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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/18/19

Against the dictatorship of ignorance in the age of Donald Trump: Part 1 of 2

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The ghosts of a fascist past are with us once again, resurrecting the discourses of hatred, exclusion and ultra-nationalism in countries such as the United States, Hungary, Brazil, Poland, Turkey and the Philippines. In addition, right-wing extremist parties are on the move politically in Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Germany. The designers of a new breed of fascism increasingly dominate major political formations and other commanding political and economic institutions across the globe. They have infused a fascist ideology with new energy through a right-wing populism that constructs the nation through a series of racist and nativist exclusions, all the while feeding off the chaos produced by neoliberalism.

Their nightmarish reign of misery, violence and disposability is legitimated, in part, in their control of a diverse number of cultural apparatuses that produce a vast machinery of manufactured consent. This reactionary educational formation includes the mainstream broadcast media, digital platforms, the Internet and print culture, all of which participate in an ongoing spectacle of violence, the aestheticization of politics, the legitimation of opinions over facts, and an embrace of a culture of ignorance. Under the reign of this normalized architecture of neoliberal ideology, literacy is now regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data, and science is confused with pseudo-science. Chris Hedges is right to argue that both the rule of law and the institutions that make democracy possible are being undermined. He is worth quoting at length:

The mechanisms that once made democracy possible have withered and died. We no longer have elections free of corporate control; real legislative debate; an independent press rooted in verifiable fact that lifts up the voices and concerns of the citizens rather than peddling conspiracy theories such as "Russiagate" or cheerleading for disastrous military interventions and occupations; academic institutions that vigorously examine and critique the nature of power; or diplomacy, negotiation, de'tente and compromise. Puffed up by self-importance, intoxicated by the ability to wield police and military power, despots and their grotesque courtiers are freed with the collapse of the rule of law to carry out endless vendettas against enemies real and imagined until their own paranoia and fear define the lives of those they subjugate. This is where we have come, not because of Trump, who is the grotesque product of our failed democracy, but because the institutions that were designed to prevent tyranny no longer function.

Ignorance has lost its innocence and is no longer synonymous with the absence of knowledge. It has become malicious in its refusal to know, to disdain criticism, and render invisible important social issues that lie on the side of social and economic justice. James Baldwin was certainly right in issuing the stern warning in "No Name in the Street" that "Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

As is well known, President Trump's ignorance lights up the Twitter landscape almost every day. He denies climate change along with the dangers that it poses to humanity, shuts down the government because he cannot get the funds for his wall - a grotesque symbol of nativism - and heaps disdain on the heads of his intelligence agencies because they provide proof of the lies and misinformation that shapes his love affair with tyrants. This kind of power-drunk ignorance is comparable to a bomb with a fuse that is about to explode in a crowded shopping center. Ignorance now fuses with a reckless use of state power that holds both human life and the planet hostage. Under such circumstances, thinking becomes dangerous and becomes the object of organized disgust for any vestige of the truth.

However, there is more at stake here than the production of a toxic form of illiteracy and the shrinking of political horizons. What we are witnessing is a closing of the political coupled with explicit expressions of cruelty and "widely sanctioned ruthlessness." Moreover, the very conditions that enable people to make informed decisions are under siege as schools are defunded, media becomes more corporatized, oppositional journalists are killed, and reality TV becomes the model for mass entertainment.

Power feeds off corruption in the United States and dictators who crush dissent are invited to the White House and praised by President Trump. Under such circumstances, there is a full-scale attack on thoughtful reasoning, empathy, collective resistance and the compassionate imagination. In some ways, the dictatorship of ignorance resembles what the writer John Berger calls "ethicide" and Joshua Sperling defines as "The blunting of the senses; the hollowing out of language; the erasure of connection with the past, the dead, place, the land, the soil; possibly, too, the erasure even of certain emotions, whether pity, compassion, consoling, mourning or hoping."

After decades of the neoliberal nightmare both in the United States and abroad, the mobilizing passions of fascism have been unleashed unlike anything we have seen since the 1930s. The ruling elite and managers of extreme capitalism have used the crises of economic inequality and immigration and what Paul Gilroy has called its "manifestly brutal and exploitative arrangements" to sow social divisions and resurrect the discourse of racial cleansing and white supremacy. In doing so, they have tapped into the growing collective suffering and anxieties of millions in order to redirect their anger and despair through a culture of fear and discourse of dehumanization; they have also turned critical ideas to ashes by disseminating a toxic mix of racialized categories, ignorance and a militarized spirit of white nationalism.

In this instance, neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible project and movement that connects the exploitative values and cruel austerity policies of "casino capitalism" with fascist ideals. These ideals include the veneration of war, anti-intellectualism, dehumanization, a populist celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity, the suppression of freedom and dissent, a culture of lies, a politics of hierarchy, the spectacularization of emotion over reason, the weaponization of language, a discourse of decline, and state violence in heterogeneous forms. Fascism is never entirely interred in the past and the conditions that produce its central assumptions are with us once again, ushering in a period of modern barbarity that appears to be reaching towards homicidal extremes, especially in the United States.

The deep grammar of violence now shapes all aspects of cultural production and becomes visceral in its ongoing generation of domestic terrorism, mass shootings, the mass incarceration of people of color and the war on undocumented immigrants. Not only has it become more gratuitous, random and in some cases trivialized through the monotony of repetition, it has also become the official doctrine of the Trump administration in shaping its domestic and security policies. Trump's violence has become both promiscuous in its reach and emboldening in its nod to right-wing extremist groups. The mix of white nationalism and expansion of policies that benefit the rich, big corporations and the financial elite are increasingly legitimated and normalized in a new political formation that I have termed neoliberal fascism.

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America's Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, includingTikkun, (more...)

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