We are living in confusing times, or perhaps in times which are being deliberately twisted into confusion. If it is all getting too crazy and too painful, it is on us to make things right again.
We are in a time when things are so insane that there is a background refrain of “you can’t make this stuff up.” Unfortunately, at least two authors have. One is so well known that there are periods (like now) when his name-cum-description is frequently invoked: “Orwellian.” The other is Max Barry, who is the author of Jennifer Government – a world where you are born into a corporation or government, and assume your positions at the appropriate time. It is the ideal of the corporatist state on a global scale.1 For me, there is an eerie echo of it as I watch businessman Trump, with zero knowledge (or interest) in the functions nor purpose of government, ride roughshod over the Constitution as he reshapes it to his comfort level.
It is clear Trump feels he has completed a hostile takeover of an unruly adversary. It is also increasingly clear he feels that all those both inside government, as well as the country as a whole, owes him not just loyalty, but fealty. One should not question his actions or decisions much less openly challenge him, for he sees this as tantamount to treason – now in the legal sense as well as the emotional sense. All one needs to do is to look at two examples that seemingly happened within 24 hours of each other. First was the ‘dissent memo‘ regarding his Executive Order on banning refugees and immigrants, signed by a reported 1,000 diplomats from the State Department, and the other was the refusal of the Deputy Attorney General/Acting Attorney General to defend the same ban.
Sean Spicer’s, Trump’s Press Secretary, message for the dissenting diplomats, was:
“Either get with the program or they can go.”
“This is about the safety of America, and there’s a reason that a majority of Americans agree with the president,” Spicer said. “They should understand it’s his number one priority.” (Salon)
This is a complete violation of the State Department’s formal policy regarding dissent memos which is that there can be no retribution against State Department personnel who enter and sign a dissent memo. These memos go directly to the top and are required to be addressed. Personnel must sign their name. Therefore, threatening these personnel is in clear violation of formal guarantees. However, it also speaks directly to the nature of leadership Trump provides. Neither he, nor his staff, concern themselves with the rules and policies, or law for that matter. The initial response is not to consider the issues being raised, nor why highly experienced personnel would object. The response is fast, vindictive, coercive and personal. There is no separation between policy and person, for Trump sees his policies and decisions as direct extensions of himself. Therefore any disagreement or resistance is a personal affront to him – the supreme ruler.
In the case of the Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, statement that she (and the Department of Justice) would not support Trump’s ban on immigration until she was convinced that it was legal, she was fired outright, and immediately. Then she was publicly attacked by Sean Spicer:
Two minutes later, the White House officials lashed out at Ms. Yates in a statement issued by Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.
“Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” the statement said. (NY Times)
This was then followed by the inevitable twitter attack by Trump himself. Apparently attacks by flunkies being inadequate to quench his ire:
The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons. They have nothing going but to obstruct. Now have an Obama A.G.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2017
Trump takes it all personally because there is no separation between him and anything he sees as “his”. For some time, Trump has been characterized as ‘thin skinned.” I heard someone say, ‘he is not thin skinned, he is no skinned.’ This is a much better characterization. Like an infant, Trump sees no separation between himself and the world, or at least the world he embraces. He believes that he controls everything with this world, and he regularly rearranges reality to fit his needs of the moment. This is what many are referring to as “Trumpland.”
Trump is not a particularly successful businessman. He was not the head of a corporation. Instead, he was in charge of a FAMILY business – making him not just the CEO/president of Trump Industries and its subsidiaries, but the Patriarch of the family. Therefore, there is a crossover between his business and his family. Those working for him are little more than serfs and owe him their lives – in his worldview.
This is a man who by nature, as well as by his insulation within the economic elite, is a wrecking ball. His orders are law and he crashes through his life. He pays people to clean up his messes, and if they are not sycophants they do not last long in his “organization,” they re-spin disaster in the most positive light. Now his sphere of influence is the United States and all of its governmental resources (every last frightening component thereof). His minions surround him and if they don’t maintain the boundaries of his fantasy land, they are either out, under personal attack, or both.
Enter ‘Post-Truth” or the Infrastructure of Trumpland
Now that we are ‘officially’ living in the world of “post-truth2,” we need to decide if we will let that stand, or if it does, how it will shape and populate our future. Is there a difference really between post-truth and un-truth? The reality is that emotion has always moved people faster than facts – unless those facts themselves elicit strong emotion. The question is how and why truth came to such an eroded state of affairs.
I believe that our arrival at this point is the result of an assault on the truth. It is the consequence of real actions by real people and the callous introduction of specific memes into the field of public consumption and discourse. There has been an outright war on facts and on the producers and finders of fact; namely on science and on education, on scientists and the educated, and on the institutions that produce and support both. I believe there has been a conspiracy to steal fact and truth to meet the unbridled avarice of the power elite (and a rapidly rising Christian Dominionist element – Pence, DeVos, and Erik Prince in the Trump inner circle) .
Some would argue that this is the path and reality of capitalism, but I think our current situation is more complex than this. It is a campaign that has been successful in some nations more than others and the United States most of all. This reflects a cultural interface, or a certain weakness in the American psycho-socio mindspace that was either accidentally or deliberately discovered and exploited. Specifically, certain industries found that their processes or products were dangerous to earth or its inhabitants, and if that were known they would be stopped. Therefore, more than the suppression of the truth, or even outright lies became necessary. In time the danger became so dire, or capitalist expediency so necessary, it brought brought them to the point that it was necessary to put the fact creators on the chopping block. This also required reaching out to the rule makers to destroy the institution that produced fact-finders – education. They have become so successful in this hideous campaign that the United States can no longer produce the workforce required for business and industry. Therefore, business must now import high skilled labor from elsewhere.
While I have spoken in generalities above, if would point to specific industries as the primary culprits in this conspiracy that has robbed the nation of both its curiosity and of its rigor of intellect. These industries are the chemical industry, the tobacco industry, and the petroleum industry. The chemical industry covered up the harm caused to workers and consumers for decades, and largely escaped wide public scrutiny until Bill Moyers documentary, Trade Secrets. Likewise the tobacco industry denied the findings of independent scientists and doctors for years, producing their own “counter-research” to stand against the truth. Finally, the petroleum industry has lied and paid pet researchers in an array of fields to cover up a number of issues – from toxic waste to peak resources, to global warming. All of this has well conditioned the American people to almost literally lose history in the dust in the rear view mirror. However, there is a desperate price to pay for all the deception and misdirection, in that the heart of a nation is equally erasable. One could even argue that it was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the revolt of the scientists who created ‘the bomb’ which then required essentially the reprogramming of an entire nation into believing the unquestionable necessity of totally blowing away two highly populated cities. I strongly recommend reading Henry A. Giroux’s essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals in the Shadow of the Atomic Plague…” in his book Dangerous Thinking in the Age of Authoritarianism.
What was learned was that an uncritical public, and particularly a public lacking the skills to think critically, was much easier to manipulate along an array of life critical issues – be that as citizens, consumers, community, or even individual identity. “It’s all a matter of opinion” has become a mantra. We have arrived at the point where the person who fills the presidency as of 12:01 on January 20th, 2017, is either a compulsive, pathological liar, or simply lives in a stream of consciousness world where truth and reality are as pliable as shape memory polymers.
The problem is that sooner or later reality does come home to roost. People either come to realize that the world is falling around them, or they go down in the flames of ignorance, desperately clasping lies to their breasts even in the face of a totally contracting reality.
However, in the American socio-scape, the recrafting of history and reality precedes the development of industry. It essentially goes back to the remaking of the early history of the United States when it became, shall we say, unseemly, to bloodily and gleefully celebrate the brutal decimation of the indigenous peoples, and the capture and punishment of slaves seeking freedom. So multiple times over our history, literally, the books have been rewritten, and education tasked with creating a new nation to inspire the patriotism of children and of adult immigrants seeking citizenship. The rest follow, and stories, songs, and repetition takes care of most issues. If there are problems and people raise the specter of truth, they are accused of rewriting history (in select circles ‘revisionist’ history). Since authority is laying the claim, it is difficult for truth tellers to gain traction.
We have arrived at a point where failure of social institutions has become not a self-fulfilling prophecy, rather the hollowing of those institutions has weakened them beyond the point they can continue to stand. As they fail, those who have crafted this destruction point and say “this proves we were right all along.” There is a negative immediacy that brings a growing since of dread to most people’s daily lives.
Welcome to the dystopian present.
This issue of negative immediacy is a sad truth when trying to get people to realize the critical nature of the problems facing us – from infrastructure failure, to resource depletion, to global warming, and on. All these things are f a c t – not simply “a matter of opinion.”
Whether the people, or politicians, want to deal with it or not, there are hard core realities that don’t change regardless of how you want to paint it. For example, there are capitalists who say that global warming will be great for commerce because it opens a sea lane over the (north) pole, and this would radically shorten transport times. The reality is “in what economy?” The same warming that removes the (inconvenient) polar ice also dramatically raises the sea level, thereby inundating many of the major cities and ports around the world.
We can allow ourselves to be dazzled or distracted. We can fight to live inside of a dreamscape. but every dreamscape is a redrawing of an actual lifescape. When we are living with someone like Trump who has spent his life free floating in a deluded reality, but whose reach now embraces the planet, it is time and beyond that we must wake up, and take action to save ourselves and our planet.
When it comes to lasting analogies of dystopian futures, we may find that it beyond Orwellian that a Max ‘Barryian’ present has dropped like a rock on the White House steps.
1 Less known than “Orwellian” is a newer author whose vision eerily predicts the current trends. That author is Max Barry, and his book “Jennifer Government.” This is a book that is set in the not so distant future where corporations rule the world. Everyone is linked into the world via corporations. So you have folks like Max IBM and Susan Toyota (made up and not actual characters). A government still exists to perform various mundane tasks. People are born into the corporation and live within their functions (jobs) of the corporation. However, as today, corporations do not necessarily play well together and the competition for dominance can be deadly.
2 Post-truth – “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionary).
“Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance.” (Wikipedia)