By Robert Zaretsky
THE STONE / NYT Op-Ed
Nearly 50 years ago, Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle” reached bookshelves in France. It was a thin book in a plain white cover, with an obscure publisher and an author who shunned interviews, but its impact was immediate and far-reaching, delivering a social critique that helped shape France’s student protests and disruptions of 1968.
“The Society of the Spectacle” is still relevant today. With its descriptions of human social life subsumed by technology and images, it is often cited as a prophecy of the dangers of the internet age now upon us. And perhaps more than any other 20th-century philosophical work, it captures the profoundly odd moment we are now living through, under the presidential reign of Donald Trump.
As with the first lines from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” (“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”) and Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”), Debord, an intellectual descendant of both of these thinkers, opens with political praxis couched in high drama: “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”
In the 220 theses that follow, Debord, a founding member of the avant-garde Situationist group, develops his indictment of “spectacular society.” With this phrase, Debord did not simply mean to damn the mass media. The spectacle was much more than what occupied the screen. Instead, Debord argued, everything that men and women once experienced directly — our ties to the natural and social worlds — was being mulched, masticated and made over into images. And the pixels had become the stuff of our very lives, in which we had relegated ourselves to the role of walk-ons.
The “image,” for Debord, carried the same economic and existential weight as the notion of “commodity” did for Marx. Like body snatchers, commodities and images have hijacked what we once naïvely called reality. The authentic nature of the products we make with our hands and the relationships we make with our words have been removed, replaced by their simulacra. Images have become so ubiquitous, Debord warned, that we no longer remember what it is we have lost. As one of his biographers, Andy Merrifield, elaborated, “Spectacular images make us want to forget — indeed, insist we should forget.”
For Marx, alienation from labor was a defining trait of modernity. We are no longer, he announced, what we make. But even as we were alienated from our working lives, Marx assumed that we could still be ourselves outside of work. For Debord, though, the relentless pounding of images had pulverized even that haven. The consequences are both disastrous and innocuous. “There is no place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them,” Debord concluded, “because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse.” Public spaces, like the agora of Ancient Greece, no longer exist. But having grown as accustomed to the crushing presence of images as we have to the presence of earth’s gravity, we live our lives as if nothing has changed.
The Republican intellectual establishment is united against Trump – but his message of cultural and racial resentment has deep roots in the American right
Au 16, 2016 – The Republican party, its leaders like to say, is a party of ideas. Debates over budgets and government programmes are important, but they must be conducted with an eye on the bigger questions – questions about the character of the state, the future of freedom and the meaning of virtue. These beliefs provide the foundation for a conservative intellectual establishment – thinktanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, magazines such as National Review, pundits such as George Will and Bill Kristol – dedicated to advancing the right’s agenda.
Over the last year, that establishment has been united by one thing: opposition to Donald Trump. Republican voters may have succumbed to a temporary bout of collective insanity – or so Trump’s critics on the right believe – but the party’s intelligentsia remain certain that entrusting the Republican nomination to a reality television star turned populist demagogue has been a disaster for their cause and their country. Whatever Trump might be, he is not a conservative.
That belief is comforting, but it is wrong. Trump is a unique character, but the principles he defends and the passions he inflames have been part of the modern American right since its formation in the aftermath of the second world war. Most conservative thinkers have forgotten or repressed this part of their history, which is why they are undergoing a collective nervous breakdown today. Like addicts the morning after a bender, they are baffled at the face they see in the mirror.
Writing under pseudonyms borrowed from antiquity, such as “Decius”, the masked authors described the site, called JAG by its fans, as the “first scholarly journal of radical #Trumpism”. Posts analysing the campaign with titles such as The Twilight of Jeb! alternated with more ambitious forays in philosophy such as Paleo-Straussianism, Part I: Metaphysics and Epistemology. More intellectually demanding than the typical National Review article, the style of their prose also suggested writers who were having fun. Disquisitions on Aristotle could be followed by an emoji mocking the latest outraged responses to Trump.
The Republican intellectual establishment is united against Trump – but his message of cultural and racial resentment has deep roots in the American right
The authors at JAG were not all backing Trump himself – officially, they were “electorally agnostic” – but they were united by their enthusiasm for Trumpism (as they put it, “for what Trumpism could become if thought through with wisdom and moderation”). They dismissed commentators who attributed Trump’s victory to his celebrity, arguing that a campaign could not resonate with so many voters unless it spoke to genuine public concerns.
JAG condensed Trumpism into three key elements: economic nationalism, controlled borders and a foreign policy that put American interests first.
These policies, they asserted, were a direct challenge to the views of America’s new ruling class – a cosmopolitan elite of wealthy professionals who controlled the commanding heights of public discourse. This new ruling class of “transnational post-Americans” was united by its belief that the welfare of the world just happened to coincide with programmes that catered to its own self-interest: free trade, open borders, globalisation and a suite of other policies designed to ease the transition to a post-national future overseen by enlightened experts. In the language of JAG, they are the “Davoisie”, a global elite that is most at ease among its international peers at the World Economic Forum in Davos and totally out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Mainstream conservatives and their liberal counterparts were equally complicit in sustaining this regime, but JAG focused its attention on the right. Leading Republican politicians and the journalists who fawned over them in the rightwing press were pedlars of an “intellectually bankrupt” doctrine whose obsessions – cutting taxes, policing sexual norms, slashing government regulation – distracted from “the fundamental question” Trump had put on the agenda: “destruction of the soulless managerial class”.
A dissenting minority has been waging a guerrilla war against the conservative establishment for three decades
JAG unleashed salvo after salvo against “Conservatism Inc”, the network of journals and thinktanks that, along with talk radio and Fox News, has made defending the party of ideas into a lucrative career path. “If Trump ends up destroying the Republican party,” they wrote, “it is because the Republican party, as it exists today, is little more than a jobs programme for failed academics and journalists.”
News of JAG began circulating on the right shortly after its debut early in the primary season. “The first time I heard someone refer to it, I thought it was a joke,” says former George W Bush speechwriter David Frum. But it quickly found an audience. “They got a huge response almost immediately,” says conservative activist Chris Buskirk, who recalled excited emails and frantic texting among his colleagues. In June, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan alerted her readers to the “sophisticated, rather brilliant and anonymous website”. A link from the popular rightwing website Breitbart News drove traffic even higher, and JAG seemed poised to shape the discussion over the future of conservatism.
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China working with Africa on Infrastructure
By George Koo
Dec 22, 2016 – Now that Donald Trump has won the U.S. election to become the 45th president, everybody is offering his/her idea of how Trump will make good on his promise to make America great again. He does have the opportunity to make policies free from the burdens of the past.During his rough and tumble campaign, he expressed some ideas worth noting. He seemed weary of having the U.S. carry the sole burden of basing troops around the world, and he said more than once that he wanted to find ways to get along with other nations.
He also reiterated on numerous occasions that he would transform America’s infrastructure into the best in the world. With careful examination, these two positions could represent real cornerstones toward making America great again.
Importance of infrastructure investments
Once the best in the world when these investments were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s, everybody now recognizes that America’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair and replacement. The question has come up many times but there has been a lack of Congressional will and consensus to allocate the necessary funds. With a Republican majority in both houses, Trump would have the best opportunity to get something done.
Lest there are any doubts, the lead-tainted drinking water of Flint Michigan and the Minneapolis bridge collapse serve as stark reminders that infrastructure improvement is a real and urgent issue. According to the EPA, the U.S. will need $384 billion investments for the drinking water treatment and distribution to remedy the situation in places like Flint and to prevent future tragedies in other economically blighted areas of America.
There are 700 bridges in the U.S. in the same category as the bridge outside of Minneapolis that collapsed that are potential candidates for retrofit or replacement in order to prevent another rush hour collapse. The bridge in Minneapolis cost well over $200 million to replace. Thus the total potential tab to assure the safety of all the bridges would be in the ballpark of $100 billion plus depending on the actual number in need of remediation.
Trump did say as part of his acceptance speech, “We are going to fix our inner cities, and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as rebuild it.”
Trump hasn’t said exactly how he will find the funds to invest. There is a real solution that does not require pulling the wool over the public’s eye and that would be via reallocation of resources by changing national priorities.
Trump’s “get along” foreign policy
Again referring to his acceptance speech, he said, “At the same time we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great relationships…We will deal fairly with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground not hostility, partnership not conflict.”
Taken at face value, Trump’s position could represent a sharp and refreshing departure from the disastrous foreign policy of his two predecessors.
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[Editors Note: Foreign Affairs is not a usual source here, but now and then, it offers some insight into how the ruling class policy centers themselves are viewing critical events.]
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Trump and American Populism
Old Whine, New Bottles
By Michael Kazin
MICHAEL KAZIN teaches history at Georgetown University and is Editor of Dissent. He is the author of the forthcoming book War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918.
Donald Trump is an unlikely populist . The Republican nominee for U.S. president inherited a fortune, boasts about his wealth and his many properties, shuttles between his exclusive resorts and luxury hotels, and has adopted an economic plan  that would, among other things, slash tax rates for rich people like himself. But a politician does not have to live among people of modest means, or even tout policies that would boost their incomes, to articulate their grievances and gain their support. Win or lose, Trump has tapped into a deep vein of distress and resentment among millions of white working- and middle-class Americans.
Trump is hardly the first  politician to bash elites and champion the interests of ordinary people. Two different, often competing populist traditions  have long thrived in the United States. Pundits often speak of “left-wing” and “right-wing” populists. But those labels don’t capture the most meaningful distinction. The first type of American populist directs his or her ire exclusively upward: at corporate elites and their enablers in government who have allegedly betrayed the interests of the men and women who do the nation’s essential work. These populists embrace a conception of “the people” based on class and avoid identifying themselves as supporters or opponents of any particular ethnic group or religion. They belong to a broadly liberal current in American political life; they advance a version of “civic nationalism,” which the historian Gary Gerstle defines as the “belief in the fundamental equality of all human beings, in every individual’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and in a democratic government that derives its legitimacy from the people’s consent.”
Adherents of the second American populist tradition—the one to which Trump belongs—also blame elites in big business and government for undermining the common folk’s economic interests and political liberties. But this tradition’s definition of “the people” is narrower and more ethnically restrictive. For most of U.S. history, it meant only citizens of European heritage—“real Americans,” whose ethnicity alone afforded them a claim to share in the country’s bounty. Typically, this breed of populist alleges that there is a nefarious alliance between evil forces on high and the unworthy, dark-skinned poor below—a cabal that imperils the interests and values of the patriotic (white) majority in the middle. The suspicion of an unwritten pact between top and bottom derives from a belief in what Gerstle calls “racial nationalism,” a conception of “America in ethnoracial terms, as a people held together by common blood and skin color and by an inherited fitness for self-government.”
Both types of American populists have, from time to time, gained political influence. Their outbursts  are not random. They arise in response to real grievances : an economic system that favors the rich , fear of losing jobs to new immigrants, and politicians who care more about their own advancement than the well-being of the majority. Ultimately, the only way to blunt their appeal is to take those problems seriously.
POPULISTS PAST AND PRESENT
Populism  has long been a contested and ambiguous concept. Scholars debate whether it is a creed, a style, a political strategy, a marketing ploy, or some combination of the above. Populists are praised as defenders of the values and needs of the hard-working majority and condemned as demagogues who prey on the ignorance of the uneducated.
But the term “populist” used to have a more precise meaning. In the 1890s, journalists who knew their Latin coined the word to describe a large third party, the Populist, or People’s, Party, which powerfully articulated the progressive, civic-nationalist strain of American populism. The People’s Party sought to free the political system from the grip of “the money power.” Its activists, most of whom came from the South and the West, hailed the common interests of rural and urban labor and blasted monopolies in industry and high finance for impoverishing the masses. “We seek to restore the Government of the Republic to the hands of the ‘plain people’ with whom it originated,” thundered Ignatius Donnelly, a novelist and former Republican congressman, in his keynote speech at the party’s founding convention in Omaha in 1892. The new party sought to expand the power of the central government to serve those “plain people” and to humble their exploiters. That same year, James Weaver, the Populist nominee for president, won 22 electoral votes, and the party seemed poised to take control of several states in the South and the Great Plains. But four years later, at a divided national convention, a majority of delegates backed the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan, who embraced some of the party’s main proposals, such as a flexible money supply based on silver as well as gold. When Bryan, “the Great Commoner,” lost the 1896 election, the third party declined rapidly. Its fate, like that of most third parties, was like that of a bee, as the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in 1955. Once it had stung the political establishment, it died.
Senator Bernie Sanders has inherited this tradition of populist rhetoric. During the 2016 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, he railed against “the billionaire class” for betraying the promise of American democracy and demanded a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and other progressive economic reforms. Sanders calls himself a socialist and has hailed his supporters as the vanguard of a “political revolution.” Yet all he actually advocated was an expanded welfare state, akin to that which has long thrived in Scandinavia.
The other strain of populism—the racial-nationalist sort—emerged at about the same time as the People’s Party. Both sprang from the same sense of alarm during the Gilded Age about widening inequality between unregulated corporations and investment houses and ordinary workers and small farmers. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the champions of this strain of thought used xenophobic appeals to lobby Congress to bar all Chinese and most Japanese laborers from immigrating to the United States. Working- and middle-class white Americans, some of whom belonged to struggling labor unions, led this movement and made up the bulk of its adherents. “Our moneyed men . . . have rallied under the banner of the millionaire, the banker, and the land monopolist, the railroad king and the false politician, to effect their purpose,” proclaimed Denis Kearney, a small businessman from San Francisco with a gift for incendiary rhetoric who founded the Workingmen’s Party of California (WPC) in 1877. Kearney charged  that a “bloated aristocracy . . . rakes the slums of Asia to find the meanest slave on earth—the Chinese coolie—and imports him here to meet the free American in the labor market, and still further widen the breach between the rich and the poor, still further to degrade white labor.” (continued)