Tag Archives: American politics

Democratic Nihilism

In one of his final books, Telemorphosis, Jean Baudrillard discusses the spectacle of reality TV. He sets his sights on Loft Story, the French adaptation of the popular American show Big Brother. Baudrillard argues that fans of Loft Story value the show’s contestants not for their talents, but for their lack of any talent at all. He draws parallels between reality TV and democracy:

“The democratic illusion is thus elevated to the highest degree: the maximal exaltation for a minimal qualification. And, while the traditional principle merely insured a partial recognition for merit, the operation of the Loft insures a virtual glory to everyone in terms of the absence of merit itself. On one hand, it is the end of democracy, by the extinction of any qualification of merit whatsoever, but on the other hand, it is the result of an even more radical democracy on the basis of the beatification of the man without qualities. It is a great step towards democratic nihilism.” (25-26)

Everyone in the Loft is destined for “virtual glory.” The opposite of the best and the brightest, the cast is governed by the rule of the lowest common denominator. Inspired by “democratic nihilism,” viewers get the cheap entertainment they’re looking for, and Baudrillard condemns them for it.

“The society which permits itself to enjoy the enthusiastic spectacle of this masquerade deserves exactly what it gets. Loft Story is both the mirror and the disaster of an entire society caught up in the race towards meaninglessness and swooning in front of its own banality” (27-28).

We can extend Baudrillard’s pop culture analysis to the state of American politics today. Citizens who vote incompetent people into office get the government they deserve. In 2016, millions of Americans voted against a former senator and secretary of state in favor of a reality TV host whose resume includes filing for bankruptcy four times and appearing as himself in the classic American film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Baudrillard says that people either immerse themselves “within the void of the spectacle” and find it exciting or they “get off by feeling less idiotic than the spectacle—and thus never get tired of staring at it.” Many liberals, while reacting on social media about Trump’s antics, “get off” by feeling intellectually superior to him. But it’s hard to outsmart stupid. Political critique enhances rather than demystifies the allure of the Trump spectacle.

Earlier this week, Trump’s origin story became a news event once again. In an interview with FOX Business Network reporter Maria Bartiromo, Trump spoke fondly of social media.

“I doubt I’d be here without social media, to be honest with you, because there is a fake media out there, I get treated very unfairly by the media, and I have a tremendous platform,” Trump said.

Twitter—a tremendous platform for petty people the world over—helps Trump govern via intimidation.

“So, when somebody says something about me, I’m able to go ‘bing, bing, bing,’ and I take care of it. The other way I’d never be able to get the word out.”

Perhaps this is the way the world ends—with a bing, bing, bing rather than a bang or whimper.

Marshall McLuhan said long ago that the medium is the message. Today the medium is the spectacle, and Twitter is the spectacle writ large (with tiny hands). Twitter invites users to an orgy of information in which the reliability of hard news is faked like an orgasm in a collective sigh of disbelief.

Believe it or not, the president, according to the president, is the master of his Twitter domain.

“You know, they’re well crafted, I was always a good student, like a person who does well with that kind of thing,” Trump said eloquently about his posts.

The society of the selfie deserves President Trump, a man of “lights, camera, action” serving his own (business) interests at the expense of those he deems beneath him. Trump is the villain in a bad foreign (relations) film with no subtitles and no substance. And we’re on the edge of his tweets, hanging on every misspelled word.

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Manifest Destiny

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America’s fate took a sharp right turn last week. Was electing Donald Trump our destiny? Or another random occurrence in an absurd universe? Or the logical result of intricate causal relationships that began with the Original Thought in the mind of the Unmoved Mover?

Baudrillard liked to write about destiny and seduction. It’s silly to speak of an individual’s destiny, he said. We have a collective destiny with every living being and every non-living object in the world.

But each life has a double life. “Each individual life unfolds on two levels, in two dimensions–history and destiny–which coincide only exceptionally” (Impossible Exchange, p. 79).

I have my biological life, the physiological stuff of my existence, which allows for the development and expression of myself as “subject” over time. But my fate lies beyond my individual choices, in the mysterious inner-workings of a destiny I can neither name nor change. Baudrillard calls this double life my “becoming-object” or my “becoming-other.”

Many folks see their lives in linear terms. They embark on paths they mistakenly believe are straight, their goals attainable if they stay focused and plow ahead. But paths diverge, lines intersect. GPS recalculates.

Seduction, in Baudrillard’s world, has little to do with amorous pursuits and more to do with our secret desire to be led astray. We seduce ourselves and each other. Objects seduce us. We long for a shove in unexpected directions.

Donald Trump seduced American voters. The election results seduced the pollsters. We don’t know where the county goes from here. History is a poor substitute for destiny, which is here before you know it.

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A Cockblock Orange

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Donald Trump just cockblocked our old friend Hillary Clinton from the presidency. To liberals across the country I hereby raise a soothing glass of Moloko Plus imported just this morning from the place where everybody knows your shame, the Korova Milk Bar.

Hallucinogenic milk: it does a body gooooooooooood…

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Trump Cower

After Trump loses on November 8, I hope the president-elect sends him a fruit basket of deplorables.

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Thanks, Obama

I’ve heard that many Donald Trump supporters are sick and tired of politics-as-usual. Washington is full of self-serving bureaucrats looking to win re-election the day after they’re elected. If this is the case, then both Republicans and Democrats are to blame for misleading and misrepresenting their constituents. Trump doesn’t rise to prominence as a “political outsider” without Washington insiders screwing the American people.

But Trump supporters are naïve to assume that an outsider can change the political landscape. If Trump wins, he immediately becomes an insider. Sure, Trump’s funding his own campaign, but how can John Q. Public trust a billionaire who can afford to fund his own campaign? How would Trump look out for the little guy economically? Nobody knows because he’s too busy insulting Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, disabled Americans, female Americans, etc. And this is Trump’s appeal: he blames others, just as the little guy voting for him blames politicians.

We saw this with the Tea Party. Ultra-conservatives were voted into power to shake up the power structure in Washington. It didn’t hurt that a black man was in the White House—and not working the coat check room—to convince the little (white) guy that America was in decline. Trump the front-runner doesn’t exist without the Tea Party’s anti-Obama sentiment.

So, where Trump is concerned, the meme once again prevails: Thanks, Obama.

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Erogenous Ozone

Two days ago at a busy intersection a few miles from my home I found myself in the presence of greatness: street corner anti-Obama enthusiasts. I’d seen them in town before, along with anti-choice protesters holding signs of aborted fetuses. These are my kind of people: conscientious objectors to reality fighting against an immoral government that may or may not be led by a black Nazi president.

“Putin is right. Obama is wrong,” one sign declared without further explanation. Another one urged drivers simply to “Dump Obama.” It was enough nonsense to make even Ted Cruz roll his beady eyes.

It was easy to pick my favorite. “Global Warming—As Real As Your Girlfriend’s Orgasm.”

That’s a low blow to the clitoris. I suppose they didn’t refer to wives since married couples only make love.

Mother Nature. She’s hot and bothered. Wet and wild. And faking global warming so we’ll finish up already and go back to sleep.

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Donald Schmuck

A few days ago I argued here that Donald Trump’s rise in the polls is in part a response to liberals’ political correctness and defense of multiculturalism, and that Trump’s campaign represents the next stage in the descent of American politics into pure spectacle. In addition to these points, I argue today that Trump is a challenge to and indictment of the Right, specifically the failed attempts of conservatives to derail Obama’s “socialist agenda.”

There would be no “Trump surge” without Obama’s two terms as president, or more precisely, black president. The Donald is telling the GOP: “You’re not racist enough, you’re not misogynistic enough, you’re not homophobic enough.” The Right is not far enough right.

But unlike most of his rivals, Trump refuses to bring up his faith. In 2012 Republicans put their faith and money behind Mitt Romney, a deeply religious man who didn’t have God on his side in the general election. Perhaps not revealing his favorite Bible passages, as a “gotcha” reporter asked him to do last week, is smart strategy. Or perhaps a deep-seated megalomania trumps his need for a Higher Power.

Trump’s supporters claim their victimhood in the face of illegal immigration and a lack of barriers to keep out “the Mexicans.” His base are victims, I say, and they suffer from a unique brand of Stockholm syndrome. They identify with their charismatic captor, the mouthpiece for a ruthless business elite more concerned with profits than the People.

Like all bullies, Trump builds himself up by putting others down. He has no real solutions, no specific policy proposals beyond shaming his enemies. For a candidate on the rise, Trump banks on the passions of a politically illiterate mass for whom ignorance is diss.

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