The Decline Of Political Decency

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2016 will go down as one of the most vitriolic elections in American history. Those for whom the future constitutes an ideological comforter, who yearn for a ‘safe’ post-Trump politics after November 8, are in for the shock of their lives.

What is Donald Trump, anyway? Is he the shouty, inescapable orangutan, the demagogue, the larger-than-life property tycoon currently facing a blitzkrieg of ‘sexual misconduct’ accusations? We will likely see the back of that Trump within a week, although complacency cannot be afforded. Complacency is, after all, the ally of the Trump we shall concern ourselves with herein, second only to that other great enabler of Western neo-fascism, misconception.

Trump the man has dodged every scandal under the sun, all manner of putrid indictments, the sort of charges and ‘gaffes’ that would have made mincemeat of any other politician’s electoral prospects. With each successive revelation, liberals have foretold the collapse of his campaign; each time, they have ascribed his inevitable escapes to something unique to the man, to his ‘magnetism’, to some degree of intelligence or Barnumesque showmanship on his behalf. The dishonesty (and rank falsehood) of these commentaries should be apparent to all – Trump is no wizard, no Machiavellian genius, but a clown, an American Berlusconi.

The Republican nominee is sustained, emboldened, protected, by none other than ourselves – by his actual supporters, of course, but also by the intellectual void that is modern ‘progressivism’, those who confront Trump not as a mass-phenomenon, something with real, implicative, terrifying potential, but as a fluke, a temporary bump on the long road to enlightened, mannered, outwardly feminist harmony. Make no mistake, Trump is no accident; he is the face of Western modernity, the hideous beast lurking in plain sight behind a genteel, politically correct veil, behind the patronising smiles of the Clinton-supporting families ensconced in American suburbia.

‘Nuanced’ depictions of Trump’s minions have become an irritatingly ubiquitous fixture of this election, but perhaps there is a grain of truth to these analyses? For all the bluster, there is nothing particularly ‘extreme’ about Trump’s rhetoric, his filthy sermonising and wilful illiteracy. He has got this far, despite the media furore, not by expertly plumbing the American psyche, but by appealing to sentiments that exist as a natural consequence of the dry civility of Obama and Clinton – the dark underbelly of ‘nice’, ‘eloquent’ discourse. He fails only insofar as his zest and puerility alienates the meeker, more tactical elements of the Party of Family Values. The true danger of the Trump platform lies in its capacity for a realisation after Trump, by a political force more reserved and astute than him, more palatable to the ruling class.

For all the viciousness of 2016, it need be asked: where is the meat? This is a curiously contentless politics; loyalty to either side is not easily reducible to any grand policy disputes (at this stage, Trump’s musings upon a border wall have come to resemble more a crowd-pleasing expression of Hispanophobia than a serious proposal). The vociferousness arises, rather, from Clinton’s position as the vanguard of the beleaguered post-’68 order, the compromise the American establishment long ago drew up with its discontents. After the traumas of the civil rights movement and the revolt against Vietnam, the elites resolved to take on a perverse facade – whilst maintaining their suits, their aloof ‘statesmanship’ and, crucially, their leafy homes, they adopted the liberalism of the hippies, a ‘political decency’ best-described as euphemistic. The nadir of this regime came with the onset of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, when, as recently documented in Netflix’s 13th, Reagan strategists had a field day manufacturing racist dog-whistles amenable to the strait-laced national consciousness (Clinton herself once jumped on the bandwagon, warning of the “super-predators” tormenting the inner-cities).

When one deprives polite society of this veneer, the result is Trump. Why, then, against all odds, has he emerged now from the woodwork? One cannot understand Trump but as an extension of the anti-democratic character of contemporary governance – the superficiality of his ‘politics’ (and, in a less immediate sense, those of Clinton) is quite precisely the point. Power is today exercised in shadowy backrooms, where states might hammer out trade deals with all the discretion typically afforded by the corporate boardroom; the demands of the masses for transparency and accountability (and the core ethos underlying such agitation) stands in opposition to this reality, as illustrated in the recent derailing of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) by popular pressure in Europe.

Trump’s program (or, rather, his programmatic sterility) represents, in this regard, the end of politics, as such; he anticipates an imminent technocratic society in which government has come to function as the formal backyard of the corporation and the university, where public ‘participation’ is more akin to a reality T.V. show than an actual democratic process. He is the model leader of this future, a boorish, asinine, albeit largely powerless vulgarian with no political substance beyond sensationalist tirades and incoherent appeals to a lost ‘greatness’.

Though it may be fashionable to critique the hypocritical ‘respectability’ of the public figure (who can forget the decorous fiddling of Blair and Bush whilst Baghdad burned?), it is undeniably superior to the darkness promised by its opponents. As demonstrated, there is no inherent contradiction between Trump’s crassness and the global aspirations of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. In these dark times, woe betide the passive.

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Second-year History & Politics student. Social scientist, pop culture aficionado and (occasional) dabbler in journalism.

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