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writing for godot

Donald Trump Did Not Happen

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Written by melshall   
Sunday, 08 January 2017 10:53

Donald Trump Did Not Happen.

The truth is that Trump is deeply, maximally American. He didn’t import his politics from abroad, but simply followed the governing logic of American society through to its radical conclusion. The reason that 62 million Americans were prepared to entrust the presidency to a billionaire best known for playing a businessman on television is because they’ve been absorbing the tenets of market absolutism their whole lives. Trump may have campaigned as an outsider, but his appeal was radically mainstream.
So remarked Ben Tarnoff in a December 13th election post-mortem published in the Guardian [https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/13/donald-trump-silicon-valley-leaders-neoliberalism-administration].   As the above quote suggests, the Trump election was not the revolution it was thought to be, but business as usual, with “business” being the operative word.  The governing logic of neoliberalism emphasizing market freedom, entrepreneurship, and “small government,” all of which would be directed by the invisible hand of self-interest, brought us Donald Trump, and not any “fringe”—whether foreign or domestic—intruder.

But Tarnoff also notes that the neoliberal logic underpinning the Trump campaign has been, more or less, the governing logic of both parties.  Much of the punditry leading to the election suggesting a Clinton win took much of its reasoning from just this fact:  Clinton was a reliable, if not an especially appealing, candidate, because she was part of the norm.  For this reason, it was thought, voters would choose Clinton over Trump.  Better the devil you know…

But in the minds of many voters Clinton was the subject of suspicion.  Part of this, of course, is due to the complexity of what is known as “the establishment,” often presented in political discourse as a mélange of (conflicted) interests between capital, different identity groups, various lobbyists and special interests, all brought together in a complicated network of revolving players.  Lots of back scratching is assumed.  Part of Clinton’s mystery also stemmed from an inherent suspicion of power in American political culture, one that goes right back to the founding of the nation.  (Conspiracy theories are embedded in the political DNA.)  Clinton was thought to be too close to power and power is a very bad thing—at least in government.

But something, if not quite new, also happened in the 2016 election:  A profound reversal in meanings was produced in which “truth” was found in the spaces of the hidden or ambiguous. Twenty-four hour news channels and the production of “news” in hyperreal forms (news about the news; news productive of events that would then be covered as “news”), together with “real” virtual reality (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, What’s App, a world of apps for every wish and need) where signs refer to other signs—“shares,” hyperlinks, retweets, emedds, themselves lacking clear points of origin-- produced a self-enclosed mediascape where appearances were read for what they hid.  It is perhaps not odd, then, that much of the discourse surrounding the campaigns centered on the question of lies and truth.  The suspicion haunting the Clinton campaign corresponded to all that was hidden while all that was said and done openly were read as lies: Clinton’s “inauthenticity” was read through her debate preparation, scripted appearances, political correctness and her redundant choice of clothing (the notorious “pantsuits”), while the 30,000 disappeared emails revealed her hidden “truth” by signaling not what was known, which was very little, but precisely the opposite.   Truth was produced by the revelation that something was hidden, which, though never uncovered, nevertheless revealed the “truth”: Clinton was, beneath the mask of appearances, really corrupt, calculating and criminal.

On the opposite side, Trump won precisely be being “himself.”  For the Trump voter, what seemed to matter was not reality, which is to say, the actual or “truth” since it was clear throughout the campaign that everything Trump said and did was a not meant to refer to reality-- We will and will not build a wall along the Mexican border and Mexico will/not pay for it.  We will and will not develop a Muslim registry to monitor for "terrorist" activity.  We will and will not force China to capitulate to our trading demands--but rather the performance, which itself became “truth” since it was understood that pretensions are now the only truth.  “Reality,” as such, ceased to exist.    Who is the “real” Trump?  Which of his statements are “true”?  Which promise does he intend to keep?  We cannot know, even when he tells us.

 

 

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