Dear, er, “America”:
Just a note home from abroad (Bangkok, to be precise), at a distance and outside the full noise loop of the Trumposphere. A few observations, which may be of use to calm “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” as its mistakenly called. Also, a request.
Watching the Trump moves culminating with Comey’s firing from abroad, then in a special counsel, has, for a steadfast American like myself, been an interesting spectacle. I venture some observations from afar, as least when I stop wincing. These may be particularly apt for those who feel a special prosecutor puts some heft back to democratic institutions, and so on. The staged detective story that is likely to absorb you—“us”?—will continue to mask something else that is in play, and which cannot be rebottled, even when Trump departs the scene.
What I would remind my confreres caught in the bubble or bubble gum of the Trump effect is that: 1) from a showman and charlatan, one should be on alert when “climate change” is not simply resisted but erased by fiat, declared non-existent, all reference to it deleted (with websites), and 2) this roughly coincides, the somber conclude, with the guarantee of tipping points having passed. The unfolding chess pieces of the gameboard will now accelerate through feedback loops each decade up to that curious cut-off point in all prognostics, fictitious, at the end of the century, when all projections go blank (as in the “Paris accords” and generally). Rather than representing the denialist corporate aims of fossil-fuel industries—that seem aghast, in fact, at Trump’s blanket literalism and occlusion of “facts”—Trump is the purest expression of climate panic to date.
Preliminary note: I appreciate Trump as an American literary phenomenon of the hyper-media era, and he deserves some of the recognition he craves. But as he plays out the mock-up role of “President” (“do you believe it?”), he’s fumbled the role entirely, suspiciously, and well beyond that of a vaudeville revolutionary. What is numbing from abroad, though, is the joke that no one will name the obvious, whether they care or not. The script that is now clear, what everyone takes as a given but circles around, has no mysteries to it. You have never had any set of crimes as transparent, and Trump anticipated that in his wholesale attack on that “enemy of the people,” the carping “media.” One can find the liberalist culture and certainly Hillary Clinton as exhausted and hollowed out and still grasp the facts as apparent. And Trump has always played against the politesse that governed public exchange, rules of any sort, relying on the quick slash and roiling distractions that Twitter and so on afford.
Give Trump blanket exemption from prosecution, together with his mob of grotesque cronies sent out to brain-explode CNN hosts, in exchange for just getting the story clear to everyone? He’s immunized anyway. No, that wouldn’t do it, since one is now gliding along a ribbon that can be refolded endlessly until discarded. From abroad (let me maintain the shared voice of concern, for the moment), what pains most is not the wink and the nod, as the brand “America” is defaced and its institutions dismissed. Trump will grant amnesty to the likes of Flynn or Manafort when push comes to shove, and probably add by then Pence—since the entire inner circle, scraping through the unlikely campaign fisticuffs, was clearly in on all the schemes and traffic, whether Russky or the amusing underworld operatives like Roger Stone. So, what is the secret or crime that everyone knows, and that the Republicans have decided to protect and keep their funding and power until the wheels come off, gambling too that if not, they emerge on the right side of an authoritarian mutation for the rest of the century (we’re not really talking cycles here)? Spoiler alert: it is not what you think.
The thing is, I am not referring to these things nor following non-secrets, though these should simply be on the table for all. It would be a great relief for innumerable brains and something like a cosmic aspirin, if we could all just begin anew there for the moment. I am not, that is, alluding to what is almost almost almost said in certain quarters if by playing at indirection.
- Yes, of course: Trump knew of, publicly encouraged, and gestured at quid pro quo to Putin for hacking the Dems and the election: all of this is in the public domain—and distracting;
- Yes, of course: All of the scheming inner circle, probably down to hangers-on like Trump’s wizened iteration of the role of Sinatra’s rat pack’s Angie Dickenson moll fixture, Kellyanne Conway. Of course, Trump and Pence knew of Flynn’s treasonous conflicts and didn’t care, since they were sympatico with the Russian hand shake, as Trump repeatedly and quite openly to this moment displays;
- Yes, Pence also is entirely in on it and aware of it, at whatever point, hence the excuse of Flynn lying to Pence was bogus (he was not lied to): that is Pence’s role, and it is also Trump’s hold over Pence against a threat to toss him over;
- Yes, of course: Trump would attack and bring down any Republican he could if a move to impeach him crystallized—as rumored from the first—and has McConnell’s wife, Elain Chao, hostage in his cabinet to hold onto McConnell, who is entirely in on it, if clean otherwise;
- Yes, of course: one reason no Republican turns against Trump, who broadcasts his own crimes to negate and perma-ambiguate them (make mere rational heads explode), is that there will be no Pence to replace him, and the Republican heads will be shredded, he could care less;
- So, yes: pointing out to Republicans they will be tarnished and disempowered by covering up Trump’s cover-up in the coming elections is pointless, since Trump will take them down faster if the come out for democratic institutions, law, or the old version of “America” by going, say, to a special prosecutor;
- So, yes: it is time for everyone to just admit and get it, without the silliness: Russia successfully hacked the American election with Trump’s knowledge and promise of reward (he never expected it to work): that is, but of course, overt “collusion.” And Trump will do to the U.S. as much as possible what Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Sisi, et. al., have done to convert the nominal structures of “liberal” democracies into dictatorships; really, people, get over it, the American template has been “raped” (by Putin), successfully planting traitors in power, and with sufficient Trumpian panache to wreck “liberal democracy” at its core in the name of vertical power and Trump’s unique practice of dementia by semioclasm—Trump told you “truth” is over, he’s been pretty up-front—and, to him, at this point, leaving Comey or his investigations intact would have made him look like a wimp before his personal peers;
This sort of banal stuff should be a given by now so let’s move on. Your democracy has been “hacked,” is rolling over in more than just form, and you are not getting “it” back. Of course, “hacked” now includes the psycho-technical domains of targeted bots, digital tribal spells, weaponized nescience (“fake news”). It includes the cognitive settings installed by media repetitions and memology – a cognitive coup that Putin’s mafia oligarchism is but one vector of – anticipating the neo-feudal and vertical regimes that the century of climate chaos promises. What I would contest, in the above list, however, is that any of this is as personal as it seems: there is no “Trump” to analyze or, strictly speaking, indict. He is an agent called up from the bowels of America’s dysfunction and partitioned universes, he is less the fat Liberace he at first appeared as than a sort of inverse Hamlet faced with an invariably “rotten” state he marketed himself as the cure or pharmakon for. He functions, as some have troped, as a wayward algorithm, a rhetorically coreless singularity or A.I. effect.
No, missed again. The real ‘secret’ that I think should be put on the table is the one that contextualizes this and takes us away from the glitz and distraction of being Twitter-dopes. And it has to do with climate change—the permanently elusive “secret” defining the calculations of life forms on Earth, the ultimate decider, precisely at the moment when the irreversible acceleration is ceded, escape plans made, mega-resources hoarded by our fabled “.0001 %”, Mars colonization all the rage. Trump’s hilarious dismissal of climate change and his blanket sabotage of all environmental regulation, E.P.A. missions, et al., seems hyper-scandalous as the “Paris accords” fritters about in aspirational illusions, time-lines and commitments that nowhere add up as other than stretching things out. Like all things Trump, it is a distraction.
On the contrary, Trump is a pure expression of the era of climate panic now dawning. That Trump himself is confused with the guarantee of hitting all tipping points, as has been duly lamented, whereas he might as easily be read making entirely clear that they already have—and that the next phase of transformation is well under way once that is given. It has been pointed out that Trump has reversed and betrayed his supposed white undereducated rural enraged disempowered and opiated base by stripping them of the health care promised in order to top off billionaire backers—largely to their glee, apparently, as long as the contract to be entertained with World Wrestling techniques and showmanship is maintained. What is less obvious is that the election was not between elitist and populist, but a passive and bloated elite in power and an alt-elite. That pirate, rogue elite that saw no reason to accede control of global finance to that crowd of Clintons, Bushes, and IMFs just as tipping points pass and the “.0001 %” need separate out and plot their own escape. You witnessed a hostile takeover among institutional oligarchy and the rogue, pirate, grab-it-all variety, now trending globally.
Trump exposes one mode in which democracies can only roll over in the era of mass extinction events and resource wars unfolding between self-designated survivor castes and disposables. That Trump’s base is being lined up for retirement and transitional FEMA camps as the coal jobs do not return is no different than what his business partners and sucker clients encountered—Trump’s predatory algorithms seem to wend toward his clients as much as his endlessly generated enemies and their pre-emptive immunization. He punishes them for being suckered (who has tasted Trump steaks?). It is not for nothing that all the background patter of getting off the planet and colonizing a hell-planet like Mars is accelerating, even gleeful, goosed by Stephen Hawkings’ latest advice to do it in a century or don’t bother, since by then you’re toast. No, “America,” you’re missing the point. This corporate coup and shift to dictatorship is Trump’s channeling of what is beyond tribal rages and resentment, legit or endemic. The secret sauce here is that Trump—the blanket denier and banisher of all things climate change, deleting websites, defunding agencies, forbidding mention—essentially is channeling a more nameless and bottomless atavism: climate panic.
Let me explain.
Trump’s numerous crimes are to him innocence, since to the sheerly criminal there is no crime, legal structures being the defenses of the weak (“losers”)—but analysis is a trap here. No narrative encompasses what is underway, since that is not just a mega-consolidation of a “.0001 %” that brilliantly engineered a massive and definitive digital wealth transfer using the 2008 “financial crisis” as its front—already, clearly, while the same caste streamed climate denialism or occlusion to the tele-masses. All Trump’s allusions to his “genes” as the defining trait of his power in life, hilariously parroted by his flacks on TV post-election to preen him, have a subtext a bit different than the classic 20th century “fascist” eugenicist playbook—an aborted dry-run. The planet would not accept one or two tribes grabbing that prize, but if it were democratized or globalized by digital wealth, open to participation, and before the Pandora’s box of goodies moving passed “tipping points” confers on the remainder of the century, different story. There will not be room for everyone on the Mars colony, nor benefited by the gene-editing techniques or A.I. interfaces, disease purging and hybrid organs on the horizon (what, not in your new health insurance pack?). Trump is the nescient stalking horse and architect of a species split that is underway and will be engineered with lots of grotesque Ayn Randian misquotes and new narratives of sacrifice on behalf of species survival. The safe zones will consolidate as the century proceeds, the dominants secured in resource control, the expanding peripheries cut off. The sub-text of Syria or today’s climate refugees is walls drawn, triage inevitable, state murder of citizenry rationalized globally. Compared to this, what does a so-called constitution written by wigged alcoholics mean—to which, by the by, Trump did not swear allegiance in his inauguration, uniquely, substituting for the traditional vows to protect the Constitution reference instead to “the people.” Das Volk.
There has been a coup of what Buckminster Fuller called “spaceship earth,” a trope the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk is fond of. And with it is all the apocalyptic rhetoric legitimizing coups that Breitbart and Bannon can fabricate. Trump’s genius—not intellect, he is manifestly stupid, but his genius—has been to redirect what is essentially climate panic into the scapegoating mechanisms of enemy others, and then redirecting it again to “America” as constituted, where the constitution produced the dysfunctional thieving elites that he, at least, wants to manage and profit from directly. On its surface, Trump’s garish climate chaos denial is parallel to the vaporization of “facts,” only in its structure it is psychotic. Or it would be, if Trump’s behavior did not manifest another logic altogether which no left-right paradigm can track, and no reference to laws and customs matters before. Trump could be said, like all else, to indulge in a hyperbolic piece of theatre with the blanket climate change denialism practiced—across the boards, declaring it simply non-existent or “fake news.” One might also read this as the vulgar pragmatist’s canny response to tipping points already having passed, climate regulations perceived as a game of mirrors designed, at best, to buy time en route to inevitable depopulations, engineered species splits, ex-terra designs, an escape route for a refined form of the “species” able to outlast the old, messy soup of DNA and soon unneeded labor that will have, in retrospect, or for a while, cast early 21st century life as that of an earlier epoch, soon just recollected, which put the totality on an ecocidal course and needed to be corrected. Hilariously, Trump is more like the John Huston oligarch in Polanski’s Chinatown who, when asked why he scams, robs and murders to obtain the valley lands and water rights when he has, already, untold wealth, answers: it’s about the “future.” In this case, the Alt-“Future.”
Trump is perhaps the sheerest and most breathtakingly transparent testimony to the irreversible advance of ecocidal accelerations. The “globalists” seeking some co-ordinated plan that takes all into account miss the point again—it cannot be for “all,” there will not be resources despite all technological nano-craft and cricket-butter sandwiches. With the species split comes new obligations to enhance the new tribe and reduced if any rules for maintaining a retired and wasteful old version of the species. To call Trump a populist is, again, hilarious in this context.
So, “America,” I really don’t want to watch you go down in a cascade of dishonor and mumbo jumbo, or even heroic news reporting that never ends or gets to the final Russian doll within the doll—which is not where you are looking. The means of securing that recognition are vaporized or captured. While you were tsk-tsking about Erdogan’s purge of all institutions, Trump was taking notes. As a good homeboy on assignment abroad at the moment, a red-blooded Yankee, better gened than Bannon on my mom’s side, and Russian Jew like Kushner on my dad’s—indeed, claiming on mom’s side D. A. R. cred, and a genealogy traversing in large or small order, the likes of Henry Clay, Daniel Boone, William Tecumpseh Sherman and even the guy who kick-started the petrol-era, Drake—well, I have a request. All I ask is to stop pretending no-one gets what is going on, and why the reactivist theatre plays into it. For the prosecutor, it is always follow the money (assuming it traceable). But for the diagnostician of what the “deconstruction of the administrative state” (Bannon) means or implies for the arc of civilizations and corporatocracies in an era of extinction events, it is always a question, today, of following the climate change logics. What alone might be added, however, is that the entire Sherlock Holmes ritual with the special counsel, which will absorb media attention with its narrative disclosures, will not amount to a “restoration” of resilient democratic institutions and so on—which will again be a distraction. Were “Trump” to exit the stage, which is entirely unlikely, it would not change a thing. The already rotted fabric of the constitutional fiction has been shredded now, making any restoration an anxious, vulnerable simulacrum.
Tom Cohen is professor of literature and media studies at the University at Albany, S.U.N.Y, and co-editor of the Critical Climate Change series at Open Humanities Press. His last book, co-authored with Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller, was Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (2016).