With Donald Trump’s seemingly suicidal weaknesses as a presidential candidate, some people are shocked by how close the race is. How can this be happening? Here’s the answer: America is hooked on fascistic spectacle as a means of brain orgasm. In this context Trump is not so much a candidate but a porn star. And Hillary is having trouble competing.
We are an entertainment-corrupted nation and we’ve changed our brains to crave the next fix. This isn’t something new. In fact it’s a throwback to the rise of fascist Italy.
Trump is a virtual reality classically fascist porn experience, not a presidential candidate. And he is most certainly a classic fascist politically as well. He’s even making alliances with other classically fascistic leaders like Vladimir Putin.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t share this ability to entertain. She’s still analogue, as it were, to Trump’s lie-based all-in orgasmic HD 3-D fascistic Trump Entertainment Experience.
Fascists always understood entertainment and spectacle. Trump gets this. In a speech at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire on Jan. 4, 2016, Chris Christie said this:
“Showtime is over, everybody. We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun but it is not the kind of leadership that will truly change America.”
Christie was wrong. The “Trump Brand” is perfect in the entertainment fact-free age.
In fact we are risking electing an entertainer-in-chief. Fascism was always about spectacle. Hillary is about content. She might lose for the same reason that the smart phone has replaced the flip-phone.
Hillary is about policy and diplomacy. She might lose because she speaks in complete coherent sentences. Trump spouts policy-free, content-free nonsense. So he might win. For instance Trump said that he would order the Navy to open fire on Iranian boats that “provoke” American ships. “With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water,” Trump said to loud cheers.
This is not policy but it is fun! Rally-goers could be heard happily shouting “shoot them” as Trump smiled and nodded. This as I said is a throwback moment. As Federico Caprotti points out in his paper “Italian Fascism between Ideology and Spectacle,” Italian fascism too relied heavily upon the concept of war as unifying spectacle for its value.
The Trumpian idea of war, linked to nation-building is seen as a tool for the resolution of internal political tensions. For Trump this is a replay of the fascist method: spectacular aims linked to cinematography, propaganda and rhetoric, now updated into the virtual age of Internet non-stop entertainment.
Fascist leaders like Mussolini, like Trump, understood that their struggle for power could only work through recourse to clearly identified external or internal foes. These foes didn’t have to be real because fascists knew that imagination is more powerful than reality, as anyone knows who has argued with today’s conspiracy theorists, say those who believe that the US government was “behind” 9/11. It isn’t true but it’s a fun and entertaining idea. It is more thrilling than boring mere reality.
The identified enemies of fascism, were the Communists or the red proletariat, that became “the Other” lying outside the totalitarian fascist state. For Trump it’s Mexicans, Obama and Clinton– branded Other, UN-American- a threat. For Trump supporters it is the US Government itself that is the enemy. They want it replaced by a strong man in whom all our hopes and dreams reside. They arm themselves as possible “insurrectionists” to “take back” America from “Them.”
Thus bellicose military metaphors are used to form a particular facet of fascism’s Trumpian spectacular self-representation as a form of entertainment and religious uplift. Guns and gun ownership loom large to combat “Them.” Crime is “up” though in reality it is down. Thus the distance between Trump and the televangelists is non existent. They offer feelings of uplift and paranoia measured for maximum kick. Trump offers safety to the paranoid against non-existent threats. The televangelists offer safety against the angry God who is “coming back soon!”
Trump’s odd embrace of Vladimir Putin is a proof positive of the fascist trappings of the Trumpian brand’s rise. Putin too is a fascist thug enamored of spectacle.
“Masculinity” has long been Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim. At the center of Putin’s macho aura is his image as a tough leader who won’t allow the dread “West” to weaken Russia or dictate what Russia’s domestic and foreign policies should look like. “Make Russia Great Again!” has a ring to it.
Putin regime’s strategy, is a personality cult defined in highly gendered MALES ONLY terms, shaping the tenor of both domestic and foreign policy. Putin’s only claim to fame is that he’s a “real man.” Other so-called real men (read moronic thugs) have flocked to him, for instance when in June of 2016 Russian football fan leader Alexander Shprygin was detained in France, two days after being expelled from the country for violence. He had been put on a flight to Moscow after violence at Russia’s Euro 2016 match with England nine days ago. Having returned to France, Mr Shprygin was arrested in the stadium at Russia’s match against Wales in Toulouse. He is reported to hold far-right views and his All-Russia Supporters’ Union is backed by the Kremlin. A group of around 70 hard-core “ultras” wearing masks and dressed in black launched a vicious assault in the city center while chanting: “We are Russians!”
While Hillary talks facts and policy Trump the Putin-style real man is more entertaining to watch. “We are real Americans” Trump’s supporters seem to chant. The news media are now pimps for this fascist thrill, for ratings for nationalistic mind porn.
Trump is thrilling as he too has drawn hooligans and thugs to himself with armed militias and white supremacists supporting him and the media generating headlines in pretended shock for what they actually are pushing themselves by normalizing it. Trump doesn’t just like Putin– Trump is a Putin. And the media is both of their pimp for the same reason that our media has become ISIS’s pimp: Horror sells advertising. Period.
The concept of spectacle has been applied to Italian fascism’s rise in the 1920s and 1930s in an attempt to understand the relationship between fascist ideology and its external manifestations in the public, symbolic and aesthetic spheres dominated by media savvy.Enter Neil Postman, author, educator, media theorist and cultural critic, best known for his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). He warned of our mass communications media destroying our ability to absorb serious ideas. Television images replace the written word, Postman said. Television confounds serious issues by demeaning and undermining political discourse. Postman said we’d be less about ideas and thoughts and more about entertainment.
As Michael Rosenblum, the founder of Current TV, writes in Donald Trump is going to be elected president of the United States
…Donald Trump is great TV. He knows how to entertain. He understands ratings.
Hillary Clinton is crap TV.
She may be smarter, better prepared, a better : politician. It won’t matter. She is terrible entertainment. That’s just how it is. Depressing, but true. He is Kim Kardashian. She is Judy Woodruff. Who gets better ratings?
Who would you rather watch for the next four years?
In 1825, the great French gastronom Brillat de Savarind said, “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. Today, in America, we can safely say, “tell me what you watch and I will tell you what you are”.
And what do we watch?
It isn’t The PBS Newshour.
Spectacular displays (in the past such as newsreels, films and street scenes such as parades or mass gatherings) were once manipulated as an image of reality fascism as an uplifting event. Through spectacle, fascism became a representation: an alternative reality. It becomes an end unto itself.
Trump’s “totalizing” aims can be pursued without objections from tradition, laws, and ethics or religious “conservatives” because the Trump Experience is the point not the content, not the policy and most certainly not what used to be called facts let alone truth. “How can he lie so much and get away with it” some ask. The answer is that when experience replaces content politics becomes porn and voting is just another form of masturbation.
Trump can even claim the system is rigged and be believed by his followers. How could he not win, they ask given that they saw with their own eyes that “everyone supports him.” In other words the powerful experience of the Trump Experience at his rallies outweighs actual facts, say poll numbers. They “just know” he’ll win and if he doesn’t then something is wrong! It was rigged!
This is a recipe for violence.
The consequence is slow motion civil war and the language of war and violence. Only war can give the masses an aim (the next porn-induced-orgasm as it were) whilst preventing them from turning against the failed or failing leader. Putin knew this and so invaded Crimea and the Ukraine. Trump talks war now but if elected will do war later, not as a mater of policy but as a sure fire grab for good ratings. And what could be more entertaining than joining a right wing militia to take back American from Them, from the riggers of a rigged system!
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Please read about my journey through then out of the religious right and Republican Party.