The macabre spectacle of patriarchy and white power spooling out across the worlds screens from America in the past few weeks seems like a fast-forward distillation of American gender history: veering from glimpses of the frat boy sex romp of Porky’s to the financial violence of the Wolf of Wall Street, via Chappaquiddick and settling in the new misogynist orthodoxy of Trump’s pre-fascist circus of horrors.
Kavanaugh’s booze-obsessed mewling testimony seemed to flip the ‘normal’ framing of gender performance, while Ford was calm under intense pressure he was just losing his shit. As Dani Garvelli noted: “Kavanaugh was the one who became hysterical, but he doesn’t possess a uterus so let’s just call it a display of raw emotion.”
While we’ve become adjusted to the new normal of Trump’s spectacle – are there new elements emerging that are worth noticing, or is this just the crevices of social media that give light to the likes of Mark Harris, the North Carolina candidate who talks of women “rebelling against the Lord”:
This doesn’t seem like other political periods in recent history.
This is a combination of religious fervour, right-wing extremism and people suffering mental health issues. Barbara Ellen points to Kanye West’s recent shambolic wildly incoherent ‘interview’ with Donald Trump saying (“Kanye West needs care, not being put in front of the cameras”): “this wasn’t funny, it was disturbing. If someone was behaving this way in the street, most of us would probably edge away and feel awful for doing so. So why is it acceptable to treat West as some kind of rent-a-ramble dancing bear, someone it’s OK for liberals to laugh at?”
You can’t help watching that and feeling we have tipped over into a new psychosis in which Donald Trump appears as a bedrock of emotional and psychological stability in a media cesspool of celebrity endorsement and racial posturing. In the cycle of spin and evasion as legal and moral challenges fire at the US administration like shrapnel, celebrities and book endorsements are used and discarded on a daily or an hourly basis.
Here Sister Maryann explains why God is angry with America and why Trump is an ordained figure:
“This man does not need this job. He took this job because God provided the intellect he has to help our country.”
Catholic Trump supporters were among those out at the President’s latest rally in Iowa. pic.twitter.com/fOJTSYzJ35
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) October 12, 2018
Here a Republican politician running for office in Idaho – Bob Nonini – states that women who have an abortion should face the death penalty.
I don’t want to insult people with different religious views to my own, or to ridicule mental illness, but to say that we are in the grip of a different kind of politics that is the convergence of a series of collapses and failures that make any interaction with this level of “politics” virtually impossible.
From Mark Harris’s psycho-sexual Presbyterian rape fantasies, to the public mocking of Dr Ford by President Trump, to the wild celebrations that marked Kavanaugh’s appointment among some groups (‘On the far right, neo-Nazis, racists hail Brett Kavanaugh’s elevation to Supreme Court as open season on women, minority rights in America‘), it’s difficult to see this going well or being resolved.
As 4Chan lurkers offer to “SAVE” Taylor Swift, who’s descent from her status as Aryan Goddess to “Stupid B*tch” has upset them, it’s difficult to feel that the due process of law will be coming any time soon to the incumbent of the White House and his entourage, or that, if it did, this would be accepted by his movement.
But is this all exaggerated. Is itself just a spectacle?
There’s a growing feeling that America is coming apart at a deeper level than party or cultural divide.
Umair Haque asks: “What Happens When Democracy Never Outgrows Tribalism?”:
“There’s no more perfect symbol of American collapse than Brett Kavanaugh. It isn’t just that he’s a force of regress at a time when America desperately needs the opposite … It’s that he symbolizes, in many ways, the strange and terrible victory of the forces that have led America to a grim turning point where it is collapsing as a society — perhaps irreversibly.
Trump is the consummate outsider. But Kavanaugh is the insider — the prep school boy, the Ivy Leaguer, the DC partisan functionary. Now note the strange thing here. We might have expected all these things to have civilized him — but no such thing happened whatsoever. None of these institutions — the prep school, the university, the political party, government — socialized him to believe in the basic tenets of democracy in any way at all. Instead, they seem to have socialized Kavanaugh into being a predator, to have masked and hidden his abuse, and to have given the enraged, preening entitlement to it, the sense that because he is atop American hierarchy, he has a license to abuse, demean, harm, and violate. Do you think I exaggerate? Isn’t all that just what we saw on open display, flaunted? Isn’t that precisely the logic of his defenders?
To me, that’s a stunning set of failures: just the production of a Brett Kavanaugh and his defenders points to systemic, shattering institutional breakdowns. Of every kind imaginable, really. Of schools, universities, political parties, ideas, norms, values. These are civilizing mechanisms — or they should be — teaching, inculcating, cultivating what it is to be a decent, civilized person. Only in America, these civilizing mechanisms are not civilizing at all.”
Kanye’s meeting with Trump was surreal. But it was also sad. Here was two celebrity creations, two broken, stupid damaged and damaging men given power beyond their dreams. If Haque is right in casting Trump as the Outsider and Kavanaugh as the insider, then America is broken from the inside out. And as the litany of evangelising fundamentalists that have been a bedrock of the right for forty years or more appear emboldened by these events, where are the leaders of substance who can deal with any of this?