ارسل: الخميس اكتوبر 13, 2016 7:58 am موضوع الرسالة: من أفضل ما قرأتُ في "الظاهرة التِرَمْبية"
To focus exclusively on the horrors of the man [=Donald Trump] is to miss this bigger, perhaps even more unsettling picture
"حَصْرُ التركيز في أهوال الرجل [= دونالد ترمب] يعني تغييب الصورة الأكبر، التي ربما هي الأكثر اقلاقاً".
(Matthew Sharpe ('paraphrasing' Thomas Frank
نشر موقع "المُحادَثة" The Conversation الأسترالي الرصين مقالاً بعنوان: "بعد تِرَمْب عام 2016، هل سيستمع الليبراليون؟ (شَغَفُ توماس فرانك)" يعرض فيه كاتبه، البروفيسر المساعد للفلسفة في جامعة دِيكِنْ الأسترالية، ماثيو شارب، تقصِّي المؤرِّخ، المحلِّل السياسي والصحفي الأميركي توماس فرانك لجذور الظهور الكاسح (المفاجئ؟) للمرشَّح الراهن للحزب الجمهوري الأميركي للرئاسة، دونالد تِرَمْب؛ حيث يرى فرانك - من بين ما يرى - أن للسياسات الاقتصادية للحزب الديموقراطي الأميركي دوراً كبيراً في هذا الظهور.
أنقل هاهنا نص المقال، مع تثبيت رابطٍ للمصدر، مع اعتذاري عن أنه ليس بوسعي ترجمة المقال برمته، فاكتفيت بترجمة المُقتَطَف الصغير الوارد في مقدمة هذا الخيط. لذلك أرجو ممن لديه الوقت والحماس من الأصدقاء المترجمين الكفؤين، أن يبذل لنا ترجمةً للمقال - أو على الأقل ملخَّصاً وافياً له - لتعميم الفائدة:
(After Trump 2016, will liberals listen? (The passion of Thomas Frank
Author: Matthew Sharpe
Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University
Beyond culture wars
Donald Trump, we know, has promised to “Make America Great Again”. (#MAGA) It is almost the one message he has consistently held to.
The problem is that Trump is almost completely unlike the selfless heroes portrayed on film by Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant in America’s post-war boom. This tycoon-come-Reality TV-star-come-populist is more like a garish parody of the villains in the golden age’s noir classics: their fortunes bound up with fast money and underhand business, with strong hints of thuggish violence and sexual scandal.
It is little wonder then that the 2016 US election campaign has taken our commercial media’s fixation on the politics of personality to a whole new level.
In any other campaign, Hilary Clinton’s historic run to be the first female American President would have been the story. Yet watching Trump fulminate and free associate has all the unnerving fascination of witnessing a moral car crash.
Mr Trump sometimes seems intent on ‘outing’ completely the darker underside of the culture wars against ‘political correctness’ that neoconservative forces have waged around the world for three decades.
He embodies in technicolor daylight that ugly point wherein fraught appeals to traditional values give way to unregenerate chauvinism; high-strung invocations of ‘Western civilization’ fold into xenophobia, a courting of the far Right, and simplistic misrepresentations of history and other cultures; where warrantless wealth feeds the crassest sensationalism; and where protecting ‘our way of life’ turns into open scorn for constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Trump is, in short, the living embodiment of the worst fears of anyone with the least sympathy for the cultural changes that have transformed societies like Australia and the US since the Second World War.
Yet the near-wall-to-wall media coverage of Trump the man, his viral tweets and virulent soundbites has often crowded out analyses of the substantial economic and political, domestic and foreign policy issues of election 2016.
Thankfully, as I write this, Trumpism looks like a political phenomenon with more like four weeks than four years to run its course. Leading Republicans are again jumping ship. The polls are going under. Yet no amount of outrage at Trump’s odium can address the questions the popular success of such a figure raises about the “State of the Union” in the second decade of the new millennium.
What social and economic realities, after all, could have so polarised the American electorate? Why have millions of ordinary Americans deserted more moderate, mainstream candidates? Why do they seem attracted (precisely) to Mr Trump’s willingness to outrageously flaunt “establishment” conventions and bait the mainstream media?
And to what extent do continuing depictions of Trump supporters in much of this media as uneducated troglodytes, if not immoral bigots, reflect and ratchet up—rather than register and respond to—the profound social divisions that made the man a Presidential possibility in the first place?
Being (Tom) Frank
There are nearly as many opinions on the crisis of the Republic as there are pundits who have tried their hands at writing on it.
Arguably one of the most consistently insightful, independent commentators on American life over the last few decades, however, is Thomas Frank. Frank has an uncanny sense for the key issues of the day. He has a razor sharp wit which consistently pits outraged common sense against a sometimes uncommonly counter-sensical political universe. He almost always contests and reframes staid opinions in ways that make you think.
1997’s Conquest of Cool already undercuts many of the dug-in trenchlines of our culture warriors. Frank documents here, ad hilarium, how the leading motifs of the postmodern counterculture (individuality, difference, change, cynical reflexivity …), far from challenging the New Economy, have since the 1960s been seamlessly integrated into marketing, the engine room of consumerist capitalism.
2000 brought One Market Under God. This longer work is a comparably comic journey into the hyperbolic world of the nineties’ managerial discourses committed to bringing competition—hitherto a game played between companies—inside organisations, animated by the dazzling conviction that “markets are a far more democratic form of organization than democratically elected governments.”
In the Bush era, works led by What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004) saw this postmodern Voltaire turning his attention to the (veritably) theological mysteries explaining why many of the same middle Americans rendered redundant, literally, in the Clinton-era “booms” were turning in droves against the Democrats, America’s traditional “party of the people”, and towards the GOP.
The answer, as Frank phrases things, is “backlash”. This involves “a crusade in which one’s material interests are suspended in favour of vague cultural grievances that are all-important and yet incapable of ever being assuaged”. The crusade is stoked and steered by an outraged conservative commentariat in unending holy war on “liberal” (as against economic) elites.
And, to return to our subject, it is this same “backlash” that Frank sees underlying the unheralded successes of one Donald J. Trump in 2015-2016. Nevertheless, in the bitter irony at the heart of his latest book Listen, Liberal! Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, Frank argues that it is the Clintons’-era Democrats, alongside the presently-Trumped Republicans, who are responsible for making something like Trumpism inevitable.
In such a perspective, the present Republican candidate’s brazen brutishness withdraws from the limelight. Mercifully. But the larger stakes of election 2016 are thrown into very different relief.
It really is the economy, Democrats
So, why does Frank, this self-confessed Left liberal, blame the Democrats, of all people, and at such a time?
The first thing Frank will insist upon, like Bernie Sanders’ supporters, is that there are Democrats and Democrats. In a recent interview, Frank has commented on the significance of the “almost allergic reaction” against Sanders from within his own Party:
What he was saying was just so utterly unacceptable to them. And when you think about it, what he’s saying is very deep in the Democratic tradition. It’s not radical. It’s not strange. It’s straight out of the New Deal. I mean, he sounds like—he sounds like, you know, a New Dealer … The things that he was proposing are right out of… the Democratic platform when Roosevelt …, when Harry Truman was president …
Frank knows very well that a newer brand of Democrats, ascendant since the 1990s, will reply that this is just the point. The Party of the People has gone “metro” for a new millennium. Sanders was stuck in “retro” dreams of the redistributive amelioration of inequality, the refurnishing of the safety net, a viable manufacturing sector, and reregulating the financial elites.
But it is just this Democrats’ abandonment of social democracy, and its unintended consequences, that Frank wonders about. Listen Liberal! does little else than wonder about it.
How could it have been that Bill Clinton, that celebrated (if very personally flawed) Democrat, was the President who, having come to power promising relief for middle Americans, instead heroically prioritised reducing the deficit to placate the big end of town?
How could it have been a Democratic government, over the protests of their traditional base in organised labour, that locked down the North American Trade Agreement in 1993?
(NAFTA after all put American workers in direct, unwinnable competition with lower-paid labour from the US’s less developed (and less regulated) Southern neighbours. It has led to 700,000 American job losses within fifteen years.)
How could it have been this same Democratic President that in 1994 introduced mass incarceration, built masses of new prisons, proposed the three-strikes rule and the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack-and-powdered cocaine, leading to mass incarceration of black addicts with no other criminal record?
How could it have been a Democrat President who got tough on welfare moms and repealed the New Deal era Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Act in 1996? And who deregulated Interstate banking in 1994, telecommunications in 1996, and cut capital gains tax in 1997? And who was negotiating with Newt Gingrich for significant further privatisations of Social Security before the Lewinky scandal bit …?
By what political alchemy could it have been, finally, this same Democratic President who repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated commercial from investment banking since the Great Depression?
This action, the world knows, paved the way to the proliferation of funny finance and mass indebtedness that by 2008 had landed America and the world in a new-style Great Recession that it has yet to completely emerge from.
What could a “Party of the People” who by 2000 had thus courted, and begun to successfully win over Wall Street, think that Main Street would make of all this, when life and statistics continue to confirm that the promised “trickle down” has failed to do more than eke away the American middle classes?
And what did the “POP” think that millions of middle Americans would make of the Obama administration’s failure to deliver on its promises to significantly reign in and prosecute those responsible for the GFC, after handing the banks a $16.8 trillion dollar bailout in a period in which income inequality continues to zero-in on 1930s-style numbers?
To ask these questions, Frank proposes, is to have come a long way to understanding how millions of American blue collar workers—the traditional constituency of the Democrats—could have flocked to a Donald Trump in 2015-‘16.
To focus exclusively on the horrors of the man is to miss this bigger, perhaps even more unsettling picture.
?Beyond Trump 2016
Such thought, in any case, explain why Frank was left confessing after the Republican Convention in late July that Trump et al’s speeches were almost more than his simple liberal brain could handle.
For, beyond Trump’s own noir-style depictions of civilizational decay, Frank—unlike most other commentators, predictably—noticed that Trump was making clear overtures to the the young and working class voters Bernie Sanders had assembled against Hillary.
Donald Trump’s many overtures to supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders were just the beginning. He also deliberately echoed the language of Franklin Roosevelt, he denounced “big business” (not once but several times), and certain of his less bloodthirsty foreign policy proposals almost remind one of George McGovern’s campaign theme: “Come home, America.” Ivanka Trump promised something that sounded like universal day care. Peter Thiel denounced the culture wars as a fraud and a distraction. The Republican platform was altered to include a plank calling for the breakup of big banks via the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall. I didn’t hear anyone talk about the need to bring “entitlements” under control. And most crucially, the party’s maximum leader has adopted the left critique of “free trade” almost in its entirety, a critique that I have spent much of my adult life making.
How real Trump’s pseudo-social democratic promises could be, given his tax proposals, and how compelling attacks on the big end of town could be in the mouth of a billionaire is not the issue.
The issue is that such proposals could be pitched at all in 2016 by a Republican candidate, alongside the most belligerent and regressive cultural politics imaginable, as a means to win the one-time base of the Democrats.
Frank himself, only two weeks after the Republican convention, had changed his tune. During that time, Trump had insulted the family of an American-Moslem war veteran, dropped hints that gun enthusiasts might take things into their own hands when it came to defeating Hillary Clinton, and taken a dive in the polls.
Frank’s fear that Trump might actually win in 2016, also, had morphed into something different. With Clinton likely to win in a landslide, and the Republicans looking set to implode, Frank now worried that the new-style Democrats would have no need any time soon to address their Trump-breeding abandonment of American workers, outside of the urban, high-tech-savvy professional classes.
My friends and I like to wonder about who will be the “next Bernie Sanders”, but what I am suggesting here is that whoever emerges to lead the populist left will simply be depicted as the next Trump. The billionaire’s scowling country-club face will become the image of populist reform, whether genuine populists had anything to do with him or not. This is the real potential disaster of 2016: that legitimate economic discontent is going to be dismissed as bigotry and xenophobia for years to come.
And meanwhile, the deep economic and social causes that have fuelled so much alienation, anger and hatred in the “City on the Hill” will not go away, when Donald Trump leaves its centre stage.
ارسل: الخميس اكتوبر 13, 2016 12:35 pm موضوع الرسالة:
سلام يا عادل
شكرا على ايراد هذا التقرير او المقال، ولكنى مع الاسف لسبب لا اعرفه لا اطيق قراءة مثل هذا الاسلوب الأكاديمى البارد والنمطى فى الكتابة.. اقرأ
الكتابة المباشرة العفوية وفى ذات الوقت محددة وعميقة.
وانا فى حياتى لم ارى سوء وعفن الرأسمالية (اسف) مثلما تجلى فى هذه الانتخابات التى نشهدها حية هنا.. والمشكلة ليست ترامب، ولكن فى زعماء حزبه الجمهورى الذين وضعهم فى جيبه، وهم يعلمون منذ البداية انه غير جدير وغير مؤهل لهذا المنصب.. ولكن اخرصهم المال حين اقلهم مؤهل 100 مرة اكثر من ترامب ولهم خبرة عملية فى السياسة والحكم.. بل ان نائبه اكثر خبرة منه فى الحكم والسياسة.
غايتو لو فاز سنشد الرحال.. لوين ما عارف. _________________ Freedom for us and for all others
ارسل: الجمعة اكتوبر 14, 2016 7:08 am موضوع الرسالة:
سلام يا أبو الريش.
شكراً على المرور، التوقُّف عند هذا المقال والتعقيب.
ربما كان للهيئة التي ظهر بها المقال هنا - أمس - دورٌ في جلب الملل لروحك عند الاطِّلاع؛ إذ أن هيئته اختلفت قليلاً عن هيئته في المصدر الأصلي. وأنا أعتذر عن أنني لم أكن دقيقاً بما يكفي لأجتهد في نقلها لحظة نقلي للمقال، بسبب العجلة الناجمة عن ضيق الوقت، لا الإهمال. ولقد قمت قبل قليل بتغيير الهيئة لتبدو كما كانت قد ظهرت في المصدر الأصلي، بما في ذلك المساحات ونمط الخط في بعض الفقرات.
أما بشأن رأيك في أن المشكلة ليست ترامب، ولكن فى زعماء حزبه الجمهوري الذين وضعهم فى جيبه، وهم يعلمون منذ البداية انه غير جدير وغير مؤهل لهذا المنصب.. ولكن اخرصهم المال حين اقلهم مؤهل 100 مرة اكثر من ترامب ولهم خبرة عملية فى السياسة والحكم، فأنا أرى أن هذا صحيح - ولكن من جهة أن هذا أحد مظاهر - ونتائج - المشكلة. فالمشكلة تلبد، في تقديري، في الجذور المفهومية والعملية للسياسة الأميركية التقليدية السائدة كما تتمظهر في رؤى وممارسة الحزبين المهيمنين في الولايات المتحدة. وهذا ما ذهب إليه - إلى حد ما - توماس فرانك بتوضيحه مساهمة الحزب المنافس - أي الحزب الديموقراطي - في ظهور دونالد ترمب. غير أنني أرى أيضاً أن رؤية فرانك جاءت محكومة بالسقف (الآيديولوجي؟) الفكري-السياسي الأميركي السائد. فما ينقص تحليل فرانك، في نظري، هو الإجابة على أسئلة من شاكلة: "ولكن ما هي جذور السياسات الاقتصادية السلبية التي جعلت الحزب الديموقراطي يقدِّمها ويمارسها"؟ و"هل كانت - وما تزال - الحساسية الطبقية للحزب الديموقراطي تسمح له بغير إتِّخاذ وتبنِّي سياسات اقتصادية لا تضع في اعتبارها المصالح البنيوية للطبقة العاملة - بل وللطبقة المتوسِّطة إلى حد كبير"؟ وهذا ما يعيبه فرانك على الحزب الديموقراطي (أو أن تحقيق هذا هو ما يشغف به أو يتطلع إليه).
في تقديري، الإجابة على مثل هذين السؤالين - وأسئلة أخرى ذات علاقة بهما - ستمكِّننا من الإجابة - على نحوٍ أعمق - على أسئلة من شاكلة: "هل الحزب الديموقراطي مثيلٌ أم نقيضٌ للحزب الجمهوري في الولايات المتحدة (وفي عددٍ من سياقاتِ ثنائياتٍ حزبية في دولٍ غربية أخرى) ولماذا؟"
عدل من قبل عادل القصاص في السبت اكتوبر 15, 2016 9:03 pm, عدل 2 مرة/مرات
ارسل: الخميس اكتوبر 20, 2016 12:19 pm موضوع الرسالة:
تعليق مصدَّق الصاوي على نفس المقال في صفحتي في الفيسبُك:
نهاية المقال فعلا يوري خوف الليبراليين من القادم .... ويبدو لي انو راجع لعدم قدرتهم على مواكبة التغييرات ( وبالذات الإقتصادية ) الحاصلة في الغرب واهمها الفجوة الكبيرة ما بين الأغنياء (1%) وبقية الشعوب كما اوضح الإقتصادي الفرنسي بيكيتي ... نعم هم مؤهلون تماما لوراثة اليمين التقليدي ولكن بفروقات طفيفة في الرؤيا الإقتصادية ... ولكن يبدو ان الحسابات الجارية الآن في كل الغرب لا تجري مع هكذا سفن إلا قليلا ...
ارسل: الجمعة نوفمبر 11, 2016 11:25 pm موضوع الرسالة:
Michael Moore, the man who got this election right
The media got it wrong. The public pollsters got it wrong, so did the private ones. The Democratic Party got wrong. The Republican Party was wrong too. Five living presidents got it wrong. The betting markets got it wrong. The markets got it wrong. By many accounts even President-elect Donald Trump got it wrong.
One man got it spectacularly right, predicting not only that Clinton would lose, but where she would lose, among which voters she would lose, and why: the left wing documentary maker Michael Moore.
In a post on his blog that is undated, but published well before the election, he wrote, "I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I gave it to you straight last summer when I told you that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. And now I have even more awful, depressing news for you: Donald J. Trump is going to win in November."
This morning Moore has written a five point plan for the Democratic Party's response.
"This wretched, ignorant, dangerous part-time clown and full time sociopath is going to be our next president. President Trump. Go ahead and say the words, 'cause you'll be saying them for the next four years: 'PRESIDENT TRUMP.'"
Moore's thesis, which he laid out in detail and which has now proved to be spectacularly correct, was that Donald Trump would win four rustbelt states that Democrats believed they could not lose.
"And this is where the math comes in. In 2012, Mitt Romney lost by 64 electoral votes," wrote Moore. "Add up the electoral votes cast by Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It's 64. All Trump needs to do to win is to carry, as he's expected to do, the swath of traditional red states from Idaho to Georgia (states that'll never vote for Hillary Clinton), and then he just needs these four rust belt states. He doesn't need Florida. He doesn't need Colorado or Virginia. Just Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And that will put him over the top. This is how it will happen in November."
He argued that men, spooked that "a male-dominated, 240-year run of the USA is coming to an end" would be driven to the polls to keep a woman out of office, and that white men, already embittered by eight years of an Obama presidency, would turn out to block her rise. He speculated that Bernie Sanders supporters would not turn out to support Clinton once she won the primary, and he was right about that too.
People simply would not trust her.
He argued that in a nation that had already elected the wrestler Jesse Ventura to high office, there might be a thick streak of closet anarchism who would vent their frustration once behind the curtain of a polling booth.
"It's one of the few places left in society where there are no security cameras, no listening devices, no spouses, no kids, no boss, no cops, there's not even a friggin' time limit," wrote Moore.
"You can take as long as you need in there and no one can make you do anything. You can push the button and vote a straight party line, or you can write in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. There are no rules. And because of that, and the anger that so many have toward a broken political system, millions are going to vote for Trump not because they agree with him, not because they like his bigotry or ego, but just because they can."
Moore even laid out his theory in detail in an interview with Bill Maher nearly six months ago.
It begins, unsurprisingly, with a call for a populist movement to take over the Democratic Party, then to fire the pollsters, pundits and media figures who got this election so wrong.
ارسل: الجمعة يوليو 28, 2017 2:11 pm موضوع الرسالة:
The Frankfurt School Knew Trump Was Coming
By Alex Ross
December 5, 2016
Shortly after the Presidential election, a small piece of good news came over the wire: the Thomas Mann villa in Los Angeles has been saved. The house, which was built to Mann’s specifications, in the nineteen-forties, went on the market earlier this year, and it seemed likely to be demolished, because the structure was deemed less valuable than the land beneath it. After prolonged negotiations, the German government bought the property, with the idea of establishing it as a cultural center.
The house deserves to stand not only because a great writer lived there but because it brings to mind a tragic moment in American cultural history. The author of “Death in Venice” and “The Magic Mountain” settled in this country in 1938, a grateful refugee from Nazism. He became a citizen and extolled American ideals. By 1952, though, he had become convinced that McCarthyism was a prelude to fascism, and felt compelled to emigrate again. At the time of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s hearings on Communism in Hollywood, Mann said, “Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ . . . That is how it started in Germany.” The tearing down of Mann’s “magic villa” would have been a cold epilogue to a melancholy tale.
Mann was hardly the only Central European émigré who experienced uneasy feelings of déjà vu in the fearful years after the end of the Second World War. Members of the intellectual enclave known as the Frankfurt School—originally based at the Institute for Social Research, in Frankfurt—felt a similar alarm. In 1950, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno helped to assemble a volume titled “The Authoritarian Personality,” which constructed a psychological and sociological profile of the “potentially fascistic_ _individual.” The work was based on interviews with American subjects, and the steady accumulation of racist, antidemocratic, paranoid, and irrational sentiments in the case studies gave the German-speakers pause. Likewise, Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman’s 1949 book, “Prophets of Deceit,” studied the Father Coughlin type of rabble-rouser, contemplating the “possibility that a situation will arise in which large numbers of people would be susceptible to his psychological manipulation.”
Adorno believed that the greatest danger to American democracy lay in the mass-culture apparatus of film, radio, and television. Indeed, in his view, this apparatus operates in dictatorial fashion even when no dictatorship is in place: it enforces conformity, quiets dissent, mutes thought. Nazi Germany was merely the most extreme case of a late-capitalist condition in which people surrender real intellectual freedom in favor of a sham paradise of personal liberation and comfort. Watching wartime newsreels, Adorno concluded that the “culture industry,” as he and Horkheimer called it, was replicating fascist methods of mass hypnosis. Above all, he saw a blurring of the line between reality and fiction. In his 1951 book, “Minima Moralia,” he wrote:
Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no one can say whether he died or escaped, survives.** **
Mann, who had consulted Adorno while writing his musical novel “Doctor Faustus,” was reading “Minima Moralia” as he contemplated his departure from America. He compared the book’s aphoristic style to the “enormously strong gravitational force-field” of a super-compact celestial body. Possibly, it exerted a pull on his decision to go into exile again. A few months later, on the eve of leaving, Mann wrote to Adorno, “The way things are developing is already clear. And we have rather gone beyond Brüning.” Heinrich Brüning was the Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932.
The fears of Mann, Adorno, and other émigrés came to naught—or so it seemed. The McCarthyite danger passed; civil rights advanced; free speech triumphed; liberal democracy spread around the world. By the end of the century, the Frankfurt School was seen in many quarters as an artifact of intellectual kitsch. In recent years, though, its stock has risen once again. As Stuart Jeffries points out in his recent book, “Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School,” the ongoing international crisis of capitalism and liberal democracy has prompted a resurgence of interest in the body of work known as critical theory. The combination of economic inequality and pop-cultural frivolity is precisely the scenario Adorno and others had in mind: mass distraction masking élite domination. Two years ago, in an essay on the persistence of the Frankfurt School, I wrote, “If Adorno were to look upon the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, he might take grim satisfaction in seeing his fondest fears realized.”
I spoke too soon. His moment of vindication is arriving now. With the election of Donald Trump, the latent threat of American authoritarianism is on the verge of being realized, its characteristics already mapped by latter-day sociologists who have updated Adorno’s “F-scale” for fascist tendencies. To read “Prophets of Deceit” is to see clear anticipations of Trump’s bigoted harangues. (The script in 1949: “We are coming to the crossroads where we must decide whether we are going to preserve law and order and decency or whether we are going to be sold down the river to these Red traitors who are undermining America.”) As early as the forties, Adorno saw American life as a kind of reality show: “Men are reduced to walk-on parts in a monster documentary film which has no spectators, since the least of them has his bit to do on the screen.” Now a businessman turned reality-show star has been elected President. Like it or not, Trump is as much a pop-culture phenomenon as he is a political one.
What Adorno identified as the erasure of the “borderline between culture and empirical reality” is endemic on social media. The failure of Facebook to halt the proliferation of fake news during the campaign season should have surprised no one; the local hirelings of logic are too enamored of their algorithms—and of the revenue they generate—to intervene. From the start, Silicon Valley monopolies have taken a hands-off, ideologically vacant attitude toward the upwelling of ugliness on the Internet. A defining moment was the turn-of-the-century wave of music piracy, which did lasting damage to the idea of intellectual property. Fake news is an extension of the same phenomenon, and, as in the Napster era, no one is taking responsibility. Traffic trumps ethics.
Traditional media outlets exhibited the same value-free mentality, pumping out Trump stories and airing his rallies because they got hits and high ratings. At some point over the summer, it struck me that the greater part of the media wanted Trump to be elected, consciously or unconsciously. He would be more “interesting” than Hillary Clinton; he would “pop.” That suspicion was confirmed the other day, when a CNN executive, boasting of his network’s billion-dollar profit in 2016, spoke of “a general fascination that wouldn’t be the same as under a Clinton Administration.” Of the clouds and shadows that hung over Clinton in the press, the darkest, perhaps, was the prospect of boredom. Among voters, a kind of nihilistic glee may have been as much a factor in Trump’s election as economic dissatisfaction or racial resentment. The mechanism by which people support a political program “largely incompatible with their own rational self-interest,” as Adorno wrote, requires many kinds of deception.
So here we are, living in what feels like an excessively on-the-nose novel by Don DeLillo, in which a President-elect tweets of his cabinet-selection process, “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!” One all-too-schematic plot twist is the revelation that Richard Spencer—the white supremacist whose phrase “alt-right” was adopted by Trump’s strategist, Steve Bannon—wrote a master’s thesis on the topic of none other than Theodor W. Adorno, arguing that Wagner’s anti-Semitism prevented Adorno from coming to terms with his love for Wagner’s music. The Department of Hitler Studies, from DeLillo’s “White Noise,” is moving to D.C.
When the purchase of the Mann house was announced, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister and likely its next President, declared, “In stormy times like these, we need more than ever cultural anchor points with our most important partner outside of Europe.” Steinmeier was implying that the villa could become an outpost of cosmopolitan thinking as nativism overtakes both America and Europe.
The ironic reversal of roles hardly needs to be noted. However the Trump Presidency turns out—whether it veers toward autocracy, devolves into kleptocracy, or takes some unheard-of new form—America has, for the time being, abdicated the role of the world’s moral leader, to the extent that it ever played that part convincingly. “Make America Great Again” is one of Trump’s many linguistic contortions: in fact, one of his core messages is that America should no longer bother with being great, that it should retreat from international commitments, that it should make itself small and mean.
Germany, on the other hand, increasingly appears to be the strongest remaining bastion of liberal democracy. With the United Kingdom mired in the aftermath of Brexit, France facing a possible hard-right swerve, and Italy in disarray, the country that long stood as a synonym for nationalist insanity has so far resisted political and cultural regression. Tellingly, it has rejected the libertarian code of the big Silicon Valley companies, with their disdain for privacy, copyright, and limitations on hate speech. On the day after the American election, which happened to be the seventy-eighth anniversary of Kristallnacht, a neo-Nazi group posted a map of Jewish businesses in Berlin, titled “Jews Among Us.” Facebook initially refused to take down the post, but an outcry in the media and among lawmakers prompted its deletion. Such episodes suggest that Germans are less likely to acquiesce to the forces that have ravaged the American public sphere.
The defeat of the Freedom Party candidate in the Austrian Presidential election is a hopeful sign: perhaps the German-speaking countries can remind the rest of the world of the darkness of their former path. Still, the far right is creeping forward in Germany, as it is all over Europe. No coming political race will be as tensely watched as Angela Merkel’s run next year for reëlection as Chancellor. The ultimate fear isn’t of the second coming of Hitler: history never repeats itself so obviously, and a sense of shame over the Nazi past remains pervasive in all corners of German life. No, the fear is that the present antidemocratic wave may prove too strong even for Germany—the only country in the history of the world that ever learned from its mistakes.