The 2016 election was driven by an unprecedented populist mobilization across both political parties. Following the 2008 bailout of Wall Street, Americans have become alienated from the political system. Our oligarchical government‘s corporatist agenda has been laid bare- the political powers that be have neglected to serve the needs of the American public. Carl Schmitt asserts that this is the very defining mark of sovereignty- “the prerogative to exempt and exclude, and to set aside a category of people to whom the law is applied by denying or withdrawing its application.”1 Trump has shown he is committed to reinforce the United States’ long held tradition of racism and xenophobia. The premise is simple, when the public is fighting itself, our politicians and corporations remain insulated from criticism.
Consumerism’s Role in Trump’s Rise
Trump’s commitment to the continued consumerist transformation of America has allowed the spatial expression of social processes to reach new and unimaginable heights. Tactile reality has been muted- the human fear of touching ‘the other’ has been validated by consumer markets’ colonization of the space dividing mainstream culture and marginalized Americans. The excluded ‘other’, viewed as a ‘no-race race’ has been shaped by the Trump administration into an elusive force which threatens the very integrity of social order. Zygmunt Baumann clarifies:
people are cast in the underclass because they are seen as totally useless; as a nuisance pure and simple, something the rest of us could do nicely without. In a society of consumers – a world that evaluates anyone by their commodity value – they are people with no market value; they are uncommoditized men and women, and their failure to obtain the status of proper commodity coincides with “indeed, stems from) their failure to engage in a fully-fledged consumer activity.”1
In perhaps the most profound catch-22 of our time, consumerism has deviously promised delivery of the very tenets of human desire that it has destroyed: fulfillment. The alluring promise of imagination has duped all of civilization into voluntary serfdom. Society has fallen into the consumerist trap. The rise of populist movements across America is the manifestation of Americans grasping at their last shreds of autonomy.
Yet, as the political elite is wont to do, a refusal to acknowledge the scale of social unrest has been the chosen response. Republicans dismissed trump as unhinged- refusing to believe he could become the new face of the Republican Party. Democrats actively sabotaged Senator Sanders’ presidential campaign in favor of Hillary Clinton. The obstruction of both sides only serves to highlight how out of touch our parties are from their respective bases.
Americans are no longer accepting of the business as usual approach to governance- society has caught on that Democrats and Republicans are not altogether that different and Trump has forced Washington to reevaluate how it operates. It is interesting Trump utilizes his election win as justification for pushing ludicrous policy objectives- considering he did not win the popular vote. Heavily gerrymandered voting districts have all but delivered Republicans control of our government. Our voting system no longer directly represents the will of the people. The scales are tilted in favor of the republican party- and this has essentially gone unreported by mainstream media outlets.
American Disenfranchisement and Apathy
It is a wonder the American people have any faith at all in our democracy. Via Bauman; “Political apathy is not an issue in its own right, but ‘more a clue about the others, about how free we are, how much power we really have, what we can fairly be held responsible for, whether we are being well served… it implies a condition under which one suffers.”1
Trump harnessed this social unrest masterfully. Though his campaign was largely based on promises to “drain the swamp” trump has placed industry insiders in all but one or two cabinet positions. Make no mistake, Trump is a fascist, he merely harnessed the language of populism to further an American Oligarchy and the social divisions within our country. He has no concrete political stances on anything as evidenced by his chaotic campaign- flip-flopping from day to day. He is nothing more than a court jester who is dangerously susceptible to outside influence. He has enthusiastically allowed himself to become Steve Bannon’s puppet- he never had an interest in governance and still does not.
Over two weeks into office and Mr. Trump continues to treat our countries highest office like a reality TV show. Trump’s celebrity status and heavy use of vague and lazy language has rendered him a tabula rasa for Americans to project their wishes and needs. George orwell writes: “by using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. … When these images clash – … it can be taken that the [individual] is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.” 2 Trumps choice of language is by no means a coincidence, he is aware of the destruction it causes. Zygmunt Bauman offers some insight:
Every type of social setting produces its own visions of the dangers that threaten its identity, visions made to the measure of the kind of social order it struggles to achieve or retain. …Threats are projections of a society’s own inner ambivalence, and anxieties born of that ambivalence, about its own ways and means, about the fashion in which that society lives and intends to live. A society unsure about the survival of its mode of being develops the mentality of a besieged fortress. The enemies who lay siege to it walls are its own, very own ‘inner demons’: the suppressed, ambient fears which permeate its daily life… yet which, to make the daily reality endurable, must be squashed and squeezed out of the lived-through quotidianity and moulded into an alien body – a tangible enemy with a name attached, an enemy one can fight, and fight again, and even hope to conquer.1
Trump is a small, angry man set out to destroy the things pushing against him. He cannot confront reality, because the reality is Donald Trump is broken and alone- he prefers to go on and on about “radical Islamic terrorism” and make renewed promises to “build that wall”. Trump has attempted to hijack the narrative of his presidency the entire way. He has coined phrases like “fake news” which coincidentally can only be applied to the words which come out of his own mouth. He is a master of buzzwords which mean absolutely nothing, because that is Trump, a man of absolutely ZERO substance. George Orwell writes:
a man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.2
“Common Fear Makes the Bitterest Foes Cooperate”
As hard as Trump tries to drag the public down to his level, to revel in stupidity- we resist. “He that conquers in an unjust war can … have no title to the subjugation and the obedience of the conquered.”3
In spite of what Trump would have us believe- the public understands the greatest thing we to fear is Trump himself- this unites us.
Like the politicians before him, Trump does need not intend to free the public from the consequences of capitalism- he is here to promote Donald Trump. Luckily the outcome of the election has reinvigorated overall American engagement in the political system. There is hope yet.
1 Bauman, Zygmunt. 2007. Consuming Life. Polity Press.
2 Orwell, George. 1984. Why I write. Penguin Books.
3 Locke, John. 1690. Second Treatise of Government. Hackett Publishing Company Inc.
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