In an age when speed overcomes thought, a culture of immediacy blots out any vestige of historical memory and markets replace social categories, language loses its critical moorings and becomes what Chris Hedges has called "a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture."
No longer a vehicle for critique, doubt or possibility, language in the age of Donald Trump upholds the cultural and political workstations of ignorance and paves the way for a formative culture ripe with the death-saturated practices and protocols of fascist politics. As a species of neoliberal fascism eradicates social bonds and democratic communal relations, vulgarity parades as political wisdom and moral cowardice becomes a mark of pride. In a neoliberal age that has a high threshold of disappearance, the sins of a Vichy-inspired history have returned and are deeply rooted in a Republican Party that is as criminogenic as it is morally irresponsible and politically corrupt.
Of course the threads of a fascist politics weave through both political parties, which have sold their souls to the financial elite, though the Democrats do their work under the cover of self-righteousness and constitutional liberties while the Republicans bask in their embrace of corruption and a craven silence in the face of Trumpism. Vast apparatuses of pedagogical regulation endlessly work to produce a kind of Orwellian magic realism in which fiction and reality collapse into each other and the label of "fake news" provides a camouflage for serial liars.
The bad-faith vocabulary of individual responsibility, self-reliance, and choice eliminates the notions of soul crushing constraints and broader systemic forces, and in so doing produces armies of individuals stuck in the debilitating grip of social atomization, low self-esteem and the anxieties produced in landscapes of battered schools, rusting towns and meaningless work, if available. The destruction of collective structures capable of resisting the discourse of fascist politics go hand in hand with a culture awash in civic illiteracy and a culture of cruelty. Persistent denigration now leads to unbridled racism, the resurgence of white nationalism and an indifference to rampant criminality at the highest levels of government.
Robert Jay Lifton's description of an earlier historical moment as a "death-saturated age in which matters of violence, survival, and trauma inescapably bear down on daily experience" has returned in a new form with a vengeance under the Trump regime. Yet such an age has been met by those in power with a silence that reeks with the scourge of complicity and the moral blindness of a kind of willful ignorance.
Where is the collective rage among the Republican Party over Trump's endless rhetorical tropes of hate and demonization that both wound and undermine the foundations for a civil society? What can be said about an administration and its followers that refuse to respond to the accusation that Trump's highly charged rhetoric both legitimates and fuels acts of violence? Why does the American public not erupt in outrage when the Trump administration makes the anti-Semitic claim that George Soros is funding the caravan of migrant workers, and engages in outright racist slurs by calling Maxine Waters a "low IQ person" and demeaning the intelligence of basketball great LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon? What kind of signals does this type of rhetoric send to numerous fascist groups that support him?
Trump thrives on promoting social divisions and often references violence as a means of addressing them. His praise of Greg Gianforte, then a Montana congressional candidate (and now a congressman) for body-slamming a Guardian reporter in 2017 registers as a mark of pride. Oblivious to the horrors of the past, Trump once called the Nazi protesters in Charlottesville "very fine people." Unsurprisingly, David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, praised Trump for the remark. This is the politics of fascism wrapped in the discourse of indifference and disappearance.
The language of compassion, community and vulnerability is erased from government media sites, as is any reference to climate change. References to compassion, the grammar of ethics, justice and democracy wither as the institutions that enable and promote them are defunded, corporatized or privatized. The language of egoism, self-interest, hyper-masculinity and a vapid individualism erase any reference to social bonds, public commitments, the public good and the commons. Even worse, under the blitz of a rhetoric of bigotry, hatred and dehumanization, the ability to translate private issues into lager systemic and public concerns is diminished. The language of fascism is now reinforced by a culture of immediacy, stupidity, ignorance and civic illiteracy, and as such promotes a culture in which the only obligation of citizenship is consumption and the only emotion worth investing in is unbridled anger largely directed at Blacks, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and the oppositional media.
In the age of Trump, self-reflection is a liability. Reason and informed judgment are increasingly viewed as archaic and outdated. Trump both embodies and models an age in which power and ignorance reinforce each other. One recent example brings this point home in spades. Following the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Trump was criticized for his ongoing rhetoric of bigotry, dehumanization and violence. He responded with his usual felonious flight from any sense of moral and political responsibility by stating that he was going to "tone up" his rhetoric rather than tone it down. He lies endlessly, shreds standards for discerning the truth, and produces falsehoods daily in order to divert the media from addressing serious topics ranging from health care to attacks on Social Security and the Mueller investigation.
Peter Baker and Linda Qiu of the New York Times reinforce this charge by pointing to the litany of lies Trump produced while campaigning for the midterm elections. They write:
"As he barnstorms the country trying to help Republican allies, President Trump has offered voters this fall a litany of misleading statements and falsehoods that exaggerate even legitimate accomplishments and distort opponents' views beyond the typical bounds of political spin. In the past couple of weeks alone, the president has spoken of riots that have not happened, claimed deals that have not been reached, cited jobs that have not been created and spun dark conspiracies that have no apparent basis in reality. He has pulled figures seemingly out of thin air, rewritten history and contradicted his own past comments."
The endless lying is about more than diversion or a perpetual motion machine of absurdist theater. It is also about creating a mediascape where morality disappears and a criminogenic culture of thuggery, corruption, white supremacy and violence flourishes -- and democracy dies. History seems to be repeating itself in a script in which language collapses into an ecosystem of falsehoods, militarism and racism.
Jason Stanley, in his book, "How Fascism Works," argues that the 10 pillars of a fascist politics are alive and well in the United States. The pillars he points to are the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety and appeals to the heartland. History offers us a reliable narrative of the horrific consequences of a society in which the elements of a fascist politics are at work and points to how, closer to the current historical moment, anti-Semitism is couched in the language of globalization and the call for racial and social cleansing is echoed in the discourse of borders and walls. What historical memory reveals in this case is an emergence of a form of fascist politics that alarmingly resembles the 1930s.
In an age when civic literacy and holding the powerful accountable for their action are dismissed as "fake news," ignorance becomes a breeding ground not just for hate but also for a culture that represses historical memory, shreds any understanding of the importance of shared values, refuses to make tolerance a non-negotiable element of civic dialogue and allows the powerful to poison everyday discourse.
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