[-empyre-] I understand Trump Supporters - to my own horror.

Brian Holmes bhcontinentaldrift at gmail.com
Sat Mar 11 06:12:35 AEDT 2017

This long biographical post is one of the most useful things I have read
this November. Thanks for the honesty.

The position of the middle-aged not-so-middle-class white guy is one that I
share. The possibilities for a motivational narrative decline because a;
the avant-garde is happening in different demographics; b; the revolution
has not kicked off after all (not on your side anyway); and c; the
nation-state that has been such a pain in the ass for your whole life is
now obviously in decline and you along with it.

Now the long-neglected area of mainstream politics raises its ugly head.
How does the couch potato find a side to be on?

Middle-aged not-so-middle-class white guys don't like to comment on the
economics of their own lives because there are so many other people whose
opportunities have always been worse for chrissakes. On the one hand this
reserve is tactful, and let's keep it up dudes. On the other hand it's kind
of a stumbling block on the way toward a viable position.

Social democracy works like this: you draw a line around a set of people,
who are the included, and you strive to create an enlightened substantial
democracy for those people. They become literate, numerate, have access to
the arts and to self-expression, get health-care benefits, unemployment
insurance and a retirement fund, and also get to take some responsibility
for the complexities of the world through the complexity of their job. This
allows them to accept a technocratic form of rule which by its nature
cannot be understood in every point at all times. Germany is still more or
less the image of this system today. However, there is just one problem
with it: you cannot open the borders to what an unfortunate French minister
once called "all the world's poverty," or the good ship welfare is likely
to sink (as it has done in France).

Neoliberalism works like this: you give in to the pressure of the
internally excluded and open up the economy, not only to all citizens, but
also to pretty much anyone in the world. If they have education, they come
in at the high end and end up making policy in their own interest; if they
have nothing, they come in at the low end and do the dishes. You encourage
intense competition at all levels of society while gradually eroding every
element of so-called privilege that was built up in the attempt to make an
economic democracy for the formerly included. You focus particularly on
transforming the educational system so that it will no longer produce
people who seek justice (or even just a better chair for their fat white
middle-class ass). You offer bank credit as a means of access to a
revocable prosperity. After about three decades of this treatment the
population really is much more manageable. The US during the liar-loan boom
of 2004-06 offers a high-resolution image of neoliberalism.  One of the big
advantages of this policy is that the problem of being responsible to
complexity just vanishes! Another advantage is that the most powerful
pressure group that could oppose it, namely the white male former majority,
and especially the educated sector of it, has developed the nagging belief
that it should not do anything, because other people deserve the limelight
and the possibilities.

Populism: well, now we know how it works. The frustrated anti-intellectual
middle-aged not-so-middle-class white guys take over identity politics for
themselves and before you know it, they are talking about immigrants and
religion and natural hierarchies and guns and police, along with some other
much more passionate things that are coming, who knows when, maybe in a
week or two. This system is designed to destroy even the memory of social
democracy through a permanent outburst of explosive violence, which is not
only directly physiological but also psychological, rhetorical,
spectacular, national, international, military and ecological. One of the
advantages of the this system is that you can simultaneously forget about
and prepare for the coming state of civil war as the system collapses
internally and its closed borders are overwhelmed by failed
state/climate-driven migration. Another advantage is that if it works, you
enter a tunnel in which everything becomes inexorable and no light
penetrates for decades if not eternity.

My position, which appears to be lacking the fiery radicalism of my
trend-setting youth (or wait, was that early middle age?), is that
intellectuals, artists, educated people and professionals of all stripes
should realize that we need an organized collective effort to face and
overcome the imminent breakdown of the developed capitalist societies,
maybe not in Asia, but definitely in the old core. To do this we would need
the institutional relays of a somewhat more selfless version of social
democracy than in the past. The vanguard prestige that formerly accrued to
the most spectacular break with convention might have to be shifted a
little towards a kind of loyal-oppositional social service model of which
neighborhood activism can provide such good examples. Art might explore,
say, a little less narcissistic sexuality and up-market electronic
alienation, and a little more the tragic beauty of survival and solidarity
in the face of violence and death, for which I guess we could invent some
new aesthetic forms. Philosophy could trade in its apocalyptic fascination
with savage anomalies, hyperobjects and total refusal, for the more
pragmatic question of how (or through what form of organization) you can
become responsible to the complexity of the world when you don't have the
means to do so. Social theory would of course have a tremendous and
long-overdue renaissance, but it would have to dump the Hegelian exaltation
of historical negativity and master-slave reversals, and find a way to
replace the dubious statistical positivism of the postwar years with some
kind of ecological calculus that actually helps solve problems rather than
creating more of them. Finally, political science would have to come up
with a new accounting logic to replace inclusion/exclusion, along with the
hard binary of open/closed border. All these and many more branches of
active thinking/doing would need to learn to admire each others' efforts
rather than spitting on them, as we fiery radicals of former times sadly
liked to do.

There are a lot of middle-aged not-so-middle-class white guys with time on
their hands, learning to be couch potatoes by watching Fox and Prison
Planet, or maybe even Democracy Now! when they can get it. What if these
folks were to do what middle-aged women on the left appear to be doing,
namely getting politicized and getting organized? Well, the old farts would
not be able to claim they were doing it for any kind of liberation, which
has been the high-value claim since 1968, so they would have to quietly
organize a new narrative and hope that in maybe a decade they could have
something to be proud of and trumpet about in their curmudgeonly fading
years. Hopefully this could be done using different keys, different
instruments and different orchestrations than the ones that are currently
on display.

Seriously, guys, gals, young, old, black, brown, white, lesbian, gay,
trans, and everyone, we have our backs against the wall right now. The
solution is not going to be the same for everyone. If we are just honest
about our situation, well, it's interesting but it leads either to a
butterfly-effect bubble of hopeful hopefulness, or to a conclusion already
reached by Occupy: "Shit is Fucked-Up and Bullshit." Aren't there some
better ways?

On Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 1:09 AM, <p at voyd.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I Understand Trump Supporters
> I wanted to give a personal account of my life under the effects of
> Neoliberal America. These are only (largely negative) moments that are a
> sharp edit referring to the effects that Robert Reich cites in Inequality
> for All.
> You know, I get it, Really. I'm from Akron-Canton, Ohio, and I get it -
> why Trump was elected.  (If you don't know where that is, it's the place
> where The Daily Show went to a Trump rally and a man said Hillary had AIDS
> because of Bill contracting it from Magic Johnson...)
> In 1985, I was a Unix Systems Field Engineer for Tandy Computers in Canton
> Ohio. In the late 70's my parents saw my love for my Atari 800, and they
> said I should go into Electrical Engineering (Instead of Computer Science
> like I should).  I had a few years in my backward home town, I was part of
> a Star Trek fan club with a lot of people who would become professional,
> but something happened.
> I noticed that I had not gotten a raise in 4 years, and our facility has
> being downsized. Efficiency needed to be raised to meet projections, and
> repair need to be regional. A few months later, the automated
> troubleshooting of motherboards and complexity of them turned me into a
> board-swapper and network engineer.  I saw the writing on the wall, and
> eventually went into sales, which lasted for a while until I met the woman
> who would be my wife for 20 years.
> (Retraining I)
> And being that she demanded that I be geographically independent, I quit
> and followed my dream of art and design - I started a small firm and
> freelanced around the country, first doing graphic design, then screen
> design. That was the 90's (Clinton) and they were pretty good.  NAFTA came
> about, but I never really felt it. We cried when the former Yugoslavia blew
> up, but things were fairly good.
> And then Y2K came, which outsourced a lot of computer work to India, and
> the Dot-Com crash from the tech sector. My business imploded, and I took
> the time to finally get some severe cataracts out - I was still hopeful,
> but my wife was having some issues in her professorship in the South from
> institutional pressures tied to a chronic illness, and i left to go to
> graduate school in 2004 (little did I know that I  would continue to leave
> in 2010; I honestly thought I was goign to come back and support her)
> (Retraining II)
> Grad school in Bowling Green Ohio was bucolic, we worked, set fire to the
> fraternity rock monthly and did all those art school things, graduated at
> the top of my class, and got a tenure track job in Chicago.  Things were
> OK, but I saw Detroit crumbling and the rank-and-file people in the rural
> areas were starting to hint at Appalachia at times.  Still, I was
> optimistic.
> Chicago was good, but the administration kept talking about the lowering
> of scholarships and the raising of tuition, and for a number of years, I
> had a decent salary, but it flattened out too.  And with my department's
> increasing emphasis on Jobs and Outcomes, a massive internal scandal gave
> the moment to go entirely professional, and artists or theorists were not
> welcome, which I see as an outcome of the de-humanitization of Higher Ed in
> the US.
> I divorced my wife because I felt the economy was never going to reunite
> us. My 90 -year old dad, who bemoaned the emergence of LGBT culture in my
> Unitarian church, died.  I took another position.
> I spent a couple years in Milwaukee under Scott Walker and saw the
> Walker/Koch engine attack the Wisconsin Proposition for higher education,
> and my initial offer coming to Milwaukee was *half* what I made in
> Chicago for nearly twice the work. The position I got was not even a
> professorship, but a lecturer position that had been created from a denial
> of tenure the year before. Ironic.  My place was a dump compared to
> Chicago, and I went bankrupt due to some expenses that the flattening of my
> wages had allowed to build up, and the absence of two incomes.  For two
> months, I ate rice one week a month and took a side gig woodworking
> chopsticks. My cat died. Milwaukee was abject. I decided to leave the US.
> (Retraining III)
> So, I took a one year position at the American University of Sharjah -
> wow. Had no idea what I was doing - the culture, going cold into a
> RISD-style environment as an artist teaching Interaction Design; I did OK.
> Culture shock, workload, Middle Eastern Students. Still the work came out
> all right, and -
> I spent the remaining summer in Canada with the sizeable net egg that I
> had and expanded my VR/AR skills to come back to Dubai the next year at
> Zayed.  but I saw a lot of things in Canada, the real emergence of BLM,
> postcolonial discourse (which was a shock, as discussion of gender politics
> in the UAE is, 'far more restrained'), the emergence of racial tensions in
> Milwaukee (not really emergence, but the unsheathing of hostility that I
> saw when going to the West Side).  I was also told by a friend of mine on
> search committees at OCAD that I had little or no chance of getting in
> because of age, race, gender, and orientation.
> Being that I am currently in the year at Zayed, I won't say much except
> the colleagues are good, pay is decent, the Emirati students deeply respect
> you as a professor, and research is encouraged. However, one evening when I
> was contributing to my friend Vikram Divecha's (this year in the
> Venice) portrait project, I found myself just rattling off the most
> colonial, racist, condescending Trump-like stuff during our session, and I
> realized that the American, middle aged, middle class white zeitgeist had
> set up shop, and I was appalled. It wasn’t the first time I had done
> something like that, and I won’t say when, or who; I’ll just state my
> regret. The election was one month off, and I had felt marginalized,
> diminished, afraid for my precarity, on, and on, and on.
> But then I realized like the United State becoming another country, I
> realized that as a middle-aged white man, my privilege had died, and I was
> just another person. The American, middle aged, middle class white
> zeitgeist had set up shop, and I hadn't really realized it.
> Then I cried. Not in any selfish way for myself, but for the situation of
> things.
> For the oppressed who have never gotten a good deal (relatively)  for
> hundreds of years, if any.
> For the ones here that have a warped sense of the American Dream here,
> only to work for $300/month.
> For the ones who are being vectorially exploited in Central Asia and
> Africa.
> For the ones I cannot talk about for any number of reasons.  Yet.
> For the Nigerian cab driver in Abu Dhabi for not understanding that just
> because Trump's rebellious, he isn't the best choice.
> For, honestly, decent Middle-Class and Working Class people who have been
> ground down in the USA from the Greatest Generation to create the Trump
> Nation.
> And only a little for myself for having allowed to be sucked into it for a
> while without realizing it.
> I get it, and having that Batailleian knowledge is useful, but not
> pleasant.
> I feel like knowing what I know has put a splinter in my soul the size of
> a nine inch nail.
> (Retraining IV)
> And I am starting a PhD soon.
> I feel as if I will never be able to live in the US comfortably anymore,
> nor ever return to my home town.
> In creating this soft civil war (and that is what it is right now), in
> which families are only hoping for the return of Jesus to reunite them, I
> have a deep pathos and melancholy for the American Dream, for what parts of
> it actually existed, and try to exist.  Burroughs’ Thanksgiving Prayer
> comes to mind.
> It is for this reason I try to project the world I want now, regardless of
> whether I live in it.  I have to live in a bubble of strength, kindness and
> egalitarianism for nothing else than my own well-being, in hopes that I
> might make a Butterfly effect.
> Trumpettes? I get you; you're wrong, but I get you.
> I agree with you totally here; as you know, I think; I'm from the northern
> reaches of Appalachia, with all its problems - Wilkes-Barre PA and actually
> a subset of that, Kingston across the river. And I've also tried to move to
> Canada - I've tried for years, my brother and sister live in Victoria and
> Toronto, but I haven't been successful for precisely the same reasons. And
> what you say about not being able to live in the US comfortably, again the
> same; we feel as if we're in a foreign country, with a proto-authoritarian
> for a lead, but not my leader, and so forth. I also get the Trumpettes
> (good word); I knew from the moment he came on the stage of the primaries,
> that he was going to win. And what I fear now the most is what will happen
> to the really poor, for whom, say, tax breaks for healthcare lead nowhere,
> for whom there is no hope! T. pays no attention at all to that class; there
> is nothing for them. I wish BLM was also Black Votes Matter; that might
> have made a difference.
> Much as I like, now, the camaraderie and actions on the left, I fear so
> much that they won't make any difference at all. And the problem,
> fundamental problem, is how quickly the U.S. changed - inconceivable! A few
> months ago we felt there was some sort of progress being made...
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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