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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/22/16

We Are Ignoring the Worst Dangers of Trumpism at Our Own Peril

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Trump may talk of a Muslim ban, but Clintonian neoliberalism created a vast immigration problem, preventing normal legalization, a legacy that Bush and Obama confronted with unprecedented levels of deportation. Immigrants have became a tool that the neoliberal elite continues to exploit to the full in their transformation of the American economy, depriving them of their legitimate rights as a way to drive down wages for all and to mount a broad-based assault on civil liberties for all. We are bearing the fruits of those years now. Not once have I heard the Clintons or Obama make a comprehensive moral or even economic case for immigration; when you are enforcement-only and not idealists or humanitarians, then soon an even greater enforcer will come and take your place.

Likewise, when it comes to Trump's issues with women, let us note the transcendent dimension of it, of which Hillary Clinton is a major culprit, along with academics and politicians who, during the 1990s, created structures of mental classification and separation that remain divisive to this day. Just as an example, to engineer "welfare reform," retreating from a core moral commitment of the New Deal, the black woman of political mythology who was the prime recipient of such aid had to be demonized as a nonproductive citizen, her body and environment and heritage had to be problematized as worthy of correction by managerial means, in order that she might overcome "dependency" and derive the moral benefits of employment.

That experiment has been a failure, as entire populations have been abandoned to poverty, or at best low-wage employment that interferes with the care of children and families. This is not to mention incalculable numbers of other peoples affected by the neoliberal policies of systematic exploitation and cultural and aesthetic genocide. There are levels of exploitation and degradation; Trump's has been distinctly minor league, he has hardly had recourse to the flourishing arsenals of power a politician like Hillary Clinton has thrived on. The underlying case for welfare reform was built on depicting welfare-receiving women as fat, lazy, sleazy, and promiscuous, an actionable universal category, compared to the contemporary phenomenon of body-shaming by Trump as a purely personal construct in an entertainment context.

We have to go back to the problem of insecurity created among the tentative middle-class, Trump's base of supporters, a direct result of the revolutionary reengineering of American governance during the Clinton era. The compact between government and citizens was broken in those years, and was replaced by nothing new, a vacuum that Trumpism is stepping into now, especially because the corrupt Democratic party ensured that Sanders' left populism wasn't legitimized.

To further shift the focus from Trump's alleged immoral supporters to the systematic immorality that is neoliberalism, I would like to offer these speculations:

1. Trumpism is creating a new form of cultural capital, distorted and perverted though it may be, as is true of all right-wing populism or neo-fascism. The academic left has held a monopoly for a long time on self-righteousness, which has lately, in the present form of political correctness, burst forth in a relentless pseudo-self-criticism amongst intellectuals, aiming to purge the protagonists of their own white guilt. Trumpism forms a counter to this elite self-flagellation by offering an empowered version of popular white supremacy, to not only oppose the imposition of guilt but reorient the polity toward productivist rather than nonproductivist explanations of economic decline.

In other words, shame has been lent an economic, not a cultural, veneer, in the new movement. This is a massive breakthrough, something to be grateful for to Trump, just as Ralph Nader, and then Bernie Sanders, also sought to disconnect cultural rhetoric from economic causes. Trumpism may, quite possibly, emerge in the long run as a bridge--an unsteady one, for the moment, no doubt--to a postcapitalist libertarianism, even a left anarchism, which seems inevitable as the 21st century goes along.

2. Sanders' message was so popular among millennials because he identified a few core solutions to economic inequality, relentlessly hammered at them (just as Trump does in a distorted manner from the other side of the political spectrum), rather than rehearse multicultural pieties. I believe that the collective Trumpian cultural capital is now stabilized, regardless of the outcome of the election, and ready to emerge from the fringes of the media spectrum.

Can we also say that Sanders' movement was a left-libertarianism that dared to exclude the moral impositions of academic multiculturalism? And if that's the case, then can Trumpism, in future iterations, also move in a parallel libertarian direction? It seems to me that neither Trump nor Sanders' nascent movements can be absorbed and assimilated in either major party as presently constituted, so we must look to some fundamental change as neoliberalism encounters further domestic and foreign failures (probably in the Middle East).

3. Trumpism turns the logic of multiculturalism, i.e., difference, to a new form of segregation. The European neo-populist parties all exploit the fear of the immigrant in three different dimensions--economic, cultural, and moral--amounting to defense of the race, purification of the body politic, and expulsion of the polluting and criminal and irredeemably alien. Extremist populism is inherent in multiculturalism's ultimate logic, because Trumpism is simply "diversity" carried to the national level; as with the Brexiteers, Trumpists posit the right of America to be different, morally eccentric and ornery and noncompliant, rather than accept the loss of national identity amidst the cold conquest of markets and territories.

It is a turning inward that can have rich psychological rewards for protagonists overcome by economic anxiety. Trumpism has created the equation, economic protectionism = cultural protectionism, in common with its European forerunners. We may say that in its extreme form, Trumpism is an attempted return to precapitalism, moving back toward uncertainties in trade and rejecting the compulsions of empire that yield certainties (hence the skepticism toward NATO and nuclear non-proliferation regimes and other establishment verities).

It is also possible to read Trumpism in an entirely different way, which would still be self-consistent: as a pure form of neoliberalism, supplemented by a racist or differential veneer, or we might say minus the multicultural distraction that interferes with social darwinist logic proceeding to its final conclusion, exterminating the weak other, the vulnerable environment, all species and beings not conducive to financial success.

We might then interpret the 2000s as a passing phase of neoliberalism, when it was militarist and outwardly directed, not at all given to rumination, but now entering a premodern xenophobic phase, all the easier to blanket the planet with a commercializing logic that will withstand no criticism. In this perspective, Hillary's incremental fatalism (or what passes as such for popular consumption), her commitment to neoliberal identity claims (one group after another marginally recognized at a time), is perhaps one of the final manifestations of a failed sociability.

Though Bernie's articulation was the right one for this time and place, there is a lot that Trump, in a distorted, weird way, got right about our situation:

* Both parties are corrupt and beholden to the same oligarchic interests, and Trump had the audacity to point it out, eliciting, I'm sure, exclamations of relief and pleasure at the piercing of the protective veneer neoliberal chieftains like Hillary Clinton have constructed around themselves. He asked for her to be put in jail for the wrong reasons at the second debate, but the neoliberal gerarchy's innumerable crimes against humanity, from illegal wars to the mistreatment of prisoners, deserve nothing less.

* By focusing on a stark financial calculus (we will all be "winners" in the Trumpian economy, or at least white Americans, the right Americans, will be), he has blown up the dominance of evangelical Christianity on the right side of the spectrum, as far as I can tell.

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Anis Shivani is the author of several critically acclaimed books of fiction, poetry, and criticism, including Anatolia and Other Stories (2009), Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies (2011), The Fifth Lash and Other Stories (more...)

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