MAGA 2024, more Tribe than Cult

As a new, even more psychotic version of Trump heaves into view, sweating and muttering weird incantations, the same problematic responses as before appear as Liberal America hides from what it is in front of it.

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.”

Donald Trump looking like a combination of a dirty protest and a You’ve Been Tangoed advert from the 1990s

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:

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”.


Comments (13)

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  1. Daniel Raphael says:

    Just when I think you’ve written your best-ever, another superb gem comes forth…like this one. U$A is coming apart, late-stage capitalism’s self-devouring madness visible in all dimensions: cultural, economic, political, military. Nowhere is there progress, everywhere there is routine media disinformation and outright lying in the big things, lurid sensationalism in the rest. Or silence (having learnt the lesson-by-example of Julian Assange’s treatment). I posted your piece widely and hope it meets with many reposts.

  2. SteveH says:

    I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but your article lost any credibility and my desire to read further when I read :

    “ A snarling, incoherent, possibly syphilis-infested Donald Trump is surrounded by newly-found sycophants….”

    This is where Trump’s opponents get it horribly wrong. Its crude demonisation.

    The suggestion that he has syphilis without clear evidence provided, is a red flag. Everything thereafter is then doubted.

    The blizzard of legal actions against him is being interpreted as being politically motivated. His support has grown as a consequence. This tactic is an announcement by the elites that the American people can’t be trusted to make the right choice. It is seriously undemocratic.

    1. Niemand says:

      The man is a dangerous monster. Your response is focussing on totally the wrong thing and is a (deliberate?) distraction from what matters.

      You say you are ‘no fan’ of the man. No fan, is that it, all you have to say about what this article is actually about i.e. the very worrying prospect he may get elected again?

      What to do actually think about Trump, the man, his politics and the prospect of him in the Whitehouse again?

    2. Its not undemocratic to hold everyone to the same laws its precisely the opposite

    3. Its not undemocratic to hold everyone to the same laws its precisely the opposite

    4. Paddy Farrington says:

      You seem to be very selective as to who you include in ‘the elites’. Trump is nothing if not part of the elite; a particularly toxic elite at that. He’s also – in your book, seemingly the worst of all sins – a graduate.

    5. Frank Mahann says:

      Puir Donald !

  3. Gavinochiltree says:

    MASA—-Make America sane again.

    It used to be asserted that removing lead from petrol also removed serial killers and the “dark side” from the States, but no one can pretend that Main Street America is, right now, in a good place.

    I was in the States in ‘67 for a couple of months.
    Great place, great people then. Liberal, educated and wishing for a better world, in the main. The problem is always politics, but there has been a descent into a darker place now in that country.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Gavinochiltree, George Monbiot’s latest article considers the psychology of intrinsic versus extrinsic polarisation:
      In order for that model to be persuasive, I imagine that people prioritising extrinsic values would generally be worse predictors of their own mental states (so for example, money doesn’t bring them happiness even though they thought it would, and so on), and have problems with consistency and integration (beyond British-style hypocrisy).

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I have to call out the way ‘America’ is used as a placeholder for the United States of America in this article. It’s a lazy, racist term that conflates the USA with the whole of the North and South Americas and island groups like in the Caribbean. It tacitly endorses the endlessly-updated Monroe Doctrine that these extra-USA parts of the Americas are in the USA’s ‘back yard’.
    When writing about others’ complacency and ignorance, you might consider employing the services of editorial staff, factcheckers and a style guide. I see no good coming from boosting the USA’s hegemonic rhetoric. Try talking to some people from those other Americas about usage and abusage.

  5. Wul says:

    If we are to deflate the power of demagogues like Trump, ordinary working people (who are the real backbone of society and economy) need feel that they are listened to, their opinions matter and are valid, they “belong”, their lives have meaning and direction, their kids will have opportunities they didn’t and that they are respected for their contribution to society.

    Humans want to belong. Humans want to have affect (make things happen). Developed western nations have been marginalising the people who build the country for decades and they are angry, disaffected and want to make shit happen. Want to feel part of something powerful, hopeful and good. People like Trump are skilled at diverting this energy to their own narcissistic ends.

    It’s win-win for unchained neo-liberalism because the worse they treat the workers, the more degraded the public real becomes, the more easily they can be roused against the poor and weak instead of the people in charge. We need political parties brave and visionary enough to name and respond to the issues raised by the marginalised with a plan to run the country as if the people who live their actually matter.

  6. Satan says:

    The Donald vs. a 181 year-old. Either the Whitehouse is going to be a care home, or it’s going to be a prison / invaded by people wearing buffalos. How unedifying.

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