In October 2016, I came down with an acute case of Demi Lovato. That I was then yet to endure the young singer’s oeuvre was incidental. All I needed to know was that this former star of Barney & Friends had declared war with Taylor Swift. I had long thought of Swift as Lovato may have thought of Barney: a falsely optimistic dancing dinosaur who feeds on the bodies of the weak.
Honestly, though. What I craved was not the extinction of Swift, whose icy message of female “empowerment” will be devastated by history in any case. I just needed distraction from the coverage of the US election. If no one was going to examine the policy of either nominee, preferring instead to pathologize their character, I reasoned that I might as well enjoy a good feud from teen-land.
Before you get all shirty and claim that the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN etc. did all they could to meticulously weigh the qualities of Clinton and the terror of Trump, perhaps you might consider reviewing what these and other outlets actually provided. The traditional media class—and, at first, this even included Fox News—were unified in their disdain for Trump the individual, their relative approval of Clinton.
Certainly, assessment of individual character can play some part in political inquiry by press. That it came to be the entire story had what we might agree is a shocking consequence. Trump is now President. The absolute refusal of mainstream commentators to truly analyse him as more than a psychological patient was, I venture, a bad decision.
“If press had genuinely resolved to talk about Trump as a collection of flawed policies rather than one of personal dysfunction, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
In the opinion of press, Trump was a loony. In the opinion of voters in counties Trump had strategically visited, he made a little sense. To the jobless, he promised protection of jobs. To the parents of children whose most likely chance at a career was military, he promised both military spending and military isolationism, AKA a bigger pay-cheque without a bigger risk of death. His greatest swing in the election was, at 16 points, by low income earners, those people who generally vote for the Democratic nominee. And, of course, he was always going to screw those people, and lost no time in trading their health care entitlements for tax concessions to the rich.
But, why wouldn’t these voters, which included a male Hispanic swing, roll the dice? Especially when there were no significant proposals for job reform coming from the other side. There was but a handful of journalists in progressive press pointing out Clinton’s absolute failure to address the 51% of voters who survive on less than $30,000 pa. Current Democratic minority Senate leader Chuck Schumer was clear during the election that this didn’t matter. Poor people would vote Dem, because they always had. He said, “When middle class incomes decline, people tend to move in a more progressive direction.” I guess Chuck is the one guy who has never seen a documentary on Hitler.
If press had genuinely resolved to talk about Trump as a collection of flawed policies rather than one of personal dysfunction, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. If those voters, strategically forgotten by the DNC, had been addressed by press, perhaps the poorest Americans would still be able to see a doctor. But, the “debate” about the hegemon’s economic and military future, thereby ours, rarely exceeded pop psychology. “He’s a bad guy and we can’t have him close to the codes!” With everyone content to write their news about Trump and Clinton in the same way that they had for Swift and Lovato, hope for true critique was lost.
I had supposed that a few months of Trump might have corrected this error, that legitimate fear of policies would eclipse the personal disgust endemic to a liberal press that just find him icky and tasteless. Not so much. Just as Trump remains in campaign mode in many of his Strong Man presentations, commentators remain as appalled as they ever were by his gold elevator aesthetic. Way to uphold the deluded class antagonism, guys.
This past weekend, mainstream press has returned in full-force to pop psychology. This time, it is Trump’s purported failure to shake the hand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that is the cry of Team Swift. Although Trump has been previously candid in his admiration for Merkel, the critique of his meeting comes down to his simple fear of women.
“Trump tells lies about Mexicans to attain political advantage. Merkel does the same about Greeks.”
All of Merkel’s past has been forgotten, if it were ever known at all. Here, we have a leader who just a few years spoke of the German concept of “leitkultur”, or “leading culture”, to characterise what she saw as the problems with multiculturalism in her nation. She said that it had “failed utterly”. Here, we have a leader whose party the Christian Democratic Union has fuelled anti-immigration sentiment for decades. A leader who resorted just two years ago to racist cliché about lazy Greeks and industrious Germans—and before you go off about how Greeks really are lazy and retire early in a cloud of ouzo, I’d urge you to check your assumptions against data. And, maybe talk to your doctor about your problem with bigotry. And your economist about the problem with the austerity she helped impose on Greece, benefiting her own economy and dooming that “lazy” southern nation to nothing but debt.
It is true that Merkel recently permitted Syrian refugees to enter Germany, and, whatever her motivation, we can be glad she played a part in saving lives. Still, those motivations, which likely include the import of cheap labour in a nation with sub replacement fertility levels and moral bargaining power with the European troika, deserve some analysis beyond Angela Merkel Is A Strong and Powerful Lady.
“If we continue to permit ourselves to be amused by these teen feuds, we will never see the past that led us to the present.”
Trump tells lies about Mexicans to attain political advantage. Merkel does the same about Greeks. Clinton, of course, preferred to speak about corrupt Russians and the rest of us echo their racist political habit of talking bad character instead of bad policy. This prevents us from seeing the history, instead of the personalities, that have found us at a time that appears to be approaching some kind of hard limit.
History is a force that outweighs individual personalities. There are better and more fruitful ways to view Trump, or Merkel or Clinton, than from mere pop psychology. If you don’t believe me, look to the uncommonly good speech by Richard Di Natale last week in which he said that the past forty years of market-friendly economic policy gave rise to present politics. Neoliberalism, he said, “is an ideology that is now so thoroughly discredited, the impacts so widely despised, that the people of America were prepared to elect a dangerous, unstable, narcissist as their president to overturn it.”
If we continue to permit ourselves to be amused by these teen feuds, we will never see the past that led us to the present. And we can continue deriding gold elevator narcissists for their personal flaws, or elevating neoliberal Chancellors for their cruel economic policies, without ever once talking about politics.
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