The neofascist reaction, the force behind Trump, has come about because of the extreme disembeddedness of the economy from social relations. The neoliberal economy has become pure abstraction; as has the market, as has the state, there is no reality to any of these things the way we have classically understood them. Americans, like people everywhere rising up against neoliberal globalization (in Britain, for example, this takes the form of Brexit, or exit from the European Union), want a return of social relations, or embeddedness, to the economy.
The Trump alliance desires to remake the world in their own image, just as the class representing neoliberal globalization has insisted on doing so. The difference couldn’t be starker. Capitalism today is placeless, locationless, nameless, faceless, while Trump is talking about hauling corporations back to where they belong, in their home countries, fix them in place by means of rewards and retribution, like one handles a recalcitrant child.
Trump is a businessman, while Mitt Romney was a businessman too, yet I predict victory for the former while the latter obviously lost miserably. What is the difference? While Trump “builds” things (literal buildings), in places like Manhattan and Atlantic City, places one can recognize and identify with, and while Trump’s entire life has been orchestrated around building luxury and ostentatiousness, again things one can tangibly grasp and hold on to (the Trump steaks!), Romney is the personification of a placeless corporation, making his quarter billion dollars from consulting, i.e., representing economic abstraction at its purest, serving as a high priest of the transnational capitalist class.
No one can visualize the boardroom Romney sat in, as head of Bain Capital, but, via The Apprentice, everyone has seen, for more than a decade, what Trump’s boardroom looks like, and what it takes to be a “winner” in the real economy. What was that façade behind the collapse of fictitious corporations like Enron in the early 2000s? Trump supposedly pulled the veil off.
In the present election, Hillary Clinton represents precisely the same disembodiedness as Romney, for example because of her association with the Clinton Foundation. Where did the business of the state, while she was secretary of state, stop, and where did the business of global philanthropy (just another name for global business), begin, and who can possibly tell the difference? The maneuverings of the Clinton Foundation, in the popular imagination, are as arcane as the colossal daily transactions on the world’s financial exchanges.
Everything about Clinton—and this becomes all the more marked when she takes on the (false) mantle of speaking for the underclass, with whom she bears no mental or physical resemblance—reeks of the easy mobility of the global rentier class. Their efficacy cannot be accounted for, not through the kind of democratic process that is unfolding before our eyes as a remnant of the American founding imagination, her whole sphere of movement is pure abstraction.
In this election, abstraction will clearly lose, and corporeality, even if—or particularly if—gross and vulgar and rising from the repressed, will undoubtedly win. A business tycoon who vigorously inserted himself in the imaginations of the dispossessed as the foremost exponent of birtherism surely cannot be entirely beholden to the polite elites, can he? Trump is capital, but he is not capital, he is of us but also not of us in the way that the working class desires elevation from their rootedness, still strongly identified with place and time, not outside it. After all, he posed the elemental question, Where were you born?
Though he is in fact the libertine (certainly not Clinton, who is libertinism’s antithesis), he will be able to tar her with being permissive to an extreme degree—an “enabler,” as the current jargon has it, for her husband’s proclivities, for example. It has nothing to do with misogyny. It has everything to do with the kind of vocabulary that must substitute for people’s real emotions, their fears and desires, in the face of an abstract market that presumes to rule out everything but the “rational” utility-maximizing motive.
For the market to exist, as classical economics would have it, there must be free buyers and sellers, competitive prices, a marketplace that remains fixed and transparent, and none of these elements exist anymore in the neoliberal economy, which seeks to stamp out the last vestiges of resistance in the most forgotten parts of the world. In fact, the market has created—in the ghost towns of the American Midwest, for example—a kind of sub-Saharan desolation, in the heartland of the country, all the better to identify the completeness of its project in the “successful” coastal cities. Trump is a messenger from the most successful of these cities, and his very jet-setting presence, in the middle of empty landscapes, provides an imaginary access point.
Darkness in the human soul is not utility-maximizing, therefore someone has to stand in for the opposite of what the market establishes as the universal solvent, and that someone, in this election, happens to be Hillary Clinton; which makes her unelectable. She will not, in fact, be able to discover, as she hasn’t so far, anything like an authentic voice which can prove to the electorate that she is not that dark force the market cannot account for. But note the irony: by discrediting Clinton in this manner, the losers in the global economy are actually articulating yet another form for the decisive articulateness of the market after all!
The population across the board does not see the abstractions of the transnational capitalist class being able to solve a problem like ISIS, which represents a crisis of authority. Wasn’t al-Qaeda defeated? Didn’t we get Osama bin Laden’s head? Then what is this lingering distaste called ISIS? Forms of darkness are easily substitutable, thus Hillary (whose synecdoche is Benghazi, or secret emails) becomes unable to speak the truth, the more she tries.
But…I do not want to claim for a minute that Trump can represent anything other than the further strengthening of neoliberal capitalism, both domestically and globally. He can only represent a further intensification, as would be true of anyone else. The total globalization of the market—our greatest of myths today, the one all-powerful entity to which all, state, civil society, and individual, have completely bent—is unstoppable. The flat earth posited by Tom Friedman in the 1990s will end up erasing all local distinctiveness, the end goal of neoliberalism. While Trump represents the desire for national regeneration—as is true of any neofascist movement—this is not possible in the twenty-first century, because the state as we have known it has ended, as has the market in the conventional understanding.
In the end, Trump cannot take charge, because no one can take charge. Capital today serves nothing other than capital itself. In the current post-democratic, post-“capitalism” era, the myths of regeneration propounded by Trump serve as convenient fictions, as capital well knows, and is therefore little disturbed by.
Nonetheless, Trump has brought to the surface the leftover mobs of American society, the residual unemployable, the “losers” constituting perhaps a third of society, who were never acknowledged as such during the past many cycles of political ups and downs, but who are now forcing the successful two-thirds to face up to the fictions of the market.
When Trump’s masses see Clinton tacking to the middle—as she undoubtedly will, rather than go for the surefire path to victory by heading left, by picking Bernie Sanders for example—the more they will detest it, which will push her only further in their direction, not in the direction that can bring victory. Clinton, because of her disembodied identity in the placeless global economy, cannot make a movement toward the direction of reality, because the equations would falter, the math would be off, the logic would be unsustainable. And that is the contradiction that the country can easily see, that is the exposed front of the abstract market that will bring about its supposed reckoning in the form of Clinton’s defeat.
But the reckoning, again, will be pure fiction. Trump is not a fascist father figure, he is not the second coming of Mussolini, he is the new virtual figure who is as real as reality television, which is even more recessive and vanishing compared to Ronald Reagan’s Hollywood fictions. The field of action in which Trump specialized for a long time before the nation, as dress rehearsal for the current (and final) role, was one where, at least to outward appearances, the presence of surplus capital was acknowledged and taken for granted, and aspirants competed to know more about it and to desperately work on its behalf.
With the ascension of Trump, an entire country of apprentices wants to get a handle on surplus capital by bringing the state back in, but as I said before, this is impossible because the pre-neoliberal state is gone, it has been reduced to the market, it is the market. Again, capital serves only capital, though Trump’s followers wish to see him create a split whereby they can enter the picture, forcibly, though even they perhaps know that Trump, as president, cannot sue evanescent corporations, or other realities of the market, even if suing is a tendency that comes naturally to him.
To take the logic one step further, the myth of the market—or the way “government” is run today—cannot acknowledge one thing and one thing only: death. If you compete (whether in Trump’s boardroom or on the “level playing field” he wants to bring about in America by excluding illegal competitors, whether undocumented aliens or Chinese currency manipulators or unwanted Mexican goods), you win. (Of course, this only strengthens the myth of the market, but that is something that will be evident to the populace once Trump is in power; they want a localized, responsive, non-idle market, but the market is beyond the need to accommodate itself in those ways.)
But to get back to death, Trump’s campaign has been successful so far, and will surely be victorious in the end, because he is the only one who has brought death back into the discourse.
The only people identified with death today on the global scene—the only people not part of the market and not able to be part of it—are terrorists, undocumented immigrants, the homeless and the mentally ill, those who have no claims to success in the market. Trump’s people want to make sure—from the purest feeling of shame known to politics—that they are not of the unchosen ones, they want to enforce a radical separation between their kind of shame, which they think is unwarranted, by excluding illegal competition, by constructing literal walls to keep out the death-dealers, by overruling the transnational party elites who have sold them out.
Trump is vocally identifying the death aura, prodding the working class to confront the other, which is as alienated and excluded as itself, but which the working class likes to imagine is the irreconcilable other. By forcing this confrontation he has put himself in the winner’s seat.
Let us note the rise of suicide among white working-class men and women, of all ages. This—like the other deals in death that the market fails to name—is an assertion of independence from the market.
Let us note too the power of the transgender rights movement (after the relative normalization of the presence of AIDS, and also of same-sex marriage) to prompt ferocious emotions amongst the excluded; this movement has become a substitute for the power of death—sexual death—to terrify us. They would rather be terrified by something they can do something about, knowing that the market wants to assimilate this form of gender-bending, identity-shifting, unlocalizable personality triumph. Again, Trump is virtual but not virtual, he is of TV but not of TV, functioning more as an ambassador from TV than an actor or role-player in that world—which makes him uniquely equipped, in the eyes of his supporters, for taking on the kinds of death-dealers that they think mess up the market against their parochial interests.
Think again of Trump’s initiation of his campaign with the idea of the wall, and calling those who break through the wall rapists and murderers. And compare it to Clinton’s opening gambit of giving identifiable personalities to the clear winners in the transnational race to acquire and embody capital, paraded one after the other in her first campaign commercial. And then think of the culture warriors, both on the left and the right, as perceiving every threat as a personal attack on their very being, their very existence, no matter how trivial the offense (hence the revealing term “micro-aggressions), exactly as the Trump proletariat reacts to attacks on their identity, as they have been trained to respond after decades of rampant identity politics. Now consider, in the face of these three competing tendencies, the market’s pure victory; because all three games are being played out on its terms, it is the preordained winner. And yet, I would say, Trump must win, he has to win, to give the element he represents, of the three mentioned here, a degree of equality with the other two. The spectacle must be kept interesting after all.
What is common between the “multitudes” who show up for the Trump and Sanders rallies? Both constituencies are rebelling against the empire of capital, the empire of the market (whether the right calls it the New World Order or the left calls it free trade), and they show up naming empire as such. In this election campaign, whoever names the empire of the market wins (Trump, or Sanders had he been able to overcome the barriers erected by the Democratic party), and whoever hides its name (Clinton), loses. Are these rallies, Trump’s and Sanders’s, aesthetic spectacles, or are they radical politics? The market does not have an answer to this question, or rather it has already answered it to its own satisfaction.
Is Trump a racist? Does he represent racists? We have to take into account the fact that the recent resurgence of racism—in the form of overt police beatings, for example, and other things that we thought had been relegated to the past—is a symptom of the failure of the old state, it is simply an assertion on the part of the market that we cannot count on the “state” as such to resolve the fantasy of racism as the great equalizer. The market, I would dare to assert, is quite happy at the failure of the state to contend with racism. And to the extent that Trump fans the flames of racism, the market is happy with that too, it remains above the fray, so to speak, it remains the only untouched, unsullied, uncorrupted entity in the whole ongoing show.
I expect Trump to take a national lead shortly and never relinquish it until the end. It will be easy if he keeps the libertine and destructive aspects of himself in perfect balance, seesawing from one to the other, as he has so far, appealing to an elemental fear in the country, torn apart by the abstraction of the market, to which Clinton has not the faintest hope of responding. He only has to use one distinctively non-misogynist, concretely unifying, morose five-letter word in the debates: NAFTA. A pure market abstraction that has turned out to be not so much an abstraction.