Filed under: affect, Affect Theory, ambivalence, class, Craziness, economy, emotion, non-sovereignty, optimism, Ordinariness, Politics, sovereignty | Tags: Eastwood, Obama, political_rhetoric, romney, Trump
Consider the following examples:
I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen.
Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we
— we own this country.
We — we own it. It is not you owning it, and not
politicians owning it. Politicians are employees of ours.
And — so — they are just going to come around and beg
for votes every few years. It is the same old deal. But I just
think it is important that you realize , that you’re the best in
the world. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether
you’re libertarian or whatever, you are the best. And we should
not ever forget that. And when somebody does not do the job, we
got to let them go.
Many of you felt that way on Election Day four years ago. Hope and Change had a powerful appeal. But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.
The President hasn’t disappointed you because he wanted to. The President has disappointed America because he hasn’t led America in the right direction. He took office without the basic qualification that most Americans have and one that was essential to his task. He had almost no experience working in a business. Jobs to him are about government.
Many of you would say that Donald Trump was excluded from the Republican convention, has no traction as a political candidate, and is generally viewed as a clown whose spewing occasionally hits in the vicinity of an opinion that a reasonable person could defend. But I am here to tell you that he actually won the Republican nomination and is dominating the airwaves during this election season. He is not doing this with “dark money” or Koch-like influence peddling. He has done this the way the fabled butterfly does it, as its wing-flapping sets off revolutions.
Trump has trumped how we think about political representation. The voice of The Apprentice, now ingrained throughout the U.S. memory bank, is in the declarative performative, “You’re fired!” Eastwood channels it: body politic is the capitalist, the president a part of his workforce. Romney channels it: the government is a business that should be run by a businessman who understands markets, and not a complex political project attending to material and aesthetic processes that shape being collective. If a president can not do the job about jobs, he should be out of one. The president is reduced from a symbolic and policy-oriented figure to a C.E.O., with citizens as stockholders demanding evidence of upward mobility in the form of quarterly profits. Denuded of any imaginary component, excluded from the assessment of co-present strengths and weaknesses, the president is recast as an employee. “Employee” now means “temporary.”
We have heard before this time the reductive and empty debate about the statecraft of lawyers versus the skill of businessmen. What makes it newly powerful, tragic, and dangerous, it seems to me–and I don’t inflate my terms lightly—is the banalization of firing that this puts into place as an affective demonstration of political freedom.
I have argued elsewhere that, under the pressure to justify austerity amidst vast global wealth, democracy has begun to be redefined as the equal exposure of all persons to the virulent excisions of the market. Democracy is no longer imaginatively a counter-force to market forces. A bad employee, throw her out. A clumsy employee who is otherwise a good employee, throw him out. Like a felon, they have lost the right to democracy. This is a world where “right to work” means no right to unionize. This is a world where seeking protections from employer exploitation is recast as being privileged and self-interested. The worker is cast as greedy while the capitalist is cast as generous. In this view, equal vulnerability to swift, efficient, structural judgment is seen to constitute fairness. No matter that austerity is the punishment of the many for the appetites of the few. In this view, the general exposure to market swings and disturbances equals democracy. We are at the end of Enlightenment liberalism, which is an end that some of us wanted. But the other side also wants it.
Obama: He Sucks Less Bad is the best slogan I can scrape up on this go around, although I still credit him absolutely for awakening U.S. civil society from its passive slumber. Even the Supreme Court: let’s face it, he’s going to appoint people like Cass Sunstein to it, who is nice to gay people and believes in animal rights, but whose support for the reduction of political speech to market speech and enthusiasm for an anti-porn, pro-shame jurisimaginary are not to be underestimated.
Better than the other, I can’t believe it’s not butter, but really they’re not identical: and the way to see that clearly might be to think about time. In a Republican win, the victory of neoliberal economics and the privatization of the public sphere will be swift and ruthless, under the banner of freedom, with its expanded instruments of choice. “You’re fired!” expresses the fantasy of agency being sold by the right as the scene of the experience of democracy. Everyone a sovereign! In a Democratic win, the victory of neoliberal economics will be slower and more uneven. Slow, uneven dissolution and development buy us more time to reroute, refunction, and rethink capitalist and politically affective social relations. It gives us more time (and we have been using our time very well these last years) to build infrastructures for new relationality.
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