Trump and the Entitled Radical
Photograph of Donald Trump by Peter Stevens
by Adam Staley Groves
The Far Reaches of a Dog Whistle
Trump’s popular appeal may hinge on the fact that he is an elder baby boomer. Clearly the candidate’s on-stage behavior speaks to the generation’s contrarian disposition. For Trump rejects tradition with persistent rebelliousness. He professes to redefine or resurrect fundamental, American values. Employing mild concentration one is hard-pressed to see how his campaign has politicized aesthetics. For it would serve no purpose, his supporters are not fascist. They are entitled radicals, the beginning of the end of baby boomer politics.
The boomer’s contrarian disposition was wrought from the tumultuous 1960s. Their lived-experience informs their sense of entitlement. Theirs was an experience of global unrest and revolution. They witnessed assassinations of civil rights leaders and workers, a sitting president and his candidate brother; university students were murdered by the military on campus, segregation and all of its brutality was an obvious fact, and the myth of American military superiority dissolved in Vietnam.
Today this disposition appears as a general penchant for chaos. On the other hand, it is easy to overlook the fact that Trump’s generation endured the “digital revolution.” Complicating matters further, they now experience an “information revolution.” There was a time, as Barney Frank recently opined, that conservative Republicans loved the United States. Now they seem to abhor it. Why the change? Why does the entitled radical appear increasingly angry, hateful and dystopian? Is it because they sense the world does not need them? One thing is clear, that the digital revolution failed to make them obedient, it may have increased their sense of entitlement. On the other hand, what would the information revolution impart? The working assumption is that the entitled radical fails to understand the order they seek to establish through the chaos they produce. For it is an order they inadvertently serve and in doing so, advance their own irrelevance.
The humanist may ask about the value they present. What is the value of their paradoxical logic and fundamentalist certainty? Take a recent example from one of Trump’s rallies in Alabama. It was reported that a Black Lives Matter protestor was beaten by some of Trump’s supporters. The supporters then chided the protestor, chanting “all lives matter.” All the while Trump was speaking and fully aware of the situation. Recklessly he encouraged the violence. If all lives matter why assault the protestor? Days later, in an entirely separate incident, it was reported that three masked gunmen shot and wounded “Black Lives Matter” protestors, in Minneapolis. The gunmen did not fit the predominant, white male boomer demographic supporting Trump’s campaign. One was a 32-year-old Hispanic male, the other a white male, age 23.
Focusing on one contradiction leads to many others. And if it seems that the entitled radical exceeds the boomer category it is clear their political energy swells most intensively under the billionaire’s cloak. For Trump has recently suggested “certain mosques” should be monitored, he claims there is a precedent for doing so. Indeed there is. Black churches were surveilled and infiltrated during the 1950s and 60s in the name of “national security.” After all, churches provided resistance to segregation. A century before churches were networks whereby slaves could escape the “peculiar institution.” This is a matter of competing systems of governance—the flow and freedom of human bodies determined by institutions within and without the auspices of a national government. Indeed, slavery continues to this day in service to economic growth and so-called prosperity, something Trump has clearly benefitted from.
For the entitled radical a contemporary servility informs their existence. Inane beliefs have begun to emerge, they must be sourced in something intangible. It is easy to forget slavery is tied to technological progress. The cotton gin would be the entitled radical’s smart phone. Often enough we hear boomers profess they are equal to the minorities they oppress viz. “all lives matter.” This oppression is perpetuated by a chronic obliviousness. For is it not by privilege that one to claims equality with another? How does one know such with pure certainty? Perhaps this assertion is driven by an unprecedented experience of the contemporaneous, a divine power sourced by information technologies bulwarking their entitlement? After all, does not the device in hand assert this privilege with its user? It tracks, traces, and collects information forming our habitat and sense of social form. The distance of the other does not exist for the device and increasingly for the entitled radical who wields it.
If the second assumption concerns the divine power of information technologies it might explain why they seek to redefine American traditions and values, or why the entitled radicals take as targets those very institutions that resist technological order and oppressive government. In turn they work for a techno-governance that indentures human life to information. If their grievance exceeds the traditional institutions that protect and oppress, we may recognize it by an indifference to humanity in general. For technology like religion, obscures its divine source. We could even say technology is far more effective at this than religion, for it brings together and divides by digital and computational supremacy. In doing so deranged is the imagination. Perhaps why the traditional role of resistance to political oppression by religious organizations in American culture has become an inadvertent target of Trump’s campaign? For the concept of the other no longer computes and competitor institutions that traditionally monopolized the ‘ethics of the other’ stand in the way of a nascent order. Through the rise of the entitled radical we seem to be witnessing a usurpation of traditional institutions of governance whose electro-mechanical politics based on ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’ are clearly outdated. A sea-change regarding the “essence of the political?” The new essence, one supposes, cloaks a password or signal with the unintelligibility of a dog whistle.
A few months back Trump’s ratings continued to climb in the ‘first in the nation’ caucus state; they rose in tandem with his race-baiting. Trump’s comments prompted the Iowa conservative, and radio talk show, Jan Mickelson to suggest enslaving all apprehended illegal immigrants. Yet when the numbers began to erode Trump made desperate and strange comments. It was seen from a distance no doubt, that the polls rose and fell like flames. And when they lowered we could hear Trump berate his Iowan supporters “what the hell are you people doing to me? Get your asses in gear!?” Burn me, reveal me! Raise my poll numbers! Trump was driving his resacrilization against the neomort, Dr. Ben Carson: a small minded, mind-less yet brain-full surgeon who in a youthful fit of attempted homicide had broken his knife blade on a would-be victim’s belt buckle. A story one surely rallies around. For policy competency no longer matters.
When it comes to the fickle variety of the entitled radical a candidate does not need to know the names of its allies. It is how one treats the other that matters. With mild concentration, one could ask: What would be Dr. Carson’s qualification for president? The answer is obvious, for he could preside over his opened body like Bishop in Aliens, operating on himself with total indifference. This would be a redeemable quality for his would-be supporters, as Carson’s mushy demeanor signifies a statesmen compared to Trump’s bloated verbosity. Sustained was Trump who, caught in the throes of media death, made a full public display of his conversion into a sacred figure by exhausting every political profanity he could muster. Carson could hardly compete and began to fade in the polls. It might have been a moment of empathy between he and his supporters. For Trump had entered the night of the poet. Perhaps the entitled radical feels this burning terror too?
This question deserves the consultations of Martin Heidegger.
Perhaps the world’s night is now approaching its midnight. Perhaps the world’s time is now becoming the completely destitute time. But also perhaps not, not yet, not even yet, despite the immeasurable need, despite all suffering, despite nameless sorrow, despite the growing and spreading peacelessness, despite the mounting confusion. Long is the time because even terror, taken by itself as a ground for turning, is powerless as long as there is no turn with mortal men.
The turn with mortals comes by the screen in hand. Terror and not terrorism, the terror inside sourced by the device, terror and fear sourced through the fingers on the screen. We also learn this fear could take any signifier as:
…there is a turn with mortals when these find the way to their own nature. That nature lies in this, that mortals reach into the abyss sooner than the heavenly powers. Mortals, when we think of their nature, remain closer to that absence because they are touched by presence, the ancient name of Being. But because presence conceals itself at the same time, it is itself already absence. Thus the abyss holds and remarks everything.
The abyss of digitalized and informatic politics remarks. We hear the remarks: “all lives matter!” “monitor the mosques!” There is no revolutionary presence, “now!” Only desire as rivulets of information stretching our attention across time and snapping back like a rubber band. Left is the empty now and desire captured in the device. The stunned face lit by the light, a statistical image no doubt, suffering from an eschatological effect. Left is a desire of formlessness. Yet that “personal Jesus” is permanently away, for there is no such thing as “real time.”
Bernie and the “New Human Being”
Those who believe in Bernie Sanders do so for redeemable reasons. Yet his exhibition is part and parcel to the ascendency of Trump. The answer lies in their apposition, the basis of their agreement that lingers in a space beyond, perhaps, human imagination. The “political revolution” Sanders professes is a classic appeal of progressive ideology. Yet it operates on a problematic premise, that the average citizen would, once informed, vote in the interest of humanity. We thus run into a problem of the usefulness of the informed human voter. And from there we hear calls for a new human being. Or so writes author and journalist, Paul Mason:
As with the end of Feudalism… capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being.
If there was an impasse to mutually assured destruction, the M.A.D. -ness of the Cold War era, it was Heidegger’s abysmal drama yet to call curtain. It plays out in politics particular to Sanders and Trump. It concerns godly-after-affects of technologies and mortal users who in turn, are used. The question is indeed, of human value.
The questioning of the human is not the same as the human question. Facing us with “all lives matter” is a violent affirmation to conserve human valuelessness. Yet the affirmation must be converted into a question if we concern ourselves with what I call a poetic ethics, an ethics of the imagination. The question in a more theoretical form is whether our purpose is something beyond our imagination? Would our technologies know this better than we ever could? Or are we fooling ourselves that they ever would. One thing is clear, belief gives us the chance to think what is beyond us. Belief rides with the imagination. Conversely some think, even believe that belief was conceptually perfected in the modernist era of poetry. And today we face a contemporary disdain for belief revived through nascent movements such as atheism and science popularizers. For you can have a glossy-eyed atheist just as much as a glossy-eyed evangelist.
If Heidegger questioned this violent affirmation it was “despite the confusion” and thus we were left with another question: which way does the “mortal turn?” Do we turn against ourselves on the way to nowhere? Does belief mean to occupy the screen and to go off-script, off-tablature, and play the hidden code, this remarkable persistence of the abyss? Belief once moved us beyond the poetic utterance of pain. Belief today takes as its method information and algorithm, for there is no reason but the inanity of the reason: “all lives matter.” Belief in the modernist sense unbinds this seal of approval, the false nourishment of the now is otherwise acquiescence to order. Yet we all are being radicalized. There is no escape and no resistance when it comes to the “irrational element.”
The Valueless Machine
If Trump is a made maniac you will know this only if you, yourself, are not now, but once were. That is my statement of optimism. It is not only about Trump as he enters the night, it is about the value of his supporters’ expression. It concerns what the screen learns by our usage. What it learns by captivating our desire and adapting it to an informatic tablature. What does this say about a new human and its purpose? Does it go beyond Sanders’s insistence on socialist solutions in terms of “faith in government?” For what does it mean to “redefine the relationship to government” or to go beyond “fear and despair” if not to become a new human, the one who needs no belief? Do these new human revolutionaries really fight in the name of “all lives matter.” For now we have only speculation. Yet I am hard-pressed to see much difference from the paradoxical logic behind the miserable case of Terri Schiavo and the government intervention to sustain her. Learned was that “life” sustaining technology trumps subjectivity and formative consciousness. The belief is with the technology. For technology has become the affirmation of an otherwise denatured life. For technologies are required to sustain the subject who was not present, they are what present the human question. They are our agency. In doing so technologies successfully deferred the question from the view of imagination. We could not even ask if ‘she was alive’, we could only ask ‘was she ever alive’ when she died a second time, when the feeding tube was finally removed.
Mr. Mason tells us that the new human being belongs to the information revolution and postcapitalism, precisely what does this mean for the human question?
Neoliberalism…morphed into a system programmed to inflict recurrent catastrophic failures. Worse than that, it has broken the 200-year pattern of industrial capitalism wherein an economic crisis spurs new forms of technological innovation that benefit everybody.
Would the human body be a mere benefice of the empty screen, of information technologies? This deserves a bit more context.
neoliberalism was the first economic model in 200 years the upswing of which was premised on the suppression of wages and smashing the social power and resilience of the working class.
Today there is no pressure from the workforce, and the technology at the centre of this innovation wave does not demand the creation of higher-consumer spending, or the re‑employment of the old workforce in new jobs.
As a result, large parts of the business class have become neo-luddites. Faced with the possibility of creating gene-sequencing labs, they instead start coffee shops, nail bars and contract cleaning firms: the banking system, the planning system and late neoliberal culture reward above all the creator of low-value, long-hours jobs. We’re surrounded not just by intelligent machines but by a new layer of reality centred on information.
In this scenario the human does not fight against the machine. One no longer throws their body into the gears, for the body is both the gears and gearbox. According to Mr. Mason, it seems Karl Marx had discovered as much:
In an economy where machines do most of the work, the nature of the knowledge locked inside the machines must, he writes, be “social”. … Marx imagined the end point of this trajectory: the creation of an “ideal machine”, which lasts forever and costs nothing. A machine that could be built for nothing would, he said, add no value at all to the production process and rapidly, over several accounting periods, reduce the price, profit and labour costs of everything else it touched.
If machines attain valueless status what about humans? What would govern this machine? Would it be the valuelessness found in human thought and expression, what we call poetry? Mrs. Schiavo and biological absolutism as the first form of resistance? Indeed, if the human question itself falls under the auspices of technological order no lives matter. Valuelessness only concerns human nature. That means in order for postcapitalism to be governed by humans, (and I stray into optimism once again) only the destructive and generative force of poetry remains. By poetry then, Paul Mason may be right, that:
The transition will involve the state, the market and collaborative production beyond the market. But to make it happen, the entire project of the left, from protest groups to the mainstream social democratic and liberal parties, will have to be reconfigured. In fact, once people understand the logic of the postcapitalist transition, such ideas will no longer be the property of the left – but of a much wider movement, for which we will need new labels.
There will be no name for this movement. Abandon politics. For it’s not an Elephant or a Donkey, but our disembodied desire and imagination tucked within the granules or bits and information that comprise their visage. How does this concern the entitled radical? Perhaps Bernie Sanders is on to something should he, like the entitled radicals, successfully break the script of left and right politics. Conversely would they appropriate the script of information technologies? Optimism is so fleeting yet experience tells projects of “human liberation” are untenable. Perhaps the question is how we creatively form a life from the liquidated categories of the previous centuries. To do right by the slogan “all lives matter” we could start by recapturing our desire and imagination.
Mason works toward something similar; he cites the liberation of marriage for gay couples, and for women through contraception. Today we see former hippies legally stoned with concealed weapons at Trump rallies. Nonetheless this moves with paradoxical awkwardness, toward an ecumenical society.
We need more than just a bunch of utopian dreams and small-scale horizontal projects. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, that cuts with the grain of history and is sustainable by the planet. And we need to get on with it.
There remains a general contradiction in Mason’s view. For reason is destined to be the irrational of another, and that is all too often human. If “reason” sounds plausible to many it is not because it is reason once and for all, rather it is information that imparts a sanctimonious outcome. One can, it seems, only become less human before they become a new human.
The boomers are in their twilight and the entitled radical is a minority among them. Their future remains uncertain. If they are somewhat immune to beauty perhaps it is the detached, rest of the world that fails to detect their sublime fury. We cannot expect anything more than general defiance and rebellion in the short term. The coming election promises as much.
from 34:00 onward.
About the Author:
Adam Staley Groves is a postdoctoral fellow with Tembusu College, National University of Singapore, where he currently teaches the Humanities of Climate Change and Biomedicine. Adam holds MA and PhD degrees from the European Graduate School, and is pursuing a second PhD with the Centre for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen. His research engages poetry and technology. Co-editor and contributor with the online journal continent., Adam’s investigation of politics seeks the dignity and nature of human imagination to confront our technological age.