I made a short film in 2011 called “Captivity.” It was a reflection on the state of our historical moment – late capitalism, reality tv, torture movies – you know, junk culture. Oh, and this rather rated hard “R.” Here is the working video:
So, I leave you hanging there in 2011, captive. Because we don’t have another way out. Since 1992 we have been trying to convince ourselves that neoliberalism was the “end of history.” We all became center-right Fukayamaists. The left moved firmly center in the mold of Clinton and Obama, while the neocons went further right, conservatives radicalized to the fringe. Wealth inequality exploded, the middle class liquidated, liberal social institutions defunded, abandoned. Radical privatization of every aspect of life led to a government responding only to a donor class. Elections occurred, but we were fed candidates funded by the donor class for their own interest, and were fed an obscene amount of lies, triggered into anger, hate, xenophobia, false events. It’s not democracy, but a simulation of democracy.
What is going on? Capitalism is reaching its maximum point. It’s like 95 percent to full capacity. What is full capacity? A totalizing oligarchy, or plutocracy, or kleptocracy, if you like, a kind of state capitalism. There will be no public institutions, no unions, no post office, no parks, no public welfare for the old or disabled, no public roads, not even a public wall on the Mexican border. That’ll be a privatized wall, if there is one. There will be ten percent of people who are winners, who get to live well. And we will have ninety percent of people who are losers, who live in poverty. We already showed ourselves this future world in our movies – see Hunger Games, Elysium. It’s an economy likened to the so-called “Third World.” In other words, it’ll look kind of like Russia today. This is the future.
I hear so many people who are so shocked by the events in America. One narrative typically goes like this, “Trump is a mistake. We will regret this.” Or “I don’t recognize my country.” Or really just other narratives of incredulity, or “we’ll elect him out next time,” which is a kind of reassuring platitude I think.
The election of Trump is a much bigger move than a mere election. It is a historic event of such a degree that it rips open the fabric of social reality and shows us something new that we didn’t know about ourselves. It’s a rightwing revolution. Let me indulge in a little thought experiment to show this narrative. It goes like this …
Trump is not the aberration. He is our destiny. We are and always were a Trump world. Our country was founded by Trump in Jamestown. It was a labor colony, run by capitalists, worked by white serfs. May as well have been called Trumptown. This was the alpha of America. Trump is the Omega. We are a nation of hustlers. We worship growth, wealth, the individual, a gospel of prosperity, television. We don’t much like elites or book learning. We like machines we can use. We don’t much like government, we like to think of ourselves as “free” people of the American frontier. We tell ourselves that we are “exceptional,” a “city on the hill.”
We hustled all across the continent and could not stand people of color – moving out the Cherokee, murdering the bison, committing unspeakable genocides against the indigenous population, enslaving imported Africans, keeping Irish and Chinese in work camps, later imprisoning Japanese-Americans during WWII. Then there was the imperial expansion – Polk further instigating war with Mexico to take New Mexico, California, Arizona, threatening war with Britain to take Oregon, Washington, Texas going to war to protect the white race and their slaves, McKinley instigating Spain into war to take Cuba, Guam, The Philippines, and American Samoa. After the war, we created the the CIA to prop up our great business friendly fascist governments in the South America and Africa to fight communists. What a great and noble race we are to be a beacon of liberty to the world!
We admit to ourselves, finally, and telling it like it is, we are Trump people! We are a people with a rapacious, craven appetite. We have no further culture to hold us together, and don’t need one. We love wealth and power, and want to be seen with people who have wealth and power. We conduct our politics like this, elect millionaires who protect their own interests, and made sure this was protected in our Constitution. We don’t much like democracy if it’ll interfere with our profits or our dream that we too will someday have our own slaves. We put in the electoral college because we didn’t really want a real democracy, we needed a safety net in case the rabble, you know, OTHER people, roused enough courage to defy our interests.
We told ourselves that this was a land of the free, a land of opportunity, that people could get ahead. We looked to the ones who could as hopeful examples. Trump is our man. Our White Knight. He’s our ideal American, he is our hero, a man who can make do with his own prosperity. It is his world, his empire. We are a nation of hustlers, and we elected the ultimate hustler, the world’s most famous hustler! He is what we’ve been waiting for.
Is this over the top? Decide for yourself. What really is the soul of the country about? I know this is not a homogenized thing. There are other strands, there are decent people, there has been change. But the specters of the past are there, just under the surface. I think it could be argued that this is really the dominant narrative of the country. It certainly has moved many of the levers of history.
As for the future, I can tell you this: America does not have much of a tradition of left wing revolutions. But that is precisely the only thing that will save your country. Walter Benjamin wrote “behind every fascism is a failed revolution.” In your neofascist country, your failed revolution occurred in many stages. There is a mountain of victims representing failed revolutions. The latest is Bernie Sanders. That would have been your FDR. But the DNC made sure he didn’t get that far, the media treated him like a joke, said he was unsuitable. Unsuitable for what? Trumpland? The fella beat Clinton in the Rust Belt. If there is not a labor movement going hard left very very soon, this country will be finished. And, if I’m frank, there is no reason to think that’ll happen. Who’s going to do that? The democrats? That’s laughable, really. They just re-elected Nancy Pelosi as house minority leader.
Do you want to know happened to your country? I have three book recommendations:
Start with Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank. You can get it on Kindle. He explains how the democrats capitulated to the right and threw the working class under the bus over the last several decades.
Then The Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges for a deeper socio-cultural diagnosis of our cultural condition.
And if you really want to see the future, Why America Failed by Morris Berman, who gives a little deeper history, (or is it a funerary march?) into the spirit of American greed.
It could be that the experiment with liberal democracy just doesn’t suit us, and we’re going to have a hard time realizing that. I mean, it’s not something to take for granted. And if you think about it, liberal democracies, are rather rare in the world. Even in the West, look, Spain has only been democratic since the 1970s. It’s much more common in the world to have a cult of strongmen – you know, African politics. So it could be, and I’m not joking here, that we really are, when unmasked, Trump people. Trumpmericans?
So I don’t want to give you too much pessimism here. After all, this blog is about coping with this post-truth world. Healthy coping does not mean dissociating from reality, however. Remember, though, there are decent people out there. There are people who care about their community, people who see and think deeply, people who can inspire us, people who resist mass junk culture, people who are appalled by the hustler culture I spoke about above. In short, there is a resistance. But your salvation or progressive future will not come from a returning messiah or goddess. It will be done with individuals acting collectively. Get a handle on the issues, speak out, teach, create. I mean, we need all kinds of talent to preserve our fragile dignity.