Sunday, November 29, 2020
Friday, November 27, 2020
Slavoj Žižek, "Trump’s flexible relationship with the truth made him more dangerous than a fascist"
Donald Trump has been a US president who has revelled in lies and obscenity. As we consider his legacy, his continued crass behaviour should make us ask how such a worthless person got the job in the first place.
On November 23, Donald Trump finally agreed to begin the transition of power, but the way it was announced tells us a lot about him.
Head of the General Services Administration Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden that she had determined the transition from the Trump administration could formally begin. She added that she came to her decision “independently” and did not receive pressure from the executive branch. (Murphy referred to Biden as the “apparent election winner” – the opposite of appearance is essence, so her qualification implies that ‘essentially’ Trump won, whatever the final results.
Minutes after Murphy’s letter was first reported, Trump tweeted that he had given her permission to send the letter, but he vowed to continue protesting his own defeat. His campaign team continues to push supporters to back fundraising efforts in a last-ditch bid to beat the election outcome.
I want to thank Emily Murphy at GSA for her steadfast dedication and loyalty to our Country. She has been harassed, threatened, and abused – and I do not want to see this happen to her, her family, or employees of GSA. Our case STRONGLY continues, we will keep up the good...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020
So, Trump approves transition without conceding defeat; he permits acts which are made independently of his will. He is a living contradiction: the ultimate post-modern ironist presenting himself as a guardian of traditional Christian values; the ultimate demolisher of law and stable order presenting himself as its unconditional enforcer.
We find the same tension in how Trump relates to conspiracy theories. When he is asked about radical Rightist groups which propagate violence or conspiracy theories, Trump is ready to formally distance himself from the problematic aspects, while praising the group’s general patriotic attitude.
This distance is empty, of course, and is a purely rhetorical device: the group is silently expected to act upon the implicit calls to violence Trump’s speeches are full of – when he constantly attacks alleged Leftist violence, he does it in terms which are divisive and a call to violence in themselves.
A prime example of this was Trump’s answer when he was asked about the violence propagated and practised by the Proud Boys in the first presidential debate. As was reported at the time, “Minutes after Trump told the Proud Boys, a far-right group with members who espouse white supremacism, to ‘stand back and stand by’, on national television… members of the men-only group took to fringe social media sites to celebrate what they considered a ‘historic’ moment for their ideological push against leftists.”
This is – if I can be pardoned using an expression which is very problematic here – Trump at his best. He does tell them to “stand back” – ie to restrain from violence. But he adds “and stand by” – ie to get ready, but for what? The implication is clear: to practise violence if Trump loses the election.
In Trump, we thus encounter a new variation on the old idea of the emperor’s new clothes. While in the original Hans Christian Andersen version an innocent child’s gaze is needed to publicly proclaim that the emperor is naked, in today’s reign of public obscenity, the emperor himself proudly proclaims he has no clothes. But this very openness functions as a redoubled mystification. How?
In homology with Ernst Kantorowicz’s thesis on the King’s Two Bodies, today’s populist emperor has double clothes. So, while he boasts that he is divested of his personal ‘clothes’ of dignity, he keeps his second clothes, the instruments of his symbolic investiture.
For this reason, what makes Trump’s obscenity perverse is that he is not just lying brazenly, without any constraint – he also directly tells the truth when one would expect him to be embarrassed by it. When, in August 2020, he announced his intention to defund the US post service, there was no need for a complex analysis to prove that he was proposing this to make more difficult postal voting and thus deprive the Democrats of votes: he openly stated this was the case.
Lying means you still recognize implicitly some moral norms, you just violate them in reality. But what happened with Trump in this case is worse than lying: in saying what is literally true, he undoes or suspends the very dimension of truth.
We can also clearly see this in how Trump dealt with QAnon, a far-rightconspiracy theory alleging a secret plot against him and his supporters by a supposed ‘deep state’. This is how ABC reported his reaction: “The White House… defended the President’s embrace of a fringe conspiracy group, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying that he was “talking about his supporters” when he called QAnon followers people who “love the country” and said he appreciates their backing.”
Trump was careful not to say that he takes the QAnon theory seriously. Instead, he limited himself to only two facts, both of which are true: those who advocate QAnon theories are supporters of him, and they love America. Plus, he added a subjective fact – which is also true – that he appreciates their backing. The question of the factual truth of QAnon didn’t even enter the picture.
We are thus gradually approaching what effectively can be called a post-truth discursive space, a space which oscillates between pre-modern superstition (conspiracy theories) and post-modern cynical scepticism. This is why Trump is not a fascist; he is something maybe even more dangerous.
With Trump, we see the polar opposite to Stalinism, where the figure of the leader should be kept unblemished at any price. While the Stalinist leader fears that even a minor indecency or indiscretion would destroy his position, our new leaders are ready to go pretty far in renouncing dignity. Trump is famous not in spite of his obscenities, but on account of them.
In the old royal courts, a king often had a clown whose function was to destroy the noble appearance with sarcastic jokes and dirty remarks, thereby confirming – by contrast – the king’s dignity. Trump doesn’t need a clown; he already is his own clown, and no wonder that his acts are sometimes more funny or tasteless than the performances of his comic imitators. The standard situation is thus inverted: Trump is not a dignified person about whom obscene rumors circulate; he is an openly obscene person who wants his obscenity to appear as a mask of his dignity.
All this, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that his ‘excesses’ are not to be taken seriously. In a rare appearance on the electoral campaign, Melania Trump denounced Biden’s “socialist agenda”. So what about Kamala Harris who is usually perceived as more Leftist than the extremely moderate Biden? Her husband was clear on this point: “She’s a communist. She's not a socialist. She's well beyond a socialist. She wants to open up the borders to allow killers and murderers and rapists to pour into our country.” Incidentally, when did open borders become a characteristic of communism?
Biden immediately reacted:“There’s not one single syllable that I’ve ever said that could lead you to believe that I was a socialist or a communist.” Factually true, but this rebuttal misses the point. The dismissal of Biden and Harris as socialist or communist is not simply a rhetorical exaggeration; Trump is not just saying this, even though he knows it to be untrue.
His ‘exaggerations’ are perfect examples of what one should call realism of notions. Notions are not just names, they structure political space and, as such, have actual effects.
Trump’s ‘cognitive mapping’ of the political space is an almost symmetrical reversal of the Stalinist map in which everybody who opposes the party is considered to be part of a fascist plot. In a similar way, from Trump’s standpoint, the liberal centre is disappearing – or, as his friend, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán put it, liberals are just communists with a diploma, which means there are only two true poles: populist nationalists and Communists.
There is a wonderful expression in Serb: “Ne bije al’ ubija u pojam.” Roughly translated, it means, “It doesn’t beat but it kills the concept/notion.” It refers to somebody who, instead of destroying you with direct violence, bombards you with acts which undermine your self-respect so that you end up humiliated, deprived of the very core – or ‘notion’ – of your being.
To ‘kill in a notion’ describes the opposite of the actual destruction (of your empirical reality) in which your ‘notion’ survives in an elevated way (like killing an enemy in such a way that the enemy survives in the minds of thousands as a hero). This is how one should proceed with Hitler and Nazism: not just to destroy him – to get rid of his ‘excesses’ and save the sane core of his project – but to kill him in his notion.
And it’s the same with Trump and his legacy. The true task is not just to defeat him (because there is always the possibility that he will return in 2024), but to ‘kill him in his notion’. To make him visible in all his worthless vanity and inconsistency, but also – and this is the crucial part – to ask how such a worthless person could have become the president of the US. As the German philosopher Hegel would have put it, to kill Trump in his notion means to ‘bring him to his notion’ – ie to allow him to destroy himself by way of just making him appear as what he is.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the
church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog....
Friday, November 13, 2020
The same factions that constantly claim to abhor Fake News and disinformation continue to be the most aggressive and shameless propagators of it -- especially the media.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and, not coincidentally, the single most shameless pathological liar in the U.S. Congress by a good margin, appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer on October 16 to discuss The New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s emails. The CNN host asked him a rhetorical question embedded with baseless assumptions: “does it surprise you at all that this information Rudy Giuliani is peddling very well could be connected to some sort of Russian government disinformation campaign?”
Schiff stated definitively that it is: “we know that this that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin,” adding: “clearly, the origins of this whole smear are from the Kremlin, and the President is only too happy to have Kremlin help in amplifying it.” Referencing Trump’s promotion of The New York Post reporting while at his White House desk, Schiff said: “there it is in the Oval Office: another wonderful propaganda coup for Vladimir Putin, seeing the President of the United States holding up a newspaper promoting Kremlin propaganda.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-WA), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Oct. 16, 2020
Schiff, as he usually does when he moves his mouth, was lying: exploiting CNN’s notorious willingness to allow Democratic officials to spread disinformation over its airwaves without the slightest challenge. Schiff claimed certainty about something for which there was and still is no evidence: that the Russians played a role in the procurement and publication of the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop.
As he also usually does when he publicly lies, Schiff was merely echoing the propaganda of current and former operatives of the CIA and other arms of the intelligence community who abuse their power to interfere in U.S. domestic politics: the very factions over which the Intelligence Committee Schiff runs is supposed to exercise oversight supervision, not serve as their parrot. During the same week as Schiff’s CNN appearance, as Politico reported, “more than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son ‘has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.’”
In that letter from intelligence operatives about The New York Post story — signed by Obama’s former CIA chief John Brennan now of MSNBC (repeatedly caught lying), Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper now of CNN (who got caught lying to the Senate about NSA domestic spying), Bush’s former NSA and CIA chief Micheal Hayden now of CNN (who served during 9/11 and the Iraq War), and dozens of other similar professional disinformation agents — the intelligence operatives announced “our view that the Russians are involved in the Hunter Biden email issue,” adding “that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.”
With these ex-CIA officials and their servant Adam Schiff disseminating this narrative into U.S. public, both the Biden campaign and their captive media outlets began asserting this claim as truth. They did so despite the fact that even the intelligence officials were cautious enough to acknowledge: “We want to emphasize that … we do not have evidence of Russian involvement” — a rather crucial fact that numerous outlets omitted when laundering this CIA propaganda and which the Biden campaign and Adam Schiff completely ignored when treating the claims as proven truth.Letter from 50 former intelligence officials about The New York Post reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop, Oct. 19, 2020
The Biden campaign immediately embraced this evidence-free claim about Russia from Schiff and the intelligence community to justify its refusal to answer questions about the revelations from this reporting. “I think we need to be very, very clear that what he's doing here is amplifying Russian misinformation," said Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield when asked about the possibility that Trump would cite the Hunter emails at the last presidential debate. Biden’s senior advisor Symone Sanders similarly warned on MSNBC: “if the president decides to amplify these latest smears against the vice president and his only living son, that is Russian disinformation."
Far worse were the numerous media outlets that spread this evidence-free claim of Kremlin involvement in lieu of reporting on the contents of the emails. Just watch how CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell purported to “report” on this story — a constant emphasis on the Russian origins of the materials, featuring a former “FBI operative” who admitted he had no evidence for the speculation CBS nonetheless aired, all with no mention of the serious questions raised by revelations themselves:
As I noted when I announced my resignation from The Intercept, a major reason I harbored so much cynicism and scorn for their claim that my story on the Hunter Biden emails had failed to meet their high-minded, rigorous editorial and fact-checking scrutiny was because that same publication was just was one of the many anti-Trump news outlets which, in the name of manipulating the outcome of the election on behalf of the Democratic Party, had mindlessly laundered the CIA/Schiff narrative without the slightest adversarial skepticism or, worse, without a whiff of evidence.
Just one week before they refused to publish my own article, they published this remarkable disinformation, featuring an utterly reckless paragraph that was nothing more than stenographic servitude to the intelligence community and Adam Schiff. Just marvel at what was approved by the fastidious editorial and fact-checking machinery of that “adversarial” publication concerning claims by ex-CIA operatives:
Their latest falsehood once again involves Biden, Ukraine, and a laptop mysteriously discovered in a computer repair shop and passed to the New York Post, thanks to Trump crony Rudy Giuliani. The New York Post story was so rancid that at least one reporter refused to put his byline on it. The U.S. intelligence community had previously warned the White House that Giuliani has been the target of a Russian intelligence operation to disseminate disinformation about Biden, and the FBI has been investigating whether the strange story about the Biden laptop is part of a Russian disinformation campaign. This week, a group of former intelligence officials issued a letter saying that the Giuliani laptop story has the classic trademarks of Russian disinformation.
Numerous other media outlets disseminated the same CIA propaganda — including The Economist (“Marc Polymeropoulos, the CIA’s former acting chief of operations for the Europe and Eurasia Mission Centre…notes that ‘the use of actual material is a hallmark of Russian disinformation campaigns’”), and (needless to say) MSNBC’s Joy Reid (“Hunter Biden story an ‘obvious Russian plot’ McFaul believes”).
Now that this disinformation campaign has done its job — allowing Biden to get past the election without having to answer any real questions about those emails and his family’s work in Ukraine and China — the truth has emerged that there is, and never was, any evidence for the disinformation that these materials came from the Kremlin. Some media outlets, though not all, have at least had the integrity to admit this, now that it no longer matters.
“Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said Monday that recently published emails purporting to document the business dealings of Hunter Biden are not connected to a Russian disinformation effort,” USA Today acknowledged. "Hunter Biden's laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign," Ratcliffe added.
On October 20, the FBI sent a letter to Sen. Ron Johnson — in response to his request for any information showing Kremlin involvement in the New York Post story — in which they, too, made clear they were not aware of any such evidence:
The FBI is the primary investigative agency responsible for the integrity and security of the 2020 election, and as such, we are focused on an array of threats, including the threat of malign foreign influence operations. Regarding the subject of your letter, we have nothing to add at this time to the October 19th public statement by the Director of National Intelligence about the available actionable intelligence. If actionable intelligence is developed, the FBI in consultation with the Intelligence Community will evaluate the need to provide defensive briefings to you and the Committee pursuant to the established notification framework.
Numerous outlets which had originally noted suspicions of Kremlin involvement and and FBI investigation to determine possible Russian responsibility ultimately updated their stories or published new articles noting the FBI’s admission (though The Intercept never did: its story about Kremlin involvement stands).
In The Washington Post, Thomas Rid wrote this Hall of Fame sentence: ““We must treat the Hunter Biden leaks as if they were a foreign intelligence operation — even if they probably aren't.” As The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat summarized: “At this point we can posit with some certainty that The Post’s story was not some sort of sweeping Russian disinformation plot but a more normal example of late-dropping opposition research, filtered through a partisan lens and a tabloid sensibility, weaving genuine facts into contestable conclusions.”
The pronouncements of DNI Ratcliffe and the FBI should no more be treated as gospel than the accusations of Kremlin involvement by Adam Schiff, John Brennan and their CIA friends. But that is exactly what the bulk of the U.S. media did with the obvious goal of shielding Joe Biden from questions about the revelations in the emails of his son: they deceived Americans into believing that the whole story was a Kremlin “disinformation” plot and therefore should be ignored.
Whatever else is true about this whole sordid affair, no evidence has emerged — none — that the Russians have played any role in any of this. It is of course possible that one day such evidence may be found of involvement by the Russians — or the Chinese, or the Iranians, or the Venezuelans, or the Saudis, or any other state or non-state actor your imagination might conjure. One cannot prove the negative that this did not happen.
But journalism, in its minimally healthy form, requires evidence before spreading inflammatory accusations about a nuclear-armed power and, even more so, speculation designed to discredit evidence of possible misconduct by the front-running candidate for the U.S. presidency. But here we have yet another case where purported news outlets — knowing that there is no price to pay professionally or reputationally for publishing evidence-free intelligence agency propaganda as long as it benefits the Party and advances the ideology which they all embrace — casually spread disinformation without the slightest evidentiary basis.
Yet again we find that the most prolific propagators of Fake News and disinformation are not the enemies of the mainstream U.S. media. It is the mainstream U.S. media itself that deceives, propagandizes and spreads disinformation on behalf of the coalition of the intelligence community and the Democratic Party far more than any other faction or entity.
Where is the evidence that Russia was involved in this New York Post story? And how can media outlets who endorsed and spread this and now refuse any self-critique expect anything but distrust and scorn from the public when they do this?
© 2020 Glenn Greenwald
548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
One of the most repulsive moments of the present Middle East conflict occurred after one of Hezbollah's rockets killed two Israeli-Arab children: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah pointedly apologized only for these deaths, thus making it clear that there is nothing to regret in the deaths of Israeli civilians. Doesn't this make clear the ethical difference between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), which always regret civilian casualties among the Lebanese, perceiving them as a necessary evil?
However, upon a closer look, this clear opposition gets blurred. The IDF always emphasize how Hezbollah locates its headquarters and arms in the midst of densely populated areas, well aware that any attack on Hezbollah strongholds will thus lead to large numbers of innocent civilian casualties. While certainly true to some extent, the problem is: Why does Israel, fully aware of these tactics, still bomb the sites? The obvious answer is that it believes the deaths of innocents are worth the price of hurting Hezbollah.
Let's try a mental experiment and imagine that, instead of Lebanese women and children, the human shields used by Hezbollah were Israeli women and children. Would the IDF still consider the price affordable and continue the bombing? If the answer is "no," then the IDF is effectively practicing racism, determining that Jewish life has more value than Arab life. No wonder that, in order to defend the IDF's tactics, Alan Dershowitz recently introduced in the Los Angeles Times a gradation between civilians, distinguishing between the "totally innocent" Israeli civilians threatened by the Hezbollah rockets and the not-so-innocent Lebanese civilians.
A couple of years ago on a private Slovene TV station, there was a mistranslation of Harrison Ford's words in Clear and Present Danger: "I thought it would be a surgical strike!" became, in Slovene subtitles, "I thought surgeons would be on strike!" But as the IDF proudly emphasize that their bombing of Lebanon involves only precise surgical strikes-well, obviously, their surgeons are on strike, as the world is bombarded with images of dead Lebanese women and children. The result is catastrophic for Israel's international image, raising the hatred of Israel to new levels. The problem courted by Israel in its continuous display of power is that this display will be soon perceived as a sign of its opposite, of impotence. This paradox of power is known to anyone who has had to play the role of paternal authority: In order to retain its force, power has to remain virtual, a threat of power.
Many political theorists, from Blaise Pascal to Immanuel Kant to Joseph de Maistre, have elaborated on the ways in which nation-states have manufactured heroic national mythologies to replace and ultimately erase their "foundational crimes," i.e. the illegitimate political violence necessary for their creation. With regard to this notion, it is true what has often been said: The misfortune of Israel is that it was established as a nation-state a century too late, in conditions when such "founding crimes" are no longer acceptable (and-ultimate irony-it was the intellectual influence of Jews that contributed to the rise of this unacceptability!).
Why are we more "sensitive" about this violence today? Precisely because, in our global universe that legitimizes itself with morality, sovereign states are no longer exempted from moral judgments, but treated as moral agents to be punished for their crimes, thus severely restraining their sovereignty. (Of course, as the U.S. resistance to the Hague court exemplifies, the problems of who will exert this justice and how the judge himself will be judged remain.)
The Middle East conflict confronts us with the fragility of the border that separates "illegitimate" non-state power from the "legitimate" state power, since, in the case of Israel, its "illegitimate" origins are not yet obliterated, their effects are fully felt today. When Western observers wonder why Palestinians insist in their stubborn attachment to their land, they demand of Palestinians precisely to ignore the Israeli "illegitimate" state-founding violence. This is why, in a display of poetic justice, Israel is getting back from the Palestinians its own message in its inverted (true) form-and not only in regard to the "pathologically" strong attachment to land. Imagine reading the following statement in today's media:
Our enemies called us terrorists ... People who were neither friends nor enemies ... also used this Latin name. ... And yet, we were not terrorists. ... The historical and linguistic origins of the political term 'terror' prove that it cannot be applied to a revolutionary war of liberation. ... Fighters for freedom must arm; otherwise they would be crushed overnight. ... What has a struggle for the dignity of man, against oppression and subjugation, to do with 'terrorism?'
One would automatically attribute it to an Islamic terrorist group and condemn it. The author, however, is none other than Menachem Begin, in the years when Hagannah was fighting the British forces in Palestine. It is interesting to note how, in the years of the Jewish struggle against the British military in Palestine, the very term "terrorist" had a positive connotation. Today, amid Dershowitz's acrobatic rationalizations, it is almost heartening to look back at the first generation of Israeli leaders, who openly confessed that their claims to the land of Palestine cannot be grounded in universal justice, that we are dealing with a simple war of conquest between two groups where no mediation is possible. Here is what David Ben-Gurion wrote:Everyone can see the weight of the problems in the relations between Arabs and Jews. But no one sees that there is no solution to these problems. There is no solution! Here is an abyss, and nothing can link its two sides ... We as a people want this land to be ours; the Arabs as a people want this land to be theirs.The problem with this statement today is clear: Exempting such ethnic conflicts for land from moral considerations is simply no longer acceptable. This is why the way Simon Wiesenthal approached this problem in Justice, not Vengeance appears today deeply problematic:One should finally take cognizance of the fact that one cannot found a state without curtailing the rights of those who were already settled at this territory. One should be satisfied with the fact that the violations were limited in that a relatively small number of people was hurt. This is how it was when the state of Israel was founded. Eventually the Jewish population lived there for a long time, while the Palestinians were, in comparison with the Jewish one, sparsely settled and had great opportunities to withdraw. That is to say, the continually victorious state of Israel cannot forever rely on the sympathies that the world accords to victims.What Wiesenthal is advocating here is nothing else than "state-founding violence with a human face," with "limited violations." (As to the comparative sparsity of settlers, the population of the Palestinian territory in 1880 was 24,000 Jews versus 300,000 Palestinians.) However, the truly interesting part of this passage is the last sentence: Its only consistent reading is that now that Israel is "continually victorious," it no longer needs to behave like a victim, but can fully assert its force-true, insofar as one doesn't forget to add that this power also involves new responsibilities. That is to say, the problem is that Israel, while "continually victorious," still relies on the image of Jews as victims to legitimize its power politics (and to denounce its critics as closet anti-Semites).
Arthur Koestler, the great anti-Communist convert proposed a profound insight: "If power corrupts, the reverse is also true; persecution corrupts the victims, though perhaps in subtler and more tragic ways." Cécile Winter recently proposed along these lines a nice mental experiment: Imagine the state of Israel, as it has developed over the last half century, without the history of Jewish suffering as a rationale for its policies. It would be a standard story of colonization. So why should we, as Alain Badiou proposes, abstract the Holocaust from our judgments about Israel's actions toward Palestinians? Not because one can compare the two, but precisely because the Holocaust was an incomparably worse crime. It is those who evoke the Holocaust who effectively manipulate it, making it an instrument for today's political uses. The very need to evoke the Holocaust in defense of Israel's actions implies that its crimes are so horrible that only the absolute trump-card of the Holocaust can redeem them.
Recall the joke evoked by Freud in order to render the strange logic of dreams: (1) I never borrowed a kettle from you; (2) I returned it to you unbroken; (3) the kettle was already broken when I got it from you. Such an enumeration of inconsistent arguments confirms what it hopes to deny-that I returned to you a broken kettle. Doesn't the same inconsistency characterize the way radical Islamists respond to the Holocaust? (1) The Holocaust did not happen. (2) It did happen, but the Jews deserved it. (3) The Jews did not deserve it, but they themselves lost the right to complain by doing to Palestinians what the Nazis did to them. These conflicting positions are reflected in the views of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who recently questioned the historical reality of the Holocaust while implying that guilt for complicity in the Nazi genocide had led European countries to support Israel:Some European countries insist on saying that Hitler killed millions of innocent Jews in furnaces, and they insist on it to the extent that if anyone proves something contrary to that, they condemn that person and throw them in jail. ... Although we don't accept this claim, if we suppose it is true, our question for the Europeans is: Is the killing of innocent Jewish people by Hitler the reason for their support to the occupiers of Jerusalem? ... If the Europeans are honest they should give some of their provinces in Europe, like in Germany, Austria or other countries, to the Zionists, and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe, and we will support it.This statement mixes the most disgusting insinuations with a correct insight. The disgusting part is, of course, Holocaust denial or, even more disgusting, the claim that Jews deserved it ("we don't accept this claim": Which one? That Hitler killed million of Jews or that the Jews were innocent and did not deserve to be killed?). What is correct, though, is the reminder of European hypocrisy: Europe effectively paid for its own guilt with another people's land. So when Ariel Sharon's spokesman Raanan Gissin said in response, "Just to remind Mr. Ahmadinejad, we've been here long before his ancestors were here. Therefore, we have a birthright to be here in the land of our forefathers and to live here," he evoked a historical right, which, if applied universally, would lead to wholesale slaughter. That is to say, can one imagine a world in which ethnic groups would constantly "remind" their neighbors that "we've been here before you" (even if this means more than a thousand years ago), and use this fact to justify seizing their neighbor's land?
The big mystery apropos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is: Why does it persist for so long when everybody knows the only viable solution?-the withdrawal of the Israelis from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a Palestinian state, as well as some kind of a compromise concerning Jerusalem. There is effectively something of a neurotic symptom in the Middle East conflict-everyone sees the way to get rid of the obstacle, and yet, nonetheless, no one wants to remove it, as if there is some kind of pathological libidinal profit gained by persisting in the deadlock.
This is why the Middle East crisis is such a sensitive point for the pragmatic politics that aims to gradually resolve problems in a realistic mode. In this case, the true utopia is precisely that such a "realistic" approach will never work: The only "realistic" solution is the "big" one, to solve the problem at its roots. Here, then, the old motto from 1968 applies: Soyons réalistes, demandons l'impossible! Only a radical gesture that has to appear "impossible" within the existing coordinates will realistically do the job. So, perhaps, the solution "everybody knows" as the only viable one-the withdrawal of the Israelis, the establishment of a Palestinian state, etc.-nonetheless will not do, and one has to change the entire frame and propose a one-state-solution where everyone has equal rights.
In the last days of July, President Bush himself admitted the need for a more substantial approach, claiming that all the partial truces and agreements didn't work because they ignored the true cause of the troubles-which for him, of course, is the terrorist states and organizations trying to halt the progress of democracy, not the Palestinian problem. Until now, the United States vehemently rejected the leftist mantra that "we should fight not only terrorism, but also its deeper causes," dismissing it as the same "soft" attitude as the liberal reminder that one should fight not only crime but also its deeper social causes. Now, all of a sudden, Bush adopted the language of the "war on causes," rejecting an immediate ceasefire and advocating a solution that would bring a just and lasting peace-to which one should reply: OK, but shouldn't we go to the end here and address the true problem, the Israeli occupation?
The underlying problem is that not only do Arabs refuse to accept the existence of Israel-Israelis themselves also do not accept the Palestinian presence on the West Bank. Recall, again, Bertolt Brecht's pun apropos of the East Berlin workers' uprising in July 1953: "The Party is not satisfied with its people, so it will replace them with a new people more supportive of its politics." Is not something homologous discernible today in the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians? The Israeli state is not satisfied with the people on the West Bank and in Gaza, so it considers the option of replacing them with another people. That, precisely, some among the Jews, the exemplary victims, are now considering a radical "ethnic cleansing" (the "transfer"-a perfect Orwellian misnomer-of the Palestinians from the West Bank) is the ultimate paradox demanding closer consideration.
If ever there was a passionate attachment to the lost object, a refusal to come to terms with its loss, it is the Jewish attachment to their land and Jerusalem. And aren't the present troubles the supreme proof of the catastrophic consequences of such a radical fidelity, when it is taken literally? In the last 2,000 years, when Jews were fundamentally a nation without land, living permanently in exile, their reference to Jerusalem was, at root, a prohibition against "painting an image of home," against feeling at home anywhere on earth. However, with the process of returning to Palestine, the metaphysical Other Place was directly identified with a determinate place on earth. When Jews lost their land and elevated it into the mythical lost object, "Jerusalem" became much more than a piece of land: It became a metaphor for the coming of the Messiah, for a metaphysical home, for the end of the wandering which characterizes human existence. The phenomenon is well-known: After an object is lost, it turns into a stand-in for much more, for all that we miss in our terrestrial lives. When a 1,000-year-old dream is finally close to realization, such a realization HAS to turn into a nightmare.
So what would be the truly radical ethico-political act today in the Middle East? For both Israelis and Arabs, it would be to renounce the (political) control of Jerusalem-that is, to endorse the transformation of the Old Town of Jerusalem into an extra-state place of religious worship controlled (temporarily) by some neutral international force. What both sides should accept is that, by renouncing the political control of Jerusalem, they are effectively renouncing nothing-they are gaining the elevation of Jerusalem into a genuinely sacred site. What they would lose is only what already deserves to be lost: the reduction of religion to a stake in political power plays.
Don’t expect Joe Biden’s election victory to make a major difference to the US. He will be hamstrung by the Senate and Supreme Court, and unable to impose any fundamental change.
‘Democracy Reborn’, the title of a book from 2007 by the historian Garrett Epps, is used in US historiography to designate the time after the Civil War when all progressives joined forces to add Amendment XIV to the Constitution.
This amendment provided African Americans with full citizenship and prohibited any state from denying any citizen equal protection under the law. It changed almost every detail of US public life, which is why some scholars even call it the ‘second constitution’. It was not a reconciliation between the winning North and the defeated South, but a new unity imposed by the winner, a big step forward towards universal emancipation.
Did something similar not happen in Chile with the victory of APRUEBO in the referendum? The process of changing the constitution approved by the large majority is not aimed exclusively at getting rid of the legacy of General Pinochet and a return to the pre-Pinochet ‘democratic’ era. It also wants to inaugurate a more radical change, a new level of emancipation. Here also, ‘democracy reborn’ is not a return to some old, idealized state, but a radical break with the entire past.
In the era of Donald Trump, the USA was again de facto in a state of ideological-political civil war between the populist new right and the liberal-democratic center, with occasional threats of physical violence. Now that Trump’s authoritarian populism has been defeated, is there a chance for a new ‘democracy reborn’ in the USA? Unfortunately, this slim chance was lost with the marginalization of democratic socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Only the alliance of left liberals with democratic socialists may have pushed the process of democratic emancipation a step further.
What’s more, with the Senate remaining in the hands of the Republicans and the Supreme Court with a conservative majority, Biden as president will have very limited room for maneuver and will not be able to impose any serious change.
This is exacerbated by the fact that Biden himself is a ‘moderate’ agent of the economic and political establishment, who is horrified at being accused of socialist tendencies. AOC was thus fully justified when, in a post-election interview, she broke the truce and criticized the Democratic Party for incompetence, warning that if the Biden administration does not put progressives in top positions, the party would lose big in the 2022 midterm elections.
The US is now almost symmetrically divided, and Biden’s words of unity and reconciliation sound vacuous – as former US secretary of labor Robert Reich put it: “How can Biden heal America when Trump doesn’t want it healed?” And this division is here to stay. As academic Michael Goldfarb argued: “Trump was no accident. And the America that made him is still with us.”
It is quite possible then, that in the same way the post-Civil-War ‘democracy reborn’ ended up with a compromise with anti-black southern democrats which prolonged anti-black racism for a whole century until the 1960s, something similar will happen after a couple of years of Biden reign.
But the outcome of the elections is not just a stalemate – there is a clear winner: the big capital and deep state apparatus, from Google and Microsoft to the FBI and the National Security Agency. From their standpoint, a weak Biden presidency with the Senate in Republican hands is the best possible outcome. Without Trump’s eccentricities, international trade and political cooperation will get back to pre-Trump normality, while the Senate and Supreme Court will block any radical measures.
The paradox is thus that, in the US, the victory of the ‘progressive’ side was at the same time its loss, signifying a political stalemate which may even give Trump a chance to return to power in 2024.
This is why, precisely at the moment of Trump’s defeat, we should ask how he was able to seduce half of the American people. And one reason is undoubtedly an attribute that he shares with Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders inspires fierce loyalty among his supporters – as they say, once you go Bernie, you never go back.
There is no mystic affection here, just a recognition that he really addresses them and their troubles, that he really understands them – in clear contrast to most of the other Democratic candidates. It’s not a matter of the feasibility of Sanders’ program, it is that he touches a raw nerve of his partisans. Could a voter worried about what will happen if – or, rather, when – someone in their family gets really sick, seriously claim that Michael Bloomberg or Biden really understands them?
Here, Trump is superficially similar to Sanders. Although his solidarity with ordinary people is mostly limited to obscene vulgarities, he also addresses their everyday worries and fears in simple terms, giving the impression that he really cares for them and respects their dignity. One has to admit that, even in dealing with the pandemic, Trump cunningly adopted a ‘human’ approach: he tried to maintain calm, telling people that the epidemic will soon be over and that they can carry on with their lives.
I once wrote that Biden is Trump with a human face, more civilized and kind. But one could also say the opposite: Trump is Biden with a human face, where, of course, ‘humanity’ is reduced to its minimum of common vulgarities and insults, in the same sense that a drunkard who babbles nonsense is more ‘human’ that an expert talking about complex formulas.
Now we are at such a low point that getting a president who will not change anything is the most we can hope for. The only group that deserves to be celebrated as heroes are those who simply ignored the violent threats of Trump’s partisans and calmly went on with their job of counting votes. Such praise is usually reserved for ‘rogue states’ where a peaceful transfer of power is a cause for celebration.
The only small hope is that an unintended result of the Trump era may survive: the partial withdrawal of the US from world politics. The US will have to accept that it is just another state in a new, multi-centric world. This is the only way for all of us to avoid the humiliating situation of following with fear the counting of the votes in the US, as if the fate of the entire world depends on a couple of thousand of American ignoramuses.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
The former leader is just the latest left-wing figure to be brought down by vexatious allegations of Jew-hating so opponents don’t have to engage with his real argument, that capitalism has and is failing.
On October 29, 2020, Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the British Labour Party – why? The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UK equality watchdog, concluded its 130-page investigation with the claim that the Labour Party could have tackled antisemitism more effectively “if the leadership had chosen to do so,” and Corbyn was suspended after he said antisemitism in the party was “dramatically overstated for political reasons.” This act of purge will, of course, ignite open conflict between the party’s new leader, Keir Starmer, and Corbyn-supporting MPs, among them John McDonnell. Starmer already said that the EHRC report amounts to “a day of shame” for the party.
But what if the purge of Corbyn is the Labour Party’s day of shame for the opposite reason, because it took place at all? What if Corbyn was purged not because of his (non-existent) anti-Semitism, but because of his critical stance towards capitalism, with anti-Semitism used as a cover? What if Corbyn’s purge is just the sad latest link in the chain of current anti-Leftist propaganda which brands as “anti-Semitic” every agent who seriously critiques the existing order, from Bernie Sanders to Yanis Varoufakis.
But things reach even deeper here. One would expect that, with the horror of the pandemic, other conflicts would step back, the way that, during WWII, Conservatives and the Labour Party (Churchill and Atlee) formed a well-functioning coalition. But with the ongoing pandemic, many other conflicts are exploding in an even stronger way (Armenia, and Azerbaijan, Islam and the West…). The reason is not just using the opportunity when attention is caught elsewhere. The pandemic is such a shock that it forces each society to question its very social and ideological foundations. This is clear in the US where the overreaching basic conflict acquires an almost metaphysical dimension: everyday common sense versus science. Trump stands for the disavowal of the Covid pandemic, for the continuation of our social life whatever the price – for him, the reason media focus on Covid is a political, it is a strategy to obfuscate Trump’s achievements.
In a rare appearance for her husband, Melania Trump denounced Biden’s “Socialist agenda”– so what about Kamala Harris who is usually perceived as more Leftist than the extremely moderate Biden? Donald Trump was clear on this point: “She's a communist. She's not a socialist. She’s well beyond a socialist. She wants to open up the borders to allow killers and murderers and rapists to pour into our country.” (Incidentally, from when are open borders a characteristic of Communism?)
Biden immediately reacted: “There’s not one single syllable that I’ve ever said that could lead you to believe that I was a socialist or a communist.” Factually true, but this rebuttal misses the point: the dismissal of Biden and Harris as Socialist/Communist is not simply a rhetorical exaggeration, it is an exemplary case of what one should call “realism of notion” – notions are not just names, they structure political space and have as such actual effects. Trump’s “cognitive mapping” of the political space is an almost symmetrical reversal of the Stalinist map in which everybody who opposes the Party is considered as part of a Fascist plot. In a similar way, from Trump’s standpoint, the liberal centre is disappearing – or, as his friend Viktor Orban put it, liberals are just Communists with a diploma, which means there are only two true poles, populist nationalists and Communists (or, as the Bolsheviks used to say in the Summer of 1917, there is no neutral middle space between the Tsar and Bolsheviks).
The radical Left should agree with Trump in regard to this: yes, one should not exclude tactical alliances with liberals to fight racism, to defend women’s rights, etc. – but the ultimate conflict is the one between the establishment (divided into the populist wing and the liberal wing) and the Left. We should thus reject the mapping proposed by the liberal center: the idea that liberal democracy should be defended against both Rightist and Leftist extremes. For today’s politics holds what German philosopher Theodor Adorno said about psychoanalysis: “nothing is more true in it than its exaggerations.”
Such politics of radical choice is the only principled one: we should make a choice where choice is necessary and reject a choice where it is a false one. Today, we should firmly reject the political misuse of Zionism that condemns every sympathy with Palestinians as anti-Semitic, and we should simultaneously ruthlessly reject Islamist terrorism manifested in recent slaughter attacks in France (Paris, Nice). There is no choice here, no right measure between the two extremes – as Stalin would have put it, they are both worse. This principled stance was the true reason of Corbyn’s downfall.