From Shoreditch to Sevenoaks, from cool young things in edgy East London all the way home to their suburban mums and dads in cosy Kent, British citizens are horrified at the prospect of Trump for President.
Not that they are unduly exercised by the plight of the American people. Through their horrified expressions they are sending themselves a re-assuring message; signalling that their own life world is wholesome enough not to admit Donald Trump – neither to Shoreditch House nor to the golf club.
‘Only in America,’ they say. But ‘America’ here means that country of excess which is populated by excessive numbers of working class people. In this context, the familiar bits of business to do with Anglo-American misunderstanding, e.g. the one about two cultures divided by a common language, is really more to do with traditional middle class disdain for the working class, especially when the latter is apprehended in the vicinity of the polling booth.
Thus the spectre of Trump now haunting Britain’s middle classes, is drawn from their recurring fear of the masses, currently personified in the Middle American masses who seem to have fallen in love with him.
Accordingly, in the case of Trumphobia versus Trumphilia both sides are largely mythological and partly pathological.
But to those well-versed in the ‘morbid symptoms’ of capitalist society, this is a familiar pattern – as old as Antonio Gramsci’s original use of the term, not far from a century ago.
Moreover, repetition of the familiar tends to provoke a correspondingly familiar response, such as: where there is bourgeois myth, let there be left-wing demystification. But at a time and in a place where the value of ‘fictitious’, i.e. mythical, capital, is higher than that of the ‘real’ economy, setting the matter straight by means of an age-old reality check, is likely to prove…unrealistic.
Instead of merely reiterating the well-worn couplet of myth versus reality, the point is to identify such universal developments as are now being played out in this characteristically American set of particulars. As and when this is achieved, commenting on Trump from afar may yet be pertinent to the American Situation and the possibility of improving it. At the same time it may also be relevant to our common humanity and the necessity of realising it more fully.
The following observations are made with these ambitions in mind:
- The springs of Hope are dry this time. Whereas recent presidencies – Obama’s – have amounted to a rendition of Hope, i.e. the continuous, theatrical performance of future potential, however ethereal, grounded in the many failures of the recent past Donald Trump is acting narrowly in accordance with wysiwyg – what you see is what you get.
- No matter that Trump is also the master of deception. Anyone can see the Trickster in his straight-talking. But supporting Trump’s masquerade means pouring scorn on the long-running performances of the established political class. Surely the Trumpeteers are saying: ‘if I can suspend my disbelief for him – of all people, it means you have lost every shred of credibility with me.’
- Obama repeatedly asked for an act of faith: believe you me, and my acting will be transformed into real action. By contrast, Trump plays with the play; steps through the fourth wall and invites spectators to become part of the staging process. Other commentators have made the pertinent point that this is what professional wrestlers have been doing ever since they admitted that their activities – inside and outside the ring – are staged.
- In wrestling parlance, which Trump speaks fluently since he’s been in the grapple business himself, it’s better to be with the performing ‘heel’ than to be seen with a losing ‘face’.
- There is ‘show business for uglies’ – what’s become of the political world in the absence of historically significant social movements; and then there is the business of government, which while containing a strong element of impression management is by no means reducible to it. Given the unprecedented distance between these two aspects (it takes a social movement to articulate them), support for Trump is either a game of chicken: don’t think I’m blind to the consequences coming at me. I am choosing to behave as if they aren’t there. So which one of us is going to blink first? Or it is a sign of sullen cynicism: whatever the consequences for you and yours, for me and mine it can’t get any worse. So bring it on. Either way, rather than resulting from its own momentum this is a reaction to the combination of negative factors as previously mentioned, i.e. the faltering presence of elites and the absence of a progressive social movement.
- In a context such as this, readiness to work through the contradictions which human beings are inevitably presented with, is reduced in favour of fixed positions corresponding to ‘iconic’ images of good and evil. Compared to the open-ended nature of competitive sport, the pre-scripted process of professional wrestling is analogous to this; so too is the widespread enthusiasm for extending our existence into social media but only by reference to a repressively narrow range of immediately recognisable stock characters – a fetish of ‘self’ rather than realisation thereof. The performance of politics is also on trend, i.e. it is aligned to the wider social trend in which the acting out of ‘good’ seems to demand an equivalent performance of ‘evil’. Hence decrying Donald Trump as the embodiment of the latter only adds to his kudos as a character actor. Correction: ‘caricature’ instead of ‘character’.
Far better to counteract the impoverished, simplistic nature of currently available roles by first describing the complexity and currency of what it means to be human – a form of description which by its very nature goes against the static and ‘iconic’.
In keeping with the tradition of the Humanities, this is the spirit in which News of the World is intended.