Donald Trump is the Thing After Post-Modernism

What is to be made of the current collection of vernacular/folk “types” of people that frame the writing of the US cultural narrative? The “hipster”, the “troll”, the “social justice warrior”, the “alt-righter”, the “young professional”? Where do the archetypes come from? How do they drive the country’s current momentum toward postmodern authoritarianism?

Nearly all coverage of the hipster, despite never being able to confidently pin down just what the hipster is, has concurred that there is something sinister about the trend. What is the cultural undercurrent, the geist these critics were chasing?

A theory: What has made society so uncomfortable with the emergence of the so-called “hipster” is the predominant tone of irony; of insincerity; of a put on that is frequently described as “having nothing behind it”-but if the insincerity has nothing behind it, doesn’t it become its own truth? Isn’t a copy with no original simply a mislabeled original? And so shouldn’t the ironic eventually loop around into its own unironic self-appreciation? Or at least attempt to?

The “hipster” and the radicalization of conservatives developed along parallel tracks in response to the post-modern restructuring of society that followed the end of the post-war economic boom in the early-mid 1970s. When Robert Ashley dramatized the arrival of post-modernism in Perfect Lives as a story of people who rob a bank then bring the money back before anyone notices as various townies state their unease at a sinking feeling the money wasn’t there for some short time, was he consciously trying to invoke the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Was there a more post-modern event in the 20th century than the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system? Think about it-the signifier and signified, gold and cash, both functionally symbols despite the perceived “tangibility” of gold, legally divorced in a giant ceremony.

Despite the fact that gold is a placeholder for commodities and doesn’t offer much practical value besides as a conductor or tooth filling, the divorce troubled many. The money was there, but it wasn’t. Sort of. The success of Bitcoin among gold bugs despite its being even less traditionally tangible than cash speaks to the extent the appeal of gold was rooted in its being a symbol of limit and exclusivity. The symbol trauma of the end of the gold standard (one of many such traumas) has been one of the far right’s obsessions for decades now. Ayn Rand’s “A=A” satisfies both the conservative’s desire for a perception of solid reality and Baudrillard’s definition of hyperreality-the symbol (the written letter “A”) correlates to the symbol (the written letter “A”)-a closed loop of symbols.

If modernism was about insisting there’s an underlying particular meaning that can be codified, and post-modernism was about the dissolution/impossibility of meaning and the arbitrary quality of codes, then the thing after post-modernism is perhaps best dubbed Frankenstein Modernism-the attempt to reconstruct the comfort of fixed meaning from an environment that can’t allow for the comfort of a fixed meaning.

In an always-already doomed effort, the conservative ironically attempts to preserve the sanctity of “the real” by clutching desperately to the crudely symbolic-the flag, race, etc. Any conservative ideology must construct a sanctified past because its attempts to “conserve” the current status quo will always be undermined by the fact time goes forward and things change, up to and including the interpretation of the past-this dissonance has to be accounted for. Explanations and scapegoats are needed to maintain the conservative’s superficial sense of control over their surroundings.

In the conservative imagination this looks like the return to “sanity”, to the more comfortable prior status quo.  To the non-conservative, it looks like a strange and garish pastiche; the Hollywood reboot except real-even the players themselves seem to be operating, consciously or otherwise, on this logic-what else is to be made of the endless attempts by Trump and May to portray themselves as the return of Reagan and Thatcher?

What does this mean? The age of the remake is total; the age of high fidelity recorded media which has barely gone on for more than 150 years has swallowed society whole-there is no hope for a new thing or else why would there be such bitter and violent squabbles over the aesthetics of remakes, all the way from the Twitter harassment of Leslie Jones up through the selling of Donald Trump as fat Reagan.



5 thoughts on “Donald Trump is the Thing After Post-Modernism”

  1. In an always-already doomed effort, the conservative ironically attempts to preserve the sanctity of “the real” by clutching desperately to the crudely symbolic-the flag, race, etc.

    Yes. I think the same thing might also be said about neoliberals. They lack core values so they clutch to basic things like identity. Vote for Hillary because she’s a woman.


    The first item is “Cornel West and Richard Wolff talk about Capitalism and White Supremacy” There’s not much “racy” talk about supremacy, it’s mostly about Marx and his theories of “co-operative” style replacing “wage-slaves” supporting capitalism.

    The second item is Richard Wolff talking about Hegel’s description of the Master – Slave relationship being a two-way connection, that the “owners” are dependent on their workers, in feudalism AND in capitalism.

    So, as Wolff eloquently states the case for co-operative businesses, and his own country the United States of America, seems to have policies entrenched in the CIA to disrupt or eliminate “socialist” regimes featuring co-operative organizations that “threaten” capitalistic oligarchs and their “control” of the masses.

    Can’t we stop it? Can we not stop the CIA from disrupting democratically organized states? (like the attack on Iran’s parliament this past week?)

    Can we stop it with words? Do we need violent revolution? I don’t think that would be useful. But why do sovereign powers of today (particulaly USA, China and Russia) presume a right to impose (through clandestine operations) “capitalist order” upon a world that would be much better without it? Wolff makes clear that the “conflicts” created by the capitalist system are obvious and NOT useful. That a more co-operative system has much less conflict that can be managed with REAL democracy, that is one vote one person – even in the “marketplace” by running “corporations” democratically instead of the present methods of top-down ownership and management.

    So to Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Christia Freeland, I ask, please request ALL governing organizations to disband any government system devoted to disrupting other powers (countries, states). Defence is fine – offense is simply an inhumane attack on civilization.
    It is so simple, really. Feminist ideals (recently metioned as Canada’s new foreign policy) are not for changing the world into a feminist state, which would be going all the way over to a world run by women. As a man, I have personally engendered great ambition in my women friends, and I do notice misogynist behavior where it occurs. Any “democratic” voice has to be inclusive, there are “shortages of recognition” for most women. I recognize first that fraternite must be replaced with non-gendered, unbiased community; egalite must be all-inclusive, and liberte is for everyone. And wealth perhaps should be replaced with….? What I think perhaps strong feminist voices could change to “worth” – the value of a person.

  3. Thanks for reading and thanks for the well-considered comment.

    If Christia Freeland is reading this blog I’d be amazed hahaha. Though who knows, we got quoted in the Chicago Review of Books, stranger things have happened. Re: what to push society toward next, your guess is as good as mine. My gut says we’ve passed from the point where Hegel left to his lonesome is going to give accurate readings and we’re closer to Adorno.

    The white/male privilege attack, while totally accurate in most cases, would only seem to have the effect on the person spoken to of further fragmenting the person’s identity into a socially induced schizophrenia on top of the “am I a worker or a consumer?” identity crisis I explored in my essay on Jerry Lewis. Example: I’m Jewish and fairly poor (this blog makes no money and I do it in between walking dogs), but despite being a currently (lightly) targeted minority, I still also do have white male privilege in some capacity. So from what identity do I act-as theorist? -as male recipient of privilege? -as a Jew? I feel like this is probably a common confusion.

    Add to that the confusion imposed by the internet-am I socializing plain and simple or are most of my actions now that I spend a lot of time on the internet essentially unpaid labor for multiple giant companies? The solidity of identity isn’t there to galvanize a large enough group of people, which is why somebody like Zizek’s best hope of galvanizing the left was the emergence of a large and obvious enough bogeyman-Donald Trump. And to some extent, the pointless infighting that defined the left has quieted down a bit, but we’re in a pretty awful situation still.

  4. Dan, Interesting post and discussion. I tend to resist labels and generalizations, because they have different meanings to different people. Bawb Caux raises questions that I have, too, such as how to achieve justice without violence. I do believe that women have a civilizing effect on men, and that the greater influence of women will tend to reduce violence. The internet does foster communication between individuals around the world, which could generate a more interconnected and educated humankind. I believe in true democracy, too, beginning at the local level, where “leaders” are more accessible and potentially easier to contain.

    As you note, money is an abstraction, based on perceived value. The desire for money for its own sake suggests insecurity, as does the desire to own and control others or property. The US Constitution is an economic document that gave the government de facto ownership of citizens, by taking control of “economic narrows.” It’s another example of the struggle between the delegated powers of authority and the personal powers of the individual. The hive mentality seeks conformity and is threatened by the out-liers, the independents.

    In an ideal society, according to me, the individual would have the right of self-determination, but would recognize the importance of cooperation with the collective, in an friendly give-and-take symbiosis where delegated authority knows its limits. Hoarded wealth has no value until it changes hands, then a penny buys a penny’s worth over and over, as Adam Smith noted. In this sense, cash flow is more valuable than hoarded wealth, so the difference between rich and poor becomes irrelevant.

  5. Would you be OK if I cross-posted this article to I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the authvor. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our community and I liked what you wrote. If “OK” please let me know via email.


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