Tag Archives: Republicans

Cynic-In-Chief

Many of us are familiar with the definition of a cynic. Disillusioned by “politics as usual,” cynical Americans don’t trust Washington insiders to work for the common good.

This is not how the Ancient Greeks defined the term. According to Robin Hard, translator of Diogenes the Cynic: Sayings and Anecdotes (2012), the word is attributed to a philosopher named Diogenes who lived from approximately 412 to 323 BC. “Cynic” roughly translated means “dog.”

Diogenes gave up his possessions for the life of a beggar to show that true happiness is possible only when humans satisfy their basic needs in simple ways. Material wealth, he argued while shamelessly displaying his half-naked body in public, bankrupts the soul.

The father of the contemporary performance artist, Diogenes strived for the virtuous life, challenging social conventions by shocking citizens out of their stupor. He famously carried a lit lamp through Athens in the middle of the afternoon, looking for (but never finding) a man committed to the truth. In an act of civil disobedience, he walked into the theater as crowds poured out, forging his own path against the herd.

In the final chapter of Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity (2014), Maurizio Lazzarato discusses Michel Foucault’s belief in the revolutionary potential of the original Cynics’ way of life. Foucault valorizes the Ancient Greek principle of parrhesia, or truth-telling. A citizen who stood up in the assembly to speak difficult truths risked his credibility, his very life, in the name of democracy. Cynics risked their lives every day in the streets to save the souls of their misguided brothers and sisters.

What is the status of truth in the era of alternative facts? Conservatives have accused liberals of championing relativism for decades, but when philosophers argue that Truth is socially constructed they aren’t suggesting that nothing is true anymore.

Today a Republican president and his inner circle are flat out lying.

An important story the liberal media refuses to report: Diogenes’ top adviser, Kellyannopoulos of Jersey, spoke to supporters outside the assembly shortly after his death and said that the number of people who attended his funeral was twice the amount of those who mourned the death of Socrates.

“Amazing crowds, tremendous crowds,” she said.

Too bad we don’t have aerial shots—or any shots—of the ceremony.

The Reign of Trump begs for spectacular displays of outrage. I agree with Lazzarato that we need to cultivate new ways of being in the world as economic forces beyond our control condemn more and more global citizens to a sub-human existence.

But how do we overcome cynicism to summon the moral strength of the Cynics? How can we be sure that images of our dissent won’t be co-opted and sold as prepackaged lifestyle choices?

“He will not divide us. He will not divide us.” Actor Shia LaBeouf and his comrades have been chanting this slogan outside the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens since the day Trump took office. They plan to have at least one person repeat the refrain into a webcam all day every day for the next four years. Is this the start of a movement bigger than ourselves? A call to arms for brave truth-tellers to stand up and follow each other on social media?

Will the revolution be live-streamed across all compatible devices?

I admire Lazzarato’s poetic sensibilities, but is romanticizing the archetype of the eccentric street prophet all we have left? Am I entitled only to an esoteric, navel-gazing revolution in my corner of the internet because collective political action is no longer possible? Does holding up clever signs or publishing obscure blogs challenge the constitutionality of Trump’s hastily produced executive orders?

He wasn’t on Facebook but Diogenes had a huge public profile. He’s seen as the first cosmopolitan philosopher, a mystic roaming from city to city in the hustle and bustle of daily life, shouting his worldview at people more interested in Ancient Memes than ethics.

What if Diogenes believed he was really more dog than man?

To “figure out what the hell is going on,” Trump has banned all pagans and pantheists from entering America against the flow of the crowd. Diogenes wasn’t Christian after all.

The president doesn’t really want to be president. He wants to build walls and promote the “bigly-ness” of his brand name. He wants to stir the passions of God-fearing Americans longing for a sense of security that no longer exists. He would rather pout over perceived personal slights than listen to the so-called expertise of five-star generals.

Anointed by the Resentful, Maligned and Dispossessed, the leader of the free world doesn’t believe in the rule of law. He disrespects federal judges on Twitter and insults congressional leaders of his own party (also on Twitter).

Donald J. Trump is the democratically selected winner of the Cynic-in-Chief sweepstakes. Against the common good, he’s the executive seducer of a reality-show circus in which his hubris is the main attraction for a mass of cynics who require more and more spectacle to conceal the truth of their (political) impotence.

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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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Invisible Plastic Shovels

In Baudrillard’s Challenge: A Feminist Reading, Victoria Grace takes politics to the playground. Liberals and conservatives are like children fighting over broken toys in a wet sandbox—punching, slapping, and kicking each other where the sun don’t shine. Our wounds are real but these battles are nothing more than simulated political sideshows trending before they (never really) happen.

While some push for a wall to prevent illegals from stealing American jobs and receiving Social Security benefits, in 2015 the income levels of the top 1% reached a new high while the bottom 99% posted incremental gains.

Migrant workers have clearly rigged tax laws in their favor.

While some insist that Obama is coming for our guns, suicide rates in the United States surged to a 30-year high in 2014, with more than 50% of all cases involving firearms.

Guess Obama missed those homes.

While some label climate change a hoax, a recent study says we can expect the oceans to rise between 2.5 and 6.5 feet by 2100, enough to swamp cities across the east coast.

Millions of Americans drowning in debt will slowly drown in their easy chairs.

There’s a common enemy here. To paraphrase James Carville, the Ragin’ Cajun democratic strategist: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Long before economics became a science, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. In it Smith refers to the Invisible Hand that guides self-interested citizens in their relentless pursuit of objects, property and status. When hardworking entrepreneurs utilize laissez-faire economic policies to increase their bottom lines, society as a whole benefits. Free markets magically improve lives and deliver us from the evils of bloated government bureaucracies.

So much has changed since 1776. Smith knew nothing of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, junk bonds, adjustable rate mortgages, or tax-evading multinational corporations defined as people.

There’s a dark side to global capitalist expansion we can’t deny: greed, excess, a politics of exploitation and exclusion. A blatant disregard for non-human lives and the environment. Poverty, starvation and the spread of disease. Collective despair. Mass incarceration. Soaring anxiety. Obesity. So much obesity. War drones. Amazon drones. Trump Tower. The Clinton Foundation.

One week from the general election it’s a jungle gym out there. As our teachers, parents and legal guardians hang from the monkey bars, we the children fight over invisible plastic shovels in the quicksand that is perpetually now, hyper-connected, consumer capitalism.

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The Art Of The Heel

“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn.” –Baudrillard

Trump is a car fire

He’s the death drive Freud warned us about. Our innate desire to self-destruct for the pure spectacle of it. Sometimes he’s the car, a vehicle for change in reverse. Sometimes he’s the fire itself, a burning in the body politic.

Trump is Moloch

Moloch is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god that demands a costly sacrifice. Ginsberg writes in his masterpiece “Howl”:

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”

In voting for Trump we sacrifice our children, the future, the promise of American ideals—in the name of security and (white) power.

Trump is part of the accursed share

From Wikipedia:

“According to Bataille’s theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring, in the contemporary age most often in war, or in former ages as destructive and ruinous acts of giving or sacrifice, but always in a manner that threatens the prevailing system.”

Trump’s platform stinks. It’s the waste of democracy. A spewing from the mouth we’re desperate to expel. His campaign represents “an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring” of hate we excrete in small amounts to keep the system flowing.

Trump is the sorcerer’s apprentice

Goethe’s poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was published in 1797. As the story goes, an old sorcerer leaves his apprentice with chores. The apprentice, not fully licensed, bonded and insured, enchants a broom to do the work for him, but soon he can’t stop its frenetic sweeping. He splits the broom in two with an axe, but each piece then splits in two, on and on. The old magician returns and breaks the spell, reminding his pupil that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.

Mickey Mouse assumed the role of apprentice in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. Trump is neither Mickey nor sorcerer, but the magic itself. He will make people disappear, preferably back to Mexico.

Trump can’t fire Mickey, now a celebrity apprentice, because Mickey’s hands are twice the size of his.

Trump is a human being

The most frightening proposition of all: Trump is just himself. He’s you and I. Out of many, one.

Donald Trump is the fate we’re surprised to meet halfway down the path of our escape route. The brutal truth of our collective demise we couldn’t imagine during the primaries, but after November 8 we will come to realize was waiting for us all along.

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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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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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