The clinical depression that appears to have beset wide swaths of the U.S. since Trump’s election suggests a shared hopelessness, or shall we say raw displeasure, with current socioeconomic reality. Without entering into the nitty gritty of late capitalist critique, of whichever a certain subset of us seems to experience a perverted, icy pleasure, the role of mass entertainment in Trump’s cartoon balloon world of giant inflatable Cheetos cheetahs and Rockettes suggests that attempts by the “cultural elite”- a complex web of authors and institutions- have largely fallen flat. That an individual might have at one point experienced a sense of exhilaration at a sparsely attended performance of avant-garde dance or some such, the Fibonacci sequence of descending obscurity that has characterized serious art and literature seems to have allowed its ramparts to be ravaged and overrun by the Uruk-Hai of post-capitalist barbarism and suburban savagery. Reflection and refraction have been shattered.
As many of my ilk may benefit from doing right now, we can murmur “this is water”, bask in the cynical/arch back-and-forth of Twitter, and plant our feet firmly in the leftist tradition of consumption and critique without much action. We can read texts such as N+1’s “What Was The Hipster?” and engage in a conflagration of #firstworldproblems. That seems to be the most likely outcome from Trump’s election and the now daily stream of head-shaking news coming from D.C. Cynicism and irony were supposed to be a means to an end, a dialectic, but have become the day-in day out M.O. Then again, “consumptive society” has long indicated a burger-laden world of escapist pleasures, and Trump has served since the 1980’s as one of its unofficial- and now official- spokespeople. A man of such vast wealth that he can put his name on enormous phallic buildings, to remind everyone of his vast empire of extrinsic flows of abstract capital. In his absurdity, he actually gives rise to a realization: we shouldn’t be surprised. We just can’t forget, in our frothy rush to lament every missive emanating from the White House, that there are coherent and tangible steps to ensuring justice, evening the playing field and reducing human misery.
For too long, over-educated liberal arts grads et al have sliced and diced society apart in the hopes of 1) becoming famous, receiving accolades and 2) obtaining truth and reaching for utopia. The former has often usurped the latter in terms of immediate results. Yes, that is an oversimplification, but so are most “facts” about human nature in our contemporary situation. When we participate in the Oppression Olympics, when we waste years infighting and squabbling over semantic distinctions while demagogues speak to the South Park contingent with clarity, there’s no chance for victory or consensus, because we’ve already lost. The error in thinking that has been displayed by notable magazines, pundits and individuals and groups that have been aligned with a worldview rooted in leftism and cultural elitism. That elitism- which is a belief in one’s superiority of intelligence and understanding, and which is a form of classism- has been more detrimental to the redistribution of capital and political progress than perhaps any other factor in cultural studies.
That’s not to say high-brow art and complex liberal economic policy don’t have their place- they’ve just failed to provide practical, immediate actionable items and benefits to the citizenry, and will continue to be secondary to the almighty dollar, which governs what so many of us do throughout each day. In a way, both parties got what they wanted- the right, a cartoon version of what they think they believe, and the left, something to critique. No one told me that the “social” in socialism stood for social media, but that’s unfortunately what we’re left with- magazines and pundits who profit- whether you’d like to admit it or not- from cultural observations that have little effect on the status quo, on fundamental injustices that are rooted in disparate micro and macro factors. While that might sound like apathy and surrender, it is an important opportunity for reflection, to make sense of the lofty goals intrinsic to progressivism.
Academic theory, the humanities, and cultural gatekeepers need to take Trump’s win not as an illegitimate victory buoyed by the electoral college, but a sharp reminder of the day-to-day (day-to-die) reality of not just Americans, but people across the world. Rather than attempt to describe the average Trump supporter- a writhing snake underfoot that cannot be placed- anticapitalists and antifascists and the literati must escape the confines of their meritocratic bubble and engage on a more human, less ideological level. I for one am excited- I anticipate that the rapacious Idea of Trump will spur action on every level of civic discourse. The world is not going to end- we are cursed to live in it, and as if in a dream, we have the pure freedom to stand for the values and lifestyles we believe in. There’s no right answer to the question of life- or paraphrasing Socrates, the best place to start is knowing that you don’t know.