Donald Trump

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Robin Simcox’s Racist and Anti-Semitic Links

Further respect to Zelo Street for adding a few more details about Robin Simcox and his membership of some very nasty right-wing organisations. Simcox is professional smirking slime-bucket Priti Patel’s choice for head of the Commission for Countering Extremism. I put up a piece about him yesterday, based on a piece about him in the latest issue of Private Eye noting that Simcox has some views himself that many might consider extreme. Like he’s a Neocon member of the Heritage Foundation, who backs sending terrorist suspect to countries where they can be tortured and further infringement on the rule of law. But that’s not all. According to Wikipedia, the Heritage Foundation denies the reality of climate change and is funded by the American oil giant, Exxon Mobil. It also promoted the false claims of voter fraud. This was done through Hans von Spakovsky, the head of the Heritage Foundation’s Electoral Law Reform Initiative, who made such fears mainstream in the Republican Party. Von Spakovsky’s work, you won’t be surprised to hear, has been completely discredited according to Wikipedia.

The Heritage Foundation, according to the Byline Times, have on their board Rebekah Mercer and her father, Robert Mercer, who funded Breitbart News, which in turn supported Cambridge Analytica. And it was Cambridge Analytica that introduced Donald Trump to Steve Bannon, who founded Parler. But it was Simcox’s links to the racist extreme right that was more worrying to that authors of the Byline Times’ article. In 2019 Simcox spoke at a meeting of the Centre for Immigration Studies. The CIS has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The CIS has for ten years circulated anti-Semitic and White nationalist materials, included articles written by supporters of eugenics and Holocaust deniers. According to Wikipedia, the CIS’ reports have been criticised as false or misleading and with poor methodology by experts on immigration. The Byline Times stated that in his work for the Heritage Foundation, Simcox promoted the work of several racist and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists, including a supporter of the ‘Great Replacement’ theory, which has inspired many of the extreme right-wing terror attacks in recent years. He’s also been criticised for falsely equating British Islamic organisations with the Muslim brotherhood.

Simcox therefore has links to people, whose views could be described as genuinely Nazi. But as the Street notes, the self-appointed opponents of anti-Semitism are curiously silent about all this.


So who’s making their feelings known about this appointment? “Lord” Ian Austin? “Lord” John Mann? Wes Streeting? Stephen Pollard? John Woodcock? Margaret Hodge? Daniel Finkelstein? Crickets. If only Simcox had been pals with Jeremy Corbyn.

Zelo Street: Tory Anti-Semitism Link – No Problem! (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Quite. But the above weren’t opponents of anti-Semitism per se. They were simply determined to destroy the Labour left and protect Israel and its persecution of the Palestinians. And as Tony Greenstein has shown ad nauseam, Israel has no problem collaborating with real Nazis if it will serve its interests.

On Capitol Hill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 3:00am in

Trump might disappear, but Biden’s assumptions promise further eruptions from the base

There is little doubt that most of the 70 or so million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the recent US election would not have supported the actions of those who invaded and trashed the houses of Congress on 6 January. Nor would they regard themselves as ‘deplorables’. What does group them together, however, is that all those who voted for Trump rejected the core elites and associated institutions that make up the ruling order in the United States, the order that has now concretised in the Democrat ascendency. This and the events on Capitol Hill are the political expression of a deep division that marks the social and institutional life of the United States today.

That the ‘insurgency’ at Capitol Hill was chaotic and unorganised, and went nowhere, is not especially significant. Initially, insurgencies often have a chaotic and disorganised character. Of course this particular event also carried the mark of Donald Trump. One of the things about Trump, for which we should be grateful, is that even though he was destructive, that destruction always emerged from an incapacity that actually limited his power: he led through a loose, self-affirming and self-referential rhetoric, not through any capacity to organise socially and practically at scale. His impact on US political institutions has been significant: there is no doubt that he made real inroads into US legal institutions, for instance. But his media strategy—to rely on social media while fencing off mainstream media—was only partly successful: it always left the powerful mainstream to hound his every move. And despite reported widespread support within the military rank and file and National Guard, he was unable to turn such influence to his ends. He did not even recognise the capacity to organise where it existed among his supporters—such as in Steve Bannon, say—and this put limits on where his ‘revolution’ could go. A chaotic insurgency seems typical of what to expect from Trump politically, and this was a manifestation of his real limit, but that is not to exhaust the meanings or potential flow-on from the events on Capitol Hill.

The Trump account of his failure has been to blame the media. Trump’s struggle with the media was always ugly, of course, but in certain key respects he was right: the mainstream media are a part of the elite and related institutions that have now been re-affirmed in power. It is no surprise, then, that they are at the centre of the conventional narrative that has taken the form of decrying 6 January as an assault on the institutions of democracy. This is a narrative that drives an emotional response, especially so given hopes that Joe Biden will bring America together again. But it is a view that provides no insight whatsoever into what happened at the Capitol—what those events mean socially. To the contrary, this narrative works to ensure a focus on certain individuals—Trump, the ‘deplorables’—that only reaffirms the institutions of social order, without any serious consideration of how those institutions had fallen into disrepute for such a large segment of the US population. In other words, despite expressions of outrage and denunciations of ‘domestic terror’, it minimises the significance of the eruption by, first, constructing it as a challenge to sacred democratic universals and rituals while, second, emphasising the actions of the foolish, even evil, individuals who dared to step upon the political stage. It is an account that points to outrageous political actions that demand a response but then allows, or hopes for, a return of the social order to an unquestioned normality.

Some commentators have made an attempt to go beyond this kind of account to grapple with aspects of the social whole that is the context of these events. The conservative commentator Paul Monk, writing in The Australian, attempts to say something about a larger framework in order to address the seriousness of the insurgency. Referring to Trump as a symptom rather than a ‘cause of underlying maladies in the US body politic’, he draws on Roman history to make his point. Reflecting on the Catiline conspiracy of 63 BCE, which was followed, after a period of twenty years, by the Caesarean takeover, he concludes that the ‘deeper challenges facing the American republic…should be our fundamental focus’: the 2021 Trumpian ‘insurgency’ is only a sign of things to come. However, he makes no attempt to name the fundamental challenges, let alone lay bare their nature. Not only are they left unexplored, Monk treats the ‘body politic’ as an autonomous sphere untouched by the larger social whole. Yet it is here in the social whole and in social life generally where the fundamentals for interpreting this moment are to be located.

Others outside of the mainstream, such as Pankaj Mishra in his Bland Fanatics, are more likely to take the social whole seriously. Written before the events at Capitol Hill, Bland Fanatics captures the Trump setting more appropriately: ‘It is only now, with a white supremacist ensconced in the White House, that those same hard-headed liberals—who did so much to create a climate of opinion and a legal regime in which black and brown bodies could be seized, broken and destroyed outside all norms and laws of war—are coming to grips with America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy’. However, if this approach gives some points of entry into the nature of the social order that has propped up the liberal elites and institutions of contemporary America, it also suggests that Trump gained power because he is a white supremacist. But far broader processes are at work here, which, among other things, have allowed supremacists to move into the foreground, and it is these processes that suggest that the assault on Capitol Hill is only the beginning, not the end. Contradictions within the social ground of American (and late modern) society generally are working to fracture old certainties, creating the conditions that allowed a Trump to emerge. Those contradictions will continue to unfold long after Trump himself has gone. Far more than mere political contradictions, we are seeing life transformed by deep-going social contradictions.

There is widespread agreement that the nature of social relations in contemporary society has changed and that these changes are contributing to contemporary unease and disturbance. Yet while change is everywhere, it’s hard to put a finger on just what the scale and significance of this process is. For the person, change is experiential; it is understood according to implicit personal-historical comparisons that are largely subjective. Further, because change is a constant of every generation, it is a concept that by itself does not help us differentiate levels of significance. But it is necessary to come to terms with what change means today because contemporary life is increasingly traumatic in all of its locations and at all of its various stages: while change once meant that reference points for people simply became different over time, what does it mean today that there are so few stable reference points for people in community or as individuals passing through the various stages of life? 

One round of changes that especially stands out relates to the young. Can young people growing up rely on a relatively stable range of employment choices? Can they rely on the relative fixity of a family unit? Can they place themselves by reference to kinship networks and places important in the life of the generations? Can children or adults take the existence of their neighbourhoods for granted? For workers, there are similar questions. Can workers feel confident that their skills and education will give them security? Change of this very general kind can be the consequence of war, of natural catastrophes like an earthquake, or a pandemic—or a profound change in social process. Compared to once familiar generational change, this more encompassing form of change in everyday life and its various institutions takes place at another level. If such change has a source in the nature of the social itself, it indicates the emergence of an unfamiliar social type.

It is not adequate to handle such phenomena by saying, ‘But change always happens’. Lynn Margulis, the well-known researcher in biology, finds that the biological world is widely composed of change—what she calls the gradient in cellular life. But biology is also typified by strong strategies to fight against change, to achieve relative fixity. Similar processes are typical within the social order. No social world is completely fixed, despite the hopes of some conservatives. But the social order today is different: it institutes change as such. 

While existential upheavals and ‘revolutions’ of this social kind have political consequences, they are not political in the first instance. They reach deep into our personal make-up, the effect of general social processes. How is it that social relations that facilitate rapid change are somehow overwhelming relations that have typically been keepers of relative fixity in human life? 

In the world of Homo sapiens relative fixity has usually been associated with generational continuity and stable place-based relations. This is the world of face-to-face relations and in-person communities, those grounded in relations with tangible others and ethics of care born out of shared life and love of place. Even in the grip of an earlier capitalism’s essential engine of change, those ‘residual’ features of communal and intimate life held, more or less, and were the guarantee of a continuation of our species nature as cultural animals.

The change that has taken hold of our lives over the last two generations, which we witness in the global market or in the relations of a thoroughly networked, digital society, is a radical shift of balance away from the face to face to technologically extended social relations. This shift is underpinned by basic scientific-technological revolutions that have transformed social institutions. While the relations of social media are not the only example of this process, they illustrate well the fleeting nature of relations and lack of tangibility in systems that do not require embodied or mutual presence in the connections they make. As we are lifted out of face-to-face settings, increasingly the Other loses all tangibility. We cannot sense, touch or smell them: they are not present to us in this sense. They are an abstracted Other, one that we can only know with the help of technology: writing, print, emails, tweets. This Other is always fleeting because it has less phenomenological force; because it can be filtered or kept at bay; because it is thinner in its history and in its ‘presence’ as text or image rather than as an embodied being. 

Such relations can always be combined with relations formed in more stable settings. But the revolution of our period shifts the balance of social relations towards greater abstraction and less tangibility. As a consequence, physical neighbourhoods and communities are transformed, and stable reference points in work and life are undermined. This is the cultural shift that has now turned into a cultural and political crisis. What processes drive this transformation?

To speak of technological revolution today is to speak of a scientific revolution. In particular, the transformation of science into techno-science, which has occurred in stages throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, gaining momentum in social life with the deregulation of currencies in the 1980s, has reconstructed the gamut of social institutions along more abstract lines. Centrally, the institution of the market itself was reconstructed by the new forces of scientific-technological development, becoming a global market: more abstract, faster moving, and with a broader, deeper reach than the modern market into culture and the self, becoming the central mechanism of economic and cultural globalisation. Local economies were decimated as swaths of local industry and jobs went offshore. Defence industries began to jettison embodied war-making, gravitating towards drones and robots as the up-to-date abstract approach to warfare. Techno-scientific medicine declared its victory over disease and pandemics. Others, including space scientists, seek to move into the colonisation of outer space, transcending Earth. Yet others seek to transcend evolutionary processes they feel are unnecessary constraints on individual and species possibility.

This is a world where science in its high-tech or applied mode, which seeks to reconstitute the world rather than understand it, has become the key factor in ‘new’ capitalism—techno-capitalism, in which the consumption of resources expanded vastly after the Second World War, and even more rapidly since the globalisation process was set in place in the 1980s. While this emergent world gestures towards responding to climate change, its challenge to the natural world continues through economic growth and forces of expansion that accept no limits. As a social order it is out of human control, and will continue to be so until the key agents in this interweaving of capital and science, the high-tech scientific intellectuals, begin a process of returning to their longstanding ethical commitments to ‘earthlings’ and grounded communities.

It is no surprise that in such a world we have ‘winners’ (the political and corporate elites) and ‘losers’ (the ‘deplorables’), or those who have no purchase on the reconstructed institutions of the high-tech world. Beyond winners and losers there is also a primary sense in which we are all losers. For Homo sapiens is inseparable from that relatively anchored world of face-to-face relations and embodied being that is fast dissipating. 

In the past intellectuals and scientists, while formed by extended and abstract relations, employed their knowledge to support the mainstream face-to-face world on which they too were dependent. Often they were corrupted by power. Yet standing beyond the face-to-face world gave them the potential of drawing upon a universal ethic unconstrained by the particular. It is this potential that Noam Chomsky invokes when he states that the responsibility of intellectuals is to speak truth to power. Once, such ethical potential supported social movements that erupted both within the universities and within the wider society. 

We now know how this relation of intellectuals with the everyday was utterly corrupted in the period of the Enlightenment, the shaping intellectual force of today’s liberal democracies, with shocking outcomes for Indigenous and colonised peoples around the world. This relation is now taking an even more troubling form: inseparable from new capitalism, scientific intellectuals (and intellectuals generally) have developed means that support processes that displace the supports of the everyday world, taking a portion of citizens with them into a new social order. The rest, facing precarious existence or, more strongly, being on the wrong side of what Silicon Valley calls the ‘80/20 society’, edge towards social redundancy. 

Having no future in this techno-world, they can passively accept their fate or they can seek to resist in various ways. Capitol Hill was only one moment in the life of this reconstructed world.

***

Donald Trump, like Pauline Hanson in Australia, is a symbol of the contradictions of this emergent social order—what the media ignorantly diminish by calling them populists. As the first political manifestations emerging out of this new social order, they are a response to the devastating effects of economic globalisation. But they cannot respond in a rounded way. If Trump seemed to intervene in the globalisation process, he actually merely responded to particulars within it; economic globalisation remained a broadly assumed background. Being a transactional thinker, he had no grasp of the general nature of how globalisation works or why it had devastated the conditions of life for large segments of the population who found their local worlds shut down. While such devastation created an opportunity for Trump, America First was never a general approach resisting the directions of the overarching form of development in high-tech capitalism. We can only expect that those underlying processes destroying the stable reference points of jobs and community in everyday life will continue to unfold. Now firmly controlled once again by the liberal elites, they can be expected to generate further resistance against the social order.

The media and much of the world are now putting their hope in the ‘safe’ hands of Joe Biden. There is an enormous upwelling of feeling, in the hope that he will return US society and politics to normality. Uplifting rhetoric is not actually where he shines, but an emotional coming together around key symbols of modern hope may temporarily help some of the many who are suffering. His assurance of more rationality in the campaign against a rampaging COVID-19 is promising; it is certainly needed. But after what may be success here, he will surely return to the tried policy frameworks of the past. Emotional commitments to the democratic institutions will be renewed, but these are the institutions, combined as they are with open-ended developmental assumptions, that have already failed Americans. Returning to the Paris Accords should be welcomed, but the Accords offer little real hope. Drawn up by those who want to believe that a few adjustments with little economic cost will solve climate change, they ignore the enormous challenges around the development assumptions that are embedded in our way of life and that continue to overwhelm climate and the environment.

Similarly, we should not take too seriously the portrayal of Biden as a leader deeply formed in the experience of grief and the practice of care. No doubt he has experienced much trauma in his personal life and no doubt this has affected him deeply, enhancing his humanity. But he is also a Cold War warrior, with a demonstrable inclination to pursue the Democrats’ hawkish orientation towards war where it encounters resistance. He is certainly stronger in this respect than Donald Trump, whatever the latter’s rhetoric. And now with the Democrat ascendency, with control over all the main sources of political power, what is likely to happen when mounting conflicts arising out of deep contradictions confront him? Biden’s immediate reaction to the events on Capitol Hill is suggestive. He instantly conjured the category of ‘domestic terrorism’. Will he act on this and seek another round of terror legislation? As Branko Marcetic writes in Jacobin, Biden has a long history of involvement in the development of terror legislation, including the Patriot Act after 9/11. That was the Act that unleashed US agents upon the world to engage in illegal killings and the rendition of ‘suspects’ on a scale that will forever mark the history of American liberal democracy. 

We have commenced a new chapter, with a leader who shows little capacity to recognise the scale of the developmental crisis or the aspirations that define our social world, and he shows every likelihood of labelling and legislating to contain those who oppose his utterly conventional agenda.


After Trump?: Cancel culture and the new authoritarianism

Simon Cooper, Mar 2021

After the failed insurrection at the US Capitol building, an event irreconcilably both absurd and frightening, Donald Trump, for so long a master of the attention economy, finally got ‘cancelled’. While many of his Republican colleagues made a last-minute decision (motivated by self-interest) to dump him, the real blow for Trump was the response by corporate America. Facebook and Twitter blocked the president’s social-media accounts, Shopify terminated stores affiliated with him, YouTube removed channels questioning…

Graham Linehan’s Trans Day of Visibility: It’s Against a Harmful Ideology, Not People

I’m almost two weeks late writing about this, but I think it needs to be covered. On the last day of March, Graham Linehan and his conversationalists on The Mess We’re In channel held their own Trans Day of Visibility. As well as being the writer behind the awesome Father Ted, Linehan is very much a male feminist. He’s become notorious over the past few years for his opposition to the transgender ideology, along with Kellie-Jay Kean, Abigail Shrier, Benjamin Boyce, and the host of another YouTube channel, You’re Kidding, Right?. This last lady presents the arguments against the ideology from the perspective of a Black American woman, which is very enlightening. Especially when she forcefully tells the trans rights activists not to true to compare their ideology to the Civil Rights movement. One of her critics tried to tell her that she was the equivalent of the Klan. Her antecedents came from Georgia when the Klan were powerful and extremely frightening. She made it very, very clear that she was nothing like the Klan. But I digress.

Linehan is joined on his videos with Welsh feminist Helen Staniland and gay Canadian Arty Morty. Morty is, by his own admission, very much a part of the Canadian gay scene and worked as a bar man in a trans bar. Staniland is concerned about the threat to women and girls from biological men being allowed into female spaces on the grounds that they identify as women. Morty is particularly concerned that gender reassignment is being used as a form of conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gender non-conforming children and teens by parents who are afraid that their children will grow up gay. He’s particularly concerned as he was one of these kids. As a boy, he preferred to play with dolls, and he’s afraid that if he was a child today, he would have been put down as transgender and been put on the path to transition.

It was the ‘trans day of visibility’ a few weeks ago, and so Linehan and his friends have as guests in this video their transgender friends and supporters – Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardlemort, Scott Newgent, and a transman who appears simply as Aaron. These gents and ladies give their perspective on the dangers of trans movement and ideology as transmen and women, and how they came to oppose it.

They did so for a variety of reasons. In the case of Yardlemort, it was through looking at what the gender critical feminists actually wrote for herself, and being horrified at the grotesquely exaggerated response by the trans activists to entirely reasonable points as well as the way opposing feminists were stalked, abused and maltreated. She was also concerned by the way the pro-trans stance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Women actually invalidates those rights and endangers women. She was thrown off Twitter for such crimes as saying that there are only two genders, transwomen shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces, and that rape and death threat to women aren’t acceptable. Yardlemort has also suffered her share of bullying from trans activists, as when one tried to take her to court for alleged ‘transphobia’.

Debbie Hayton joined the anti-trans movement because she was afraid that their extreme claims would actually damage the trans movement, and make trans people less accepted. She argues that being gender critical does not mean being anti-trans. She and Helen Staniland looked back to a time when transwomen and women were largely in harmony with each other, although there was occasional conflicts over the inclusion of transwomen in female-only events, such as the Michfest women-only music festival.

They also talk about the vexed issues of pronouns. The attitude of Arty Morty is that, while he doesn’t believe that there should be laws demanding transgender people be referred to be their chosen pronouns, he has no problem doing so for decent people. It’s only the misogynists he refuses to call ‘she’.

Aaron made it very clear that he believes transitioning is beneficial for some people. It worked for him, but he didn’t have a mental illness. This is important, as some of those being diagnosed a transgender may simply be mentally ill or have a neurological condition like autism. He turned against the trans ideology three years ago from concerns about the homophobia. He’s afraid that the excesses of the trans activists, such as the attacks on J.K. Rowling, will eventually lead to a ban on transitions, which will harm those who really need them. He is also afraid, like Linehan, Staniland, Morty and the others, that children and vulnerable adults are being misdiagnosed as trans and consequently mutilated. Debbie Orlander also shares this fear, especially when it comes to children as young as four or five.

Scott Newgent makes the point that part of the problem is medical corporations, who stand to make a profit from these drugs and treatments, telling vulnerable people they have the solution. This is compounded by social media, as Twitter and other sites will not allow the opposing side to be heard. He also makes the point that the trans ideology is supported by genuinely good people, who want to do the right thing, and have been falsely persuaded that the trans issue is the same as gay rights and comparable to the struggle over gay marriage. He believes that there is a positive side to trans activism, but this is a problem as its acceptance leads also to the acceptance of the negative aspects as well. He and the others also take down some of the ridiculously inflated and entirely false claims of the trans activists. Over here in the Blighty, the trans activists wanted a ‘trans day of remembrance’ for all the transgender people, who’ve been murdered. Except the numbers of transgender people who’ve been killed over here is vanishingly small. No transpeople have been killed in Scotland, for example. Newgent makes the same point about similar claims in his part of the US. He attended a talk about trans rights, in which the speaker claimed that trans children in his state of South Dakota were in danger of committing suicide. Except they weren’t. No trans children have committed suicide there.

The peeps do, however, express concerns that these threats and prophecies of suicide may be self-fulling. There is the danger that people, who have been misled into transitioning, may kill themselves when they find that it is not the cure they have been promised. Lesbian girls may be particularly affected by this. One of them talks about how they’re horrified by the the people, who’ve been physically harmed by the treatment – people with osteopathy and shrunken hearts due to puberty blockers and the hormones they’ve been prescribed. There’s also the case of the medical doctor, who contacted Linehan in distress at being officially barred from telling upset trans people that J.K. Rowling does not in fact want to kill them.

The team talk about the toxicity and violence of the trans activists. One of them physically attacked a gender critical feminist, Cathy Brennan, at Speaker’s Corner, a situation made all the worse by the actions of Stonewall, the gay advocacy organisation. They also criticise the left for its handling of the debate. They state that the left is undemocratic, intolerant of free speech and has a problem with racism and misogyny. Stonewall by its actions over a number of issues has provoked a backlash, of which the gender critical movement is only one part.

Hayton is optimistic, believing that more people are turning against the trans movement and being aware how it affects women’s rights and children’s safeguarding, as well as the way it harms transpeople themselves. Fionne, another transwoman, is also optimistic, noting the success of the Keira Bell case. Like Aaron, she believes that medical transition should be an option, but only for adults, not children, who need psychotherapy and a more diverse approach. She believes that transpeople have made a mistake in demanding access to women’s spaces, and should instead have demanded their own, third spaces. Yardlemort actually emailed a number of LGBTQ organisations about the need for gay spaces away from transpeople, but none of them replied.

The team also debate whether Donald Trump was the only person, who would have been able to stop the progress of trans ideology. They feel we need more people like J.K. Rowlings, who stand up to the trans lobby simply out of principle without any benefit to themselves. Newgent states that he has sacrificed his own career for his principles. He states that when it comes to the treatment of children,

I am very much aware that this is a very emotive issue and that many of my readers don’t share my views on this topic. However, I strongly believe that Linehan and his guests here are correct, and that vulnerable people, particularly women and children, are being unnecessarily put on life-changing, harmful medical treatment. And there is a problem with biological men being allowed into female-only spaces, such as prisons. There have been a series of rapes of women prisoners by biological men, who have been placed in women’s prisons because they have identified, or claimed to identify, as women.

I don’t hate transgender people, and definitely don’t wish anyone to come to any harm, much less be killed. But there are genuine dangers here, but unfortunately the climate of liberal opinion and many ‘official’ gay organisations, like Stonewall, mean that the gender critical side is silenced and their arguments not heard.

As you can see from this video, Linehan and his friends very definitely don’t hate transpeople, although they do discuss some extremely dangerous and predatory individuals. And they clearly have friends and supporters in the trans community, who share their concerns.

At the very least, they need to be heard and listened to. The topic should not be the monopoly of intolerant trans activists.

March 30, 2021

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/04/2021 - 11:52pm in

It feels like the banking under the Republican Party from the Trump years is starting to erode. Continue reading

The post March 30, 2021 appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Tory Flag-Waving Now Reaching Reaganite Proportions

Patriotism, someone once said, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. And the Tories have done their best to show how true this is, especially last week when it seemed that they wasted no opportunity to wave the flag. This also led them to generate more synthetic outrage towards the BBC. Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty raised Tory ire when Stayt joked about the relatively small size of the union flag on display during an interview with Matt Hancock or one of the other Tory ministers. This led to howls from the Tory press that the Beeb was sneering at the flag. They weren’t. They were laughing about the Tory’s sheer opportunistic use of it.

It’s no accident that they’ve started waving the flag in the weeks running up to the local elections. Their performance on health, the economy, Brexit and just about everything else has been dire. They’re still trying to privatise the health service by stealth, they insulted the nurses with a 2 per cent pay rise, which is in real terms a cut in their salaries, wages are still frozen, more people are being forced into real, grinding poverty, the queues at the food banks are as long as ever, or longer. The Brexit that Boris has been so desperate to ‘get done’ is spelling disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry, and businesses dealing with the continent and ordinary Brits wishing to travel abroad are now faced with mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy. Bureaucracy which the Brexiteers blithely assured us wouldn’t happen. Hopefully this year will see us coming out of lockdown and the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve a far higher rate of peeps receiving the vaccine than the EU, but that shouldn’t distract attention from the colossal way the Tories have mismanaged the Covid crisis as a whole. As Mike’s pointed out in one of his articles, Tory bungling and corruption – they gave vital medical contracts to companies owned and run by their friends and supporters, rather than to firms that could actually deliver – that over 100,000 people have died of the disease. One of the good peeps on Twitter has shown how this compares to the numbers killed in some of the genocides and ethnic massacres that have plagued recent decades. And the report, which was supposed to show that Britain isn’t institutionally racist, has been torn to shreds with some of the academics cited claiming they were not properly consulted and seeking to distance themselves from it. And then there are the mass demonstrations up and down the land against their attempts to outlaw any demonstration or protest they don’t like under the guise that it would be a nuisance.

And so, with all this discontent, they’ve fallen back to Thatcher’s tactics of waving the flag at every opportunity. One of the hacks at the Absurder in the 1980s said that Britain had three parties – the patriotic party, who were the Tories, the loony party, which was Labour, and the sensible party, which was the SDP/Liberals. Which showed you the paper’s liberal bias even then. The SDP, Liberals and their successors, the Lib Dems. have sold out utterly, while after four decades of Thatcherism Michael Foot’s Labour party looks far less than loony. But the hack was right about the Tories and patriotism. Thatcher waved the flag as frantically as she could and constantly invoked the spirit of Winston Churchill and World War II. One particularly memorable example of this was the Tory 1987 election broadcast, which featured Spitfires zipping about the sky while an overexcited voice told the world ‘Man was born free’ and concluded ‘It’s great to be great again’.

Here’s another feature of Fascism that’s been adopted by the Tories to add to those on Mike’s checklist. Fascism is an ideology of national rebirth and revival. Thatcher was claiming she was making us great again, just as Donald Trump claimed he was doing for America. Just as Oswald Mosley called one of his wretched books The Greater Britain. And unfortunately, as Zelo Street has also pointed out, Fascists like the Nazis have also used people’s natural loyalty to their flag as a means of generating support for their repulsive regimes. British Fascism was no different. Mosley also made great use of the flag at his rallies, and this tactic was taken over by his successors in the National Front and BNP. This has been an embarrassment to ordinary, non-racist Brits, who simply like the flag. One of my friends at school was a mod. At the time, the union flag and British bulldog formed a large part of mod imagery without meaning that the person was a racist or White supremacist. During one of the art lessons my friend started painting a picture with those two elements – the union flag and bulldog. The teacher came over and politely asked him not to do so, as he was afraid people would like at it and come to the wrong conclusion. This was just after the 1981/2 race riots, so you can understand why. But it is frustrating and infuriating that ordinary expressions of reasonable patriotism or simple pop culture iconography have become suspect due to their appropriation by the Far Right.

But the real excesses of flag-waving were to be seen over the other side of the Pond in Reagan’s America. Reagan was wrecking his country with privatisation and an assault on what the country had in the way of a welfare state, while murdering the people of countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua by supporting Fascist dictators and their death squads. But, like Thatcher, he did everything he could to use the symbols of American nationhood. Like the Stars and Stripes. A Republican party political broadcast in 1984 or thereabouts showed the American flag being raised no less than 37 times. This was so bizarrely excessive that one of the Beeb’s foreign correspondents commented on it. As far as I am aware, no-one took him to task for sneering at it.

This flag-waving is part of the Tories attempts to present themselves as the preservers of British national identity, tradition and pride against the assaults of the left, particularly Black Lives Matter and their attacks on statues. I’m not impressed with the attacks on some of the monuments, like that of Winston Churchill, even though he was a racist. But in Bristol the only statue attacked was that of the slavery and philanthropist Edward Colston. None of the other statues in and around Bristol’s town centre of Edmund Burke, Queen Victoria, Neptune and the sailors who made my city a great port, were touched. And then there was the protest last week against the new school uniform policy at Pimlico Academy in London. This ruled out the wearing of large afro hair styles. So the students started protesting it was racist. The headmaster also raised the union flag, which led the statement from one of the students, Amna Mukhtar, that it weirdly felt like they were being colonised. And then some idiot burnt the flag in protest. The headmaster has now rescinded the school’s uniform code and taken the flag down. Now I gather that one of the Tories is now calling for every school to fly the union flag.

It all reminds me of the comments the late, great comedian Bill Hicks made when Reagan and his supporters were flying the flag and their outrage when a young member of the Communist party burned it. After making jokes about the Reaganite rage and hysteria, Hicks said that he didn’t want anyone to burn the flag, but burning wouldn’t take away freedom, because it’s freedom. Including the freedom to burn the flag.

Quite. And the Tories are wrecking our country and taking away our freedoms while cynically waving the flag.

So when they start spouting about it, use your scepticism and think of Hick’s comment instead. And vote for someone else.

The Pandemic Timeline

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 7:00am in

Trump’s lies are like zombies. Fact-checkers keep killing them, but he keeps bringing them back to life — and repeating them over and over again. The only antidote is the truth — repeated over and over again. Steven Harper is following the pandemic for Moyers on Democracy. Continue reading

The post The Pandemic Timeline appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

After Trump?: Cancel culture and the new authoritarianism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/04/2021 - 3:02am in

After the failed insurrection at the US Capitol building, an event irreconcilably both absurd and frightening, Donald Trump, for so long a master of the attention economy, finally got ‘cancelled’. While many of his Republican colleagues made a last-minute decision (motivated by self-interest) to dump him, the real blow for Trump was the response by corporate America. Facebook and Twitter blocked the president’s social-media accounts, Shopify terminated stores affiliated with him, YouTube removed channels questioning the election, the PGA ended relations with Trump’s National Golf Course in New Jersey and so on. If the short-term opportunism of corporate America was transparent, the final days of Trump nevertheless forced the United States to register the disturbing connections between white supremacists and the police and the influence of largely unregulated social media. There were calls to create new laws for ‘domestic terrorism’, for increased media censorship and further surveillance of citizens so as to prevent a repeat of the Capitol events—in short, a transfer of 9/11 foreign policy into a domestic context. The shutting down of Trump’s media and corporate connections rapidly led to a desire to expel everything associated with him, suggesting that the practice of ‘cancelling’ could be a quick fix for saving democracy. 

This push for censorship and surveillance comes primarily from Democrats and others connected with progressive politics, though there are also some troubling alliances with figures from the former Bush-Cheney administration. Why is it that progressives are so keen to push for laws normally associated with the Right and state authoritarianism? While fears of racist violence and domestic terrorism are an obvious motivator, the intertwining of progressive culture with state and corporate power reflects larger shifts in the relationship between culture and politics. These changes bear examination. Superficially, the alliance between progressive politics and established power could forestall the threats that spectacularly manifested in the final days of Trump. At another level it entrenches the conditions that created them. The violent, reactionary impulses found in the United States (but also in parts of Europe) cannot be addressed by intervening to restore ‘normality’, as it is precisely normality—an adherence to neoliberal capitalism—that catalysed them. To understand this contradiction, we need to recognise the changed environment of cultural politics in the twenty-first century. 

*          *          *

Trump’s presidency reinvigorated the culture wars. Through a continuous Twitter feed attacking the liberal media and political correctness, and a barely tacit encouragement of extremist elements, he created polarisation on just about every issue. Yet the way these wars played out in terms of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ were markedly different to previous generations. In the late 1960s culture increasingly became a means of engaging in political struggle. Strategies of creative chaos, subversive mythmaking, improvisation and moral transgression were the tools of the cultural left and counterculture movements, and succeeded in changing attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, religion and the family. Legally, the institutionalisation of pro-choice legislation, affirmative-action policies, laws against discrimination, same-sex marriage and so on reinforced this liberalising trajectory. Within this frame the autonomy of the creative artist was celebrated; their capacity to transgress social and cultural norms was regarded as an inherent good, as either an exercise of freedom or a disruption of older assumptions and values. 

However, this disruption of norms and values was not achieved by culture alone. It was underpinned by larger processes, particularly the development of new media technologies together with the globalised economy. The emergence of digital media expanded choices around cultural consumption and meant that consumers encountered, at least in theory, a wider array of images and representation that in themselves contributed to social liberalisation. However, the sheer proliferation of culture and communication was beyond the scope of any individual, resulting in the customisation of content and the media ‘bubbles’ that now speak to larger divisions. As digital and media culture acquired an increasing prominence in work and social life, subjects were turned ever more into self-active/autonomous individuals via the very structure of network life. The public sphere became more diverse but more atomised. At the same time the rise of the global economy expanded the numbers of intellectually trained (or ‘knowledge’) workers, and simultaneously led to a decline in manufacturing and agriculture in the industrialised West. The disruption, flexibility and mobility created via the global market complemented the cultural disruptions initiated by the new Left—overturning old hierarchies and ways of life. Global capitalism provided the basis for cultural pluralism. It helped enshrine the value system of the new Left and progressive liberals, one that prioritised ‘liquid’ identities, social relations, and a general process of cultural flattening. The increased reliance on digital media and communication was due not merely to the enhanced capacity to make and distribute it but the need to compensate for the hollowing out of work and social environments. 

Those left out of or marginalised by this process have come screaming back into the world of politics and culture—a repressed energy that ‘Trumpism’ was able to harness. Significantly, the reactionary forces of the twenty-first century embrace the strategies of subversion and disruption that had once been the mainstay of the cultural Left, while progressives have become more ‘conservative’ regarding culture and communication, seeing them less as catalysts for disruption and transgression than as potential vehicles for harm. There are numerous reasons (as we shall see) that progressives increasingly shed their older libertarian politics and favour strategies to control communication and representation—one simply being that they ‘won’ the culture war and now occupy large sections of the media, public institutions and universities—and are engaged in the preservation of liberalised values. However, these attempts to protect the social and cultural gains of previous decades threaten to enhance the surveillance-carceral state that marks the United States and elsewhere.

*          *          *

If the outlandish costumes of the QAnon insurrectionists and the proliferation of conspiracy theories signal the end of the public sphere and the authoritative hold of reason, they also reveal how transgressive cultural politics is increasingly the province of alt-right provocateurs. What are conspiracy theories if not a celebration of the unfettered play of the signifier and the détournement of images that the left counterculture celebrated for so long? The trending conspiracy after the Capitol insurrection, that Trump and Biden had received face transplants and Trump would remain, disguised as Biden, in the White House, is both compensatory and completely unhinged, but it reveals how imaginative possibilities found in the free flow of media and information now exhaust the liberal Left but energise the new Right. What’s more, the latter have fused these appropriated tactics with elements of conservative politics so that the new theatre of the Right has become integral with support for religion, gun ownership and fossil-fuel industries—these carnivalesque energies are no longer directed against the military-industrial complex but work to support it. The dominant images of the reactionary Right, such as skinheads and the KKK, have been replaced by anarchists and new intellectual leaders well versed in cynical manipulations of media and pop culture and spouting a loose philosophy around the ‘dark enlightenment’. If Trump was ill-suited to take full advantage of this alliance, a more competent figure may yet emerge to channel these new configurations. 

This reversal in the political use of culture and information is also evident in academia with the dethronement of postmodern/deconstructive modes of interpretation. The cultural-studies/literary-theory mode of reading that dominated the humanities for three decades, emphasizing irony, critical distance, multiple and contradictory modes of textual engagement and so on, has largely been supplanted by a more ‘fundamentalist’ mode of judging a text according to a binary logic that classifies culture as either progressive or harmful. The rise of ‘trigger warnings’ that alert students to potentially disturbing content is part of this larger shift, envisioning texts as sources of trauma rather than complex iterations of material and social forces. The recent (partly successful) call to remove Homer, Hawthorne, Conrad and the like from school curricula in parts of the United States is indicative of the trickle-down effect of this change in academia. General theories of ideology that dominated left and progressive wings of academia for decades—where speech and representation were related to a material base—have largely been replaced by the idea that representation is in and of itself material. The once hegemonic notion of the ‘death of the author’ has been flipped so that creative works are judged for authorial behaviour as much as for the content of their creations. These changes merely respond to the new framework of privatised and individualised consumption (and individual fragility) rather than represent any sort of theoretical or political advance. 

This new frame reveals a tension in the identity politics that goes hand in hand with this polarising approach to culture, texts and authors. On the one hand, the changes wrought though the media/information revolution have generated an environment of continual flow and ‘liberated’ subjects from narrow and hierarchical ways of knowing and being in the world. Yet the emphasis on ‘safe spaces’, now in the digital as well as the physical world, and the idea that harmful speech is a palpable threat to one’s identity indicates a fragility in the contemporary subject. It reveals that the impact of an expanded field of media and culture, the disembedding of subjects from more concrete settings though the workings of global capital—the very things that underpinned the hegemony of ‘theory’—are no longer simply enablers of freedom but of fragility, even for the groups that initially profited from them. The judging of texts as potential vehicles of harmful speech or trauma is more than simply the replacement of one mode of reading with another, one theory with another, but a response to the baleful effects of the information/culture revolution that underpinned the cultural victories of the new Left in the first place.

While this reductive mode of cultural consumption remains connected to traditions of radical politics (identifying and rejecting racist or sexist content, for example), it ultimately negates the possibility of politics altogether. What gets called ‘cancel culture’—digital activism aimed at removing power from political enemies, whether though ‘deplatforming’, online shaming or petitioning for an individual’s removal from their institutional speaking position—is indicative of this narrow frame of activism. Unlike older political boycotts, cancel culture focuses on individuals rather than institutions or structures. And while some argue that cancel culture does not really exist or, if it does, it fails to do anything, pointing out that Germaine Greer, J. K. Rowling and Stephen Pinker are all doing fine, such reassurances overlook its impact on those with less cultural power—witness the degree of online harassment and cancellation practices in Young Adult fiction (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/opinion/teen-fiction-and-the-perils-o...). Even in universities, academics are less confident in engaging in public communication, fearful that students or colleagues will demand their removal. The recent cases of Mark Crispin Miller over comments made about mask-wearing during COVID-19 and Kathleen Stock for criticism of some elements of trans-activism, reveal the divisive politics of cancel culture. That the former is a long-time critic of media concentration and right-wing propaganda and the latter a materialist feminist makes no difference. Even those sharing broadly similar politics face cancellation and intimidation, sometimes because of a single point of difference. Instead of the university being a site for the exchange of ideas and theories, it has become increasingly partisan—those holding ‘unacceptable views’ are not debated in the classroom or at conferences but undermined though social-media campaigns and online petitioning of campus administrators. US students are calling for an end to the practice of tenure, regarding tenured academics as holders of privilege, able to utter harmful speech without consequence, a demand that undoubtedly resonates in the ears of neoliberal university managers. 

If, generously, we regard cancel culture as an attempt to hold the ‘powerful’ to account, we should be concerned about the legitimisation of surveillance practices—practices often used historically against the less powerful—that track the speech and actions of the ‘problematic’ individual. Cancel culture appropriates the state’s traditional surveillance power and intervenes into digital civil society, itself now captured by surveillance capitalism, transforming it into a free market of shaming. If digital activists profit by cancelling individuals whose views they find offensive or harmful (ignoring any collateral damage), they uncritically accept the centrality of surveillance culture in order to do so, a practice that can easily be turned against those holding positions they might endorse.  

*          *          *

Such destructive alliances notwithstanding, it would be wrong to simply dismiss cancel culture as instances of ‘woke’ keyboard warriors spruiking the latest version of political correctness. Indeed, much of the criticism of cancel culture from the Right is shallow and hypocritical, considering its long history of censorship and harassment. And the standard argument for free speech by liberal elites (evident in last year’s Harper’s letter) ignores the reality of entrenched hierarchies that undermine communicative freedom. So while we might see something in the negative energy of cancel culture—a sweeping away of the illusions of liberalism, perhaps a long-awaited reaction against the naive celebration of transgression and subversion as an end in itself (do we really need more boundary pushing in terms of violence, sex, taboo breaking without considering who loses in the exchange?)—its potential to seriously tackle oppression is limited, and not simply because of the tendency to create division rather than solidarity but due to the conditions though which its politics and practices arise. The values of contemporary progressive culture (pluralism, diversity, difference) align with older political struggles, such as the fight against colonial and patriarchal structures, but in crucial ways they are different. Often oriented more towards the ethical than the political, the values that frame cancel culture and related forms of activism are derived from a historical setting that is more complicated than many of its proponents realise. Such values reflect the habitus of the intellectually trained, whose formative conditions in the techno-sciences and media/culture industries make the world of heterogeneous association and fluid sociality appear natural (if also a source of continual threat). However, knowledge-work is a form of abstract labour and abstract sociality, whose methods—synthesising from disparate sources—inevitably privilege pluralism and difference over sameness and groundedness. The methods frame the world view. From the perspective of progressive politics, critiques of the destruction of older ways of knowing and being are dismissed as nostalgic or reactionary privilege, rather than potential sources of resistance against the ungrounding and nihilistic trajectory of the market.

The attraction of surveillance and state control to contemporary progressives, whether in the call for new laws against harmful speech or the curtailing of reactionary activity, is at some level a projection of power of this grouping, whose values, derived though intellectual work, are extrapolated to the rest of the populace. This is not the cynical power of the opportunist Right but the experience of customised media/information environments mistaken for a universal condition, where the robust exchange of views is no longer regarded as central to the democratic public sphere but potentially dangerous. Technological filtering reinforces this process: alternative views are kept at bay, so when they do surface their otherness is amplified. Moreover, the post-9/11 environment, with its continual reminders about threats of terror, and the fetishisation of security and safety, reinforces this political logic. 

*          *          *

What we have seen in the past few years is the expansion of the desire for safe spaces and harm reduction from a small group of activists to that which frames left-liberal culture and politics more generally. Within this frame, state and corporate power is regarded as an ally, evident in the renewed demands to control social-media platforms and the alacrity with which new laws against domestic terrorism are proposed by liberal and progressive politicians, activists and commentators—and this in the most carceral state in the industrialised West. Since the 6 January riots, Facebook and Twitter have removed not only right-wing groups from their platforms but also a host of socialist groups, Palestinian-rights organisations, student human rights bodies, Antifa activists and the like. Already the Biden administration has used federal troops and chemical agents to suppress a protest outside an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility in Portland. While many progressives now ask state and corporate actors to intervene against extreme speech, they forget the extent to which any substantial challenge to institutionalised inequality and oppression will be seen in the same light by those actors. Here it is worth remembering Biden’s promise to donors before the election—‘Nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living would change. Nothing would fundamentally change’—and consider whose interests any expanded laws against political dissidence would serve.

Indeed, the contempt by many progressives for figures such as Julian Assange, whose fate at the hands of the security state ought to trouble anyone concerned about abuses of state and corporate power, is indicative of how little the expansion of surveillance and control troubles those who wish to utilise it in the struggle against oppression. Since WikiLeaks and Snowden, we have seen an even cosier relationship between liberal/progressive media outlets and state intelligence and security services. In the United States ex-intelligence officers and ‘war on terror’ advisers from the CIA and the Pentagon now appear regularly as experts on CNNBC or in the New York Times—rehabilitated in the light of Trump’s sheer awfulness, but with agendas that are rarely questioned. The number of critical stories about intelligence agencies in the Guardian has substantially shrunk in recent years, as opinion pieces concentrate on smearing those who pose a threat to state power, such as Assange and Jeremy Corbyn. As Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis note in the wake of Snowdon’s revelations about surveillance, the Guardian ‘had gone in six short years from being the natural outlet to place stories exposing wrongdoing by the security state to a platform trusted by the security state to amplify its information operations’.  

If placing more power in the hands of the state and corporations is likely to undermine the capacity to combat racist, patriarchal and environmentally destructive forces in the longer term, there remains an equally important question about the nature of speech and communication itself with the frame of digital media. Are forms of online communication and exchange merely extensions of the ‘organic’ speech we have always used? Obviously not, and yet both progressives (with their emphasis on harm and trauma) and the Right (with its empty avocation of ‘freedom’) often act as if this is the case. If the modern public sphere (with all its faults, hierarchies and exclusions) is aimed at rational debate and exchange, the contemporary communicative sphere is dominated by affect, where friends and enemies are decided by emotional affinities. This transformation arises though carefully constructed algorithms that privilege extreme views or reactions, and that generate symbolic recognition via an increase in followers, likes and so on. The pathologies that infect social media are a direct result of the corporate business model that surveils the user, keeps them online as long as possible though targeted content (thus individualising them) and rewards incendiary speech acts that keep others using the platform. The largely indiscriminate targeting of extreme content conveniently masks how the very form of social media cultivates extremity to make a profit. Here, the post-Trump elimination of ‘networking service’ Parler might appear to be a blow to extreme speech, but it was equally motivated by the desire to protect the Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Amazon monopolies, whose generous donations to the Biden campaign make it unlikely that any serious attempt to break up such arrangements will occur, nor is it likely that the conditions that promote extremism on social-media platforms will be altered, as this is the very condition of their profitability.

Will a post-Trump world simply see the culture wars continue, escalating into sporadic violence? These conflicts might be ameliorated by new laws limiting the expressive capacities of a reenergised Right, but they will most probably be used against ‘dissidence’ more generally to prevent any serious challenge to the exercise of state and corporate power. Must we be forced to choose between Trump’s proto-fascist legacy and Biden’s ‘neoliberalism as usual’, buttressed by a domestic war on terror that traps us within the terms of this choice? Undoubtedly Trump energised white nationalists and proto-fascist groups, but the 70 million people who voted for him cannot be encompassed entirely within this description. Instead we might think of the divisions between those excluded by decades of global capitalism and those whose progressive culture and politics arose off the back of the same process of exclusion. These are not simply the ageing white working class but everyone marginalised though the disruptive forces of global capital, including the fragile subjects on campuses and in the knowledge economy, whose investment in ever more strident forms of identity politics provides a meagre bulwark against more profound destabilisations. When the forces of ‘Trumpism’ and the new Right appropriate the strategies of disruption it’s time for a rethink. Progressive identity politics has reacted, but it has generally not rethought the conditions of its own emergence: the forces of global capitalism that liberalised the West, and now make it unsafe. 

Justice on Trial

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 1:10am in

Prosecutors showed a 9-minute 29-second video of the murder, and told jurors to “believe your eyes.” Continue reading

The post Justice on Trial appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

“He wants us to make it WILD”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 11:56pm in

The former president not only inspired his supporters to fight for him; he urged them to send money to defend his election in the courts. Continue reading

The post “He wants us to make it WILD” appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

The Trump Mediation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 6:11pm in

From 1984 into Brave New World

Whenever you hear a prominent American called a Fascist, you can usually make up your mind that the man is simply a loyal citizen who stands for Americanism.

—William Randolph Hearst, 1935

No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in.

—Anon.

Trump has gone, but his legacy is filled with foreboding. ‘I will return in some form’, he prophetically declared as he left Washington on Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day for Mar-a-Lago, his ‘Winter White House’, where he appears to be setting himself up as president-in-waiting. At the end of four years of virtual war against established US democratic institutions and policies, Trump echoed General Douglas MacArthur’s famous statement after his flight from Japanese forces in the Philippines in the early stages of the Pacific War. What form might Trump’s return take? 

Our guess (a risky gamble in these times when almost anything seems possible) is that Trump will fade. There are doubtless many others, similar or worse, who could take his place. With the going of Trump, what he calls his ‘movement’ may also go. What crystallised around him was more an assemblage, a loose-knit, heterogeneous, motley collection of diverse persons and groups ranging from the extreme far right to the more moderate, whose organisational cohesion may be more illusory than real. Not yet a ‘Party Trump’, it is as likely to melt into air and go the way of most populist movements as it is to congeal into a longer-lasting force of opposition headed by Trump. 

This is not to gainsay the shock of the storming of the Capitol on the otherwise ritualistic day of the confirmation of Biden’s victory, perhaps the peak moment that effectively concludes the transitional period conventional in the American democratic cycle. Such a liminal space is a relative retreat and suspension of the state political order as the presidency is renewed or changed. This is often a festive time given to all kinds of political excess, when the people vent their potency in the selection of those who are to rule them. Trump encouraged and intensified the potential chaos of liminality at its peak when, ideally, it should subside and political order be fully restored. He aimed to disrupt this critical moment and to maintain his uncertain presence as the Lord of Misrule, if not necessarily to effect a coup. Trump promoted, even if unwittingly, a moment of extreme chaos that was all the more intense for the time of its occurrence, when the participants themselves blew out of control.

Light of the Capitol/Night of the World

In the nightmare of the event, newscasts presented visions of a future filled with fascist and Nazi images and other associated symbols. There was a strong sense of dialectical collapse along the lines of Hegel’s ‘Night of the World’, in which forces in opposition dissipate against each other and lose their meaning. The representatives of the nation cowered under their desks and fitted gas masks, while those who would challenge them, in festive mood and drunk with brief power, put their feet up on desks, aping their masters, and carried off the mementos and spoils of their invasion. Exuberant chants of ‘this is our house’ echoed down the corridors of power. 

Shades of the past paraded in the present, foremost among them that of the enduring trauma of the rise of Nazi Germany. What Sinclair Lewis had warned in It Can’t Happen Here—a Hitler-esque rise to power at the centre of the democratic world—anticipated by all sides from the early days of Trump’s apotheosis, seemed actually to be materialising. This accounts for the excitement on the steps of the Capitol—‘This is America 2021, y’all!!’ Arlie Hochschild captured the millenarian Nuremberg feel of Trump’s campaign rallies when researching Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, her excellent ethnography of the white far Right and their sympathisers in Louisiana, America’s poorest state and a Trump heartland. Hochschild recounts at a lecture to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin a scene reminiscent of the opening frames of Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will when Trump’s plane, ‘Trump Force One’, appears through the clouds as if from heaven. It descends ‘down, down, down’ to the waiting crowd, electrified in expectation of the saviour’s endlessly repeated sermon of redemption for the deep resentment they feel at having been pushed aside from the promise of the American Dream.  

But here is the point: the immediate reaction to the storming of the Capitol was further confirmation of the real and present danger of Trump’s fascist threat, fuelled by the rumblings of the class war that Trump has inflamed and exploited. It is a liberal fear, mainly of the Democrats, but including some Republicans, who are the chief targets of Trump’s attacks. His demonisation of elite liberal value (marked by accusations of moral perversities aimed at unmasking liberal claims to virtue) is at one with his condemnation of the liberalism of federal political and social economic policies. These he presents as contributing to the abjection of mainly the white working class and the poor, which is to be seen as a consequence of the rapidly increasing power of global corporations, policies of economic globalisation, and the privileging of minorities, refugees and recent immigrants. It might be remembered at this point that the violence of the Capitol invasion, the marked involvement of military veterans, the carrying of weapons and baseball bats, and the reports of pipe bombs that shocked so many reflect the fact that most modern states are founded in violence. This is particularly the case in the United States, where the US Constitution’s Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms in defence of democratic rights. In an important sense, the violence of those invading the Capitol refracts back at the middle classes the very violence that underpins the structure of their rule. If liberal virtue was shocked by the events of 6 January, it was also confronted with the violent paradox deep in its democratic heart. Thus, this paradox slipped into paroxysm at a critical moment in American political history. 

The transitional figure of Trump feeds on the prejudices of his intended constituencies and exploits an already ill-formed class awareness, building on ready commitments and vulnerabilities—the well-rehearsed fascist and populist technique—and creating indeed a false consciousness (there is no other way to say it) that is not only destructive but, in the hands of the likes of Trump, integral to intensifying the feelings of impotence and the miseries that give Trump his relative popularity. Slavoj Zizek says as much in what he describes as ‘Trump’s GREATEST TREASON’.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘The Governator’, was quick to counter the white-supremacist, Proud Boy and Oath Keeper elements highly visible in media newscasts with a Conan the Barbarian performance. This was his take on the dominant brand of Make America Great Again. He focused on his own immigrant passage from his native Austria and its Nazi associations to the liberated American world of his success. For Schwarzenegger, the Capitol invasion and its vandalism equated to Kristallnacht. Noam Chomsky likened the storming to Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, observing that it effected a greater penetration to the heart of power than did Hitler’s failed attempt. But Chomsky, with characteristic acuity, added that the fascist danger lies in the anti-democratic class forces (including electoral and political manipulations on all sides) that provide the fertile ground for fascism.

Rupture and the corporate state

The Rise and Fall of Trump (not discounting the possibility that Humpty Dumpty might come together again, which is the fear of the master narrative) may be understood as expressing a transition between two moments of capital during which one formation morphs into another. Trump is the embodiment, instrument and anguish of this transition, a tragic figure in a theatre of the absurd. Grand Guignol almost, but in Gothic American Horror Story style. The accession of Biden is the apotheosis of the new; in the hopes of most, he is a vehicle for healing the divisions in America that Trump brought to a head and are still very much present. But Biden’s rise has ominous oppressive indications of its own.

The events Trump have all the hallmarks of the rupture of transformation or, better, transmutation. The millenarian spirit that Hochschild captures in her account is one born in the capitalist ideology of the American Dream; fortified in the religious fundamentalism of Trump’s many followers, it revitalises their hopes of the Dream in the face of abject failure. The rallies and the impassioned actions of those invading the Capitol were filled with revitalising energy. Such millenarian explosions, distinct in their own historical contexts, have occurred at many points in global history. They were apparent at the dawn of capitalism in Europe, at later moments of crisis and redirection in capital up to the present—indeed at the inception of the Nazi horror—and at points of the disruptive expansion of capital in the Western imperial/colonial thrust, as in the cargo movements of the Pacific. 

The rupture of transmutation in capital, the crisis that the Trumpian progress manifests, is an instance of what Marx and others have understood to be its creative–destructive dynamic. In this way, capital reproduces, renews and revitalises its potency against the contradictions within and limitations to its profit motive that it generates within itself, as well as those thrown up against it in the process of its expansion and transformation.  

The circumstances underpinning the current transmutation in capital relate to the revolutions in science and technology—those associated particularly with the digital age and advances in biotechnology—to a large extent driven by capital and motivated by profit. The rapid development of capital (and especially that of the still dominant, if declining, American form) has been driven by innovations in knowledge and technology (something that Marx and many others admired about America). What became known as the nation state (the dominant political form that nurtured capital) and the class orders that were generated in capital and necessary to it (not to mention the overpopulation and ecological disasters that grew in capital’s wake) also constituted barriers and limitations to capital’s growth.

The new technological revolutions are a response to such system-driven imperatives and crises. They have, in turn, effected revolutions in production and consumption (creating new markets and increasing consumption; reducing the need for human labour and the resistances that brings; overcoming problems in and opening up novel lines of distribution), forcing the distress of unemployment on a larger proportion of the population (especially among the erstwhile working class), creating impoverishment and uncertainties reaching into the once affluent middle classes (as captured in the neologism the ‘precariat’), shifting class alignments and redefining the nature and value of all forms of work and of the working day (the expansion of zero hours and the sense of the return of a bygone era). 

The current technological revolution is a key factor in the extraordinary growth in the monopolising strength of corporations such as Google, Amazon or even Tencent. The dot.com organisations (the flagships and spearheads of capitalist transformation, with huge social transmutational effect) have wealth that dwarfs that of many states, and they are functioning in areas once controlled by the state (the current race to colonise space is one). Indeed the corporate world has effectively invaded and taken over the operation of nation states. This is most noteworthy in those state forms influenced by histories of liberal social democracy in Europe and Australia, which have tended to draw a sharp demarcation between public interest and private enterprise. The nation state and its apparatuses of government and institutions for public benefit have been corporatised to the extent that many government bureaucracies have not only had their activities outsourced to private companies but also adopted the managerial styles and ruthlessness of some corporate business models. This corporatisation of the state has aligned it much more closely with dominant economic interests in the private (now also public) sectors than before, and enables a bypassing of state regulation, even the regulatory apparatus that once sustained capitalist interests, but which had become an impediment to capitalist expansion. 

These changes have wrought socio-economic and political disruption and distress globally, and most especially in the Western hemisphere. This is not merely collateral damage. The revolution in science and technology has been a key instrument in effecting social and political changes via destruction, for the regenerative expansion of capital. It is central to the re-imagination of capital at the opening of the twenty-first century. 

This is particularly so in the United States, whose socio-political order is historically one of corporate state formation, which accounts for its long-term global political-economic domination. Some renewal in leftist thought (with Bernie Sanders, for example) is an index of the depth of distress that is being experienced, although the ideological and counteractive potency of the American Dream fuelled especially in fundamentalist Christianity suppresses such potential, contributing to the intensity and passion of the Trump phenomenon. The ideological distinction of that phenomenon aside, the dynamic of populism is reflected everywhere across the globe.

One common feature of this is the rejection of political systems associated with nation-state orders and, to a marked extent, the largely bipartite party systems vital in the discourses of control and policy of modern nation states. Trumpism and other populist movements (in Europe notably) complain of the alienation of the state and its proponents from the interests of the mass. The expansion of corporatisation and the further hollowing out of the state, the corruption of its public responsibilities by corporate interests, is effectively what Trump was promoting in his presidency. It is a potent dimension of the Trump paradox and a major irony of the Capitol invasion that, for all the apparent fascist tendencies, it was the spirit of reclaiming democracy (admittedly of the freebooting kind) in an already highly corporatised establishment (subject to great corporate capitalist interest) that Trump’s actions were directed to expanding. An important figure in this respect is the Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The tech billionaire, early investor in Facebook and founder of Paypal was an early Trump supporter and named part of Trump’s transition team in 2016. His book, Zero to One, based on his lecture courses at Stanford University, argues for a corporate-technocratic governance beyond older forms of government. 

From panopticon to coronopticon

COVID-19 has highlighted the social devastation of the destructive/creative dynamic of capitalism’s transformation. Class and associated ethnic inequities have everywhere been shown up and probably intensified by a pandemic that is starting to equal, if not surpass, the devastating effect of two world wars. Like them it is a clearing ground for capitalist exploitative expansion—something like Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism. Under the shadow of the virus, labour demands are being rationalised and the cutting back of employment and its benefits legitimated, and governments are pumping capital into economies in a way that protects consumption in an environment where there is declining occupational opportunity and income. The idea of a universal basic income is being seriously discussed, which would offset some of the contradictions in a transformation of capitalism that is reducing our dependence on labour and endangering consumption through automation and digitalisation. While the poor are getting poorer the rich are getting richer, most notably those heading the revolutionary technologies of the digital age and biotechnology, the competitive race to secure viable vaccines against the virus being one example. 

There is a strange synchronicity linking the pandemic with the dynamic of capitalism’s transmutational corporatisation of the state. The virus reproduces and spreads in a not dissimilar dynamic. Indeed, COVID-19 in some ecological understandings is the product of the acceleration of globalisation, effected in those processes of capitalism’s transmutation associated with corporate expansion and corporatisation of the nation state. As a crossover from animal to human bodies, the virus is one manifestation of increased human-population pressure on wild animal territory, the closer intermeshing of animal and human terrains. The scale of the pandemic is, of course, a direct consequence of the time-space contraction and intensity of the networked interconnections of globalisation. 

State surveillance has intensified as a by-product of combatting COVID, which is also its legitimation, with digitalization the major surveillance instrument.  The digital penetration of every nook and cranny of social life (see Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism or Netflix’s The Social Dilemma) is interwoven with the commodification of the social and personal for profit—economising individuals calculating the costs and benefits of their social ‘interactions’ (the YouTube or Kuaishou ‘influencer’, the hyped TED talker as Foucault’s entrepreneurial self, cut, pasted, uploaded and remixed). The management of COVID, demanding social isolation and the disruption of ordinary social life, has exponentially increased the role of the digital as the primary mediator of the social and a commanding force in its constitution. COVID has been revealed as a kind of social particle accelerator. More intensively than ever, the realm of the social is being re-imagined, re-engineered and re-mastered as a digital-social, a ‘Digisoc’ or ‘Minisoc’, constrained and produced within algorithmically preset parameters. Here is Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show radically updated. And, as with Truman, the space of freedom is also and at the same time experienced as a space of unfreedom. This manifests in the deep ambivalence many feel about the new technologies they daily live with and through. The digitised social is often presented as a new agora, a liberating ‘space’ in which new, progressive ideas and directions are enabled, operationalised and indeed optimised. The internet has become a site of multiple struggles in which class forces and new potentials for social difference and proliferating identity-claims are continually emerging. The freedom of the internet has provided exciting opportunities for many. But such freedom also and at the same time contributes to conspiracy on all sides. As has been made clear in the two elections featuring Trump, the superpower of corporations such as Google and Facebook threatens to install a domain of hyper-control. Digital walls and electronic fences are appearing everywhere in the age of the global ‘splinternet’.

The hegemonic and totalising potential for the ruling bodies of the corporatising state who control the digital is as never before. This is so not just in the global scale of network reach but in the heightened degree to which controlling bodies can form the ground of the social, radically remodel, engineer and design reality in accordance with dominant interests, and, where motivated, shut out anything that threatens their order. Awareness of this has driven a fury of censorship and self-censorship on all sides—Trump’s threatened TikTok ban becomes Twitter’s actual Trump ban. 

From 1984 to Brave New World 

Trump and Trumpism are moments in the transitional, transmutational process of capitalism outlined above and of the formation of new social and political orders. Echoing the past, they express its transmutation (and its agonies) rather than repeat it. Trump and Trumpism manifest the contradictions of such processes, being agents and agencies of the transmutations in the social and political circumstances of life that are in train, themselves forces in the bringing forth of a future that, in some respects, is already being lived.

Trump himself can be described as an In-Betweener, a bridge into the new realities, both a force in their realisation and a victim.

His manner and style, the brutal no-holds-barred amorality, is familiar from the captains of industry and robber barons of an earlier age, who built capitalist America and crushed working-class resistance by all means, more foul than fair. Trump maintains the style but in reverse redemptive mode. In his shape-shift he presents as supporter of the working classes, not their nemesis, as did his forerunners. However, his authoritarian business manner, of The Apprentice’s ‘You’re fired’ fame, matches well the managerialism of the present. He is an exemplar of contemporary venture capitalism, and most especially  of profit from non-industrial production (often anti-production) gained from real estate, property transfer, asset stripping and the expanding gaming and gambling industries (symptoms of the crises of the transformation in capital) from which some of Trump’s key supporters come.

Trump’s reactive anti-immigrant nationalism and Make America Great Again rhetoric not only appeal to the white Right of his constituency but is an engagement of past rhetoric to support new political and economic realities. Trump’s economic war with China stressed re-industrialisation, but it was also concerned with counteracting China’s technological ascendancy (see Clinton Fernandes’ ‘The China Divide’ in Arena no. 4), especially in the realm of the digital, a major contradiction born of the current globalising transmutation in capitalism involving transfers of innovatory knowledge. 

Trump anticipated the risk to his presidential re-election and it manifested the dilemmas of his in-betweenness. His inaction with regard to the pandemic was consistent with the anti–Big Government policies of many Republicans and the American Right who are so much a part of QAnon conspiracies, but also centred on the concern to reduce government interference and modify regulation in capitalist processes, a strong theme in current transitions and transformations of the state and capital. Trump’s cry that the election was stolen was excited by the circumstances of the pandemic. His attack on postal votes related to the fact that the pandemic gave the postal vote an unprecedented role in the election’s outcome, by by-passing and neutralising the millenarian potency of his mass rallies, already reduced in numbers by fear. Trump sensed that the COVID-inspired move to ‘working from home’ and ‘voting from home’ would fence in his base of support. 

Trump took full advantage of the digital age, his use of Twitter and Facebook a marked feature of his style of rule. His practices here especially looked forward to the politics of the future, a politics increasingly bounded and conditioned in societies of the image. Following the events at the Capitol, Trump’s own Custer’s Last Stand to allay his fate, his cyberspace and internet accounts were switched off. He has been cancelled by the new digitally authoritarian corporate powers (who arguably benefited the most from the Trump era and profited greatly under pandemic conditions), which are behind the new society of the image, in which he was a past-master and within which he had largely established his identity (see Roland Kapferer’s ‘Trump as Singularity’ in Arena Magazine no. 143). 

The overriding image of the Capitol invasion and carried across most networks has been that of the occupation of the heart of American democracy by those who would threaten its ideals. The media have concentrated on what was the dominating presence of the extremist, macho, white American far Right parading symbols of a racist past combined with clear references to not-so-distant memories of fascism and Nazism. There were others there more moderate in opinion and representative of other class fractions, if still mostly white, whose presence, however, does not reduce the fear of fascism, possibly as in Nazi Germany, when what seemed to be small groups of extremists hijacked power to unleash the horrors that followed. Something similar could be said to have happened in Russia, leading to Stalinism. These were the worlds of George Orwell’s 1984, in which some of the major ideals of the time flipped into their tragic negation. Such events were very much emergent realities of the nation state: imperialist wars, and the class forces of the particular moment in the history of capitalism and its social and political formations. There is no statement here that this could not happen again.

What we are saying is this: a different authoritarian and oppressive possibility may be taking shape—not of the fascist past but of the future. This is a future that Trump was mediating, and that may yet be realised, despite the great hope to the contrary in the accession of President Biden. Perhaps this prospect can be seen as more akin to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, born in the current transmutations of capital (and its class agonies) and in the circumstances of the radical technological revolutions of the digital era, involving the apotheosis of the corporatisation of the state, the corporate state emerging out of the ruins of the nation state. 

Huxley depicted a world centred on production and efficiency, a bio-technologically conditioned global system of perfect rational, optimised order. The class conflicts of the past are overcome here; everyone accepts their predetermined place. It is a post-human reality in which the foundation of human beings in their biology and passions is transcended. It is a somatised, artificially intelligent world of the image and promiscuity. Those who do not fit or who resist are fenced out. 

Biden’s inauguration, for all its upbeat ceremonial spirit, had some intimation of such a future, taking into full account the security constraints of its moment: to protect against the murderous unchecked rampage of the virus and the threat of the attack of right-wing militias. The stress on this, it may be noted, has an ideological function to distance what is about to come into being from the vastly more visceral world of Trump and so evident in the invasion of the Capitol—what Biden in his inauguration speech called an ‘uncivil war’.

The scene of the perfectly scripted inauguration was virtually devoid of people. Apart from the dignitaries and all-important celebrities, there was the highly selected order of the society of the corporate state. Where the general populace would normally crowd was an emptiness filled with flags and protected by troops—more troops than are currently stationed in Afghanistan. Those who might disrupt the proceedings—Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’, Huxley’s ‘resistant savages’—were fenced out. It was a totalising and constructed digital media image presenting a reality of control, harmony and absolute surveillance. 

To Be Continued.

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