister of Homeland Security, John Kelly, is a muscleman for Wall Street bankers and does not believe that human rights issues should be connected to weapons sales; his secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, embraces militarism and opposes environmental protection legislation; his embassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, is a fundraiser for right-wing Zionists; his director of the Office of Management Budget is an opponent of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. The political gains of Occupy Wall Street are completely ignored by Trump’s appointment of Carl Icahn as advisor on federal regulation, whose job it is to slash the government regulation of Wall Street and corporations. Like Margaret Thatcher, Trump seeks to attack the professions by slashing $10 trillion in government spending, including the privatization of National Public Radio, phasing out the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, as well as science research carried out by various departments.
All of these measures indicate that Trump’s vision is more atavistic and archaic than just economic neoliberalism. We should be clear that this inversion of the Bernie Sanders campaign is the vision of the ruling classes worldwide. Just as bureaucrats and intellectuals in academia came to adopt the mantras of neoconservatism and neoliberalism, this new vision of a global amoral anti-politics will eventually find its way into everyday ideology and practices. If liberals, women and identity groups have adopted the mentality of discursive power in their support of the campaign of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders, and have conceded to the neoliberalization of institutions in their critiques of leftism, then in the context of the further automation of work and the further subsumption of labour there is no reason to think that the gross imbalance of power in the decades to come will also find its unexpected forms of hegemonic consent. It seemed possible in the days of clownish politicians like Sarah Palin and Rick Perry to wonder “are we there yet?” Have we really gotten to the point where the negative dialectic of enlightenment has reached total saturation and become its opposite? Today the situation seems dire since liberal and social democratic politicians over the last decades have tended to accept rather than reverse the decisions made by previous governments. In most important ways, Obama was worse than Bush, if only because he did so little to bring needed social changes, paving the way for the next worst thing.
In this context the key issues that have confronted the left, questions of organization, ideology, leadership and programme, will become more acute. Can networked social movements win the day? Are political parties the more reliable path to effective change? What to do on the cultural front? The late Mark Fisher (R.I.P.) offered in Capitalist Realism the notion that appeals to ethical sentimentality and responsibilization in these times – i.e. who is responsible for Trump’s election – defers the emergence of a collective political subject.4 A cultural studies nihilist would justify this by saying that Trump is merely an instance of Derridean différance or Baudrillardian Fuhrer-as-hologram. Trump does in fact embody the paradox of being the first anti-President. Like global warming, the Trump catastrophe is no one’s fault since it is everyone’s fault. Trump is the paradoxical “not my president” and his administration the first “not my government,” a modicum of political awareness that is belied by its complement, the pro-Hillary ‘I’m Still With Her’ slogan. None of the anti-President’s appointments actually believe in the custodianship of the portfolios they have been charged with. For Fisher this would represent at the highest levels of social organization the crisis of the superego, a result of postmodernism’s permissive hedonism at the level of the state. The only alternative is not simply the nanny state that all of Trump’s appointees deride, but more exactly a Marxist Supernanny. Trump is the child of today’s political scene whose (lack of) demands become increasingly tyrannical.
A Marxist Supernanny is needed who can sort out the problems that society can no longer resolve. For Fisher, as for Žižek, the refusal to confront problems leads to conformity, a kind of authority without authority. No one is responsible. Only this can explain the strange postmodern feeling of “falling upwards” or sense that what is happening is unreal, an analogue in political terms to capitalism’s “amoral affective engineering,” which, as has often been remarked, Trump understands perfectly as a participant in reality TV.5 It used to be that the mediation of politics implied that behind the media screen, JFK or Reagan were actually carrying out some kind of serious government business. No one today, however, believes that Obama has made the U.S. safer, that the economic situation after 2008 is in better shape, or that prospects for the younger generation have improved, etc. The termination of the father function, the disavowal of the role of government, finds its expression in the idea that America will be made great again, that the U.S. will conquer the world anew, that Americans will be safe and will make and sell their products once again. Everything will be okay. Such opium for the masses is not only effective at the level of the state but also exists at the level of feel good protest with its sentimental slogans like “love trumps hate.” A strong left, party politics and constituted power are considered by many today as mechanisms of oppression. In addition to the vagaries of late capitalism, we are living today with the consequences of the post-political politics of social movements and network ideology that refuses state power. According to Fisher, such feedback systems - as can be found in all aspects of life, from Google glass to general assemblies - create people who do not know what they want. Communicative capitalism, as Jodi Dean calls it, provides all manner of weird culture that is already fully within the orbit of the expected, something different to break the feeling of instant boredom that comes from just-in-time refreshing but that is really more of the same.6 Permanent instability is favoured over long-term planning and the production of things of lasting value. What is required by capitalism 2.0, Fisher says, is not solid thinking, but entrepreneurial leaps, a thinking “outside the box” that leads to minimal variations that resemble already existing products. Trump may not be so strange after all. He resembles Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Putin, Erdogan, Poroshenko and the new cast of post-democratic dictators. What Fisher’s leftist Supernanny can offer in these times is a critique of the “hedonistic” aspects of today’s left and liberal politics. This includes a resumption of grand narratives and a rejection of the micro-politics of margins and failure, new struggles over work and against managerialism, a rejection of what David Graeber refers to as bullshit jobs and the conditions of (self-)surveillance that have detrimental effects on health, education and product. If businesses regularly fail and go bankrupt, like Trump’s businesses, why should government agencies and so much else be run according to a business model? Politics and big questions concerning “what is to be done” should not be scaled downward to the misery and disaffection of the small change of “what I can do” as an individual – as for example with climate change – but need to be reorganized as social projects, collectivized and implemented with authority. Only in such conditions can procedures like art, science, politics and love flourish.
1. Rick Salutin, “Justin Trudeau May Be the Last Neoliberal Standing,” rabble.ca (January 6, 2017), available at http://rabble.ca/columnists/2017/01/justin-trudeau-may-be-last-neoliberal-standing.
2. Patrick Martin, “Trump’s Fascistic Diatribe: On the Road to World War III,” World Socialist Web Site (January 21, 2017), available at http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/21/pers-j21.html.
3. Thomas Frank, “Millions of Ordinary Americans Support Donald Trump. Here’s Why,” The Guardian (March 8, 2016), available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/07/donald-trump-why-americans-support.
4. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (Winchester, UK: O Books, 2009).
5. J. Hoberman, “The Entertainer: Trump L’oeil,” (November 29, 2017), available at http://j-hoberman.com/2016/11/the-entertainer-trump-loeil/.
6. Jodi Dean, Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010).
Billy Childish, Presidential Cunt Elect, 2017. 52.5 x 35 cm, edition of 113 for £25.00 each.