Why I Did Not Vote
Black Mirror, Endemol UK
by Adam Staley Groves
Postscript, November 9, 2016
You don’t get to choose when it’s over but, do you get a chance to recognize that it is? Americans have elected an accused child rapist. An accused rapist who is also accused of sexual assault he condones. And that’s just part of it as you know. Trump may go on trial for it and there are other things for which he won’t. The level of shock and irony, that the “Republican party” has found itself part of, in electing Trump, is dumbfounding. If you lived through the impeachment of Bill Clinton by the House you know exactly what this means. But it is not this simple—liberals and liberalism as we know it elected Trump. But liberals are not only to blame. The alt-right media machine has exploited the narcissistic echo chamber of new media. They’ve created the lies that have plagued Obama’s presidency (a presidency that I have not always liked, personally). These lies have led to the election of a truly, morally bankrupt person to be elected as president. Perhaps elected by lies of this alt-right once parroted by the now destroyed economic liberals of the right, who were then overpowered by this populist insanity because they allowed it to perpetuate. The Republicans destroyed the office of the American President by insisting Obama was a Muslim, a terrorist and so on, and so forth. What will be remade of it? What will be remade of an office they began to undermine with Kennedy? A new unitary executive?
Who knows? And thus it’s mourning for America. Those who call for unity have no understanding of the real problems this election portends. It was dramatic to watch the protectionist element of the left via Bernie Sanders, lose out to the economic liberals via Clinton. It was dramatic knowing full well that the protectionist of the right were over-powering the economic liberals of the right. Blame the liberals who have been returned to liberals by virtue of the protectionist-populist Trumpist. The Democrats and the Republicans, as economic liberals and part of the establishment, failed to recognize the populist, protectionist aspects of the people. Sanders’s presidency would have been equally vexing to the system as Trump’s will be. Yet which moral bearing would you trust when the sausage is being made? Who has the ability to be loved not worshiped? The answer is clear. Clinton was the worst choice in light of Sanders. Trump is the worst of both.
I knew early on Clinton would lose to Trump but then, for a moment, things seemed to return to “normal”. Now there is really no right or left anymore. There are liberals and there are protectionist. We have watched the Democrats and Republicans become the same party, we could call it the Neoliberalist party. And we have watched this fall apart against the populism of Europe. The energy of liberalism, we cannot forget, is greater than the words that try to define its once pervasive and seemingly inexhaustible inevitability. In its wake so many slogans and campaigns have been waged, in its wake.
The alt-right is the true base of Trump. It is the new party in power. But I fight against them whether I want to or not. I cannot stand them. And a great caution is needed, for the Republicans are not only reinvented, they are invigorated by a nativist, racist, and ignorant bottom of the barrel. This is the end of their ideology and it is equally its most potent and bottomless chasm.
It is so black that it is almost fit to be a mirror. You won’t see your face in that mirror, you will be looking up at a hanging belly. But Trump won’t stop your gaze, he won’t even look at you. The dissolving American establishment is not really over. They will reinvent themselves and Trump will help them and if he doesn’t he won’t last. There will be opportunist who ride in on Trump’s weird hair. There will be racists and women haters who continue to make white people look like scum. But I have a feeling there will be a much greater series of shocks to the system before this is clear on behalf of the establishment, an establishment that not unlike political regimes of the past have begun and ended. We just have no clue what is going to happen to the United States and to the world that depends so much upon it to lead.
This global leadership was a consequence of the both World Wars. The first war had wrenched the United States out of its isolationism but consolidated its military industries. And the second had made sure it would control the remaining vestiges of Western colonial power by restructuring itself for global domination. The energy extracted through obtaining this network of labor and resources greatly enriched a few, and in the meantime provided the illusion of comfort that powered the ideological phrases that tied so many together election after election.
And it is exactly for this reason that I did not vote in this election. How could I align myself with a populist right-wing, race baiter or a corrupt, neoliberalist insider? None of this I could ally myself with. The fact is, America left me years ago before it elected Obama. In fact, I did not vote for Obama the second time—I didn’t vote for anybody. My vote for Obama was good for the first week of his first term. It was as superfluous as that. Obama’s big problem was that he was no radical at all and when they accused him of being a radical, he should of gone hard to the left and by left he should have distanced himself from trade liberals to protect those who are good and willing to work for a better country.
Obama failed. We knew he was a liberal yet moderate Republican. He failed with single payer health care and he failed to close GITMO. He advanced the status quo and protected Wall Street. And I watched, mostly by myself, as people wrote fluff pieces making nostalgia about the man before he had left office. If any of us were really concerned with winning, we would have had Bernie Sanders as president today. Yes he is a genuine statesman, and he has incredible poise, patience and talent—but the American people deserved more or at least they believed they did which is why we have what we have in Trump.
This is why I did not vote. I cannot vote for the paramilitary police squads who will be running local communities, I cannot vote for whatever strange mutant ideology will arise from the final and coming, deserved end to Cold War politics in the United States. And this is precisely why Putin’s smile is real.
Pretext, November 7, 2016, blame the medium
It’s not about the lesser evil. Metaphysics has an outside. I just don’t feel it. There’s no choice for me. I remember this feeling back in 2000, when Gore and W. Bush squared off. I could not vote for Gore and, I could not vote for Bush. As much as I wanted an alternative to Gore, I just found something wrong with my stomach, if voting for Bush or Gore. I voted insignificant. I am still thinking about that vote. I think it was a decision that was far more effective than voting for Bush or Gore would have been.
To vote means to make a vow. To be a voter means to be a follower, or a believer in a deity. This means voting has the problem of a decision, a decision we can never fully account for and, a decision that is vested in some deity. Voting is an irrational act of faith. What do I worship when I vote? What altar do I kneel before? How is my vow read, who reads my vow?
It wasn’t obvious for me seventeen years ago. I just went with my gut. (Even that phrase had been absorbed by the right). There I stood, forced to choose between the son of a president running for president versus the vice president of the current president. We have the same problem today. Hillary Clinton was a dynasty candidate. Dynasty, I could not vow to it, that was the problem?
If I was a fool or a narcissist I could blame the downfall of the American economy and the coming wars on my lack of faith. Why did I fail to vote for Gore? Yet this rests on the ever-problematic “if” and I know enough to know that whatever compelled me to walk down the street on any given day is equally as interesting; that is, if I am a relativist.
Žižek Was Right; has always been
When a philosopher like Slavoj Žižek says he would support Trump, it means that that the Cold War is nearly over. In America all political polarities have shifted all to the right—they were going there before Gore. Don’t blame Bill Clinton who simply enhanced the process or Obama who hides behind his statesmanship, or the civility of a statesman, while enacting the will of Wall Street.
In saying such Žižek displayed an incredible level of idealism, a want or desired belief in America, a desire for it to succeed. This exceeds the depth of any vow I could make at the present moment. Žižek is thus an amazing American—even he cannot escape the pressure and the fear of Trumpism—it has excited something within him. In his comments lie a similar cynicism forwarded by Michael Moore who recently tried to reveal, in stunning way and cozy fashion, that Trump’s relationship to the righteous fury of the everyday person was legitimate, that it was a real threat to Clinton, that Clinton fails to understand how to channel this emotion. He was right, of course.
Trump is the inauguration or legitimization of a corporatist, fascist, state. A state that is the underground reality of the American and/or transnational power dynamic—or why Nascar irritates me. But will it really shed its neoliberal clothing? Anyone with their ear to alternative and left wing politics over the last decades (as I can now lay claim to, decades that is) Trump may well introduce the groundwork for a reality that already exists, for it is Clinton and the political institutions that do nothing to stop the coming fascism that prove equivocal. Do they truly advance another political identity, a metaphysics amassing on top of this dynamic, that we can occupy?
For the moment there is one prevailing ideology in America today, you can call it capitalism, neoliberalism—call it whatever you want. Yet what I am thinking about seems to have no name at the moment. Conversely from the emergence of this dynamic stands an irrational order.
We benefit to remember that fascism, in the way Chris Hedges speaks of it, does not originate with Trump or his cult somehow taking power. The state already has a direct line that cuts through all spaces, places, and faces. In fact it takes place in all facets and through all faces. It is the problem of a stunning lack of education and a desperate need to recreate the American idea; what has gripped those who care to pay attention. Taking as long as it has, the idea of a lost America represses the realization of this dynamis, an undergirding question of any irrational order. For this tethering series of lines is the fabric of the state, dynamic of connections Inc.
Exposed at times, by email dumps, Panama Papers, diplomatic cables, corrupt political agents (of which morality becomes a meme) and other tragedies that are feign-worthy, these lines pose a real problem. The problem emerges when this fabric is revealed long enough to be thought. To think this thus means these relations obtain a regalia, that is, symbolic power to remove us from the truth of force. I recall Stephen Colbert drew a swastika.
Who has an ethics for this idealism? What are the practices going forward? That is, when vitality is subject to the unbridled emergence of imagination, or that which produces social form. Žižek and Moore, are they unable to see beyond this? I don’t think I am alone when calling out their weirdness, and while I am not an apologist for either, something has changed.
Media Proust, never forget
It is certainly a weirdness I feel disturbed by, for there remains only the pretences and refuse of the public space once promoted by the interpretation of socialism by the United States. This is the last vestige of the Cold War in the American psyche (if we can be so banal with the soul). And that was achieved through a hard fought, costly battle with fascism. The ignorance of this remains stunning.
Recall that Henry Ford was quoted in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, IBM and other corporations all had stakes in fascist regimes and genocide.
And when it exposed itself,
proudly announced itself,
some held fast,
others jumped ship.
All those who protected
the space which followed,
this anti-fascist public apartment,
those who made non-sensual pleas
for patience and listening, tolerance;
they are no longer tolerated.
No country for them.
Yet one must speak in a way that shows they still matter, and this is my caution with the likes of Colbert, Žižek, and Moore. I remember an America of the past, I remember the common sense of the public space. It made an impression on my thought, which is as much my body. I just have not felt that feeling for so long.
I refuse to vote for a dream because I cannot discern the dream from a vow.
Sometimes I believe the past passes through to me again and when it seems so, I am reminded that it was the questioning of common sense that destroyed that space as well. Enough then, with the past.
So I am thinking from that experience or what is now a memory. Living overseas I find myself caught in the occasional Proustian “involuntary memory”. It happens when I watch movies, usually. I feel myself in places I have long since vacated. Or I am shocked that I am still, somehow, occupying those spaces. Such as it was, or still is the late 1970s and the 1980s.
Like the first few times I watched snowmelt water pass under ice on the curb of the street. These memories or experience, appear to have nothing to do with the movie I am watching thousands of miles and hours away from that point. Somehow they collide. The feeling from a contemplation situates itself in the content of the film, it literally pushes the feeling out of the content I am watching. Somehow the clarity of that cold curb water,
penetrates the image of the man,
playing a guitar,
on a drum kit’s stool.
For me, the political means that. Or it could mean that. And then the question: What or who represents this new spacing? Is it the vow or the voter?
What have we learned from our increasing integration with technologies, social technologies? That is, what have we yet to articulate about our politics? Rather, what have we yet to uncover about a more authentic political practice? What is the poetic between voter and the vow to think, to give meaning to the practices of the subject?
I ask that because I watched with horror, the content flowing through my social media feed, literally a feeding trough for justification, for Clinton. I did’t feel it, sorry. In those efforts I found resignation and fear. Perhaps Clinton would have redeemed herself once elected…perhaps Obama would have closed GITMO? Something else is going on. Reagan is probably dead. A new country, an old country. What is a nation?
The older I get, the more I realize I am bound to my experience in ways that evade my thinking-about experience. Even thinking-about experience is confined by habit, and habit claims the body, habit shapes the body at the level of its reception of the imagination—and that is the ability to design the body. Reagan supposedly embodied America. Is it time we enter his body?
I only have eruptions that confuse experience and I cannot rely on eruptions.
I could wilfully try to invite confusion,
to create it, and
in the splintering shards
of a once
crystalline lens of thought,
effect some lacerations.
It gurgles out.
I am in another world.
The world left.
and I am in a world.
I am No Voter
I am not a voter. I make no vow. Or the vow I make takes place somewhere else, with as little as perceptible to the “I”.
There is a point where contemplation is overcome by technological progress. This changes our relationship to physical force and symbolic representation. Our ability to align symbols with force is a matter of style.
This election and its style
means nothing to me.
I have no symbol seen, for it.
How one participates is not known,
it doesn’t have a space.
The intellectual argument for Clinton was vacant. You will have to live with your vow and the truth of the vow that is an illusion. And it will be your baggage we can work out over beers. Still you will have to live with your prayers to a deity that does not breathe. You will have to live with its suggestions when facing the altar or screen. You will have to live with the touch you touched back.
Politics—rather the voter—needs the following: A correct theorization of spacing and an understanding of style according to poetry. The practice of spacing and style according to poetry will ultimately confuse the intelligence that has removed our more important relationship to the vow. A vow that is not a datum or gift. A vow without an altar.
To answer the question, ‘what is a voter?’ is to effect a profanity of what is sacred, precisely what is represented by these candidates. The apparatus for this, the apparatus which restores the vow to style or, the practice of a new and unknown spacing, is the task for the voter.
Until then, for
those who have
mercilessly tried to justify
this digital sacralization of the present space of the imagination stuffed into a carriage or vestige of hope, to you…
Is the media really that powerful? Bernie was right to try and infect the party from the inside out. Wrong to sell out but right in the end.
if we need it, is simple.
The vestiges of public space,
resonant enough to hold him up—
yet what new apartments of thought
would be producing this now?
We have yet to see them.
The dynamic of the election was a matter of fancy over imagination. Fancy is a concern of spacing and drawing a relation between two or more points. Involuntary memory is fanciful, only prior to an eruption. It is the eruption that evades the intelligible of fancy just long enough that the relations of fancy are given to our senses. It is precisely this we must give space to. It is not “if” or “as”. And it is this novel space that profanes spacing created by social machineries.
What is a voter? They make a vow not to pathology, repetition and prediction, not to polling which has shown itself to have spaces emerging within it. They make a vow to spaces and develop an apparatus. The apparatus moves between the force still residing in this space, even more thought than force, and brings to language the practice of the untimely.
It does not matter what this results in. What matters is the experience of casting the net into that space. A space that hints at the workings of the imagination, a space that is only and already ripped-open by social technologies. In that space may be your reading body. Who knows? May be it’s a voter?
About the Author:
Adam Staley Groves’s research focuses on the “theory of poetry” of Wallace Stevens and other modernist poets. He is a teaching fellow at Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.