America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians… the evil was there… waiting – William S. Burroughs
America has given its two fingers to the élites; unfortunately it was two fingers on the wrong hand. In crisis America slides off the spectrum to the right. The deep hatred of minorities, immigrants, women, homosexuals that barely lies under the surface when white people feel economically secure has, in these uncertain times, erupted and spewed forth President Donald Trump. He has given mainstream legitimacy to white supremacy.
Of course America was founded on white supremacy. Recall that in the early days of America, white Brits and other white Europeans went there so they could be even more racist. America was founded on slavery, it was founded on the idea of unlimited exploitation of vast natural resources, genocide, subjugation of women and brown people for the benefit of white men. All this subjugating, exploiting and killing was called “freedom”.
Some 250 years later it seems an unsettlingly large percentage of Americans still have this worldview: nature is there for us to destroy, brown, female bodies are there to serve white men, intellectualism and scientific curiosity are scams designed to steal the white man’s rightful place in society.
Donald Trump does not even rise to the level of being anti-intellectual. He is not sophisticated enough to be “anti” anything because he cannot hold two thoughts in his consciousness. This is not an exaggeration.
The news media, the fancy data modelers and predictors are now writing the inevitable “how could we get this so wrong?” pieces. Just as with the 2008 financial crash – the institutions who brought on crisis cannot see the past their own ideologically blinded neoliberal assumptions. In these environments of severely constrained discussion framed by hubris, ill-informed and fatuous arguments, honest discussion of reality is impossible. When reality breaks through their carefully constructed ideological lenses it is catastrophic.
Reality is hideous, but neoliberal propaganda (otherwise known as advertising) wants to convince you that reality is awesome because it is made of products. But this is an illusion of course. People believe they can replace social community and emotional attachment to others with products. Now when nobody can afford the products anymore, the neoliberal narrative is unraveling to reveal an endless emptiness. The terror of confronting this emptiness is perhaps driving some of the turn toward racism and misogyny. We have been told to hollow out our lives for the sake of products, and the consequences are horrifying.
People voted to destroy neoliberal institutions because these institutions are ruining their lives. Neoliberal globalization has created an elite of hybrid cosmopolitans, which Hillary Clinton embodied. Along with her Goldman-Sachs and Google friends, this elite views the rest of society from 35,000 feet in a private jet on its way to Davos (a flight that costs around 50,000 dollars per person from New York). This is the “if you have to ask how much something costs you can’t afford it” crowd. These are people who have so many personal assistants they have to hire people to manage the personal assistants. This elite claims to be “liberal”, value diversity, freedom, and cosmopolitanism – but this openness and tolerance is predicated on one minor detail: you have to be insanely rich to join the club.
They hold secretive meetings in fancy hotels in remote locations and discuss the social and economic crises that their lifestyle creates. Beyond all the disingenuous jargon and platitudes about the future of healthcare or the climate [insert trendy elite cause here] the fundamental question this elite is really asking is this: “How can we, the enlightened ones, anointed by our wealth and power as the moral leaders of the world, convince the rest of the society to allow us to continue living this life of endless luxury and personal assistants?”
This is the supposed liberal democratic political establishment that should protect the workers, and instead these democrats are assisting the economic elite in amassing even more wealth and power. The democrats became sycophants to Eric Schmidt, Saudi oil billionaires (who also happen to be Islamists) and the elite class of investment bankers intent on squeezing every last ounce of profit from the Earth. It should not surprise anyone that the working class abandoned Clinton – she betrayed them.
The odd thing is that Trump and Hillary both belong to this club. Somehow Trump convinced millions of semi-literate white people in America that not only is not a member of this club, he wants to burn the elite clubhouse down. But recall that Trump’s single skill in life is conning people. His entire career as a “business man” is nothing but a series of scams.
Neoliberalism has also destroyed the social cohesion in the industrial wastelands of America. The companies who have abandoned American workers to exploit cheaper workers in Asia are precisely the same companies whose stock the cosmopolitan elite owns, thereby exacerbating the economic chasm between the elites and everyone else. Without any sense of community Americans turn on each other – they turn on the weak and the different. This is the same story in Austria, Hungary, France and the UK.
This return to traditional identity, or nationalism, or racism is nothing new, and in fact is more the rule than the exception. Especially in times of crisis or collapse. The grand modern narrative of endless economic growth that will provide a house, two cars and piles of products for everyone has finally been revealed to be, like one of Trump’s business scams, a lie.
But economic hardship cannot be allowed to excuse racism, misogyny and ignorance. In fact, a large percentage of Trump voters are not experiencing much economic hardship at all – they are simply racist and sexist assholes. They feel that having to show respect for minorities and not being able to speak in racist tirades is the tyranny of political correctness. These are white supremacists who are furious that their white supremacy is being questioned.
Trump is bringing the specters of fascism, nuclear holocaust, climate catastrophe closer. We have to brace ourselves, but then we have organize like never before. We know the answer to the question “why fight?” – we now have to answer the question of “how to fight?”.