Saturday, May 06, 2017

Dialectic of the Donald: Or, Not Trump Again

The Owl of Minerva might fly at dusk, but her eagle works the day shift 


Let us begin with negation. You did not want to read this, you even told yourself that you were done, no more Trump think pieces, tweets, or articles. After all there are more important things to think about, and thinking about Trump, thinking about politics in age of Trump, seems almost to be a contradiction, like trying to think one's very inability to think. I get that, dear reader, I did not want to write this either, but I did--drawn in and repelled. Trump is not just the car wreck that you feel compelled to gaze upon. Trump is like slowing to watch a car crash and then going home to read a dozen articles on the dangers of drunken driving and digital distraction on today's highways, knowing all the while that all the articles in the world won't change the world. 
This contradiction, or rather contradictions, between "seeing the better and doing the worst," thought and thoughtlessness, is one of many. Here are a few more that define a kind of Trump dialectic.

Universal/Particular: A general description of Trump reads like a survey of some of the dominant trends in Republican politics. A business leader who promises to bring the innovations of business to politics, a nativist who promises to put America first, and in general a rich white man who claims to restore the racial, gender, and class order that seemed ever so slightly shaken in the age of Obama. One could imagine a number of potential candidates fitting these general characteristics (even if the Republicans could not find them). Then there are Trump's specific characteristics, the inflated ego, the thin skin, the obsession with ratings, the sexism, etc. At first glance it would appear that the particular, the specifics of Trump the person, are a distraction a diversion from his attempt to universalize particular ideologies. After all, his character seems to directly contradict his message. He claims toughness, but can barely weather a scathing SNL routine, claims to be a deal maker but is unable to even work his party's dominance to his advantage. The particular undermines the universal. In the particular dialectic of Donald, as is often the case, appearance contradicts reality. It may just be these particular deviations that are the true source of his appeal. He has given voice to the anger and pettiness of white rage in its full late night twitter trolling form. The particular not only drives the universal but exceeds it. It is the affective composition of the political, not its ideological coordinates that Trump embodies. 

Imaginary/Real As I have noticed elsewhere, Trump's rise to power was marked by a violation of particular norms considered to be integral to politics. These norms stemmed from the conventions of electoral politics beloved by beltway pundits, the tax returns; to conventions of the dominant ideology, respect for soldiers; and, most disturbingly, the very definition of sexual assault. Trump's  entire election could be seen as flaunting the power of symbolism and conventions. However, it would be foolish to see him as the victory of some kind of realpolitik over conventions and symbols. Trump is a symbol after all, a completely creepy Daddy Warbucks. He has split the entire world of symbols in two, dividing between those empty symbols lacking in support and conviction and those fueled by anger and desire. It is a disturbing balance sheet as we realize the symbols of civics class liberalism are empty, without passion and investment, but the symbols of power, of white hegemony have not waned with recent generations--despite the post-racial hype. More to the point, his election has had profound symbolic effects, and I am not just talking about memes. Witness the massive rise of racist incidents, of fascists marching on Berkeley, etc. As much as Trump reveals some symbols to be empty conventions he also demonstrates that nothing is merely symbolic, that imaginations and images have real material effects. Yes, he is not an actual fascist, but that he is willing to talk the talk itself animates and fuels similar desires. 

Thus, to offer something of a hasty conclusion, Trump is only understandable in and through his contradictions. Any attempt to arrive at some kind of declarative pronouncement about Trump, either about his character, his true intentions, or his politics, misses the fact that he is constantly dividing into two. Does he contradict himself? He contains the multitude. 

2 comments:

Jonathan Moodie said...

So, way back when, in your review of Noys's 'Persistence of the Negative', you mention a personal trajectory, from Spinozism toward "a reconsideration of dialectical thought", and yet I haven't seen evidence of such a shift until this blog post. Is that what's happening here — a shift? Simply a toe in the water? And why — to what advantage or gain?

unemployed negativity said...

That is very close reading for a blog, thank you. I would not consider this post to be the follow up. I could point to a few more blog posts on Hegel, but I think that the real payoff would be in The Politics of Transindividuality book. As far as the gain goes, well I guess that remains to be seen.