Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Clockwork Orange President



What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
- Buffalo Springfield

For what it’s worth, I’ll say there’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear. Everyone knows the outrageous and offensive things Donald Trump has said and done in his past. He’s a shallow, tax-evading, anti-intellectual vulgarian. Yeah, we all know the score, but what it is curious is that he seems to have exploited Ralph Nader’s insight of a few years back that there was a potential for a left-right alliance just waiting for a new kind of politician to champion.[1] Many of Trump’s policies stated during the campaign were to the left of Hillary Clinton’s. Trump has come out in favor of the government using its dominant purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. He is against free trade agreements. He wants to halt the financialization of the economy and invest in building things. He wants peace with the other nuclear superpowers and nuclear disarmament. In spite of all the odious aspects of his presidency, the substance of these policies have to be weighed in the balance when Americans consider impeaching him and leaving the country to be led by the vice president and the familiar cast of Republican knuckleheads in Congress and state houses throughout the republic.
The question that nobody is asking is why the only permitted vehicle for these drastic alternative policies came in the form of the dreaded “orange-skinned” monster (don’t worry, it’s OK to mock skin color in this case according to the reigning ethos). He received billions of dollars in free publicity on corporate-owned media networks. Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, with similar foreign policy and economic policies but cleaner histories of personal integrity, never received such favorable coverage.
In the film Clockwork Orange, the violent behavior of the protagonist is treated with a behavioral psychology therapy in an experiment to test whether the government could save money by eradicating the criminal’s ability to commit crimes. The music of Beethoven excited him and inspired his frenzied orgies of violence, so psychologists designed an experiment which would associate feelings of dread with the music and the violence that he once enjoyed. He was given drugs that induced feelings of deep nausea and suicidal dread, and while under their influence he had to listen to Beethoven and view films depicting acts of violence. He emerged from the treatment cured, temporarily, of his ability to carry out acts of violence. The treatment never affected his impulses and motivations. It only affected his behavior.

Behavior adjustment therapy in A Clockwork Orange
It seems that the American public is being subjected to something similar. President Trump has been run up the flagpole, but already on the first day of his presidency the mainstream media has declared it doomed to fail. He will be forced to resign or impeached, or he will come to an untimely end. The next time a candidate comes along who wants peace with Russia and all the other progressive aspects of Trump’s platform, these positive aspects will be associated with everything that was odious about Trump’s character and his scandalous record on other matters. It will all be part of the Trump brand. America is being clockworkoranged.
It’s great that millions of people are on the streets in their pink caps standing up for dignity and respect, but it’s a little odd that this is the priority now when there is a large clique in America’s media, intelligence and legislative institutions that is escalating the chances of a conflict with Russia. The historian Stephen Cohen has this week said that he believes we are in a time more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis, but no one is talking about it.[2]
Instead, everyone is indignant and shocked that a wealthy businessman has used his power and privilege in the pursuit of sex, or just talked about it, as if such characters are something unheard of in the history of American politics. In the infamous recording he talked about pursuing a married woman and making audacious and quick moves on women who “let him do it” because he’s famous. This is all odious and creepy, especially when it comes from the mouth of an older married man, but it would fit right in with the plot line of any cable television drama, the real lives of celebrities, or the love and sex columns of Salon.com (Salon was an uncritical supporter the Clinton campaign after she won the nomination) in which female writers have been known to extol the virtues of one-night stands and anonymous hookups. I’m not knocking these confessional sex columns, but there does seem to be a bit of reverse slut-shaming going on here. The traditional bodice-rippers written by women don’t involve the male lead asking for permission to place his hands. Everybody knows that in sexual encounters most of the communication is non-verbal.
The important distinction here is that many American voters now want to be children choosing the perfect daddy figure for their political leaders. They have to be better than us ordinary sinners. Barack Obama was a gentle and faithful husband and father, so it didn’t matter to most people if he destroyed Libya and Syria and drone-bombed innocents abroad. No one hit the streets in these large numbers until the groping ogre got into the White House.
So the American public has been left with this odious choice with a leader who has now “tainted” a few good policy goals borrowed from the left. People can defend female and minority rights, or speak up for ending wars abroad and preventing nuclear war. They could do both, but the protests on the streets of America this weekend are almost entirely focused on threats to gender and minority rights. Identity politics has degraded political thinking so much that people are incapable of going to the roots of the problem. The assumption seems to be that there could be a kinder, gentler form of oligarchic, militaristic capitalism as long as it delivers some racial and gender equality and reproductive rights. Would that it were so simple.

Notes

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