Shitholes

Alienation and disenchantment are the twin elixirs of our political life. The majority of people in a capitalist society are alienated from their work and participation in political life as well as disenchanted from the values that their society purports to hold. Donald Trump’s degenerate presidency is the product of a degenerate political class that has festered in this alienation. With the bankruptcy of both political parties, Trump’s rise to the presidency acts as an unmasking of the decadence of the political and corporate culture taken root in the U.S.

This past week a slew of news from Trump and the democrats further highlights the unfitness of our political leaders to be in charge of anything resembling power. The first is the hysteria by the democrats surrounding an Oprah Winfrey “candidacy” for president. Further is the pearl clutching that has greeted Trump’s calling certain poor countries, “shitholes.”

Before Donald Trump it would have been safe dismiss Oprah as a serious candidate for any political office. But Trump’s presidency falls along the lines J. Robert Oppenheimer spoke of on seeing the first test of an atomic weapon, ” I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Trump is death, the destroyer of worlds. So perhaps there is no longer any meaningful way to be a “serious” candidate in the sense of having reasonable knowledgeable on policy (or actually having policy positions) and having at least some resume of public service. Instead the democrats, like the republicans, will cow tow to any rich celebrity who will “win”. It is no surprise that the democratic elites would swoon to the thought of an Oprah presidency. Oprah is on the continuum of the cultural forces that lead to Trump. Both Trump and Oprah are the get quick merchants swimming in the swamp of capitalist culture. Each is selling snake oil, Trump in promising “celebrity” and Oprah with “spirituality”. At their most stripped down and vacuous, Trump and Oprah spell out the bottom line of their respective parties; Trump/republicans in vampire capitalism and Oprah/democrats in pussy hat capitalism.

Both forms of capitalism stem from what German sociologist Max Weber termed Entzauberung or “disenchantment”. In a lecture titled, “Science as Vocation” Weber states,

 

The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental, nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together. If we attempt to force and to ‘invent’ a monumental style in art, such miserable monstrosities are produced as the many monuments of the last twenty years. If one tries intellectually to construe new religions without a new and genuine prophecy, then, in an inner sense, something similar will result, but with still worse effects. And academic prophecy, finally, will create only fanatical sects but never a genuine community.

 

No one would accuse Trump or Oprah of pianissimo, but perhaps they can be seen as performing a monumental form of performance art that certainly partakes of miserable monstrosities. Under rational capitalism, sublime values have retreated from public life into either the realm of religion or in direct human relationships. Faith and family is where most people find meaningful value, not in public life and politics. The absence of sublime public values explains how someone like Trump can succeed in politics and also how decent “god fearing” people can vote for such a monstrosity.

Alienation explains how the media can endlessly focus on Trump’s “shithole” comment but barely register far more consequential actions that effect real people in the world. The media gets worked up about Trump’s comment, but in the same week Trump issued orders to deport nearly a quarter million El Salvadorans, some U.S. citizens, back to a dangerous country and also attempt to apply work requirements to Medicaid recipients. Opening the U.S coastline to offshore drilling, the ubiquitous overseas wars are all met with a shrug. While Trump operates in what David Brooks calls a “Potemkin White House” of outrageous comments and extravagant Twitter broadsides, there is in fact a far more operational presidency that is fulfilling its promise to its donor base of conducting class warfare on the vast majority of working people. Trump is a monstrosity but he is also a standard issue republican who favors low taxes and deregulation. Over fifty percent of members of the U.S. Congress are millionaires while only four percent of U.S. households have assets over a million dollars. This fact explains the collusion and mealy mouth resistance at the heart of the Trump presidency more than any other. Trump does not represent the majority of the citizens but is loyal only to his own class. This explains his republican enablers and the tepid “resistance” of the democrats. These people live in a world of wealth and privilege and will do anything to protect their position, even work with a gargoyle like Trump. The rest of us just live in this shithole.

 

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Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump, Jr, Chicago, Illinois, February 18, 2004

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

The entirety of Trump’s political life exists in a netherworld of unreality. His presence is a fever dream so fantastical and grotesque it renders it literally unbelievable. Trump can be understood as a morbid symptom of a deep-rooted pathology taken root in our collective polity. The carnival-circus element of this presidency is one current of many currents of modern American politics; the flip side of the “respectable” current of the modern GOP represented by his vice-President Pence and the “smart” current represented by House Speaker Ryan.

All of these “traditions” of American conservatism are one system, a system meant to entrench the power of capital and weaken the social relationships of the many. And while the wickedness of this system should be apparent, it has no real resistance amongst opposing political parties in the United States. Instead of legitimate resistance or analysis, there is instead softball collusion between the two parties and corporate media to peddle our current political catastrophe as political circus-theater.

It would be easy to blame our catastrophe on Trump alone, a man whose appearance is not so much ugly as laughable, a figure so naturally caricatured he appears to be subhuman. Trump’s ignorance may not be a symptom of laziness but a profound incompetence bordering on the neurologically impaired. In a gossipy new book by Michael Wolff, staffers around Trump dish many of these details out. One detail, however, seems more emblematic of Trump than any other and that is his relationship to fast food:

“Trump’s propensity for fast food is apparently not solely due to taste: Wolff reported it’s also connected to his fear of being poisoned. The president in particular enjoys food from McDonald’s, Wolff wrote, because “nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.”

Trump’s preference for McDonald’s has not abated since his inauguration, POLITICO reported last month. Keith Schiller, Trump’s longtime aide who worked in the White House as head of Oval Office operations until September, was sometimes sent to the McDonald’s on New York Avenue a few blocks away to satisfy the president’s fast-food hankering when the White House kitchen couldn’t satisfy it.”

 

 

There is something touching about the most powerful man in the world alone in his palace worried about being poisoned by the haters and losers sending out one of his underlings to get food from a random McDonalds close to the White House. There is something fitting about our Caligula-President, an inveterate germaphobe, surrounded by the opulence and trappings of the imperial presidency with a kitchen full of world-class chefs probably eating his fries and diet Coke alone. Because along with ignorance and laziness the next characteristic that most describes Trump is loneliness. Loneliness explains a man who has had (maybe) a lot of sex but seams to have no real experience of eroticism, a man whose eyes never sparkle, whose smile never evinces joy. Loneliness explains why there is no record of any kind of Trump ever laughing. Loneliness explains Trump’s sadism.

Trump’s pathologies are America’s pathologies. It would be easy to write these off as only the fault of one party, but it was on full display in his 2016 opponent, whose corporate decadence was wrapped in a more obtuse and euphemistic package. Decadence can be defined as a type of decline, or perhaps it can be seen as knowing a moral standard and declining to abide by it. By that definition, the American political system is decadent.

Most regular Americans throughout their day act decently, trying to abide by a sense of fair play and common sense. Most people act with decency and also expect reasonable consequences when they fall short. People care not only for their family, but for people on the street or at their job. But as people climb up the ladder of income and power through corporate and political positions, that sense of decency is lost.  Decadence is on display in the policies of both parties; in the 1.5 trillion dollar tax cut but also in the fact that Obama deported more people back to Mexico in the last year of his presidency than in Trump’s first.  Decadence is following Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, probably the greatest threat to our Republic since the outbreak of the Civil War, Obama went windsurfing with billionaire mogul Richard Branson. In Obama’s first serious interview since leaving office was asked by Prince Harry (!) what was of concern to him, Obama could only mention the dire effects of social media. Decadence is when Hillary Clinton probably knew that her husband raped Juanita Broderick and not only stood by him throughout his impeachment but paid no price is acquiring the Democratic nomination for president. What else, besides moral disdain, explains the toadies and lackeys in the U.S. Congress and business community who have put a mean spirited man well into his dotage in charge of our nuclear arsenal? Aside from criminals, most Americans don’t rape and when the country is on fire don’t have the opportunity to be paid six figures for speeches to investment banks as Obama did recently. But when you’re famous, they let you do it. You can grab ’em by the pussy.

American capitalism has always been a get rich scheme, sacrificing resources, either natural or human, for a quick buck. Never in the history of the human race has so much power and resources been wasted at the expense of so many for the profit of so few. When Trump’s presidency is finished he will be given immense honors, a presidential library, access to the world’s elite, just as Clinton and Obama and Bush have done. Everyone will be smiling. Maybe they’ll serve McDonalds.

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former president Barack Obama