MAGA 2024, more Tribe than Cult
A snarling, incoherent, possibly syphilis-infested Donald Trump is surrounded by newly-found sycophants, hot-off their failed campaigns to oppose him – but here’s Robert Reich (author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few) repeating all of the complacency and ignorance that led to Trump’s first election, he writes: “… no one should confuse Trump’s performance in the Republican primaries for success in the presidential election. When Americans actually focus on the presidential election and the stark reality of choosing between Biden and Trump, I expect they will once again choose Biden.”
“Even if Trump is not yet criminally convicted, I doubt that a majority of Americans will want for their president a man who has 91 criminal charges against him, who has been impeached twice, who has orchestrated an attempted coup, who has profited financially while president, who has stolen top-secret documents and who has been judged to be a rapist.”
Except he’s wrong he’s dangerously wrong, and his wrongness is based on two things: a set of smug assumptions about the strength of American culture and politics, its mores and values being sacrosanct; and the level of psychosis pumping through the wider political culture.
Apart from underestimating the contempt with which Joe Biden is held (as polling clearly shows) figures like Reich also don’t seem to have a grasp on the seismic shifts that have happened in America under the MAGA fever dream. Not only does nobody care about Trump’s indictments, his long list of felony charges or his sexual assaults, the Republican party has a majority of members who believe Trump won the last election and his supporters have used his court appearances as fundraising events.
Not only is this crazy – and further degrees of craziness than before – there is a sort of performative cruelty to the whole phenomenon that Reich and others are ignoring; as Jill Filipovic writes (Donald Trump and the Art of Cruelty):
“In his essay “The Cruelty is the Point”, Adam Serwer recounted a trip to the Museum of African-American History in Washington DC, where he looked at photos of lynchings, and particularly at the faces of the white men in the crowd, smiling at their grotesque crimes. “Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy,” Serwer wrote. “And it made them feel closer to one another.” This is perhaps Trump’s highest skill: he draws sharp lines around “us” and an abhorrent, dangerous and vermin-like other, and then brings the in-group into his cruelty with him. It’s not Trump targeting vulnerable groups; it’s Trump pulling us together to defend the collective us, protect the tribe.”
If Trump is the festering manifestation of America’s deeper sickness, you can chart his descent by some of his own crowd’s performances. Back in his first campaign for high office the Q Anon references were a fringe, an in-joke, an emerging comedy meme, now they are front and centre as he appears in a dimly-lit room with background music to utter strange incomprehensible rambling sentences:
“Where we go one we go all!!” Trump supporter shouts Q Anon slogan as crowd cheers on Donald Trump, “Free the J6ers! FREE THE J6ERS!” a woman shouted, Trump responded – “I will”, before he began a speech to meditation music. Lancing New Hampshire #TODAY pic.twitter.com/CRCelRnrT0
— Oliya Scootercaster 🛴 (@ScooterCasterNY) January 23, 2024
The descent is circular and feeds off itself. The more the MAGA cult digests its host (a process almost complete) the more the wider culture is infected with its weird narratives and affectations. This is turn feeds the atmosphere of alienation and dark absurdism that courses around social media channels. The Republicans, like the Conservatives used to be known as ‘the party of law and order’, even if from Nixon on this was always a bit of a hoax. But now both parties are the insurgents, these are the Revolutionary Conservatives.
Reich says: “When Americans actually focus on the presidential election and the stark reality of choosing between Biden and Trump, I expect they will once again choose Biden.” I don’t. Not because rationally Biden may be by a country mile the better choice to make but that the world we inhabit – even at this distance from the Rustbelt – isn’t rational. PFA (Post-Fact America) is high on memes and messages, shows and symbols. Sleepy Joe Biden will get shot down by a gruelling campaign and dissolve into geriatric incoherence, just as Trump will melt and ooze under the same conditions, two hopeless candidates slugging it out on the behalf of their funders to an audience likely to be either hyper-energised by the spectacle or withdrawn and rocking quietly in the shade.
To take just one example of how America is already Trumps’, there are fourteen states with total abortion bans, that is where there is no exception for survivors of rape or incest. According to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the state of Texas saw an estimated 26,313 rape-related pregnancies during the 16 months after the state outlawed all abortions. More here. This election is landing in Gilead, a land where precious rights that had been fought for and won decades ago are smashed.
I think that Trump’s deeply strange speeches and his zombie entourage distract from the politics of the campaign and the wider movement. Although some tv channels have started muting Trump as soon as he starts lying (that’s very soon btw) most of the media carries on unchanged. As Jeff Sharlet author of The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, notes about the US media “… a press built for the horse race keeps touting a path that never existed when it should be retooling itself to cover a rapidly mutating fascism”.