No One Can Say: Absurdifaction (OAG #4)

A widely quoted observation of the campaign season, generally taken as a critique of they-just-don’t-get-it left-liberals, held that Trump’s followers knew to take him seriously, but not literally – while the benighted liberals had it backwards. Yet a discourse that can and must be taken both seriously and literally – “by the letter” – is the sine qua non of liberal-democratic or constitutional or lawful self-governance. For the same reason, if law is the spirit of the age in words, but we elect a spirit of lawlessness to preserve, protect, and defend the law, then the spirit of our age is self-annihilation.

We might say that the bases for a functional or meaningful social-political sphere seem to have disappeared. In personal-individual terms, we experience disorientation and insecurity – and at some point the suspicion and fear that the meaning, or possible meaning, of our own lives has been lessened, threatened with erasure.

Marianne Constable’s post-election observations both explain and express this discomfort, indeed the dread, that many of us have felt about the Trump candidacy and about Donald J. Trump as a political figure at all, from the beginning of his political campaign and from before its beginning:

Regardless of what kind of president Trump turns out to be, or of the policies he puts in place, the rhetoric of this election season has shaken our faith in the possibility of meaningful public exchange. This is not because persons are afraid to speak, although some will be. Nor is it because mainstream media has missed or mischaracterized the story, although it has. Our faith is shaken because to deny one’s words is to disregard what is. When this disregard coincides with more talk than ever before, the upshot is a mistrust in the possibility of genuine public exchange. […] Catastrophe comes when lying becomes routine and fact can no longer be distinguished from falsehood. When this happens, what words say no longer matters. Whether or not Trump’s lies are any more responsible for the current catastrophe than are the lies of others, his words leave us at sea.

Constable supplies a representative sampling of candidate and nominee Trump’s numerous assaults on the comprehensibility of his own utterances – his habitual self-contradictions, his notorious shifts on one issue after another, his and his defenders’ familiar denials either that he meant what he said or that he said what he said at all. The return to the fold of his former competitors reinforced and replicated the syndrome: The movement by the likes of Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and many others from uncompromising critics to compromised endorsers of, in their own discarded words, a “pathological narcissist,” a “con-man,” a “cancer,” an “unstable” man who cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons, and so on, was not just hypocrisy and cowardice, but a nullification of the possibilities of political speech as meaningful speech.

Alluding to a notorious passage from a speech by our First Lady-in-waiting Melania Trump at the Republican National Conventions – lifted from a speech by the outgoing First Lady; on utterances in good faith, so with a Trumpist-typical hypocrisy – Constable goes on to suggest that a President Trump’s most important task would be somehow to restore the connection between signifier and signified in his own (because he will be President, our own) public discourse:

Trump’s challenge now is to show, through his deeds, what he has not shown through his speech – indeed what his utterances have completely thrown into question – that his word is his bond. The task confronting the next leader of the United States must be to affirm that we share – and that he shares with us – a common world in which are respected the conventions of language that make mutual hearing and speech possible. The alternative is a frightening void in which there is no room to say, in words that one can count on to be heard, “I disagree.”

Instead, the presidential transition has been marked by much more of the very same – including an early, typically ridiculous incident in which the President-elect took to Twitter – where else? – in order to mis-characterize events, or political speech events, surrounding the attendance of his Vice-President-elect at a popular, and highly political Broadway play. Trump referred to a cordial and direct appeal from the cast to the VPe as “harrass[-ment.]” He implied that the former, rather than the audience, had booed the latter. Not for the first time, Donald J. Trump, proud violator of civil norms, who nearly never and never forthrightly apologizes, demanded an apology.

Many suggested that the controversy that ensued was meant to divert attention from headlines, if any, about a settlement of the Trump University fraud case – naturally a fraud case – entailing the President-elect’s agreement to pay $25 Million to claimants, but does Trump even know why he does what he does? No one can say. Did he know that he was exaggerating – lying – and that his demand for an apology was ludicrous? No one can say. Was he “socially performing identity” to and for his identitarian followership, offering them – and the rest of us – an opportunity to follow suit? No one can say. To complete the emblematic pantomime, Trump or someone proceeded to tweet then delete an escalated attack, while at the same virtual moment the Vice-President-elect, was appearing on the Sunday talk shows offering a contradictory description of the events and a completely different (equable) reaction to them.

Regarding Trump and the play, as with Trump and everything and every-non-thing else, there is, it seems, nothing there with which to disagree. There almost was something like the dis-assembling assembly of disconnected yet interrelated not quite anythings, not quite somewhere, with which one might or might not perform something approaching or in some ways vastly exceeding, yet not possibly entailing, disagreement. Not quite anything happened at all anywhere at all other than nothing everywhere, the subtractive pseudo-addition of one or more or no un-thought non-events for or within or at the bottom of or at the top of or at the bottom and at the top of a mountain also an abyss also a deluge of dreadfully meaningful nonsense.


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Noted & Quoted

This is a Waterloo moment for Trump, the tea party and their alliance.  They have been stopped in their tracks not only by Democratic opposition but because of a mutiny within their own ranks. Although never particularly liked or respected, it is now clear that they are no longer feared. The bankruptcy of their ideas and their incompetence have been exposed. Their momentum has been dissipated. Their rejection of political norms has itself been scorned. Our long national nightmare may finally be coming to an end.

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One seasoned Democrat told me that among the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that a long year of Crooked Hillary talk, about emails and Goldman Sachs and the like, had steadily demoralised and demobilised the liberal base. If sustaining fury at Trump helps keep those same voters energised, so they eventually turn out to defeat him, it’ll be worth it, he says.

But it can’t just be in the form of world-weary, if witty, tweets. What’s needed is a coherent argument, one that explains why Trump’s repulsive behaviour matters. For Americans, that will surely centre on the state of their society. The civic realm is being degraded by Trump’s lies, vanities and insults. The national conversation is being coarsened. The basic democratic assumption, that disagreements can be resolved through discussion rather than coercion and violence, is being eroded from the very top. Note the language of Scaramucci’s outburst: “I want to fucking kill all the leakers.”

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[C]limate scientists have a strange kind of faith: We will find a way to forestall radical warming, they say, because we must.

It is not easy to know how much to be reassured by that bleak certainty, and how much to wonder whether it is another form of delusion; for global warming to work as parable, of course, someone needs to survive to tell the story. The scientists know that to even meet the Paris goals, by 2050, carbon emissions from energy and industry, which are still rising, will have to fall by half each decade; emissions from land use (deforestation, cow farts, etc.) will have to zero out; and we will need to have invented technologies to extract, annually, twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the entire planet’s plants now do. Nevertheless, by and large, the scientists have an enormous confidence in the ingenuity of humans — a confidence perhaps bolstered by their appreciation for climate change, which is, after all, a human invention, too. They point to the Apollo project, the hole in the ozone we patched in the 1980s, the passing of the fear of mutually assured destruction. Now we’ve found a way to engineer our own doomsday, and surely we will find a way to engineer our way out of it, one way or another. The planet is not used to being provoked like this, and climate systems designed to give feedback over centuries or millennia prevent us — even those who may be watching closely — from fully imagining the damage done already to the planet. But when we do truly see the world we’ve made, they say, we will also find a way to make it livable. For them, the alternative is simply unimaginable.

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+ BTW, I recently upgraded some this and that on the back end of the blog, and it does seem to make comments post much faster [. . .]
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For WordPress self-hosted people, there is already a "restore legacy editor" plugin, even though Gutenberg hasn't been installed yet as the default.

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+ I thought you were on WordPress.com, not self-hosted WordPress. I can't find any info on WordPress.com and Gutenberg or Gutenbergerish editing, so I don't know [. . .]
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