Normalize This!

Last week, the election of Donald J. Trump came as a thunderclap. This week, the echoes are still ringing in the ears of the American polity. Reports of the demise of the Republican party turned out to be greatly exaggerated. And now it’s the Democrats who find themselves experiencing fracture.

hillary-clinton-supporters-on-election-night

Adrees Latif/Reuters  

A puzzle in the form of a Trump presidency has been handed to them. But how to solve it? Demonize him? Normalize him? Mobilize against him? Hillary Clinton called on Americans to give President-elect Trump “a chance to lead.” President Obama cautioned the nation against a rush to judgement: “I think it is important for us to let him make his decisions. The American people will judge over the course of the next couple of years whether they like what they see.”

Others see it differently. Harry Reid on the Senate floor didn’t mince words: “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump, a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.”

This week we turn to a stellar panel of guests with the question: What to do now?

Rockstar economist Yanis Varoufakis starts us off with a rich, nuanced analysis of the current situation. In these benighted times, he makes out a silver lining in Trump’s astonishing rise to power. “It’s possible to go against the Establishment and win.” Later, critical historians of thought and activism on the left Tim Barker and Donna Murch join the show, critiquing the Democratic Party’s checkered past and laying out a path for moving forward. National treasure of independent politics Ralph Nader also helps us look for civic consensus across party lines.

Finally, we’re joined by the brilliant, cosmopolitan mind of Simon Schama, who speaks to the abundance of modern global challenges facing us: tribalism, isolationism, and (of course) Trumpism. In many ways, our conversation with Simon can be considered as an elaboration of the imperial themes he raised last time he was a guest on our show.

Main Photo: Evan Guest, Trump rally in Ottumwa, Iowa 

Guest List
Yanis Varoufakis
former finance minister of Greece for the Syriza party, professor of economic theory at the University of Athens, blogger, and author of the new book, And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (Nation Books).
Ralph Nader
consumer rights champion, former presidential candidate and author of Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think
Donna Murch
professor of History at Rutgers University and author of Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California
Tim Barker
editor for Dissent and New Inquiry and PhD student in history at Harvard University
Simon Schama
professor of art history and history at Columbia University and author of The Story of the Jews and  Rough Crossings

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  • Lisa Klinkenberg

    Will a transcript be available for this show?

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    If Mr. Trump and his associates are convicted of defrauding their students prior to the EC vote in December, do you imagine it will influence the outcome in the EC vote?

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    Doesn’t wage-stagnation also factor into the equation along with the saving glut and declining investment in producing and promoting the rise of nationalism and/or fascism? To what degree does declining purchasing power resulting from wage-stagnation dis-incentivize investment, thus creating a savings glut? If true, QE as a means of rectifying the rude circumstances may be ill-conceived misguided policy. From my perspective, in the developed West, our present politico- socio- economic- situation all smack of the fruits of neoliberalism. Doesn’t neoliberalism and its severe income-wealth inequality reside as the axis of such issues?

  • Potter

    The glass is a lot less than half full here. I am with Simon Schama on that. We cannot forget the kind of campaign that Trump ran: what he said, what he allowed and egged on from the crowds. And now he has to show something. I do not believe he is a blank slate either. He has an ideology that we are seeing confirmed in his first appointments . He is amoral as well: his morals float according to what he feels boosts him among his followers. Compare to the confident Obama these days, and for that matter, for the last 8 years what a moral compass looks like. So I don’t think Trump is the genius people are saying he is, giving him some credit. I think he was improvising from the start and assessing the reactions and then playing to them. I think he was very surprised that he hit such a rich vein.

    Also I think he will be, as Schama said, on a collision course. People, like me for instance, among the more than half of the electorate ( those who voted at least) who did not vote for him are not going to wipe the slate clean and give him a break. He is going to have a hard climb out of a hole he is in with many many of us.

    The question: How do we get the truth to Trump, to the American people? Is an all important question. It also implies he is open to it. Do we have to first stand our ground about what truth is? I would add too that we need to clarify who we are as a nation, what kind of people we are. There is a big hole to fill on that score and Trump has left it ripe for picking.

    As usual, this was an excellent conversation. The conversation I hope for would be between the Trump supporters and those of us appalled by Trump. I have to say too, if this be an elite conversation ( it is) then bravo! I am for it.

    Also I think we should protest in any way we can.

    Thank you ROS, Chris, Mary. All your guest were first rate.

  • Yanis Varoufakis: checks and balances ? the guy doesn’t understand
    what just happened!
    Great deflation/capital crisis savings vs investment ….but Trump
    is proposing a new deal – spending on infrastructure – look at what the bond
    market is saying: rate inflation.
    That is as far as I can go with Varoufakis’s blather.

    Tim Barker: Good lead in by Chris – action. Barker sees the possibilities. Chris loses it
    mentioning Keynesianism. Schama started Chris down the road to why that won’t work but it is more flawed than political.

    Donna Murch: too much back sliding. She wants to blame Bill, but admits his decision
    was decades in the making. Bill was weak-willed – Hillary was loyal not
    weak-willed.
    What drove the dems was focus on the desires of the voters i.e.– marketing. They
    used the narrow middleclass concerns to effect popular policy. They segmented
    the market with specific actions to then aggregate those into an electorate.
    Bill Clinton was a weak individual – way over his head when he became President.
    To roll that forward to Hillary is just wrong. Hillary saw his weak-willed antics
    up close and personal. My hope was that she learned something – hey, she is
    criticized for changing !

    Nader: He’ll never change – still angry. Props.

    Simon Schama: what is ‘real.’ what is ‘reality.’

    I asked the Hindi cashier at the local Quickie Mart if he enjoyed the election. I couldn’t understand most of his rant, but it was something about Sartre and that we have separated ourselves from reality.

    Bingo! Sartre’s derealizing, which Sartre blames on Flaubert. As I am sure you recall, Flaubert was the Seinfeld of his day attempting to write a book about nothing – Madame Bovary, which kick started modern literature.

    We’ve been separating ourselves from reality for a very long time and this has always bugged the lumpen minions to no end. (By lumpen minions I mean the angry – those who, for various reasons, cannot think clearly. [ Although David Brooks described some of them joining Trump as having ‘excellent minds’].) They cannot exist in a world constructed of words, because words are
    imaginary – they only refer to made-up stuff. And ultimately, in the domain of the swellheads, the words only refer to other words.

    The existence of the angry can be felt though, by way of taking action. One can feel a punch to the face and it is very effect way to communicate – it is direct and immediate.

    The election was a punch to the face the intent of which was to return to reality: a Sartrean re-realized.

    But I’m with Flaubert, the imagination is life.

    • Potter

      The election was a punch in the face. Reality is not a constant, not fixed. We awoke to more of it and there is an endless more. We, the shocked (and appalled) are still analyzing, turning it around, absorbing it, We will have to deal with it, this new reality. It was hidden, maybe a lot of it internal/personal that escaped that coalesced . Maybe we were not paying attention, or not informed. Whatever. The floodgates were opened. the ooze that is pouring out has power.

      You talk about imagination, I watched the PBS documentary on Hamilton last night. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius that created the musical, is from an immigrant family. Hamilton himself of course was an immigrant. Mirianda keeps reminding us that our founding fathers were all flawed, maybe very. But they had a vision, a common goal and a moral base. And they acted/reacted upon one another. The founders and the people got punched in their collective face, but they made a new reality. (Miranda did too.)

      Nader and Yanis have been imagining. Both were good.

      • Yeah, Nader was right about Bernie – he should be out
        there punching back.

        • Potter

          I did not go for that either. But I’ll take what he has to offer at this point..

    • sifta

      Interesting comment, Robert. I do wonder if the ‘de-realized’ is a symptom of being ‘virtualized’ which is much more available to the average person in current times than it was in 50 years ago.

      Although media is not the sole aspect here, the role of fake news and Twitter rants/posturing is clearly a factor.

      In the 2008 election, it seemed that bloggers ability to analyze and ‘Fisk’ bluster and innuendo made through normal channels (e.g. speeches and TV) faster than the candidates could concoct them. In the 2016 election, the increased rapidity and fluidity of things like Facebook and Twitter made things decidedly less analytical and more reactionary (more populist?). The debates had limited effect. Whether this is a cause or an effect is not clear!

      Excellent minds are certainly not enough for a just and virtuous state, as the most despotic states in history had plenty of ‘excellent minds.’ Even sidestepping Godwin’s Law, we can presume that the Pharonic magicians of the Bible were, in fact, excellent minds.

      Pro-tip. Your Quickie-Mart man was *probably* Indian, and *might* have been a follower of the Hindu religion. Hindi is a language, and unlike many European languages does not have an associated race/creed/color/nationality. The safest bet on looks/sounds alone would be to call him ‘South Asian.’

  • Pete Crangle

    Excellent discussion. I recently listened to ROS Economic Fellow and Pub Companion Mark Blyth and Professor Wendy Schiller’s election 2016 post mortem. Several of Professor Blyth’s comments pierced the bubble. I’ll paraphrase something that really jumped out at me: In 2015, seven years after a tax payer funded bailout, a bailout disproportionately placed on the backs of the paycheck-to-paycheck class for the Casino Speculator Sector, Wall St. bonuses totaled $28.4B, while total compensation to all minimum wage workers was $14B for that same time period. Let that really sink in … Yeah, something is upside down in our economic disconnect. This election, and a wave of rightward movement across Europe, may become a full-stop moment, with massive realignments. Peasant revolts tend to be unpleasant affairs.

    I took a couple of economics courses in college from an extremely good professor, one of the most engaging teachers in my personal learning experiences. It wasn’t my field of study, but I thought I should have some sense of it. One day he canvassed the class on the question “what is economics?” We discovered a funny thing: the answer to that question tended to shift into how you and your family and your friends and your local businesses were doing in the economy. The ‘what’ shifts into a ‘how’, and according to this very experienced teacher, that is exactly how the experiment tends to play out. The answer to the question “how is the economy doing?” also breaks the same way: it depends on how on you and your local group are doing in the economy – not GDP numbers, not productivity numbers, not jobless recovery numbers, not market index movement, not IPO numbers, not consumer index numbers, not Christmas retail profits and losses. At its core, for most people, economics isn’t an empirical social science, it’s the prospects for survival and the opportunities for a secure present and hopeful future. It is, as we used to say, a kitchen table issue. Board rooms and trading floors have been exerting an intense, downward pressure on the working class’ kitchen table. That future has no legs. A future without legs cannot kick those cans down the road. As mentioned in this show, it is Dickensian.

    Mark Blyth and Wendy Schiller – Election 2016: What Happened and Why?

    • Schiller: drop off among Hillary survey respondents; mentions VA as linchpin.
      Yep, I saw it at the VFW.

  • sifta

    @Potterw:disqus TD;LR We have left the Obama-era of dialectic and are back in the 1980’s Reagan-era of signaling. Therefore, Bernie is 100% right.

    It is extremely presumptuous for people, progressively-minded or otherwise, to assume that all of the political factions are engaged in some sort of common dialectic towards the truth. This was the premise to Francis Fukuyama’s now debunked ‘End of History.’

    It is high-time that progressives wake up and take the soon-to-start Trump presidency very seriously and not necessarily literally — following up on insider Peter Thiel’s comments. Bannon, Trump, and co. are engaged in a signaling game, not a intellectual exchange.

    For instance, Trump’s turn to the camera instructing his racist supporters to ‘stop’ attacking minorities is a sideshow to endear him to non-minorities. And re-assurances from Pence and Trump along these lines are also for their constituency and not for the minorities being threatened. More meaningful is their enactment of a formal “loyalty filter” (see Thiel’s Plum List) to effectively guarantee the absence of progressive thinking across rank and file appointees in the transition.

    Therefore, when Trump tweets that Hamilton is to be boycotted, we should at least consider that this translates to ‘banned’ — at least for would-be insiders in a future Trump administration. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to people who are already thoughtful progressives (who based on previous statements and the loyalty filter being applied to candidates Twitter and other online history) are not under consideration for positions of power. However, a young and naive right-winger sidling up to the Trump administration has just gotten an undeniable message: “Do not attend Hamilton.” And maybe even do not admit to even being influenced by the message in Hamilton — a innovative and thought-provoking reimagining of the origin story of the United States. The messages from the right-wing about this are that entertainers should tap-dance and keep their thoughts to themselves — just like in the era that ‘America was Great.’

    Progressives should not take for granted that everyone actually *believes* in equality of opportunity as a basic principle. In the ‘America was Great’ years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, this was sort of a mild canard that didn’t really threaten the supremacy of majority culture — certainly not in the swing states surrounding the Great Lakes. This pits the politics of intellectual progressives that justifies a level-playing field for all people (and with common cause with self-interested Globalist plutocrats) versus a more tribal politics of fealty, opportunity, Nationalism, and reward.

    I personally understand America’s founding fathers were intellectual progressives who threw off the politics of fealty to the King for a more uncharted world of ideas. However, I don’t think that this is the only narrative or a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    We progressives are currently facing two branches of government (executive and legislative) that are nominally aligned towards building walls in many physical and metaphorical ways and tearing apart the politics of inclusion that was a hallmark of the last eight years. The forces against this (e.g. Birther movement, opponents of Shirley Sherrod, and the list goes on and on) are literally and seriously running the executive branch. Whether the legislative branch falls in line completely is not clear, but the only signals to the contrary thusfar have come from John McCain.

    • Potter

      A big bravo for “Hamilton” cast. It has all been about entertainment this season. Trump is trying to keep the spotlight on himself and steal the message back… pathetic. He has no message.. or none that sits well. He’s still the same con man he was. So attend Hamilton if you can afford it and get tickets). Or wait for the DVD. PBS Great Performances should extend their streaming of “Hamilton’s America” the documentary of the making of the show with ample clips from the show as well.

  • Shirley J

    First of all, the glass is leaking…

    Second of all, Donald Trump is not debt free. Because he hasn’t released any information we don’t know who he owes. There are rumors to be believed that he owes Russian Banks quite a bit and also that he owes Deutsche Bank $40 million. I think the job of the press is to find out who he owes and how much, not to pretend that the man is free from debt. Also rumor is that the Koch Brothers decided to invest heavily in his campaign towards the last week or so.

  • The Atlantic: The Electoral College Was Meant to Stop Men Like Trump From Being President

    “As Michael Signer explains, the framers were particularly afraid of the people choosing a demagogue. The electors, Hamilton believed, would prevent someone with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity” from becoming president. And they would combat “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” They would prevent America’s adversaries from meddling in its elections. The founders created the Electoral College, in other words, in part to prevent the election of someone like Donald Trump.” 11/21/2016 Peter Beinart The Atlantic

  • Potter

    There is no normalizing, should be no normalizing of this person. Every day we see more of what we are in for.

    Trump Airs Grievances..with Top TV Executives”

    Robert Reich’s First 100 day Resistance Agenda

  • Pete Crangle

    Resistance: Tank Man

    Resistance: Thích Quảng Đức

    The Election of Living Dangerously, or, Veering towards an Alt-Reality, Antebellum America

    “When God grabs you by the scruff of the neck then although theoretically you have a freedom to say ‘no’, in another sense, actually, you can’t say no because it’s like Jeremiah. ‘God, you have cheated me. You called me to be a prophet against the people that I love, and all that I proclaim is words of doom and judgement.’ And yet if I say “I will shut up”, I can’t.” ― Desmond Tutu

    Events are in the driver seat. We are witnesses to a decline that may yet become a partial collapse, or free-fall into total collapse. Unlike Reverend Tutu, I see this not so much a spiritual awakening of answering a call, but an understanding that events and history are grabbing us by the scruff of the neck.

    The form of resistance to this moment will be dictated by the very forces that call it into being. Response is dictated not only by the remedy it seeks, but by how the state security and surveillance machinery deploys its force and counter-measures. The differences between the state deployed counter-measures for coping with the Bundy militia’s takeover of federal lands, lands tied to a tribal treaty arrangement, is a dramatic juxtaposition and clarification when compared to the counter-measures used against the Standing Rock water protectors.

    To understand how the possible scale and scope of counter-measures for pacification will be accepted or rejected, it is instructive to examine the culture war’s relationship to this election. One side has allowed itself to be captured by a charismatic proto-tyrant because of issues related to alienation and a déclassé status. White men in particular are feeling a loss of social prestige. Whether this is real or perceived is of little difference in their voting. The other side focuses on problems that are largely unconnected to many straight, Caucasian people’s lives, and are viewed as self-indulgent adventures in a quagmire of identity that tilt into or away from creedal issues that undergird much of the citizenry.

    There has been no overarching synthesis to connect identity civil rights with a middle class or working class ethos. There has been no overarching synthesis to connect ecocide with a middle class or working class ethos. Identity civil rights are seen by some as boutique activism. Advocates, lobbyists, unions, social critics, ivory tower fiefdoms, etc. have failed for a variety reasons: A lack of vision and simple message that connects those issues together. The rise of fact-free reality media that indulges itself upon the zombie corpse of both-siderism, or false equivalency, and for-profit driven ‘news’ spectacle. And, the insular bunkers and silos that exists on both sides of many identity civil rights battles.

    None of this qualifies as a grand narrative. It is closer to a perceived culture war snapshot. There is no grand narrative at work here, because we are held in the clutches of an inchoate interregnum of what can be called hypernormalisation. To succeed in a hypernormalised society, one must thrive on chaos and instability, and create a meta-narrative that is essentially a non-narrative containing loosely coherent ephemera that can be reconstructed on-the-fly to meet a new instability. This is an environment that is amenable to a fact-free, ever-malleable Truthiness. Orwell captured aspects of this with “1984” and “Animal Farm.” Donald Trump, and both the Democratic and Republican parties are symptoms of this, as well as, corporate media.

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” — William Faulkner

    The cautionary tale of connecting civil liberty concerns to larger concerns, such as, ecocidal destruction and economic inequality, is that of the non-violent, civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, jr. It is important to remember, that MLK, jr. was a target at all times during his campaigns for civil rights, but became an irresistible target once he moved beyond the rhetoric of civil rights for people of color, and into the realm of class struggle, particularly regarding war and economic inequality. Generally, it cost nearly nothing to stop lynching people or allowing more access to America’s abundance for its historical underclasses. Allowing open access to buses, restaurants, education, and sports, not only didn’t hurt business interests, it helped them. However, to advocate against the US war machine, or advocate for economic opportunity and against economic inequality, this was another matter entirely, and this moved MLK, jr. into a zone that the corporate state could not countenance, and left him a target for reprimand by assignation.

    Storm & Stress

    Donald Trump thrives on chaos and instability. In a perverse way, Trump is Captain Ahab who has nailed the Trump Organization to the Oval Office, the mast of executive power, and like Ahab, has enticed his followers with the promise of bounty and reward if they will join him in the chase of The Whiteness of the Whale, #MAGA. Unlike the rapport between say, a sports franchise and its fan base, this is the aesthetic territory of fascism, and human beings can be swept up into its intoxication’s rapidly when the groundwork for its appearance has been laid. With the election of Donald Trump, the United States has plunged below the skin and surface of things. This election result is no longer confined to the realm of politics, nor economics, though these are the arenas where the archetypes are being expressed. The primal cultural atavism that has been fomenting under the surface has found its public expression.

    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

    Where resistance meets equanimity is the endless roads we must travel

    The subterranean has surfaced. There are long archetypal shadows that have been brought to the surface. The purveyors of a realpolitik tend to reject an analysis that requires an examination of imagination and psyche, which is where we are, because this is where we always find ourselves, especially in moments of great collective stress.

    Our lives are tethered to the psyche and imagination. What is money, exactly? What is an institution, exactly? What is a political party, exactly? What is value, exactly? What is a state, exactly? Architectures and categories from human imagination, and these architectures all reside in the psychological and emotional realm. And yet, this is avoided by and large, like discussions of lifecycle itself. We distance ourselves from the deeper reality out of a need to immerse ourselves in a comfort zone to con ourselves into clarity, control, and logos. This realm only remains aloof and unserious to us largely because we put distance between ourselves and its workings. The historical baggage is too great to move us. Eventually, the comfort zone is pierced, one way or another.

    One of the problems of neoliberalism and globalization is the attempt to cover over and suppress tribal affiliations by ignoring how deep those affiliations remain in the human psyche and bind us emotionally. Globalization is the attempt to bribe the psyche into collective apathy and pacification. If that doesn’t work, Imperial Projects and draconian state security and surveillance are used to suppress it. The reactionary rise of global Islamic Jihad, is in no small part a reaction against this very proposition. Though I cannot locate the quote, I remember years ago reading about John F Kennedy and his approaches to the cold war and its battle of civilization between Communism and Democratic-Capitalism. What I can recall, is that he said something approximately along the line of: “In the end, what really matters is how well an idea can travel with people.” That is to say, if people cannot integrate into their lives the dogmatic notions that institutions promote, what is often referred to as ‘buy in’ (the phrase ‘buy-in’ is pregnant with a hubris that creates a john-prostitution relationship), then such institutional intrusion will be met with resistance, and opportunities will be created to torpedo the civil life of those who have embraced that hegemonic ethos. Of course, those who seek a global caliphate should understand, that door swings both ways. This is a blind spot of all ideological fanatics, which is why they tend to wrap their nihilism in religion or the cold brutality of myths of human progress.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – Edmund Burke

    As Trumpism is normalized, if it is normalized, we will observe a collective expression similar to the story of Leonard Zelig. An odd choice of pop culture narrative that explains to us the willingness of human beings to stretch themselves into a mob. Zelig is a quirky and important reminder here. What Zelig tells us, among other things, is that fascism is enabled not only by nativists fanatics, but by those who are willing to go along with the zeitgeist. In other words, one need not be an explicit racial supremacists or misogynist to vote for Trump, but once one sinks into the Zelig posture, one is willing to go for the ride wherever the ride takes one in the hopes of a secure present and hopeful future.

    Jews achieved legal emancipation in Germany in 1871. There may be no way to demonstrate the following proposition with any hard certainty, but I strongly suspect not all non-Jewish Germans were rabidly anti-Semitic war mongers in 1930s Germany. Germans had 50 plus years to adjust to Jewish emancipation and cope with its consequences. Germans had experienced both success and failures in foreign adventures of a military nature over that same time period. The Jewish Question, as well as military overreach, dogged many non-Jewish Germans well into the 1940s. However, troubled by The Third Reich policies or not, many were willing to suspend their moral and ethical codes, and take the ride to where The Third Reich lead the country. All in the name of national identity and primal security. This is the precipice we lurch towards.

    What nags me, is is not so much Adolph Hitler or Joseph Goebbels or Vichy France. Nor Joseph Stalin, Tsarist Russia, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot, The Southern Confederacy, the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, or a cavalcade of African or South American mutinies and coups — many of these episodes were instigated by external forces. I am not so much nagged by how these people and events brought to bear a shattered record of human created catastrophes. It is not how these people and events were abetted by the willing and enabling of an innumerable number of accomplices who perpetrated a death ethos for their time and place. These histories cause me apprehension, but it is not where the urgency lies.

    The nagging challenge for myself is found in the memory of people like Tank Man, Neville Chamberlain, Walter Benjamin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hannah Arendt, Judenrat, Frantz Fanon, Jean Dominique, Jane Goodall, the Jewish residents in 20th Century Europa, Thomas Paine, Eugene Debs, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, MLK, jr., Malcom X, Sitting Bull, Che Guevara, and an ineffectual left that has screwed the pooch more times than can be held in a normal person’s memory.

    It is at times like these, that I must consider the spiritual teachers who were able to transcend the cynicism of everyday life, and yet, root their ethics and morals right down into the soil of the human condition and the physical reality of its context. It is the poetic grace of Jelaluddin Rumi that confounds me at this moment. It is these historical bellwethers who have bequeathed to us a Damocles Sword and its imperative in the face of a clear and present danger. Their skin was in the game, because it turns out that some human beings reach a point for which their acquiescence cannot be bought off or assuaged. This is the shadow that casts itself upon us at this moment. Edmond Burke cut right to the heart of the matter. So, did the Sufi poet Rumi.

    Should We Give Donald Trump a Chance? | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann

    As Keith Olbermann has stated by channeling his polished, but authentic, Howard Beale routine, it’s a moment of truly historical proportions that requires resistance. I believe he, and others who’ve been saying so, are correct. I would suggest this moment requires resistance because this moment could be the clarification that will finish all of us off. If you’re not feeling it, you’re amygdala isn’t functioning. Have your cortisol levels boosted.

    There has been a failure perpetrated upon us that is spearheaded by our political institutions, and thus far, knowing this, we the people have been unable or unwilling to stop its inertia. As Potter and others have suggested, this is not a normal election, and not a normal election result. Clearly, many of us recognized this potential well before November 8, 2016. Now, the violence of the whirlwind approaches. The horizon has gathered itself, and is delivering its relentless furies closer-and-closer. And though many people understand this right down to their toes, the response thus far is strictly ineffectual. Which is understandable. This is the part of the lesson of Damocles Sword. In fact, to put it in pop culture terms, it is one of the lessons of the book and film “Fight Club”. We have an homework assignment. And I wish that cup to be taken from us. Fight Club – Homework scene

    History dictates that we must now walk along two roads simultaneously, and honor them both vigorously. We must give serious consideration to Edmond Burke’s warning, and convene within ourselves and between ourselves, the modalities of resistance, while at the same time, we attempt to reach for its opposite shore, which is a state of grace:

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about.
    Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

    ― Jalaluddin Rumi – 13th Century

    Resistance may be necessary, but we must use it to heal the deep fragmentation. We must reintegrate ourselves into a wholeness that honors who each of us are as individuals. For human beings, this seems both the age old intractable pest and the cosmic punchline. I bid all a fair and safe Thanksgiving, which for some, is a day of mourning.

  • Pete Crangle

    Resistance: Tank Man

    Resistance: Thích Quảng Đức

    The Election of Living Dangerously, or, Veering towards an Alt-Reality, Antebellum America

    “When God grabs you by the scruff of the neck then although theoretically you have a freedom to say ‘no’, in another sense, actually, you can’t say no because it’s like Jeremiah. ‘God, you have cheated me. You called me to be a prophet against the people that I love, and all that I proclaim is words of doom and judgement.’ And yet if I say “I will shut up”, I can’t.” ― Desmond Tutu

    Events are in the driver seat. We are witnesses to a decline that may yet become a partial collapse, or free-fall into total collapse. Unlike Reverend Tutu, I see this not so much as a spiritual awakening of answering a call, but an understanding that events and history are grabbing us by the scruff of the neck.

    The form of resistance to this moment will be dictated by the very forces that call it into being. Response is dictated not only by the remedy it seeks, but by how the state security and surveillance machinery deploys its force and counter-measures, and how those measures are met. The differences between the state deployed counter-measures for coping with the Bundy militia’s takeover of federal lands, lands tied to a tribal treaty arrangement, is a dramatic juxtaposition and clarification when compared to the counter-measures used against the Standing Rock water protectors.

    To understand how the possible scale and scope of domestic pacification will be accepted or rejected, it is instructive to examine the interpretation of the culture war’s relationship to this election. One side has allowed itself to be captured by a charismatic proto-tyrant because of issues related to alienation and a déclassé status. White men in particular are feeling a loss of social prestige. Whether this is real or perceived is of little difference in their voting. The other side focuses on problems that are largely unconnected to many straight, Caucasian people’s lives, and are viewed as self-indulgent adventures in a quagmire of identity that tilt into or away from creedal issues that undergird much of the citizenry.

    There has been no overarching synthesis to connect identity civil rights with a middle class or working class ethos. There has been no overarching synthesis to connect ecocide with a middle class or working class ethos. Identity civil rights are seen by some as boutique activism. Advocates, lobbyists, unions, social critics, ivory tower fiefdoms, etc. have failed for a variety reasons: A lack of vision and simple message that connects those issues together. The rise of fact-free reality media that indulges itself upon the zombie corpse of both-siderism, or false equivalency, and for-profit driven ‘news’ spectacle. And, the insular bunkers and silos that exists within mass media and social media spigots.

    None of this qualifies as a grand narrative. It is closer to a perceived culture war snapshot. There is no grand narrative at work here, because we are held in the clutches of an inchoate interregnum of what can be called hypernormalisation. This is the de facto means of damage control and propaganda manipulation. To succeed in a hypernormalised society, one must thrive on chaos and instability, and be able to create a meta-narrative. This meta-narrative essentially traffics in a loosely coherent ephemera that can be reconstructed on-the-fly to meet a new instability. This is an environment that is amenable to a fact-free, ever-malleable Truthiness. Orwell captured aspects of this with “1984” and “Animal Farm.” Donald Trump, and both the Democratic and Republican parties are symptoms of the use of hypernormalisation, as well as, corporate media.

    “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” — William Faulkner

    The cautionary tale of connecting civil liberty concerns to larger concerns, such as, ecocidal destruction and economic inequality, is that of the non-violent, civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, jr. It is important to remember, that MLK, jr. was a target at all times during his campaigns for civil rights, but became an irresistible target once he moved beyond the rhetoric of civil rights for people of color, and into the realm of class struggle, particularly regarding war and economic inequality. Generally, it cost nearly nothing to stop lynching people or allowing more access to America’s abundance for its historical underclasses. Allowing open access to buses, restaurants, education, and sports, not only didn’t hurt business interests, it helped them. However, to advocate against the US war machine, or advocate for economic opportunity and against economic inequality, this was another matter entirely, and this moved MLK, jr. into a zone that the corporate state could not countenance, and left him a target for reprimand by assassination.

    Storm & Stress

    Donald Trump thrives on chaos and instability. In a perverse way, Trump is Captain Ahab who has nailed the Trump Organization to the Oval Office, the mast of executive power, and like Ahab, has enticed his followers with the promise of bounty and reward if they will join him in the chase of The Whiteness of the Whale, #MAGA. Unlike the rapport between say, a sports franchise and its fan base, this is the aesthetic territory of fascism, and human beings can be swept up into its intoxication’s rapidly when the groundwork for its appearance has been laid. With the election of Donald Trump, the United States has plunged below the skin and surface of things, and various shadow archetypes have surface. This election result is no longer confined to the realm of politics, nor economics, though these are the arenas where the archetypes are being expressed. The primal cultural atavism that has been fomenting under the surface has found its public expression through Donald Trump and his campaign.

    The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

    Where resistance meets equanimity is the endless roads we must travel

    The subterranean has surfaced, and with it, deep archetypal shadows have been brought to the surface. These archetypes orbit around the fear response, fight versus flight. And, these archetypes feed from the trough of scarcity that neoliberalism, globalization, austerity, and permanent crises management, as realized by permanent war and impulse driven domestic security, present us. The flight responses can be observed through various substance and process addictions, as well as, suicide and other self-destructive behavior patterns. The fight response is baked into the rhetoric and rising temperatures that Trump and his rallies forecast.

    The purveyors of a realpolitik tend to reject an analysis that requires an examination of imagination and psyche, which is where we are, because this is where we always find ourselves, especially in moments of great collective stress. Our lives are tethered to the psyche and imagination. What is money, exactly? What is an institution, exactly? What is a political party, exactly? What is value, exactly? What is a state, exactly? Architectures and categories from human imagination, and these architectures all reside in the psychological and emotional realm. And yet, this is avoided by and large. We distance ourselves from the deeper reality out of a need to immerse ourselves in a comfort zone to con ourselves into clarity, control, and logos. This realm only remains aloof and unserious to us largely because we put distance between ourselves and its workings. The historical baggage that is attached to this realm is too great to move us. Eventually, the comfort zone is pierced, one way or another.

    One of the problems of neoliberalism and globalization is the attempt to cover over and suppress tribal affiliations by ignoring how deep those affiliations remain in the human psyche and bind us emotionally. Globalization is the attempt to bribe the psyche into collective apathy and pacification. If that doesn’t work, Imperial Projects and draconian state security and surveillance are used to suppress it. The reactionary rise of global Islamic Jihad, is in no small part a reaction against this very proposition.

    Though I cannot locate the quote, I remember years ago reading about John F Kennedy and his approaches to the cold war and its battle of civilization between Communism and Democratic-Capitalism. What I can recall, is that he said something approximately along the line of: “In the end, what really matters is how well an idea can travel with people.” That is to say, if people cannot integrate into their lives the dogmatic notions that external institutions promote, what is often referred to as ‘buy in’ (the phrase ‘buy-in’ is pregnant with a hubris that creates a john-prostitution relationship), then such institutional intrusion will be met with resistance. Furthermore, opportunities will be created to torpedo the civil life of those who have embraced that hegemonic ethos. Of course, those who seek a global caliphate should understand, that door swings both ways. This is a blind spot of all ideological fanatics, which is why they tend to wrap their nihilism in the religious sacred realm, or the cold brutality of myths of human progress that are promised by a secular, materialist, enlightenment world-view.

    Leonard Zelig

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” – Edmund Burke

    As Trumpism is normalized, if it is normalized, we will observe a collective expression similar to the story of Leonard Zelig. An odd choice of pop culture narrative that explains to us the willingness of human beings to stretch themselves into a mob. Zelig is a quirky and important reminder here. What Zelig tells us, among other things, is that fascism is enabled not only by nativist fanatics, but by those who are willing to go along with the zeitgeist. In other words, one need not be an explicit racial supremacist or misogynist to vote for Trump, but once one sinks into the Zelig posture, one is willing to go for the ride wherever the ride takes one in the hopes of a secure present and hopeful future.

    Jews achieved legal emancipation in Germany in 1871. There may be no way to demonstrate the following claim with any hard certainty, but I strongly suspect not all non-Jewish Germans were rabidly anti-Semitic war mongers in 1930s Germany. Germans had 60 plus years to adjust to Jewish emancipation and cope with its consequences. Germans had experienced both success and failures in foreign adventures of a military nature over that same time period. The Jewish Question, as well as, the efficacy of German military overreach, was known to dog many non-Jewish Germans well into the 1940s. However, troubled by The Third Reich policies or not, many were willing to suspend their moral and ethical codes, and take the ride to where The Third Reich lead the country — down a rathole of unprecedented human misery and suffering. All in the name of national identity and primal security. This is the precipice we lurch towards.

    What nags me, is is not so much Adolph Hitler or Joseph Goebbels or Vichy France. Nor brutalities of Joseph Stalin regime nor Tsarist Russia. Not Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot, The Southern Confederacy, the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, or a cavalcade of African or South American mutinies and coups — many of these episodes were instigated by external forces. I am not so much nagged by how these people and events brought to bear a shattered record of human created catastrophes. Nor the understanding that these regimes and events were abetted by the willing and enabling of an innumerable number of accomplices who perpetrated a death ethos for their time and place — the Leonard Zelig phenomenon. These histories cause me apprehension, but it is not where the urgency lies.

    The nagging challenge for myself is found in the memory of people like Tank Man, Neville Chamberlain, Walter Benjamin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Hannah Arendt, Judenrat, Frantz Fanon, Jean Dominique, the Jewish residents in 20th Century Europa, Thomas Paine, Eugene Debs, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, MLK, jr., Malcom X, Sitting Bull, Che Guevara, and an ineffectual left that has screwed the pooch more times than can be held in a normal person’s memory.

    It is at times like these, that I must consider the spiritual teachers who were able to transcend the cynicism of everyday life, and yet, root their ethics and morals right down into the soil of the human condition and the physical reality of its context. It is the poetic grace of Jelaluddin Rumi that confounds me at this moment. It is the relentless adherence to non-violent resistance as demonstrated by Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mohandas Gandhi, that gives me not comfort, but nervous pause. It is these historical bellwethers who have bequeathed to us a Damocles Sword and its imperative in the face of a clear and present danger. Their skin was in the game, because it turns out that some human beings reach a point for which their acquiescence cannot be bought off or assuaged. This is the shadow that casts itself upon us at this moment. Edmond Burke cut right to the heart of the matter. So, did the Sufi poet Rumi, as did King and Gandhi.

    Should We Give Donald Trump a Chance? | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann

    As Keith Olbermann has stated by channeling his polished, but authentic, Howard Beale routine, it’s a moment of truly historical proportions that requires resistance. I believe he, and others who’ve been saying so, are correct. I would suggest this moment requires resistance because this moment could be the clarification that will finish all of us off. If you’re not feeling it, you’re amygdala isn’t functioning. Have your cortisol levels boosted.

    There has been a failure perpetrated upon us that is spearheaded by our political institutions, and thus far, knowing this, we the people have been unable or unwilling to stop its inertia. As Potter and others have suggested, this is not a normal election, and not a normal election result. Clearly, many of us recognized this potential well before November 8, 2016. Now, the violence of the whirlwind approaches. The horizon has gathered itself, and is delivering its relentless furies closer-and-closer. And though many people understand this right down to their toes, the response thus far is strictly ineffectual. Which is understandable. This is the part of the lesson of Damocles Sword.

    We must consider the path of The Road Not Taken. That is, we must now walk the pathway of two roads simultaneously, and honor them both vigorously. We must give serious consideration to Edmond Burke’s warning, and convene within ourselves and between each other, the modalities of resistance, while at the same time, we attempt to reach for its opposite shore, which is a state of grace:

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass,
    the world is too full to talk about.
    Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

    ― Jalaluddin Rumi – 13th Century

    Resistance may be a required necessity, but we must use it to heal the deep fragmentation. We must reintegrate ourselves into a wholeness that honors who each of us are as individuals. For human beings, this seems both the age old intractable pest and the cosmic punchline. I bid all a fair and safe Thanksgiving, which for some, is a day of mourning.

    • Excellent, Pete.
      I would suggest Hypernormalization should be preceded by viewing Adam Curtis’s three part series The Trap.
      In the Trap, the conclusion one may draw is that the battle between the
      politicians and corporations has been won by neither. It has been won by market forces.
      Resistance must be aimed at market forces, i.e. you and me.

      Crangle: “We must reintegrate ourselves into a wholeness that honors
      who each of us are as individuals.”

      Recommend: Curtis’ The Century of the Self

      • Pete Crangle

        Thank you Robert. Yes, market forces are an extremely important component. Thanks for the comment and the recommendations; I will certainly be checking them out as time permits. I suppose I will end up viewing them in the wrong order. Typical! Best regards.

      • ;p

    • Potter

      moving towards equanimity, out of digust, shock and fear, but adamantly against normalizing…one has to resist moving one’s moral sense, resist being demoralized lest we all go swirling down. So Trump himself may normalize, or seem to, though I doubt he will ever be actually normal. We are learning something. We were not paying full attention. We will see how well this rattletrap of a system holds up; we will see what we are made of collectively. The election was the opener. And it does not have to mean war. But I’ll stick with my worry that this is a Civil War and maybe worse than the first civil split, connected to it 21st century version. We are here to solve problems though…and to that task we should bring what we have learned.

      Reading Zadie Smith’s essay in the NY Review of Books was very helpful in that I am having to make the connection within myself about why I was and I think still am in favor of Brexit, but so horrified by what happened (is still happening) here. One thing I know. Though it’s a broad category and there is much to be said about it, we need our elites. They need us. And we do need them, if they can, with help, move beyond the resentment and depression.

      • Pete Crangle

        Well stated, as always Potter. The culture war seems to me a cold civil war, fought through various proxies at the institutional level, and then given voice through media venues. I hate quoting Donald Rumsfeld, but indeed “Democracy is messy.” As for Brexit, I myself always side with an autonomy with collective responsibility – for groups and individuals. Reconciling those tensions are difficult. I don’t think that even qualifies as a fortune cookie ethical stance, but it is what I carry with me at all times; probably something I picked up in my wee youth. Thank you for the comment and the link

        • Potter

          It does qualify for me as well as a moral ethical stance, one that keeps broadening as we go forward. It just does not sit well,say, to know what is going on in Syria and not have a feeling about right and wrong, bad and good,and say it’s DNA fighting, Darwin’s survival of the fittest. That does not rest my soul.

          I do judge Trump and will now with all that power bestowed upon him. I am not equivocal about him. He pulls as much energy towards himself for himself as he can. It would take quite a transformation to turn him around, to turn around what he already is set to do by the forces that enable him, We are going to pay the price. My definition of evil, which you may call a religious term, is just that. It does not advance us except in a negative way, at least at first, with a lot of suffering alongside the selfishness and greed before it corrects. We should see it on all sides. I think we are here to awaken and do so, so often, through suffering. Apparently we were not ready to correct as we were not well enough aware of what needs correcting in ourselves. That all may sound religious, but I am not.

          Re the link, I should have thanked ROS/Mary McGrath. It’s in the email for the current show on/with Zadie Smith.

      • “Though it’s a broad category and there is much to be said about it, we need our elites.”

        I recently finished watching Mark Blyth’s pre-election lecture at Watson. He was bouncing back and forth between economics / racism and economic left/right and right /wrong. He had no answers except to say the ‘this/that’ are close to the same thing.

        What of looking through an evolutionary biologist lens, say that of George R. Price and W.D. Hamilton?

        Price was trying to understand altruism – why do people sacrifice themselves for others? He came to the conclusion that we are like computers and the software that runs us has one designed function: to move our DNA forward in time. Thereby, there is no morality nor is there a God. Murder and war on distant relatives is okay as long as the DNA of your close relatives moves forward in time.

        With that lens, how does Brexit look? Ivanka Trump in the meeting with the Japanese prime minister? The inhumanity of the alt-right?

        They are all doing the rational thing, no? Or is it in fact a hyper-rational thing they are doing?

        FWIW, Curtis has piled up a mass of documentaries in the last 25 years.
        His thesis is that the rational thinking of the elites, specifically the teleology
        of Friedrich Hayek, John Nash, RD Laing, Isaiah Berlin and the Rand Corporation has gotten us partly where we are today. Which is, in terms of a social contract, moving from one failed idea to the next in the name of progress.
        That rationality is a problem, is profoundly expressed in Curtis’ The Century of the Self by Ayn Rand’s lover Nathaniel Branden when he said, ‘she thought our affair was rational – she thought everything she thought was rational.’ In another Curtis documentary, a startling insight from a scientist of the inner sanctum of the Rand Corporation. He describes his cohorts as megalomaniacs whose crazy ideas were firmly believed to be rational.

        This is where we are today: we have an irrational president who, through a different lens, may in fact be hyper-rational. (Elimination of the estate tax he probably believes is the only hope of his DNA moving on.)

        In an ironic twist, George Price concluded his knowledge to be so profound that it must have been a gift from God. He became a Christian and spent his last years working with the poor. In 1975, George Price cut the carotid artery out of his throat with a pair of scissors.

        Shun the elites or if you prefer, do as I do, observe them closely as an amusingly confused lot. They are completely nuts and having deposited their DNA on a distant planet (1), their ‘rationality’ will have killed us all.

        Can you hear it? It’s Vera Lynn singing us out of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove:

        We’ll meet again,
        Don’t know where, don’t know when,
        But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

        (1) Stephen Hawking views spaceflight and the colonization of space as necessary for the future of humanity.

  • Pete Crangle

    Donald Trump

    The Storm & Stress of Mythic Archetypes won’t stop bothering us … redux

    Donald Trump thrives on chaos and instability. He and his supporters are driven by this. As I mentioned previously, Trump can be seen as a sort of Captain Ahab persona, but there are other archetypes that are floating in the shadows here. Trump has become within himself, and to his supporters, a messianic redeemer, an avenging angel, and a wounded martyr. He is both victimized by a heartless and broken cultural machine, and master of it. He has explicitly used the language and presentation of mythic archetypes all through his campaign. On its surface, Trump embodies a hyper-ventilating strongman fixer for the aggrieved and dispossessed, but dig a little deeper, and he’s an Arthurian persona, a Charlemagne persona, a Moses persona, and a Christ persona that are realized through the rantings and ventings of a Lenny Bruce meets Sacha Baron Cohen smart-ass routine. Underneath the bluster, it is highly likely that Donald Trump is hermetically wounded, but the wounds he and his followers suffer from are hidden in a deep insecurity. Such engines drive movements like fascism.

    These Trump archetypal personas, his gold leaf dipped ersatz, is an attempt to become all encompassing. It is through archetypal personas that we experience the explicit blurring of psychological borders between Trump the human being, Trump the man, Trump the brand, Trump the rhetoric, Trump the Twitter balcony, Trump the campaign, Trump the opulent wealth, Trump the overlord, Trump the reality, Trump the father figure, Trump the family, Trump the predator, Trump the slogans, Trump the rallies, Trump the supporters, etc. At a certain point, mentally and emotionally, they are no longer differentiated, as differentiation becomes irrelevant.

    ‘Hail Trump!’: Richard Spencer Speech Excerpts

    Those hats and slogans are not mere regalia or collectible swag. They are a unifying monolith ― uniforms are not only worn, slogans are not only recited, salutes are not only ritualized ― once internalized, they become the people themselves. This is all part of a step to remove differentiation between demagogue and his laity. At the vanishing point of this exercise, they become nearly indistinguishable from one another physically, emotionally, and mentally, but in this case, never materially. With Donald Trump, it is his material swag that casts its promise of hope and its shadow of hopelessness across his supporters. It is, to put it in crude archetypal terms, Trump’s phallus.

    Andy Warhol Self Portrait

    A Confluence of Events are biting Andy Warhol’s ankles

    “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” ― Andy Warhol

    Trump has many precursors, though he is a somewhat unique epiphenomenon in our political history. From my perspective, there is probably no better candidate for predicting a Trump than 20th century celebrity artist, Andy Warhol. The appearance of Trump affirms the sui generis of Warhol. It is not just strange hair (faux or not) and peculiar skin that the two men have in common, or an enjoyment of a Midtown Manhattan work lifestyle, or a retinue that carries itself as rejects from the Island of Broken Toy People. Andy Warhol demonstrated that in popular culture, the lines between human being, brand, impresario, artist, objects, movement, media personality, business model, and followers could become indistinguishable. By completely obliterating the boundaries of self, vocation, medium, skill, and production, one can be rewarded handsomely financially, and more importantly, become an omnipresent cult-of-personality.

    Over time, Warhol became the compelling narrative, not his production. In fact, his production had little to no overt narrative at all ― commodity fetish has no narrative, it simply fuels the compulsion for desire, which is imbued in much of Warhol’s work. Desire is the single driving force in commodity culture, and PR is its means to supply the three-act narrative to it.

    Warhol’s narrative, such as it was, essentially boiled down to what will he do next? This is the ripening of the 1960s culture that would ascend into the ‘me’ generation of the 1980s and beyond ― the era of Donald Trump’s rise. The cultural fixation upon a persona, the ‘what will the superstar do next question,’ turns out to be key to successfully navigating popular celebrity culture. And, popular celebrity culture has encroached upon popular reality news programming as a means to supply spectacle for revenue generation. Trump took full advantage of this. So did media insiders who helped enable his rise, such as, Les Moonves, NBC through the vehicle of “The Apprentice,” and the endless free PR platform that corporate media supplied his campaign. I have yet to overhear any complaints about Trump overexposure from the shareholder class, or sackings of board of directors or senior executive C-Level talent for gifting free airtime to Trump. The Trump campaign fit in nicely to the pornographic creep that has become a staple for commodity news. War porn, political porn, scandal porn, celebrity porn, point-counter-point opinion porn, etc. A vast array or sexless vulgarity that finally became overtly sexualized with Trump’s campaign. Our reality spectacle has become a perversion and dive into irreality.

    The tweak to make this work, is that like Andy Warhol’s dream of celebrity, Trump is a one man, one act, reality sweep. Thus far, there is only a meta-narrative that is rooted in hypernormalisation. Trump is willing to change the narrative within the same sentence, or across a stream of Twitter comments. Trump will reverse himself with a seamless audacity. Both he and his rhetoric are hypernormalised to fit the day-to-day, moment-to-moment, fact-free speculative reality, and free floating instability that is the cultural zeitgeist.

    Andy Warhol, Installation of Boxes, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

    “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” ― Andy Warhol

    Warhol presented an art that could thrive outside the realm of art market fetish, and by doing so, moved ‘Warhol’ into the realm of the philosophical, the psychological, and the hyper-ordinary commodity, which is the precursor to not only reality teevee, but the full simulacrum of reality culture. Warhol was virtual reality before it became a thing. This made Warhol not only a physical being who created physical objects, but an ideological expression best captured by market materialism and generally presented through the vehicles of film, television, radio, and PR. Andy Warhol become his own best product placement, to be found at any venue where he existed, either as actual human being, or cultural brand iconography. This has followed him into death. The art world is cleaved along a variety of movements, and Andy Warhol, the crown jeweled cubic zirconia of pop artifice, is one of them. Some of us might revere or ponder over Banksy, a huge talent, but it is Warhol who brought Marcel Duchamp’s street smart ideas to a media reality; that is, a malleable virtual reality.

    Warhol brought the beast of everyday banality into the field of mystery that goes as far back as cave paintings and fireside story telling. No one would think to render a Campbell Soup Can in full affirming thrusts of life and death upon a cave wall, but Andy Warhol did that, and more. He pulled art back from the post-Renaissance, rarefied experience of elite patron culture ― a culture that divorced itself not only from everyday people, but divorced itself from the public commons ― and into the everyday experience of democratic commodity. (Those gifts to museums made by an elite connoisseur class are not an expression of democratic egalitarianism, they are expressions of class warfare paternalism disguised as noblesse oblige.)

    Warhol became the unequivocal banality of everyday life exalted in America’s economic and superpower rise after World War II. Andy Warhol, in all his manifestations, was for all intents-and-purposes, a Campbell Soup Can, because either we all were one already, or we all hoped to become one in the abundance of the market to chase scarcity away. Not literally, of course, but seriously, and even more seriously, metaphorically. Metaphor is not only a means to frame a world view, it is the means to address royalty indirectly, and that is why it hangs upon us as a means and weapon for extrapolating our place in the physical and cultural universe. Metaphor is serious business, and as Warhol, PR America, and PR driven politics understood, and still understand, it’s good for business and for the means of control. Much of a rejection of elite control culture is to get underneath the manipulations of metaphoric control. Good luck with that.

    Big Electric Chair

    And yet, by obliterating the lines of demarcation of self and the cultural ephemeral, Warhol paradoxically gave us a cool, clinical aesthetic that made his art and persona aloof. He was a beguiling dead-zone. This had the calculated effect of requiring us to complete ‘what’ Andy Warhol was, what the meaning of his presence was supposed to mean, and more importantly, ‘what’ his brand could be for the infinite future. This is the ultimate goal of PR campaigns: the receiver completes the messaging ad nauseum, turns it into a series of endless transactions, and passes on the cultural desire to others. The receiver is the message content, not the message payload itself, nor the medium for which the payload is deployed (it turns out, political media is less about what Marshall McLuhan suggested, and more about what Marcel Duchamp and Edward Bernays understood). This was a ruse of course, because Warhol still pandered to the very cultural elite his works shunned and exposed at its denouement. This too is part of celebrity culture. It is part of the Ironic Capture that we live in which dovetails seamlessly with hypernormalisation. Ironic Capture

    Trump has done something similar. Trump has pulled the political-economy out of the rarefied field of elite technocratic control, and crafted a response in the everyday language of the self-evident, the ballsy, the simplistic, and the hyper-masculine. As mentioned, Trump has blurred and obliterated psychological and emotional lines of demarcation. However, instead of a cool, effete aesthetic, he has given us the red hot passion of the charismatic proto-tyrant who shouts platitudes and threats from his balcony ― the balcony of his rally pulpit, or the balcony of his Twitter stream. And like Andy Warhol, we receive Trump and complete its messaging, over-and-over again, which is at the heart of all successful PR. Peter Theil understands this. So, does Les Moonves. So, do corporate media shareholders, advertisers, executive teams, and board rooms.

    The incongruence here is that, unlike Andy Warhol who found a niche to wiggle his way into an elite, celebrity culture for profitability, Donald Trump is not really faking any of this, even in his role as political confidence man. Andy Warhol’s economic arc went from extreme poverty to comfortable wealth, bypassing a middle class existence entirely. Donald Trump was born on third base, bypassing a middle class existence entirely as well. However, unlike Warhol, Trump has a major chip on his shoulder and various bugs up his ass. Trump’s narcissism and bluster betray an insecure and wounded soul. This makes him an Ahab like archetypal figure. His crew are held captive by the fetters of a market that has brought them to a perceived dead-end. It is Ahab, or a mad Moses, who is goading them onward in his quest for domination.

    Trump’s rhetoric and presentation is authentic Trump. It is not a pantomime, per se. It is not purely the impresario attempting to co-opt our attention to complete himself and us. Trump is using various tropes, mannerisms, and pop culture sweet tooth’s to attend to deep psychological wounds that are both personal for him, and have been passed to him through familial historical shame. If money and power could salve those wounds, we would not have a President-Elect Trump. The oval office will not salve those wounds either. We will soon discover the outward manifestation of these symptoms. I suspect he and his inner circle will be locked into a codependent passion play that will work through his broken psyche by using the most destructive tools the human race has ever produced to react to domestic dissent and resistance, as well as, threats from foreign actors, be they state actors or non-state actors.

    Stay tuned. Because for pop, reality culture, what choice do we have? That is the workings of the emotional sweet tooth that is being bombarded.

    • Yes, central to fascists is the use of symbols and signifiers.
      Ivanka Trump in the meeting with the Japanese prime minister signaled the Trump White House will soon be open for business.

      The Trump organization is in the leisure and travel industry. Far from him nuking Tehran or Pyongyang there’s a greater likelihood of a hotel/casino being built. None of the indigenous population will be allowed, but since Trump earns fees based on occupancy, a foreign tourist
      industry will no doubt flourish. “Trust me, this will be great.”

      Thanks for bringing on my two nemeses, Warhol and Duchamp. You saved me some angst by
      not mentioning Plato.

      As much as I dislike what Warhol represents, I cannot blame him as an artist – just as I
      would not blame the soldier for war. He correctly interpreted what the culture
      was about. My criticism would be that he didn’t move anything of a historical
      narrative of art forward; he represents something post-narrative. The acceptance
      of post-narrative art has had a profound effect on art since Warhol – there hasn’t
      been an avant-garde since Mark Rothko killed himself in 1970.
      As an end point, he similar to Trump in that there is no imagined future, other
      than a market for ideas.
      The appeal of Duchamp is generational. His ideas came upon him at a very young age. They were a way to mask his impatience and frustration due to a lack of artistic prowess. His ideas were given significance by DADA and the Surrealists, groups that he had no interest in joining. In his BBC Joan Bakewell interview, just before his death, he was still spewing his anti-retinal garbage. The guy was a complete fraud right until the end. After he died it was found that he had continued painting during his 25 year hiatus when he supposedly devoted his time
      to chess. The things he painted where 3rd rate.
      The purpose of, to use Duchamp’s term, retinal art, is that its ineffable qualities
      present a challenge to the viewer to create new vocabularies. New vocabularies
      beget new ideas.

      Mark Rothko’s paintings do that.

      Duchamp + Warhol = Trump, in that we have old ideas in their ‘eternal return.’

      #######

      Thanks for making me think Pete. I miss the long form of the old RoS forum. But as Salon
      said when they sold The WELL: its subscriber base “did not bear financial
      promise”.

      And that is the resistance to the markets I had in mind: not to bear financial promise.

      • Pete Crangle

        Good comment. Thanks Robert. I revel in my status as an anachronism .. someone has to be one! LoL

        • Thanks.
          Just for clarity and my own volition I want to clarify
          this:
          …’a market for ideas.’

          Warhol was the spawn of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. They wanted art to be about ideas. The generation before Johns and Rauschenberg, Rothko, Newman, de Kooning, Hofmann, wanted art to be about art.

          But wasn’t abstract expressionism an idea?
          Well, yes it was, but the term wasn’t Rothko, Newman, de Kooning, or Hofmann’s idea. (This is where I should segue to Plato.) They hated
          the term. They were painting feelings, not ideas. The term abstract expressionism was part of a necessary new vocabulary – a threshold to cross on
          the way to understand the work of someone like Jackson Pollock.

          The ideas of Johns and Rauschenberg and next Warhol were repackaged
          vocabularies and thus prepackaged ideas. The packaging makes them easy to
          consume (cha ching!). You don’t have to feel anything, struggle to understand
          your feelings, reflect on the person you are or aspire to become via your feelings – all that has been rationalized for you in one easy to consume package.

          I’m gonna have to poke Plato after all. Plato said two things: artists are the scourge of society and separately he said, they can be considered God-heads. Put those together and lens Warhol.

          Celebrities are our God-heads. Warhol became a celebrity. But then Warhol did
          an interesting thing, he made that okay – made it a comfortable idea for the
          consumer.

          He prepacked the idea thus:
          “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”
          …..a 2,000 year-old idea; no dogma; no doctrine. And where Plato wanted exclusion, Warhol wanted inclusion.

          Now we have Jeff Koons, who pays his people 10 cents per dozen of ideas because ideas are a dime a dozen. He selects one and they make it for him. (Recently, some people in his factory revolted and he fired them.
          Perhaps he will move the work offshore, if Trump lets him.) His giant balloon
          dog is shiny and reflective. You stand before it and it becomes a portrait of you.

          ######

          I’ve watched more of Blyth’s lectures. In one he exhibits a bunch of charts and graphs and says he doesn’t know the answer. That suggests he is a seeker. I think the answer won’t be found in the rationality of charts and graphs.

          I would suggest he watch the Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne film Rosetta. Re-watch the last scene a few times and ask himself if what that scene evoked in him was ‘real.’