(aka This Just in! Trump Still a Dickhead!)
“You're a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that's what makes you so fucking scary.”
- As said to Idi Amin in ’The Last King of Scotland’
Yes, more about Trump. Believe me, I'm sick of hearing about the orange abhorrence too, and whatever childish insult that smug face has spewed at someone lately. But alas he's not going to go away by himself, we're going to have to do that for him.
Let's get the obvious out the way. Some are saying “well Obama did bad stuff too”. And so he did. Those drone strikes didn't deliver cup cakes. He deported people in record numbers, effectively licensed extrajudicial killings and all the rest of it. But the strange thing is, I don't remember most of those people saying any of this at the time, which might have been a good moment to mention it. The fact that this argument can be used unamended by both ends – by trumpers for Trump and more-radical-than-thou ultra-leftists - suggests it's not really much of an argument at all. Okay, Obama was bad. But Trump is worse. And the thing about worse is, it's worse.
(See also “despots have had State visits before”. This is a paraphrase of “but we've hung out with so many mass murderers already, it's too late to change now”. Which is itself a variant of the “we've always practiced slavery” argument.)
And as for “protesting after an election is anti-democratic”... Seriously? The guy who said he'd only accept the result if he won suddenly discovers the joys of being process-bound? A process which quickly narrowed people's effective choice down to two elite insiders as widely loathed as Clinton and Trump, waited for one to gain a three million majority then handed the result to the other – that's going a bit past flawed, really.
And “give him a chance, you don't know what he'll be like yet”? Guys, you know this stuff isn't decided by lottery, don't you? That candidates put forward their programmes beforehand and stuff? Besides, how does that measure against Trump's repeated boast to be getting through the changes so quickly? He's doing dumb shit now. Let's have some smart opposition at the same pace.
But if we're to win we need to look out for his weaknesses, and our potential weaknesses too.
This much is obvious – from any angle, that travel ban is bollocks. The Department for Homeland Security has stated right-wing extremists area greater danger than Islamic jihadists, a conclusion borne out if you look at those pesky fact things. But then again,
the average American is under greater threat still from being shot by a toddler. Just as much as that stupid wall, the travel ban is designed to work only as a distraction.
And was it ever thus. The Situationist publication the Spectacular Times said of power “it's only real security lies in the construction and maintenance of myths and illusions. First and last, it is a show”. And the former reality TV star presents the Presidency as a form of theatre. He literally signs his ordinances for the cameras. That the travel ban couldn't even succeed on it's own terms is effectively beside the point. A big media event has occurred which has had that label attached to it. It's not policy, it's self-advertising.
We've been told so repeatedly that demonstrating against Trump is “pointless”, that seems a pretty good indication we need to keep going. But beware. We need to be wary of doing the same as him, of creating a rival show programmed against his, of demonstrating just to give the papers a photo-op. That feeds the narrative. It doesn't disrupt it.
In particular we should avoid focusing too much on celebrity endorsements. We should of course be grateful for the support and participation. Even from Madonna. Even from Meryl Streep. (Though one of the few things I agree with Trump about is her acting.) But that stuff plays too neatly into Trump's supposed 'anti-elite' stance.
So how do you oppose something? Through providing it's opposite, right? And the opposite of Trumps' sound-bite knee-jerk gesture politics is substance.
People, brought up in a hierarchical society such as this, tend to assume there's some trade-off to be found between authority and liberty. Too much of one we're shoved into labour camps, too much of the other and the bins don't get collected. Hence even those who don't wear white hoods or shout “heil Trump” blithely assume that authoritarian states are a model of efficiency, that Hitler sorted out the German economy, that Mussolini made the trains run on time. It seems so self-evident, they don't think to check those facts.
And to Trump's supporters, that trade-off is supposed to have gone too far one way. Those checks and balances are like traffic calming measures in the way of an angry driver, pointless encumbrances put there by busybodies, best just ridden straight over. His not following due process, even defying the courts, is taken as a measure of his strength.
While we need, not to push the trade-off the other way, but to question it's existence, to stop framing the thing as a security vs. liberty dilemma. For those 'facts' above are wholly wrong. And will only ever be wrong. Authoritarian societies are not run by genius masterminds, surging ahead of lesser bulbs, but by caprice and whim. The makers of those 'tough decisions' are removed from the effects, and keen to surround themselves with sycophants who'll tell them all went swimmingly.
We should focus on the travel ban's manifest malevolence. But we should also focus on it's bumbling ineptitude, where even Trump's own spokesman was unable to explain how it would work and ended up contradicting himself, where the British Government was advising travellers one thing and the State Department another. People might be willing to follow a tough if reckless figure, but a bumbling amateur? When he loses his appearance of strength he loses his selling point. It'll be like pricking an orange balloon with an ugly face on it.
And underlying that point, we should remember not all the grievances of Trump's supporters are reactionary. The situation is more complicated than Trump simply selling them a line. Their grievances are more often a mixture of reactionary and progressive, allowing Trump to deliver on one half and perpetually rain-check on the other. But then American history is a longstanding process of the rulers dividing the ruled by race, so it's scarcely a surprise to see it internalised by this point. But even if that's internalised, it doesn't mean it can't be unpicked. We just need to pick on, from Trump's many weaknesses, the weaknesses that others will see as weaknesses. “Heil Trump” must become “fail Trump”.
Coming soon! Back to the standard gig-going and behind-time art exhibition reviews...