Liberals stayed home on voting day
Smug and well off, they took no stand
Sailing by the castaway
To the far-away isle of Trumpland
Suits and pollsters of the chattering class
Stared into their cracked old crystal ball
Gave their new Gilded Age a pass
Hid their rotting nation beneath a pall
Lady Liberty cast her shadow
Crawling out from its depths the trolls
Stormed the stage of the TV show
Roaring over the din of polls
March up and down the streets if you like
Stick your pinkie in the breach in the dike
Sell your soul or you’ll surely drown
In the sewer of the Ogre Clown
Were the god we deserve to show himself at last, would we shed tears of joy or claw out our eyes to spare us from having to see our essence made manifest? How many people truly know themselves and understand that our high-tech wonderland is a veneer over a wilderness that’s the source of all our nightmares? When the lights go out and our savage neighbours throw off their ill-fitting trappings of civility, storm the battlements, and conjure their ogre king, the duped, happy-talking professionals of the establishment are shocked and appalled. “America is divided,” they say. “A civil war is coming.” But they don’t understand, because they don’t accept the barbarity spread out before them as their shadow. Only outcasts who don’t prop up the American system could be blameless for the coming of America’s best representative, for the ogre Donald Trump. They’ve played no part in turning the United States into a laughingstock which every nation is at its core for being a herd of beasts and sheep that pretend to be angels. American liberals think they’re innocent because they protect gays and Muslims and women’s choice to abort their fetuses. Meanwhile, these same liberal professionals pass their time as worker bees and consumers in a new Gilded Age and preside over the US-led destruction of the biosphere.
For comedians and philosophers, the 2016 US presidential election is an intellectual feast. Trump captured the dreaded zeitgeist of American decline and humiliated the neoliberal establishment. Contrary to Trump’s clumsy epithet for her, Hillary Clinton wasn’t especially crooked; instead, she was clueless—like the entire class of power elites, the pundits and pollsters and politicians, and the complacent beta herds of doctors, lawyers, and teachers who think they’re on the right side of history whereas the horde of Trumpian savages is un-American. Not even Sherlock Holmes could show Democrats the clues that hide in plain sight. Bernie Sanders tried and was marginalized as a “socialist” and a misanthropic dreamer. Democrats have been too busy fussing as technocratic custodians of the social systems to realize that America is a myth. Their true home has been Trump’s sewer all along—only, some have been wailing and drudging naked through the filth because they couldn’t afford blinders and boots, while the professionals, whom Thomas Frank showed have made up the base of the Democratic Party for decades, mistook the spectacle of infantilized and shell-shocked consumers, scurrying in their corner of the global village, for a land of the free and a home of the brave.
How smug were the writers of the Saturday Night Live sketches which depicted Trump as a troll and Clinton as a shoe-in for the presidency and “the most qualified candidate ever to run for high office”! The latter mantra was a euphemism for “competent technocrat,” for “manager of the system and maintainer of the status quo,” whereas the right-wing backlashes in Europe, the Sanders campaign and the nomination of Trump signaled that the millions who have been left behind by the system have finally insisted on searching for alternatives. A neoliberal can afford to say that masses of have-knots can be expected in a free market, if that neoliberal happens to be part of the establishment. If he himself is a loser in conventional terms, he wouldn’t be thankful for the second coming of Clinton, because he’d have been radicalized by years of resentfully watching the glitzy American success stories on TV. He’d be desperate enough to want to tear down the whole system and to take revenge on the top one percent of power elites who have flourished almost beyond comprehension while the majority’s wages in the US have been stagnant for decades. Trump exploited this blowback from globalism, using his skills as a reality TV star to demagogue his way to victory, to inflict the world with the fallout of his megalomania.
Even now after the scales have fallen from their eyes, American liberals rally to oppose Republicans who now control all branches of their government. They don’t understand that these armies of Republican troglodytes are only symptoms of a deeper, more persistent inhumanity. As Yuval Harari points out in Homo Deus, the rancor of First World blue collar workers who have lost their jobs to Third World slaves is destined to be followed by the bewilderment of white collar elites who will in turn lose their jobs to computers. As robots and slaves of authoritarian states are replacing middle-class labourers, computers will occupy upper-class positions in the knowledge economy; that’s the logic of “free market” capitalism. We “liberate” inhuman natural forces from the creativity we’re capable of imposing when we act in a dignified, transcendent fashion, and when we recognize we’re all at war with a godless universe and must create a virtually supernatural world that doesn’t run on such heartless evolutionary principles; otherwise, we suffer and die as hapless quasi-animals. Just as Obama is leading the transition team that’s ushering in the Trump regime to the White House, which regime will be dedicated to erasing any sign that the abomination of a neoliberal African-American once sat in the Oval Office, we’re all programming the machines that will replace our whole species of deluded primates.
Stuck in the early modern past in which Reason was idolized, liberals don’t understand the meaning of what’s been called postmodernity and they don’t see the forest for the trees. Americans are free because God is dead; they’re left to fend for themselves because the social systems that are supposed to serve them have been co-opted by predators, charlatans, and soulless bureaucrats. Reason is a tool for figuring out the facts, not for creating a worthy culture made up of art and myths that inspire us to noble acts of resistance against the natural processes that carry us to our doom. So the right-wing hordes and Reagan Democrats who voted for Trump in the rust belt states and in the usual cave-like places are uncouth ignoramuses. And so they’re not homeless and impoverished, but are themselves degenerate consumers. They still have next to nothing compared to the obscene wealth of the rarefied upper class that hasn’t come close to earning those millions or billions of dollars. These Republican trolls are still justified in lashing out at their government, the mass media, the punditry, the banks, and the rest of “the establishment,” because they’d rather not tolerate such absurd economic inequality. Reason has nothing to do with it; it’s a case of being disgusted by the prospect of having horrors waved in front of your face on a daily basis. Multiculturalism and the rights of minorities and women may not be decadent in themselves, but in the postmodern context such kneejerk tolerance does indicate that there’s nothing left to believe in in the West, because Reason has slain the traditional gods and left us with pale substitutes such as movie stars, football teams, marines, statesmen, and astronauts. These modern heroes’ exploits are meaningless unless you can develop the sensitivity to be inspired by them. The Republican trolls are obviously insensitive, which is precisely why they’re lashing out, because they’re tired of being stuck with nihilism, thanks to the early modern liberals’ disenchantment of nature. They long for a strong-man dictator to show them the way or at least to give them the satisfaction of razing the political and economic systems that have exploited them. Failing in those respects, Trump would at least provide for first-rate political reality television. Standards are low in a postmodern world, so high-grade infotainment would suffice.
Despite being hailed as an election of world-shaking importance, voter turnout was lower than in the 2012 US presidential election. Only about half of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2016. Some Americans might have been disgusted by the interminable political campaigns. Others were over-confident about Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning, because that’s what the pseudo-scientific polls indicated, and so they didn’t bother to vote. Many low-income Americans are victims of voter-suppression scams. At the root of this deficit of civic responsibility, though, is apathy: most Americans are so nihilistic they can’t be bothered either to vote or to further protect and enrich their society after voting. Given the neoliberal consensus that has united the two major parties and made the culture war between so-called liberals and conservatives an illusion (like the melodramas of professional wrestling, as John Stewart once observed), there’s usually no compelling reason to vote one way or the other. But whereas Obama was a fake change candidate, Trump seems to be an agent of real change. His policies will likely be typical Republican fare, and handlers will rush in to fill the power vacuum created by Trump’s mental disorders, to manipulate Trump for their private gain or to pursue their pet agendas. But Trump’s medium is his message. He has already transformed American politics by revealing the hollowness of the American establishment and by proving that those who put their faith in respectable power elites are fools. Regardless of what Trump does in office, his victory speaks for itself as a case for American fascism. Hillary Clinton was the most qualified person ever to run for office, she’s a hundred times more knowledgeable and articulate than Trump, and she’s enormously impressive in all intellectual respects. But she’s also an empty suit. Computers could replace her. And if she lost in humiliating fashion, and all the power elites that lined up against Trump were proven to be clueless lemmings, and social science has itself been exposed as a far cry from a panacea, the American system itself must be a fraud. Hence, only an outsider can save Americans. This is the Gnostic subtext of Americans’ cries in the wilderness.
Trumpians cried out for a lone saviour, and because Jesus is long-past late, the monstrous Trump had to do; Christians are used to compromising, after all, their religion being a disgrace. But liberals are crying out now too and there’s schadenfreude to be had in watching as feminized and infantilized consumers with little if any self-knowledge have finally woken to the fact that reality itself is a nightmare. The horror that will poison American life for the next four years (or until Trump is assassinated) won’t be defined merely by the daily grind of degradation and incompetence that can be expected to issue from Trump’s Republican government. Underlying all will be the brute fact that in this case the bad guy won. That’s not supposed to happen. The bully can sometimes seem to win, but in the end he’ll lose—so says conventional, Christian or otherwise optimistic wisdom. Thus, David slew Goliath and while saintly Jesus may have been crucified, he had the last laugh by being raised from the dead; even a roman centurion saw the worth of that omega male. The opposite is supposed to befall the protagonist only in horror stories and dystopias in which the good may triumph temporarily but it’s the monster that’s resurrected to have the last laugh. And yet Donald Trump’s triumph is perfectly complete. He proved that the United States is a joke, that its hallowed traditions and values are cons, and that the technocrats who manage the American sheeple are soulless since they can be reprogrammed at will. On CNN, for example, the mainstream pundits and other corporate media figures who first demonstrated their obtuseness by not understanding Trump’s appeal and who then railed against Trump until he won the election, now call for healing and bipartisanship to give Trump a chance to govern. Their script has changed to suit their self-interest, since now they must grovel and ingratiate themselves to retain their gravitas and their access to the power elites in Trump’s America. Trump bested a legion of Republican challengers, stayed true to his strategy, and defeated a female nominee when political correctness alone should have guaranteed her victory. Trump is also obviously a monster. Thus, the monster won, which means the United States is fundamentally horrific and dystopian.
Unlike Orwell’s dystopia, though, the American story is a horror comedy. Trump’s odious policies and mannerisms will nauseate all people of good conscience who aren’t desperate for revenge, but they will also greatly amuse. Trump will be the second coming of George W. Bush, except that the scale of Trump’s arrogance will be much more insufferable. Even should Trump’s policies blow up in his face, he will easily find scapegoats. He likely won’t face the poetic justice of having to admit that the establishment was right all along and he was just an ogre. Trump can do no wrong because no matter how hard he fails, America deserves it. That’s the magnificence of his victory: he saw that he could play the role of the demagogic troll, of the shadow of a moribund society, so that he can win by failing. The more he violates traditions and lays waste to the country, the greater his accomplishment as a vigilante and as a revealer of existential truth. Subversively-informed Americans are using Trump to exact revenge not just on the power elites but on themselves for being so worthless and spiritually empty that they’ve had to languish at the bottom of the most appallingly-fraudulent democracy.
Again, conventional wisdom has it that these Trump supporters are cretins because they’re acting against their self-interest, since by eliminating the social support systems Trump will make their life even harder. But that’s the point. Trump’s election is an act of suicide by the American multitude that’s lost all faith in the bromides of liberal humanism. “Make America great again!” they chant, but they don’t trust that Trump will build an organization that works for older, white American manufacturers. Their day is done and Republican heartlessness will see to their annihilation, but in the interim they will have had their revenge; these dead-enders will have taken solace in the glum look on the faces of millennials who are appalled by Trump’s oafishness. Like Osama bin Ladin watching the Twin Towers collapse on TV, knowing American soldiers would eventually come for him, Trump’s trolls gleefully made their last stand. The global market will thwart Trump’s protectionism. For example, when Trump raises tariffs to punish China, Chinese manufacturers will increase prices of their myriad goods, which most Americans won’t be able to afford. If Trump tries then to punish domestic companies for not raising American wages, those companies will leave. Lowering taxes won’t be enough to raise the majority’s living standard in a tariff war, because American taxes already aren’t especially high. Once more, the Trump political phenomenon isn’t rational. But suicide can be merciful if the suffering is great and the reserve of courage or artistic inspiration is lacking.
Donald Trump is monstrous in that, like most powerful persons, he’s more or less sociopathic. But he’s monstrous also in that his inhumanity has found a national, historical purpose. Most sociopaths in government or in business merely scheme for their private advancement, often self-destructing in the end. They keep their hollowness hidden. But Trump’s narcissism and grandiosity will play out for the world to see, because he’s been called to service by the zeitgeist, to speak figuratively. Trump is an instrument for the underclass’s rebellion against the neoliberal establishment. Thus, the exploitation of weakness is twofold: Trump capitalized on the one-sidedness of the American plutocracy, since he found that he could jury-rig his Republican message to appeal to the disadvantaged masses. But the latter abused Trump in turn, exploiting his mental disorders, egging him on to more and more outlandish promises and off-the-cuff remarks at his political rallies. Economic inequality in the US will likely increase even further as a result of Trump’s voodoo economics and incompetence, and so Trump will betray his supporters. But those supporters will also have ruined Trump, as prophesied by South Park’s take on the election: Trump may not care that he’s unfit for the presidency, but he is obsessed with maintaining his image as a winner, and while Trump indeed won, history will likely depict him as a profound embarrassment. Like Batman, the dark knight, Trump is the ogre-clown: not the saviour that Americans need—that would have been Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren—but the charlatan they deserve.