Anthony Bogues — Chaos and the Trumpian Project

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by Anthony Bogues

Chaos. Authoritarian political figures thrive on manipulating events creating grounds in which liberal normality seems to be one which invites disaster from which the authoritarian can intervene to steady the ship even if heads have to be cracked. But there is a twist to Trump’s political practice, authoritarian figure that he is, his political project now requires constant chaos. Not in order for him and his ruling regime to intervene with any steady hand rather it is about enacting permanent chaos as a tactic of rule first to erode the liberal state and establish the illiberal democratic project and then secondly to create the new political ground after his electoral defeat. Permanent chaos creates situations where the balance of social forces is in constant flux. In a period of crisis, it consolidates and energizes a section of the population that is committed to the authoritarian figure.

Trump has been defeated electorally but Trumpism has not been and there is in Trump’s political eyes the need to reorganize and give it a new lease on life. In enacting this kind of political activity, Trump’s narcissistic personality becomes a political force. Trumpism is a political configuration that is a mosaic of ideas and American political practice. At its foundation is the idea of exclusive  white citizenship based upon  an interpretation of the 1790 naturalization act, white patriarchy, the reinterpretation of some  Christian ideas (for example one Trump supporter proclaimed that  the election represented the partial victory of the Great Satan) as well as a long discursive American history in which conspiracy explains all  events. This mosaic  of ideas rests upon a notion of individual liberty rooted in self-possession untethered from  the social (which is why  the wearing of masks became  a political statement) unless it is an imagined community which can occasionally be called into being, hence  the  MAGA rallies and  their centrality  to the Trumpian project. Of course, that imagined community itself is based upon whiteness.

The Trump mantra that “We won but the election was rigged“ fits neatly within the realm of conspiracy theory and calls upon supporters to redouble their efforts the next time.  It prepares them for other moves to create chaos. The main purpose of this mantra is not to delegitimize an electoral result but to create the ground for a more protracted struggle based on chaos. The purpose is establish political obstacles for the Biden regime in an effort to unsettle it. There are other actions as well, ones which spell out the character of the Trump regime and the ways it deepens neoliberalism. Thus, for example there is a proposal to fast track a new set of regulations which would speed up lines in the poultry industry and another that would turn workers into independent contractors. All these are efforts to deregulate the liberal state under the guise of unbridled market freedom. We are into unknown political waters in American politics. While many of us focus on the unconventional ways in which the transition is proceeding or not, and fear a coup, Trump and his political friends are seeding the ground for a longer-term struggle in which they will politically further unsettle the American liberal state. So as we think about Trumpism and the current moment where what Stuart Hall calls “class democracies” attempt to stabilize themselves  to resume a liberal normal we must be careful  not to be carried away with the noise of the tweet, but pay attention to the overall Trumpian political project and how it might unfold in the near future.

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