. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought

The Trumping of Politics

Consider the following examples:

Clint Eastwood:

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.

Mitt Romney:

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.

10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good piece, but I can’t make sense of the ending of this sentence:

“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”

How is ‘shape’ being used here? As a noun? A verb?

Comment by Krishan Bhattacharya

Two quick questions on the last lines. You write: “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 a new relationality.” I ask: What, or who, do you mean by “us” specifically? And what does building “infrastructures for a new relationality” mean exactly–which is to say, what does that look like? Cheers, Anónimo

Comment by Anónimo

The last sentence means trying to figure out structures for social relation that don’t reproduce the impasses of fear and aggression that block our genuine desires for a kind of sociality/world. And “us” meant people who are dissatisfied with those impasses, and who want to take on the transformative project of making better images of the good life. Thanks for asking!

Comment by supervalentthought

Beautiful commentary. . . Thanks.

Comment by Maurice

First of all I love your blog! It’s an inspiration. It’s like a cyber Blue Stocking Salon. Sadly however, I disagree with your narrative here.

The irony is that President Obama’s promulgation of privatized education has far exceeded Bush I & II. By appointing a Secretary of Ed.(experienced only in school privatization) who has created a national model based on
the “Chicago Charter School movement, that is a source of patronage and political fundraising. The Pritzker Empire is a textbook example.

And the privatization of public assets is no more republican than it’s democrat. Both Dem. and Rep. governors privatized the New Jersey turnpike. In Chicago, Democrats sold off the Skyway and our streets in the parking meter folly. Vast amounts of privatization continues throughout county governments including our own. The force behind these deals are our banking friends who( as oppose to making trivial loans to citizens) seek out and negotiate these deals between local units of government and middle eastern potentates looking to invest petrodollars and petrocurrency. I’m sure you’re well aware that JP Morgan Chase and Citibank’s (both major players in these “Government Pay Day loans”), “former” executives are drivers of President Obama’s economic polices.

I’m going to drink the hemlock and spit out the truth. No one really likes the poor( especially those worrisome inner city ones) beyond using them as political bartering chips and sources of income for government workers and the liberal elite, i.e., the non-profit -industrial complex. With this in mind;

If the Democrats win, President Obama’s neo liberal economic polices will continue unabated with just enough pork scraps to keep the Democratic Congressional Leaders/members pacified/in office. Republican leaders will continue to get 25 percent more( this happened with healthcare “reform”) because they will be who President Obama continues to prioritize and pander too, more so in his second term.

The Liberal advocacy organizations/ non-profits will continue to be bullied by White House Chicago style operatives ( Rahmbo perfected this ) to remain silent or lose funding. And they will again remain silent, only jumping into action when the white house whispers, “it’s time to jump”.

The Liberal elite (us) will continue to use this time to “boo and hissss” from the sidelines at Pres. Obama’s Neoliberal policies tailored to get republican votes. But will dutifully march back into line (urged by the lib. advocacy groups and non-profits above) to “combat Republican excesses”. But each battle will push the republican agenda two steps forward and one step back,- the corporate agenda uses a jet. Needless to say, I take exception to your presumption that “we used [our] time wisely during the last three and a half years” and not just because of the drones buzzing around the globe. The only people who did used time wisely, are the various Occupy factions, who continue to be marginalized by mainstream liberals( including the “alternative” voice WBEZ) as “dirty hippies”. Also, they are not by and large supporting this president., which I call extremely courageous.

And yes, many of us have rethought capitalism. But the majority of us are not into building the relationships to change it. In other words we might venture out of our castles, but we certainly don’t venture out of our economic comfort zones to the front lines and not just be cause there is shooting going on. We talk a good game, but our primary relationships are tightly bound to dominant institutions that play a roll in exploitation.

If in the off chance that the Republican win, their victory will tempered just as it was under Reagan and Bush I & II, because the corporate barons who run us/our country are experts in calibrating their exploitation of all economic sectors in America by operating in a way so liberals are not forced to consider taking to the streets or attempting to form alliances with organizations outside the democratic tent. The rich will continue to horde more, the liberal elite will continue to make enough marginal gains to keep them out the streets, Roe V will stay) the middle class will continue to shrink, but not enough to make them take to the streets, and then there is the grand 24 hour circuses of distraction, TV, Go bears, Packers, Bulls, etc, etc. and the poor will continue to be cleansed out of the cities. I’m sure you’ve driven down state street, marginalized and functioning in an expanding alternative economy, which is never really acknowledged by academia. Good Times.

Over all change might happens during a Republican Administration as the symbolism of a “Black” President” will no longer keep Black folks from not complaining. And they might actually start connecting the dots between how much ground they lost under a Black President who immediately dropped the Change Mandate, abandoning what could have been the most potent social movement ( nationally and globally) since the Civil Rights Movement. I wish people would talk about this.

Also the various occupy factions hopefully would become more prominent and hopefully form more alliances with organizations like the teachers union. Now that karen Lewis, Hot! She should get the Claudette Colvin Award. That strike was the only hope we’ve had in the last three and a half years.

So, yea, I guess.


Invisibly yours


p.s. I’m voting Green by the way.

Comment by Invisible Man

Oh, Lauren. I just watched #shitstorm2012, and it reminded me of this post of yours. Romney fires BigBird (and makes Lehrer feel the precariousness), talks them both down (Obama muted by the twist of “your house, your airplane”), and comes across as more entitled than anyone. Entitled by money, that is. Employer prerogative vs the moochers. Dissent elsewhere, a day that exemplified lines of flight, tweeting BigBirds, and ducks.


Comment by Angela

Entitlement aesthetics against entitlements.

Comment by supervalentthought

[…] Exceptionalism with a beefed-up military. It means that the presidency should be a corporate position filled by CEOs who manage the United States with godlike business savvy. It means that corporations should […]

Pingback by In Mitt We Trust: A Love Story | Socialist Agenda Webzine

[…] Lauren Berlant, “The Trumping of Politics.” […]

Pingback by End of the Semester Links, Spring 2016 | The Hyperarchival Parallax

[…] “The Trumping of Politics,” Supervalent Thought (2nd September […]

Pingback by The Podcast for Social Research, Episode 15: Slouching towards Election Day | The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: