In one of my New York Times comments last week, I wrote about Marxism, an old, abandoned misunderstood philosophy that once stirred fear and rage and still has plenty of fire and strength. Once so distorted and caricatured that Marx himself declared, “je ne suis pas un Marxist!” (I am not a Marxist!), Marxist analysis has fallen out of favor. It is complex. It does not support wealth. It isn’t a ladder for personal ambitions. It debunks power. It describes how emotions are manipulated. Those scholars and pundits who still use it, run it in the background. It’s a great secret weapon!
The origins of Marx’s philosophy are found in Aristotle’s work, Categories, which describes the nature of reality (the branch of philosophy known as ontology, the nature of being). It extends to Emanuel Kant (whose categorical imperative Marx rejected) to the great German idealist, Georg Wilhelm Hegel (whose works Marx’s much admired, using Hegel’s structure and organization as the form for his own masterwork, Das Kapital).
Marx easily explains the phenomena of Donald Trump–and now Sarah Palin! The social world has opposite forces, Marx explains, contending and competing for power and resources, using structures and procedures to advance their control and domination. In Marx’s view, the consciousness of communities in which this forces are at play are vital to their success or failure, and the most objective views and actions have the best chance of succeeding.
Marx ignores truth to emphasize the power of matching. Good or bad, if a match occurs, the likelihood of an particular outcome is increased! Eager to drink? Find a bar! Sex? Go to Redtube. Rants? Twitter. But how to win elections?
Once money was key. By that measure, Jeb! would be far ahead of the Republican field! Personal charisma also has an underlying influence that brings in voter support–here, Barack and Trump are opposites–as Marx predicted! What’s the opposite of money?
The key to that question is found in the function of money. Heretofore, money has functioned to buy media time and pay staff to advance a candidate and defeat his or her opponents, but Trump has stood the role of money on its head! (As Marx claimed he did with Hegel.)
In Marx’s dialectic–the dynamic engagement between forces and structures–new forms emerge: Trump is the new form; he actually generates money for the media by bringing viewers to screens–a more powerful force than the previous, massive political ad buys. More, the old ad buys were made mainly in local markets and didn’t help the national networks. Trump’s candidacy directly benefits the bottom line of national media corporations at the top, a first for American politics!
In airing the first Republican debate, Fox, for example, sold advertising for that time slot at five times its normal rates! Notice the networks actually use Trump in their ads, to promote their own programming, another political first! Trump has become a force of politics with a direct revenue benefit and a content that easily matches the network’s structure of pundits, sound bites, clips, and discussion, with his main fodder being the kind of character attacks and cat fights seen in the infamous House Wives series: put downs, logic break downs, discursive disconnects, hyper-aggression, and demeaning sexual and physical taunts, all played before live cheering crowds of sycophants, who call this carnival, medicine wagon style, “telling it like it is,” before they switch to the latest wrestling championship.
Marx rightly points out that opposites interpenetrate. Interpenetration brings into being new forms that realign the old clashing forces. In politics, the old Republican forces have reached their limit; they can not hold on to power and are being denied the leverage of their resources. Doctrine conservatism, with its agenda of corporate wealth and plutocracy, antagonized its supporting voters. Their elite scrabble to defeat Trump furthers their demise.
The key element of content that Trump offers in his xenophobic, misogynistic world view of glad, sad, weak, and bad is to convince voters they have “bourgeois influence.” That through him, their voices will be heard! Non-Marxists call it anger, rage, cynical rejection; Marxists know it to be comfort, authentic reflection, a new model for political success–one which includes reality show viewers and wrestling fans in the mainstream rather than in the margins. White supremacists are making robo-calls in Iowa, on Trump’s behalf. The numbers in Flint are marginalized as Trump highlights his polls.
His contradictions follow the pattern of the those on the margins and moves them closely to the center and the mainstream. But his contradictions deliberately target twin foes: not only elite class foes but working class families of color as enemies through his silence on the citywide poisoning through the provision of lead tainted water of children, adults, and the elderly in Flint. In doing so, he brings together two groups (working and middle class families) to create a “lumpen bourgeoisie,” a middle class and a working class whose ideology vested in the displacement of others. Rather making alliances, Trump exasperates the false stereotypes of differences through racist and nativist rhetoric.
Trump is not a rejection of the GOP establishment, but an outgrowth of its changing form. The establishment serves and protects its own narrow issues of wealth and power in its attacks on him, a purpose transparent (think Nikki Haley; why Bush is last!). On war, Trump flexes. On race, he hates. He is a disaster. But no one cares. He validates Marx!