The American midterm elections – halfway through the American president’s term, where voters decide on their representatives in the two houses of American ‘democratic’ government, Congress and the Senate (as well as on some state governors) – take place tomorrow, on 6 November 2018, and all indications are that these will be the most significant elections in a long, long time, if not ‘ever’. Anybody who is reading this and does not know why I have written these words, is simply uninformed, but let me try and put you in the picture.
Since his election about two years ago, Donald Trump has proved to be probably the most divisive president the US has ever had; the polarisation between Trump-supporters and Trump-haters in the country is such that several commentators I have read, have even mooted the possibility of a civil war in present-day America, crazy as it may seem. If this seems far-fetched, consider the fact that, much to the chagrin of Trump-supporters, the person who mailed pipe-bombs to a number of prominent individuals (and a news company) closely associated with the Democratic campaign – including the CNN headquarters in New York, former president Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – turned out to be a fanatical Trump-supporter, who evidently took Trump’s oft-repeated message of hate seriously enough to engage in acts of domestic terrorism. Before the would-be bomber was apprehended, Trump supporters actually claimed that Democrats had done the pipe-bomb mailing themselves to sabotage the Republican campaign for the midterms.
Needless to stress, this event, together with the worst massacre, on American soil, of Jewish people at a Pittsburgh Synagogue shortly afterwards, is symptomatic of the fraught atmosphere in the US as the midterms approach. Referring to the pipe-bomb episode, Elizabeth Drew had this to say (https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/america-midterm-elections-possible-violence-by-elizabeth-drew-2018-10?utm_source=Project+Syndicate+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0763ea2d4e-sunday_newsletter_2018_11_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_73bad5b7d8-0763ea2d4e-105908029):
“The most disheartening aspect of the entire episode was Trump’s utter incapacity as a national leader. But that should surprise no one. How could a president who has thrived politically on dividing the American people, who has been spewing hate, sowing resentment, and at times even encouraging violence at his rallies, suddenly be – or even pretend to be – a healer? In fact, Trump’s pattern of incitement and routine denunciations of the media as ‘the enemy of the people’ had convinced many that some of his followers might resort to violence against members of the press.”
In the light of Trump’s utter failure as a leader who could conceivably inspire confidence in democracy-minded Americans, it is imperative that American voters restore a democratic majority in the two houses of government tomorrow, lest the travesty of democratic governance and of American membership of the international community continue unabated. Clearly his ‘support-base’ is not democratically oriented; they lap up every fascist, racist and misogynistic move Trump makes (how women can support him is only explicable in terms of ideological blindness). Yet I have only noticed a few cases where commentators have pointed out the clearly recognisable fascist pattern of Trump’s actions and utterances; most people seem to blissfully unaware of this.
One person who is decidedly not ignorant of Trump’s true colours in that redoubtable Canadian activist-investigative journalist, Naomi Klein (see my recent post on her work in relation to Trump’s fascism: https://thoughtleader.co.za/bertolivier/2018/09/25/the-american-fascist-the-canadian-activist-and-the-french-poststructuralist/ ). In her recent book, No is Not Enough – Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (2017), she delivers a virtuoso denunciation of Trump and his policies, backed up, as is usually the case with her work, by plenty of evidence for her arguments.
One of the most interesting things about her apt characterisation of Trump – and one of the gravest reasons why voters should vote Democratic Party in the midterms tomorrow – is Klein’s unambiguous pegging of Trump as the epitome of the worst aspects of dog-eat-dog capitalism, with no concern for a sense of community, or of empathy for people who are not in the billionaire class. Ironically, his ‘base’ comprises millions of economically vulnerable people, but they don’t seem to notice the irony of their support for him.
Her reconstruction of Trump’s rise to prominence takes readers back to the advent of so-called ‘reality television’ – most notably ‘Survivor’, which may be seen as a thinly disguised allegory of merciless, mutually demolishing capitalist competition for scarce resources. Most viewers of the show, here as well as in the US, don’t realise that the ‘survival’ at stake in some or other exotically located arena faithfully mirrors what capitalism is all about: riding roughshod over your competitors, even if the whole process is bathed in the alluring pop-psychological trappings of personalities vying for ‘tribe-dominance’ and honest old pitting of personal and team skills against one another. The end result is always beyond doubt: only one person can win the coveted prize of greenback-lucre.
Enter Trump’s very own reality television show, The Apprentice, where not only his ruthless, brash personality was in action, week after week, but where, as Klein demonstrates, there was no longer even a semblance of hiding what such shows were really about, namely the utterly callous, brutal world of internecine capitalist competition. Klein’s summary of this lamentable state of affairs, masquerading as something entertaining, namely ‘reality TV’, is to the point and succinct: (Klein 2017: 56):
“The whole genre – the alliances, the backstabbing, the one person left standing – was always a kind of capitalist burlesque. Before The Apprentice, however, there was at least the pretext that it was about something else: how to survive in the wilderness, how to catch a husband, how to be a housemate. With Donald Trump’s arrival, the veneer was gone. The Apprentice was explicitly about the race to survive in the cutthroat ‘jungle’ of late capitalism.”
Once having been made aware of this, it is not at all difficult to recognise Donald Trump’s ‘performative’ kind of presidency as an extension of reality television, from his use of every available opportunity to send voters the message that life is only about merciless rivalry (if not with other Americans for party dominance, then with other nations of the world, such as China – think of his ‘trade war’ with that country – but even with the supposed allies of the US). Even his terminal Apprentice signature exclamation, ‘You’re fired’, has featured several times in his term so far with regard to people he had earlier appointed, even if not exactly in that format.
Don’t get me wrong: I am under no illusion about the vaunted ‘democratic’ character of so-called American democracy. It is no accident that the most critically outspoken of Americans – activist and academic Noam Chomsky – has remarked that there is only ‘one party’ in America: the ‘business party’, of which the Democrats and the Republicans are different incarnations. Having said that, however, it takes no genius to realise that the Democratic Party does display some attributes which would, in all likelihood, have the effect of reining in Donald Trump’s worst tendencies (of which I have not even mentioned his stupid belief that climate change, or global warming, is not happening), if its representatives are triumphant in the midterms tomorrow – preferably in both houses. If the Democrats should only take Congress, whatever victories they score there would be reversed at Senate level. They must win both houses.
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