GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

August 21, 2017

Trump’s Process of Inquiry

Filed under: GA — adam @ 8:03 pm

I think we’re all going to be talking a lot about fascism for the forseeable future. Not Nazism, which is really a red herring here. Imperial Energy has been posting on fascism, presenting a definition of it as, essentially, a nation perpetually mobilized for war. I wouldn’t argue with that, but I think “fascism” means something a bit different in American political discourse. Perhaps we need to talk about “folk fascism.” For the left, “fascism” means a kind of extreme “law and order” stance, and that’s a helpful way to think about it (that’s what made, say, Nixon, a “fascist” to the New Left). The left thrives on division—their M.O. is to find some idea or institution that no one has given any thought to because it’s simply obvious, and turn it into a “controversy,” complete with irreconcilable divisions and ongoing moral emergencies. The left is an extortion racket, and you need to break a few windows to show the need for “protection.” The “windows” in this case is your peace and quiet and assumption that any activity is outside of politics. The left’s spectral folk fascism is the counter movement of those with sovereign authority to “cauterize” the wounds opened by the left. Fascism in this sense shadows the left, and wherever the left incites division fascism comes right in to isolate, control and expel the source of division, and restore and strengthen the normal chain of command.

If we can’t call that “fascism” then we need another word for it, because it’s an essential practice, and one especially to be recommended to President Trump. On the one hand, it’s just a question of enforcing existing laws, within the framework of the legal order. Antifa could be shut down very easily using laws against property destruction, assault, racketeering, and so on. Illegal immigration, needless to say, can be treated as a law enforcement problem. But the truth is, law enforcement, to the exclusion of all other considerations, runs counter to American political traditions and cultural norms—look at how any film or TV show represents the “tight-ass” who insists that the rules be followed, that punishment be swift and sure. Vigilantes and rogue cops (like Paul Kersey and Dirty Harry) are far more popular than the straightlaced sheriff. Of course, Kersey and Harry are also part of folk fascism. “Real” folk fascism, then, would be the actual sovereign forces “cleaning up” like Kersey and Harry tried to do from the “outside” (or the outside of the inside in Harry’s case). If the feds crack down on Antifa, they will have to ignore calls to respect the “idealism” of the protesters, to take into account that there may be misguided young people among them, to keep the focus on the even worse targets of the Antifa—there will be stories of this promising young student and that naïve protester who got out of her depths, etc. And the same with illegal immigration—what about this mother devoted to her American children, that hard working father reaching retirement age, and so on. To dismiss all these appeals and cut through the administrative delays they exploit and err on the side of “over-enforcement”—that’s folk fascism. It’s what Slavoj Zizek might (and probably has) call the “real kernel” of fascism constitutive of even the most liberal society. The real kernel displaces the liberal in military dictatorships, like those of Franco and Pinochet but, strictly, speaking, the military takeover shouldn’t be necessary. All that is necessary is that at every point where one might legitimately tilt toward the side of liberal rights or order, one tilts in favor of order. Liberals and leftists are right to fear that if acted on consistently, this approach would leave very little liberalism left in the state. I know it would be very bad “branding’ to use the term “fascism” for this authority over liberalism approach, but what do we call it, then?

I’ll call it, for now, spectral fascism, or *Fascism*. President Trump may get to the point where he realizes he has to use all the (really quite considerable) legal means at his disposal to cauterize all the wounds being salted by the left or he will, eventually, be removed from power, one way or another, or at best neutralized (and it doesn’t look like his enemies are going to be too particular about the means). Trump’s form of learning or probing seems to be to make innocuous statements and introduce unexceptional initiatives (generally in favor of law and order, public safety, our unity as Americans, etc.), see who attacks them, and then polarize discourse around that enmity. It’s a good strategy—how can you tell what your enemies are up to without engaging them, stirring them up, setting them in motion, and it’s smart to do so in a way that forces them to show as much of their hand as possible. The next step, though, which Trump always seems to be on the threshold of, is to flip the means the enemy is using back against them. For example, there is a special prosecutor looking into non-existent Russian influence on the 2016 election. Why not, in the spirit of “both sides share the blame,” appoint special prosecutors to look into the funding of Antifa and BLM, both criminal enterprises? Use civil forfeiture laws to confiscate the assets of the foundations funding both? Why not special prosecutors and/or FBI investigations into groups that are inciting violence, like the Southern Poverty Law Center or, for that matter, the Anti-Defamation League? You could use the criteria of the left to support official inquiries in these and other groups. Or, for that matter, how about a special prosecutor looking into who started the “Russia hacked the election” hoax? (A special prosecutor to look into who pressed for the first special prosecutor.) Make liberal use subpoenas, find ways to ask all kinds of people, like journalists, questions under oath. We all know the drill—the process is the punishment, make them all pay, expose the networks, bring in allies, deputize (or some equivalent) law firms and others to bring civil suits, maybe bring Julian Assange in from the cold, etc. Really, all he has to do is everything they are trying to do to him, and turn their cries of resistance into proof of their guilt.

With each move the President makes, we will see who doubles down and who backs down—make allies of those who back down by offering a piece of those who double down. Keep upping the ante—anti-trust suits against the major players in Silicon Valley (Google, Apple, Facebook, PayPal…) who are now arrogantly asserting control over political discourse in the country. (Isn’t that really an attempt to hack all the upcoming elections?) Who knows, maybe an inventive special prosecutor can put together some kind of racketeering or espionage case against CNN and other media organizations. Making the point that we all now know that the law is nothing other than what those who control the law say it is would be valuable in itself. Appoint one of his hotels to the Senate. (OK, I’m kidding about that one.) Show that he has learned just how liberally rights and procedures can be interpreted—what matters is cauterizing, suturing, protecting. Expose the networks, create a map of enemies of the people. Clearly immigration must be completely shut down until these matters can be sorted out. Lobbyists for foreign countries and companies might want to take a break for a while. While we’re at it, let’s plug all the leaks in sovereignty—otherwise, how can a new mode of legality be established? The only real question is whether Trump has the staff with which to do all this. As of now, my guess would be that he doesn’t—but the only way to generate the personnel is to initiate the process, open positions for men of ability, create hierarchies based largely on who came in first and grant amnesty to those abandoning the sinking ships of the foundations and corporations (maybe a whole bunch of people about to kicked off Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other platforms will be free to pick up the slack). It can’t be for nothing that Trump’s cabinet is drawn so massively from the military. They may be coming for someone you don’t like today, but they’ll be coming for you tomorrow, and I won’t let them get you, even if we have to set aside some constitutional and legal niceties (all those judges I have been appointing will understand).

That’s a *Fascism* we can get behind: staunch stanching, and nothing else. The universities go back to teaching, learning, researching; the internet companies go back to providing their services; city councils go back to deciding on the upkeep of parks and monuments; corporations go back producing goods and services; the media learn how to report without relying on leaks, and so on. What has turned out to be incompatible with constitutional order is what Madison called “factions,” and which he hoped would counter and balance each other across a heterogeneous country. A “faction” is any group that is against someone else, rather than simply for social order and the normal functioning of institutions. Any good government will support some kind of think tank devoted to the study of factionalism, especially to detecting its early signs. The roots of factionalism lie in the adversarial structure of liberal society itself, which promotes the assumption that no claim can be considered true unless it has conquered a counter-claim, which nevertheless lives on, chained up down below, spawning more counter-claims. In other words, liberalism builds Satanism into its order—someone is against me, therefore I am. The alternative is a center immune to factionalism. How did you contribute to the institution, and how were your contributions disabled, thereby compelling your contraversion of the center? You could never really prove that you have exhausted all avenues of improving the institution, of discovering what is required of you. You’re representing resentments widely held, not just your own? What have you done to dampen, rather than inflame, those resentments?

Perhaps the liberal horror of *Fascism* provides a clue to how the foundations approach things. They always start with some concept, like “democracy,” “freedom,” “the individual,” “peace,” etc., that’s considered central to modern liberal society. It’s always a contentious concept, born in contention, meant to produce more contention. So the foundation heads look around and see that there’s not nearly enough contention around that concept. Most people seem more or less satisfied with the inherited meanings of “democracy,” and so on. But that violates the very essence of the concept! The dissonance is unbearable—the society is not living up to its full potential, to the true meaning of its creed. So, you look for dissenters to fund—those who challenge the “complacency” of the majority, and create “real” democracy, individualism and all the rest. There is a felt need for full spectrum dissension—it’s like those activists (in favor of what, exactly, I’m not sure) who complain about uncontested legislative seats and won’t be satisfied until every election is 51-49%, with every community effectively polarized around every issue. Those who feel this need most strongly are the “forward looking” elites, those enhancing their power by distinguishing themselves from the “entrenched,” backward looking elites. And, of course, it makes sense that if you see your growing, spreading enterprise as requiring a more receptive sphere of circulation and consumption, you will see society in general as in need of being “opened up.” And once you start on this path, how do you stop? There can never be enough democracy, freedom, individualism, peace, tolerance—the concepts, unlike, say, sovereignty, are intrinsically open-ended and even infinite. They can’t stop themselves; they must be stopped. That’s what *Fascism* is for.

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