A Joke In Poor Taste

by Akshay Ragupathy 

If there is a common red thread that runs through the deeds of the fascism in the last century and this one, it is the ubiquity of the figure of the racially segregated immigrant. For instance, this is precisely what we saw happen in Nazi Germany, with Hitler, where the figure of the Jew became the symbol of all that was wrong in German society – its post World War I submission, its economic weakness, and the like. The explanatory fiction orders the world around, making the world sensible (rather than chaotic), highlighting the avenues for political action that are open in the present.

It is often this cosmology that a variety of acts from Jon Stewart to AIB refer to today; you can see this earnest application of humour to a political situation. Ridicule deflates – it undermines the pompous and the self-assured, and points out the banal idiocy of power. It grants an ironic distance from a righteous display of force, dulling its edge somewhat by highlighting in it a comical absurdity. The alarming stupidity of Fox News, the spectacular bungling of the NSA, and pervasive links of money to political power, are all rather standard fare. Few make a better target for ridicule than Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has succeeded at some things, and failed at many. Trump: The Game, an airline, casinos, a marriage, and hair – are some of things he has met with less than success in. Trump describes himself often in terms of his money and the inheritance that has defined him – his hair is the product of an expensive haircut and is simply magnificent, and so on. So much of his persona is a direct product of his privileged economic position, that the idea of its absence casts the remainder in sharp relief. Who (or what) would Donald be without money? It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that Trump justifies his search for greater wealth not with any crass hedonism (he has plenty, as he often points out), but simply the game itself. The Art of the Deal. It takes a curious creature to find art-exploitative economic arrangements.

il_570xN.789937926_1ruhEarlier attempts to enter the political arena fizzled into (not so) quiet obscurity: but this year, Trump emerged onto the scene like primed grenade, loaded with concentrated obscenity. He has enraged the feminists with sweeping declarations of the inherent stupidity of women, terrified the racial minorities of the US with an incendiary racist rhetoric (quite cheerfully proto-fascist), and alarmed the Republicans with calls to assert the primacy of the nation-state over capital, with his overtures towards fining Ford for over-outsourcing its headquarters. His political policy at this point consists of schemes such as a mass deportation of illegal immigrants, the construction of a giant wall (that Mexico, presumably, will pay for), and penis measuring contests with Putin. Trump is certain that he will win.

He just might. This latent charisma showed no signs back when Trump demanded Obama hand over a birth certificate. In this election cycle, support for him is swelling somewhat inexplicably. At some point in August, he overtook Jeb Bush in polls, the token sane person in the Republican caucus. His homely mix of nativism and racism (sprinkled liberally with misogyny) has found a receptive audience in the original radical dream of the grassroots ideal of the Tea Party. In a lower-middle class, white environment, continually frustrated by immigrants and big corporations alike, Trump offers direction.

In a world of dissembling politicians, artfully framing semantically meaningless non-sentences, Trump comes across as blunt and straightforward. He doesn’t need lobbies – he declares with supreme confidence. He is his own lobby. He calmly confirms that money and capital are fundamentally central to the way politics and politicians function today – then, he provides the demonstration in his own performance. Where for others, to be tainted by money is to highlight unreliability, for Trump, this is merely another controversy in a long line – he freely admits his monetary privilege, and laughs at the notion of egalitarianism. Where the political norm is to shy away from the toxic tint of the scandal, Trump runs headlong into the fire. His natural habitat is reality television, and he knows it. He perpetually seeks conflict, at one point deciding that prisoners of war aren’t all that great, to spending an idle way, waxing about the rapist predilections of the Mexicans. As he crashes into every other view in the vicinity, it doesn’t really matter what Trump is saying. All that matters is that Trump is saying it loudly.

What is changing isn’t simply the message – the catfight politics that Trump encourages, transforms the way we look political debate. It’s literally impossible to look at foreign policy (and the issues considered) for the past several years and to take that as remotely linked to Trump enthusiastically describing how he’ll show China “who the boss is.” A politics based on self-confidence in the abstract, with a variety of posturing half-wits, implies a reversal: an entertainment-ization of politics. “The Presidential Reality Show.”

Trump is, properly speaking, a joke. His views are a garbled collection of hate-crimes against various communities. There is, at the root of his xenophobic racism, a void, an emptiness of meaning – conflict to no end, but conflict. As a raging engine of two-dimensional hatred, he is a caricature of a person. It is precisely this absurd, comedic value, the flatness of a political platform resting on bravura, that highlights how there is really no political speech in Trump’s talking. What he does is provide a vast, comforting xenophobia that expresses the fear of the white middle-class, and into this, they pour their terror. Their fear of outsourcing and vanishing jobs, of a multicultural milieu attacking their privileges, of a big-corporate class and a Big State in collusion. The emptiness of the message makes it the ideological vessel par excellence, an open-ended reservoir of hate and insecurity.

This terrifying creature evades the power of ridicule to defuse. Where others may slink back in shame as inconsistencies and fractures come to light, Trump cheerfully embraces his position as the object of ridicule, and from there derives his strength.

Akshay Ragupathy is currently pursuing his masters in Sociology from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi and is an accomplished debater in the Indian debating circuit. 

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3 thoughts on “A Joke In Poor Taste

  1. All pseudo intellectuals they think that they are better than everyone just because the Government is footing bills for education. Guess who pays the bills? working class pays… yet the working class’ VOTES do not matter.. they are called fundamentalist, redneck, sanghi. It is same in all countries. I would not be surprised what the author thinks of PM Modi… Clearly he is not happy with the strong leaders who speak their mind

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  2. Hi, anon. I’m in complete agreement that working class pays the bills, and that it’s votes often don’t matter. I just think it’s a bit disingenuous to then claim that the working class is called fundamentalist, redneck, sanghi etc. – it isn’t. A portion of the working class is, specifically a portion advocationg a majoritarian agenda: like white rednecks, hindu sanghis and fundamentalists of various stripes. The working class is a large, amorphous entity with dalits, muslims, and various other minorities as its constituents. These people are a subsection of the working class advocating violence, in a manner that has become more or less clear following the recent violence over beef, Muzzafarnagar, saffronization of texts etc. This is no more in the working class interest than a bunch of women smuggling little girls from orphanages and preaching to them about the joys of barbie is feminist.

    If you want a clear demonstration of the Modi government as a failure for the working class (other than blatant religious violence) just look at the economic policy. A business friendly environment is literally one where the government takes no steps while citizens rights are encroached upon, as is evident in the steps taken (and/or attempted) in land aquisition and labour law reform. Strong leaders who speak their mind are swell, but I would really rather focus on what they spoke about: which in this case is pointedly not the working class interest.

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