When does late capitalism end and whatever the other thing is start?
Now more than 100 days into the national embarrassment of the Donald Trump administration, the entire tide of everything seems to have changed. All these disparate problems we’ve been complaining about on this blog have recombined themselves into a seeming perfect storm. Nothing is quite like it was. If someone had sent me the phrase “Rape is a pre-existing condition” a year ago, I would have presumed it was a line from Andrea Dworkin, or an album by a hardcore band. But then…well…here we are.
Postmodernism, a body of theory dealing with the cultural logic of late capitalism, doesn’t quite cover it anymore. Trump is definitely postmodern in the extreme-here’s a guy whose public image is that of a womanizing playboy despite his, as his ex-wife put it, “difficulty maintaining and achieving an erection,” the ultimate businessman despite his having declared bankruptcy and generally having failed in any of his actual business endeavors, a Republican who was until a couple years ago a Democrat, the harbinger of “change” promoting ideas that seemed old in 1950. Equal parts Billy Mays, George Wallace, Zapp Brannigan and Jay Gatsby-a phantom whose teflon qualities seem to stem less from nothing sticking to him so much as there not being enough of a him for anything to stick to.
And across the globe we’re seeing candidates with a similar lack of substance beyond right wing anti-immigrant rhetoric and a day-time TV temperament.
Endless theories have been proposed to explain Trump’s base because none of them seem big enough to actually feel satisfying in the face of how stupid and pointless and tragic this all is. He’s clickbait in human form. A limp and dinky ground ball that slowly puttered between America’s legs. Maybe the thing after late capitalism should be called Bucknerism.
Donald Trump has everyone hypnotized, even–and maybe especially–those who hate him. They can’t get enough of him. I say he is symptomatic of a much deeper problem in the American psyche. We are all complicit in letting it happen. National pride is no more than hubris, now, and whatever ideals we were taught to believe have become lies. The universal sense of betrayal by the “American dream” is palpable. As you point out, we feel lost and don’t know where to turn.
This is very true. American exceptionalism seems to extend into a feeling we’re above history. And that’s dangerous.
Americans are obsessed with idea that things “can’t happen here,” no matter how many times things that “can’t” happen here DO happen here. Stolen election? Can’t happen here! Until 2000… Massive terrorist attack that kills thousands? Can’t happen here! Until 2001… Blatantly falsified justification for a war in a post-Vietnam War era? Can’t happen here! Until 2003… Americans are so far above history that we’re suffocating to death because we forgot to bring a space suit.