Trump is the Ghost in the Dream Machine!
by Selvam Canagaratna, Sunday Island
“Where all is but dream, reasoning and arguments are of no use, truth and knowledge nothing.”– John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690.
Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, has indeed got the measure of the man – or rather, to use his own description, ‘the Orangutan in the White House’ – who appears to have successfully given a new twist to the old American ethos since its very founding: ‘Dream the impossible dream’ – and if you can’t, make believe that you have!
The point Professor Brenner makes quite forcefully is that, for believers, the resulting ‘imagined reality’ is as good as the real thing. “Today, tens of millions of us live in that sort of virtual reality,” he says, adding, “Increasingly, the nation as a whole does the same about our collective identity.”
Brenner is convinced that this rampant, perverse yet convenient version of subjectivism has reached its acme in the concept of ‘alternative facts’ – or, as one of Trump’s minions declared: ‘truth is what someone thinks it is’. That generous standard has been steadily gaining currency among the populace at large, in the media, among politicos (implicitly) and now at the highest levels of government explicitly.
Brenner makes the point that the holes in Americans’ mental picture of their country are not there by accident. “They are not merely isolated memory lapses. Each of them has been filtered out of our collective consciousness, with the help of self-interested agents, because it challenges the fragile of myths that sustain our sense of self – individual and national. A systematic disconnection from reality that bespeaks a deep-seated emotional dysfunction.”
Most important, as Brenner rightly points out, “escape from discomforting truths has become a national pastime which permeates all sectors of society.”
He therefore invites readers to a quick ‘tour de horizon’ in point-form:
* How many Americans are facing up to the fact that Washington has been allied with al-Qaeda in Syria?
* How many will even consider that Vladimir Putin is not evil incarnate and Russia a so-called ‘existential threat’ to the US – much less that it is the US that has taken the critical hostile steps in their direction?
* How many Americans realize that we have killed thousands of Muslim civilians in the Middle East while Iran – which we accuse of being the greatest sponsor of terror in the world – has not been proven to kill any American except, perhaps, soldiers in Iraq who were fighting Iraqi shi’a militia with political ties to Teheran?
* How many realize that the Taliban have not killed a single American outside of their own country?
* How many who vilified Russia for its assault on East Aleppo realize that American shelling and bombing of Mosul has produced 5,000 civilian casualties (as of February) according to the Iraqi government – which has an interest in understating the number?
* How many in the Mainstream Media bothered to report the Orangutan’s commitment to dismantle the American public school system while oohing and aahing about his presidential demeanor before Congress in not cursing anyone, not mocking the handicapped, or not grabbing some Congresswoman’s pussy?
* How many realize that there is greater social mobility in Europe than in America?
* How many know that the Chicago police ran a Guantanamo-style ‘black site’ where abuse of un-convicted prisoners was routine and legal niceties ignored – including under the administration of former Obama’s Chief of Staff and pal Rahm Emanuel? (Chicago is where police bloodied an Asian-American doctor on the notorious United Airlines plane).
* How many of us know that a substantial majority of those receiving some form of public assistance are white?
* Or note that life-expectancy in the United States is declining – and will continue to do so at a faster pace as health care deteriorates and poverty cuts deeper?
* How many realize that the working-age Americans who have jobs is 4% lower than it was a decade ago – or 6+ million persons who have dropped out of the work force?
* How many realize that modern underground systems exist in such cities as Tashkent, Recife, Medellin, Baku, Calcutta and Yerevan – not to speak of the state-of-the-art rail networks in the China we disparage as an economic paper tiger?
* How many grasp the implications of the news that Omaha, the home of billionaire Warren Buffett, is reverting to gravel streets because “it can’t afford” paved streets?
“The paramount truth of American politics today,” asserts Professor Brenner, “is the dissolution of the Democratic Party. A ‘win’ in Congress on health care will not be the critical shot of adrenalin – as some pollyanna operatives predict. Rather, it’s like giving a cup of coffee to someone who’s been comatose for decades. The Democrats’ abject condition suggests that it is an endangered political species – destined for extinction were there a replacement.”
Brenner stresses that Party leaders lack all conviction, spirit or elementary political skills. “In this, they are following in the footsteps of Europe’s suicidal Social Democrats. As constituted and led, the Democrats simply are incapable of coping with the Rightist juggernaut. That is evident in the folly of staking all on the phantasmagoric tale of Russian devilry. By the time that affair is reduced to a pallid memory, Trump’s make-over of America will be a fait accompli, the Republican story line will be etched in the national consciousness, and the Democrats will have nothing to offer as an alternative. We already perceive that unfolding through the vapour trails of the Tomahawks over Syria.”
Today, an overt White Supremacist like Steve Bannon is the Orangutan’s Rasputin, wrote Brenner. “This is the extremity reached in a steady transformation of the political landscape whereby Democrats in general and its leaders in particular have conceded territory without a fight. There are many strands to this phenomenon . . . such as the acceptance of neo-liberal economics as intellectual orthodoxy despite its inherent logical flaws and pernicious record of outcomes; acceptance of the financialization of the economy; acceptance of money as the one true measure of success; acceptance of celebrity as the one true measure of fame and heroism; acceptance of selfishness as a social norm – whether in the pure Ayn Rand form or in milder versions that stress self-interest as the legitimate, ruling motivation in all what we do; acceptance in the academy of the pseudo-scientific justifications by psychologists and philosophers of these anarchic trends; and exaltation of the classic American myth that each of us is the accountable master of our fate.
“The triumph of vulgarity is the hallmark of our times. The surest sign we had that Americans had crossed a critical threshold between decency and crudity was the casual acceptance of the Orangutan’s numerous vulgarities – beginning with his assault on Meghan Kelly. Too many indulged themselves in the juvenilia of profanity in the mistaken, uncritical belief that it really didn’t count. It does. Obscenity and name-calling are the forerunners, and then companions, of brutality, racism and violence. We still don’t realize that – and we will continue to pay a heavy price for our juvenile indulgences.”
But in Brenner’s considered view, most Americans share a powerful impulse to ‘soften’ the edges of the Trump phenomenon. “That includes all segments of the political class. Understandably, for it is hard to swallow the truth of what we have done to ourselves. Not only will the damage be incalculable and permanent, but the even more unpalatable truth is that this history-changing event is the climax of an accelerating decline of the country’s vital signs we have willfully ignored.
“An impossible dream has been fulfilled – the nightmare version.”