Saturday, July 21, 2018

Clash of Worldviews: Is Trump’s Presidency Good for the World?

MODERATOR: Welcome to another episode of Clash of Worldviews, the show that features hard-hitting philosophical dialogues. This evening we have with us self-described postmodern pessimist and cynic, Heather Fogarty, and radical alt right blogger Fred Gulpa. And they’re here to discuss whether Donald Trump’s presidency is proving to be good or bad for the world. Heather, would you like to get us started? I take it you’re not a fan of Trump.

HEATHER: A “fan” of Trump? No, I’m not one of his suicidal cultists. Trump has the distinction of being a foreign agent twice over. He was a Siberian candidate, as is now obvious from Trump’s attacks on America’s closest allies, such as Canada, Germany, and Britain, combined with his servility towards Putin. But in the fictions, the foreign agent isn’t supposed to win the presidency, since that’s unthinkable from a conventional standpoint. So the evil conspiracy of installing a rival country’s intelligence asset in the seat of American power is supposed to stop at the candidacy. The dupe is thus known idiomatically only as a “candidate,” as in “the Manchurian candidate,” since the presumption is that the scheme would be foiled in the world’s leading nation. But Russia’s useful idiot went on to become the American president! This return of the Cold War ought to be more traumatic to Americans than the 911 terrorist attacks.

Yet the unthinkable doesn’t end there with Trump. Trump is a bona fide foreign agent—albeit an untrained and incompetent one—in the guise of a democratically elected president, but he’s also obviously a wealthy paleoconservative. The American oligarchs used to run the GOP from a distance to sustain the façade of the party’s national legitimacy. The wealthy social Darwinians—otherwise known as sociopaths—controlled Republican politicians through lobbying and the flawed electoral system, but not so transparently as to run directly for president while flaunting their aristocratic values. Trump lacks upper-class manners, of course, but he’s realigning the GOP towards the oldest and perhaps purist conservative ideal: what should be protected, according to Trump and the monarchs of old isn’t classic liberalism or any other modern ideology or institution, but just the social distribution that arises from prehuman, animal dynamics. Nature is the arbiter of justice and so might makes right. What this means is that once the alphas triumph in a rigged competition—that being the only kind of competition that mindless nature can produce—the winners ought to dominate the losers by conning and bullying them, holding onto power like the autocrats Trump reveres. In short, Trump is cutting out the neoliberal middlemen and returning American conservatism to monarchical pseudo-elitism. Needless to say, Trump is thereby profoundly un-American. Whether Trump’s presidency is good for the world depends, though, on whether, for example, you think liberalism is progressive.

FRED: I actually agree with much of that. Trump is part of a global backlash against liberalism. He may indeed be compromised by Russia, since we know that American banks stopped lending him money after his multiple bankruptcies, and Russia looks for useful idiots and bailed him out of his business ventures over the last couple of decades. That shocking conspiracy is indeed only a detail, however, since Trump acts on behalf not just of Russia but of the principles of autocracy. I agree also that this is a paleoconservative revolution against the liberal aspects of globalization and thus against democracy and free trade capitalism in general. Trump’s aid and comfort to Russia is almost incidental since he’s interested mainly in recreating power structures in the West that protect those he considers natural winners, such as sociopathic plutocrats and white, male gung-ho Anglo-Americans as opposed to women, foreigners, or feminized liberals. The problem with the liberal notion of equality is that it threatens to erase cultural differences, to rob nations of their sovereignty and to drown them in the sappy bromides of a feel-good monoculture.

HEATHER: The irony here is appalling, of course. Globalization was the principle mechanism of America’s strategy for maintaining its hegemony as the lone superpower after the Cold War. The liberalization of economies meant in practice that foreign markets would have to open themselves to exploitation by American corporations. Liberalism always operated on the presupposition of a double standard, since America was militarily the indispensible nation and liberals couldn’t conceive of the scenario in which the United States would lose in fair economic competition with foreign powers. Still less did liberals contemplate the possibility that women and dark-skinned immigrants could be educated and could take middleclass jobs from whites in the United States, with the whites being reduced to tranquilizing themselves with opioids and trolling the world with the Trump fiascos, to avoid having to admit that they weren’t good enough, that they failed because they felt entitled and didn’t work hard to better themselves, because their cultures was built on Christian and early-modern lies. This is indeed the problem with aristocratic values: absolute, unchallenged power inevitably corrupts the elites and so they lose their right to rule. They either take their enterprises down with them or there’s an ugly revolt, as in the American or French Revolution.   

FRED: The US did lead the spread of liberalism after the Soviet Union’s collapse, but what’s happening now is that the American middleclass has realized it was duped by the neoliberal establishments in both political parties. The middleclass was promised a lifting of all boats, a trickledown effect, the creation of enormous wealth if only the nonsocialist liberal’s vision of capitalism became the de facto American religion. What happened was that this liberal rhetoric was a ruse: in globalized societies, wealth was created almost exclusively at the very top one percent of their economies. Yes, the United States exploited poorer parts of the world such as Mexico and Africa, but transnational corporations and the cosmopolitan power elites didn’t scruple to double-cross the American middleclass by busting unions and sending manufacturing jobs overseas. Now that the results of globalization are in, many Americans are blaming the globalists for their woes. The hapless Democrats stand for those systems of liberalization that eventually turned against much of the United States, whereas at least conservatives have an opposing tradition to turn to. You can call it neofascism if you like, but it’s here to stay.

HEATHER: Actually, Democrats have an opposing tradition as well; socialism, otherwise known as progressivism. Only progressives in the Democratic Party were calling for strong unions and for a social safety net in the US to protect the losers and victims from the disruptions of global free markets. By contrast, Republicans championed precisely those transnational elites even as they obfuscated their elitism with rhetoric about the social wedge issues, to win support from the downtrodden. If you poll Americans on the economic and political issues, you find the majority are socialists, not alt right neofascists or sociopaths. Never forget that Trump lost the popular vote and that only half of the eligible voters voted in 2016.

FRED: That’s neither here nor there, since if what you say is true, the fact that so many alleged socialists stayed home instead of supporting Hillary Clinton shows they’re demoralized, which is part of the neofascist backlash.  

MODERATOR: If I might interject, am I to understand that you’re both in agreement that President Trump is a Russian stooge, but that that fact is insignificant next to the revelation that he represents a fascist response to the failures of liberalism, and that fascism is only a modern spin on the essence of conservatism, namely on autocracy, on the investment of governmental power in the hands of a monarch or dictator?

HEATHER: That’s about right, from where I sit.

FRED: Yep, we’re on the same page there.

MODERATOR: Well, I expect our viewers won’t be so nonchalant about such troubling allegations.

HEATHER: You’re wrong there. Most Americans might be shocked by those truths, but who says consumers of philosophy reflect the mindset of average Americans? Our viewers, therefore, have likely entertained radical political possibilities from the outset of Trump’s presidency. For example, Trumpism is implicitly fascistic since his supporters have demonstrated the sort of unwavering, irrational, and self-destructive loyalty to Trump that you’d find in any cult, and cults are autocratic. So there’s no need to hold our viewers’ hands, since we’re not speaking to simpletons. The simpletons are busy enjoying themselves far away from philosophy.

MODERATOR: Perhaps, but if you agree on so much, where at all do you disagree on the merits of Trump’s presidency?

FRED: I root for late-modern autocracy as the surest path to transhuman glory whereas I take it Heather has no positive opinions since she’s mired in naysaying. Am I right?

HEATHER: I’m allergic to bullshit, so yes, I’m disinclined to excuse the depredations of autocracy out of faith in some transhumanist mythos. If you’re talking about the sci-fi miracle of the merger of technology and human nature and of how this fulfills the dreams of old religions, autocracy would be an impediment not a boon. In the distant past, imperialists brought some social and technological progress, but mostly they create the conditions for cultural stagnation as the upper class indulges in extravagances at the expense of the larger population whom they then belittle to continue that vicious cycle. As everyone should know by now, the explosive advances in science and technology followed from the early-modern liberals’ dethronement of the aristocrats.

FRED: We need to distinguish between religious and secular autocracies. The old ones were theocratic, so technoscientific progress was anathema to them. The noble lies that empowered them precluded the idea that we should become gods, since the gods they worshipped were conveniently jealous: only the upper class could lavish themselves with a divine lifestyle, since they alone were symbolically identified with the gods, as in Osiris and the pharaoh. Even Christianity which identified God with a commoner declined to capitalize on its social revolution, by reverting to the traditional Jewish expectation that the messiah would (eventually) be a conquering king on Judgment Day: Christians needed to include some such fantasy to rationalize their historical allegiance with European empires.

But from Hegel and Nietzsche onward, modern autocrats needn’t take such myths seriously. More specifically, they’ve replaced theistic justifications of social inequality with naturalistic ones. Hollywood and science fiction supply more of the fuel for our collective wishes, and what we most want is to be godlike. That’s what we’ve always wanted, and science and technology have the power to make it happen. Liberalism, though, is a hindrance since liberals want equality whereas gods are meaningless without their worshipful minions.

HEATHER: What are you blathering on about? Modern science and technology are liberal inventions. You need rational, skeptical cultures to educate future generations of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. You need the rule of law to enable the public to trust in secular institutions after the manifest obsolescence of theistic myths. You need free markets and respect for private property to incentivize inventers and innovators. If you’re against liberalism, your Trumpian dictatorships will be spawning grounds only for barbarians who would sooner live in the woods and wield clubs than pine for a sci-fi utopia. 

FRED: Yes, early-modern liberals were responsible for establishing the conditions of recent technoscientific progress. But so-called postmodern liberals have gone soft. Liberals succumb to their form of stagnation, to the trap of the welfare state and to the vacuous myths of the corporate monoculture that stifle creativity. Just look at what the internet’s become: big corporations gobble up cyberspace to spread fake news, porn, and other mindless entertainments, lobotomizing millennials instead of liberating them.

HEATHER: How is that the fault of liberalism? Liberals say we’re equal in our capacity for rational self-determination. You alt right radicals revel in social inequality. So you’re the ones who need mediocre masses addicted to Facebook and YouTube, since they’re the only ones who would fall for the laughable suggestion that a Donald Trump deserves to rule.  

FRED: No, theologians would justify inequality with myths of God’s grace or predestination. By contrast, secular admirers of autocrats understand that inequality is natural and thus an amoral fact in an indifferent universe. The problem isn’t that the internet encourages some of our worst instincts; after all, social hierarchies reassert themselves despite all the dams we erect to hold back the river flow. Communist societies backslide and become kleptocracies, since our nature remains animalistic and nature loves inequality. The problem is that neoliberals embrace the mediocrity while condemning the few who rise above it. Liberals love equality—and not just of opportunity but of societal outcomes. Social equality is their ultimate good, in which case they imagine herds of impoverished pseudopersons with no gods to inspire or to punish them.

HEATHER: I’m not here to defend liberalism. I agree that postmodern liberals have gone too far with their ideal of social equality, but that doesn’t mean I need to be carried away with alt right balderdash. Most of your autocratic brethren are troglodytes who aren’t interested in anything like a science-fictional paradise. They revere Trump not because they think billionaires will give us godlike powers in the form of handy pieces of hardware, but because they’re racist, sexist, xenophobic assholes and losers who guess that their best chance at vengeance against the liberal elites they’re jealous of is to watch the elites scream at President Trump, their Jungian shadow. They’d demonstrate more divinity by working harder in the global marketplace instead of whining that liberalism is unfair, that the liberal elites don’t deserve their postindustrial riches.

FRED: And I’m not here to defend Trump or his minions. I see Trumism as a sign on the road, as it were. The writing is on the wall; liberalism’s time of reckoning is at hand and the benefit of a return to pure conservatism in late-modernity, that is, to the worship of sociopathic autocrats after the unleashing of science and technology is that the rulers will be guided by secular ideals rather than theistic ones. Instead of telling religious lies to subjugate the herd, they’ll seek real knowledge and power to make themselves worthy of their godlike position in society. In short, they’ll become transhumanists and that could benefit our species via a trickle-down effect.

HEATHER: If Trump’s a sign on the road, he’s a big honking stop sign. Why on earth would you trust vain sociopaths to show an inspired aesthetic preference for science fiction—of all things? Trump can’t read and he already thinks he knows everything, because he’s naturally been spoiled by his wealth and fame. Far from listening to scientists, he’s more inclined to shut down their funding. Even Elon Musk who could indeed be a transhumanist is instead a show-off and a conman. Both he and Trump tell lies to form their cults of personality; it’s just that Musk cons liberal elites whereas Trump targets rural trolls.   

FRED: Trump’s far from a transhumanist, but his intentions aren’t as important as the wider consequences of his trashing of liberal institutions. He’s more like a Russian asset than an agent, because he’s not smart, informed, or conscientious enough to choose to follow one country’s interests or another’s. Likewise, even if he wouldn’t intentionally prefer transhumanism to Christianity, his actions speak louder than words. Calling out liberals for their failures and hypocrisy is enough. Humiliating neoliberals like Obama and Hillary Clinton is enough, because they deserve to have their legacies annihilated.

As Nietzsche saw, liberalism condemns us to nihilism, by leaving us with nothing to believe in after God’s death. Obama spoke of the audacity of hope. Hope in what? The change he’d bring about after the debacle of George W. Bush’s time in office? After defending his choice of neoliberal centrists rather than progressives to fill out his economics team, Obama said he’d be the change he spoke of on the campaign trail—as if the newness of his skin colour in the White House could make life better for anyone. Trump is at war with fake progressives and the deep-state bureaucrats. Whether he wins or loses, he’s tarnished liberalism. A liberal can no longer boast about the accomplishments of free trade and technocracy, since neoliberals presided over America’s plunge into what is by some measures Third World status.

HEATHER: So Trump is good for the world because he’s making life harder for liberals, and liberalism is lethal to cultural progress? What you’re missing is that autocrats like Trump would make life miserable for everyone, including themselves. Saddam Hussein surrounded himself with sycophants who kept unpleasant truths from him, for fear of his wrath. When the moment arrived for him to deploy his WMDs against the United States, he came up empty because his regime hadn’t renewed their stockpiles, contrary to what his underlings seem to have promised him. So he met with a gruesome end. Hitler demonized Jews and other “impure” races, the world rose up against that “great man,” and he was reduced to shooting himself in a bunker with the Allies at his doorstep.

Trump the insane-clown conman loves to bully all who disrespect him, who dare to observe that the emperor has no clothes. Again, the self-respecting masses rise up against the indignity of a would-be tyrant, and Mueller’s “deep state” will likely humiliate Trump, greatly diminishing his power if not removing him from office. Sociopaths sabotage their success because they’re mentally ill! Trump can’t conceive of Russia as a foe, because Russia came to Trump’s aid in business and in his presidential campaign, and Trump’s a solipsist, so he feels he’s the only person who matters. That myopia led him to embarrass himself on stage with Putin in Helsinki. Kings and emperors in the ancient world were likely just as foolish as Trump, Hussein, Hitler and the rest. It’s just that in the late-modern age, news travels fast and the world is a much smaller place. So we can see these autocrats for the moral and intellectual midgets they really are.

Yes, Nietzsche longed for great artists to save us from nihilism. But his philosophy posits the miracle of aesthetic resistance to our natural tendency to be corrupted by our success. The best art is done by young, starving artists before they may manage to become rich and famous whereupon they can get away with anything. The muse flees the artist as soon as her art metastasizes, her work is reduced to memes, and she becomes an institution. This is why Nietzsche wouldn’t have been impressed with Hitler, Fuhrer of Germany, let alone President Trump, Wacko Savior of America.

FRED: What, then, do you think can save us from soul-crushing neoliberalism?

HEATHER: That’s not for me to say.

FRED: Because it’s like I said: your endless skepticism deprives you of conviction. You are, then, precisely the sort of nihilist Nietzsche warned us about. And I’m saying transhumanism is a viable answer and that the deification of our species will likely proceed in fits and starts, requiring the social inequality that Trump and the alt right are normalizing.

HEATHER: I don’t need a grand ideology to avoid being a nihilist. I find meaning in the little things, like the folly of an alt right transhumanist who thinks Trump’s presidency bodes well for the future of humankind.

MODERATOR: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there, as the neoliberals on CNN like to say. I suppose only time and future historians will tell what Trump’s message on the wall says, as it were. Does it say, “You’re all doomed” or “Welcome to your golden toilet”? Or perhaps those messages are one and the same. Ah well, stay tuned for your daily fix of Trump infotainment.


  1. Nice. I can't talk politics on the level of Heather and Fred, but I remember using the "Take out the middleman" line back when Perot was running in 1992. Lack of understanding or lack of imagination kept me from seeing the direct foreign autocrat influence angle of things at the time.

    And that might have been, in part, because I was focusing on the sort of transnational corporate elites and neoliberalism in general as the cause of the problems. I was opposed to the trade deals because the far left like Chomsky and the labor movement had convinced me of it, and now I find myself trying to find my bearings as Trump manages to threaten those very trade deals and reinstitute the now archaic concept of tariffs while simultaneously opposing unions - traditionally the biggest opponents of the trade deals, though not the tariffs.

    And now the far left goes to great pains to tell people he's merely a symptom and not the problem, which might be true although, as Heather says, "If Trump’s a sign on the road, he’s a big honking stop sign."

    To me, the question is rather he is an aberration (although possibly indicative of overall trends) that will be corrected once his cult of personality moves on to the next guy, or whether he is causing an actual realignment in the parties akin to other major realignments, all before my time.

    I don't know. Maybe if we focus on Melania's jacket some more, these greater questions might be answered.

    1. It is indeed difficult to figure out people's true political allegiances, because we're often duped so we think we're the good guys, but in fact we're not. I follow Bill Maher's advice: "Be more cynical!" I start from the most cynical view of the political landscape and work outwards from there.

      Yeah, I remember the leftist view of Nafta, going back to Mulroney in Canada. His supporters said free trade would be good for consumers, because competition would lower prices across the border. What the economists left out of their pseudoscientific models is the biological component of capitalism: competition creates winners and losers, winners are naturally corrupted by the power that comes with their success, and so they minimize competition for themselves by forming monopolies or oligopolies or by capturing regulators with lobbyists and campaign contributions. So in the end, politics is war between social classes, akin to the struggle between alphas, betas, and omegas throughout the animal kingdom. At least, those primitive dynamics underlie all the economic and sociological complexities.

      I also recall the leftist criticism of "transnational corporations," of corporations which become more powerful than whole countries and that have no national obligations. As Thomas Frank points out, the blue collar Americans who now support Trump--because the Democrats under Obama and Hillary abandoned them--blame government more than those corporations for the loss of their jobs under globalization. They don't understand how the two work together against the interests of the average Westerner.

      But those average folks aren't innocent bystanders. We benefited from decades of our countries' exploitation of poorer countries, and now the same predatory forces are being directed against us. But the white male members of the middle class won't stand for it, because they feel entitled to a privileged position in society. Globalization can screw over South Americans and Africans, but not Anglo-Americans, because of the purity of white people's blood or something. So it's identity politics, which is to say racist scapegoating.

      I don't think Trump has any coherent ideology. He tears up trade deals but must be opposed to unions, because he has no idea what he's ever talking about. He has prejudices and impulsive outbursts, and petty, narcissistic grievances. He's opposed especially to anything Obama ever did, because Obama publicly roasted him. Trump doesn't want to help the country, because he's incapable of even thinking of how to help someone else. He wants only to sustain his cult of personality, so he needs to pretend to give the trolls and white male losers what they want. They want revenge against the liberal elites, of whom they're jealous, and they don't want unions because unions are for sissies. This is part of the American culture war, which is all propaganda and myth and crude mental projection.

      I think Trump is largely an aberration, because his character is so strange, but that means only that Western neofascism can get worse, as in more competent. The only want to stop it is for the liberals (Democrats, etc) to come clean about their role in globalization, elitism, anti-progressivism, etc, which is unlikely to happen until it's too late (remember that irony is a marker of profound truth).

      Obama recently spoke about how Trump's supporters have a right to be mad about the 2008 banking crisis, but has Obama ever really explained why he neglected to put any progressives on his economics team? Has he grappled with the distinction between neoliberalism and progressivism? He pretended to subscribe to the latter but was really beholden to the former, just as Trump pretends to be a populist but is really a malignant narcissist. Politics was theater under Obama and it's theater under Trump--but the Trump show is far more entertaining.

      Anyway, I'm not an expert on politics, but just a pessimistic observer.

  2. "...but has Obama ever really explained why he neglected to put any progressives on his economics team?"

    The answer to the query of whether Obama was/is a progressive is quite simple. No, he isn't, and he never was. His 2008 campaign was a brilliant piece of political theater and his campaign promises were nothing more than crowd-pleasing (and vote-getting) propaganda. This is the textbook neoliberal approach: campaign from the left, govern from the right (Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are past masters of the art of campaigning in this way, from whom Obama learned much). There was never any intention on Obama's part to implement his campaign promises (see, e.g., his promise of a public healthcare option, which was immediately dropped in favor of the right-wing Heritage Foundation's plan, i.e., "Obamacare") This much was obvious from the beginning, but only if you managed to look past his rhetoric. Indeed, Obama signaled his intention to govern from the right even before he took the oath of office, when he announced he was bringing Timothy Greithner, Rahm Emanuel, Chuck Hagel, and Hillary Clinton into his cabinet. Then, in the first few days of his presidency, Obama summoned the big bankers to a private meeting at the White House, where he flat-out told them that he was there to protect and help them (from page 234 of Ron Suskind’s 2011 book, Confidence Men):

    “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem,” he said. “And I want to help. But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices.” According to one of the participants, he then said, “I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you. But if I’m going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation.”

    As a result, not a single banker was ever prosecuted for the massive corruption that collapsed the economy. Obama, in this case, kept his promise to the bankers and to Wall Street to protect and help them. Obama fooled a lot of people, and he lied to get elected. But he never let down the one group that mattered most. Can you guess which group that was?

  3. The improved status of women and immigrants had been good to me personally. I married an educated, successful woman, which allowed me to maintain the upper middle class life I was raised with, despite barely graduating high school and never working that hard. Immigrants who are willing to work hard jobs for a low wage had also been beneficial to me. Maybe these guys just need to think outside the box.