Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Trump, The Emptying Of Meaning And The Degradation Of Language
Progressive/Left politics is in retreat. Not only has it ceded power in government, it is getting its collective behind kicked by the AltRight or harder line Conservatives, gleefully deriding every sacred cow of progressive/Liberal societies. The Left is unable to muster any kind of debunking of the AltRight’s declamations and lacks for the fundaments of any coherent political ideology or policies to offer an alternative vision of government.
The Left simply cannot understand the rise of the AltRight and struggles to engage against any of their tactics. As a writer I would like to point out to them how some of these tactics work, coming from my own perspective of language. For language is under attack as never before in this blustering post-truth, post-expert era. Language, like truth, is being emptied of any consequence and meaning. Deliberately so.
1 Like any politician, Trump uses words to stir the emotions, to rally people to his side. But Trump attaches nothing of substance to his words. There is no policy, no ideas linked to his declamations. Instead he slates something as being wrong or he doesn’t like it and that is enough to have his supporters agreeing with him, punching the air and shouting ‘Hell yeah!’. It doesn’t matter if he does anything about the issue, the mere fact he has highlighted it is sufficient to secure allegiance to him the man, not him a man of ideas or action. But surely it will matter when he fails to deliver anything of substance? Well apparently not, merely stating that something is anathema in a way that it has never been quite so openly derided before, is enough. He has already backed away from building a wall with Mexico, yet no one is really calling him on the backtracking, trying to hold him to his word. They can’t since the word was as empty as the promise, it was only ever just raw, undiluted emotionalism. To distance from the suggestion of an actual brick and concrete wall being erected, it is now being said that the wall was only ever a metaphorical one. Look back on his speeches and there is no indication of it being metaphorical, but it doesn’t matter, it got the message across, job done.
Trump annunciates his litany of dislikes and things that need changing, but he is only really a figurehead and will leave it to others to bring about these changes. He provides the headline ideas, without any steer and his minions will go about trying to expedite these headline actions in whatever way they see fit, since they are given carte blanche, the only proviso being to please their lord and master for whose favour there are competing with others in his cabinet. This is exactly how the Nazis operated, Hitler would throw out the top line aim and then leave it to his henchmen to fight it out to bring the details and the practicalities to make his desire come true. And since those henchmen in their various departments were all competing with one another for favour and status within the regime, it only encouraged for more and more extreme actions on their behalves to out-trump their rivals. Trump is not a Nazi or even a Fascist, though he shares some of the cult of the personality traits of a Hitler or a Stalin, but looking at several of the names of the people he has brought into government, this could get very nasty indeed. There will be promotions and demotions of individuals throughout his Presidency, as the competition to realise Trump’s ill-specified vision gets very cut-throat indeed. Delivery is all, more than the actual politics of it all. Trump is a businessman first and foremost. It’s all about sealing the deals and not losing a battle or losing face.
3 Trump will sideline the mainstream media. He has no need to address them and permit them to mediate his words to their viewers/readers. Which is just as well since they are empty words anyway. He can go directly to his support base, through his own access to broadcasting (currently situated in Trump Tower – will he even bother to move it to the Whitehouse?) and of course social media. Both allow him to speak and therefore be represented entirely as he chooses. His postings on social media already are completely without fear of being taken to task for them. He defends VP Pence over the “Hamilton” theatre booing. Already the counter-feeling is that this was a diversionary tactic to sprinkle smoke in the electorate’s eyes to cover up claims of election fraud, fake news stories, voter disenfranchisement (the new Jim Crow Laws) and possible foreign power hacking of vote machines. Again the mechanism of an inflammatory tweet or FB video is that Trump doesn’t have to hang around to debate the outraged ripostes in the under the line comments. He has made his proclamation, let the outcome fall where it will. He spent an entire campaign making outlandish threats and the more he was attacked for them, the more it solidified the notion that he was an outsider from the political elite, didn’t play the game they all did and told it like it really was. Only without any sincerity behind the outbursts, he wasn’t telling it at all.
Much of this emptying of meaning from our language chimes with the approach of the AltRight (even that appellation is an emptying of the substance of meaning, since elements of the AltRight are White Supremacist). The AltRight delight in taking to task political correctness in deed and in word. They do it with a cheery countenance that they say is the opposite of the serious minded nature of politics everyone is so fed up with. It’s fun, it’s a laugh, it’s what we need in politics and it’s what people like. It is what we Brits call banter (bantz) and again dovetails effortlessly with the mien of social media. Sawn off name-calling and jibing rather than more developed and extensive debate and argument. But this is the clown make up of John Wayne Gacy, because in appealing for it as a bit of a laugh, when it is in actuality violent, hateful language directed at non-white males; that is people of colour, non-heterosexuals, or women who put forward arguments about empowerment or inequality. Hate-filled language may be legal in the US, but it can never be light-hearted. They would counter that their targets need to grow a thicker skin, or some greater genitalia. And because there are sections of society who lap all this stuff up, who regard it as both knockabout comedy and expressing the previously inexpressible (and of course buttressed by the 1st amendment for free speech), to them the language can be parroted because it is just having a laugh, it doesn’t mean anything – they may hate you, but they won’t go on to kill you for your otherness. Even if that last mental calculation were true, it still makes for a divisive, hate-filled society, now given air to breathe. Again, a specious argument that they are merely words emptied of substance and consequence, that they are ‘just words’.
The progressive Left as yet has not been able to muster arguments against this approach. Hard to muster arguments when the value of words (let alone truth, fact and reasoned argument) has been denuded. Anytime a progressive chances to open their mouth to defeat an AltRight opinion, they can be immediately derided for taking it all too seriously. These are two points of view which operate on different levels which cannot possibly meet head on and deal within the same terms of reference.; serious mindedness versus having a bit of a laugh. So is the solution to get equally comedic and irreverent with counter-arguments to the AltRight? Then you lose your claims to moral authority. The winner is not the person with a clinching argument, but who is the funniest (or the shoutiest). TV Reality world, phone in your vote. Words mean nothing in the new America. Promises, if even made, mean nothing, but no one seems to mind (although in 4 years time if the specific grievances of Trump voters haven’t been met, then perhaps then failed promises or lack of commitment to anything of substance) might actually come home to roost. With its First Amendment, America currently has many more outlets for views to be expressed. But don’t be surprised that in a world where the word is devalued, no one is actually listening to any one else expressing their opinion.