Entertained By Our Own Destruction
During the rise of the Nazis, German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote that in our mediated world, we’ve reached such a degree of “self-alienation” that we can experience our own destruction as entertainment. At the time he was referring to the pageantry of the Nazis, entertaining and distracting common Germans into oblivion as their own government began to slaughter them and erase a millennium of German civil society. Today it doesn’t take grandiose spectacle and eroticized power to entertain us into destruction—just tweets from an imbecile.
Trump is a troll. He has no ideology, no program, no coherent agenda. That’s why this isn’t s story about him, per se. Any such showman could play his role. He’s a tool, the distraction, not the main act. He’s devoid of depth like the last remnants of a puddle, yet, thanks to an equally shallow and converging news and entertainment industry, he splashes around like a Tsunami.
Hitler and his German Nazis began life as a gaggle of goose-stepping clowns. The Nazis built their political base with disenfranchised Germans whose world was torn apart by a global economic depression exacerbated by onerous WWI reparation debts. They drank the little dictator’s Germany-first Kool Aid and fell in line for anything that followed. Like the troll’s followers, they were honored to be in the great leader’s shadow. Other Germans mocked the Nazi clowns. When the Reich rose to power, it targeting those who didn’t support their rise with payback driving their agenda, even when their obsession with payback undercut their other goals and ambitions.
The troll wants to make you sick
Trump is not a Nazi. But like the Nazis, he is obsessed with payback for those who didn’t support or at least eventually acquiesce to his rise. Feeling disenfranchised and cynical, the country elected an Internet troll. With a decades-long track record for lies and contradictory political stances, the only thing we know for certain about the troll is that he’s a troll. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that his entire presidency revolves around trolling.
If the troll has any discernible political agenda, it’s revenge. All of his political machinations have one thing in common—to torture those who oppose him, meaning liberals, progressives, environmentalists, organized labor, women’s groups, and supporters of the arts, public education, reality-based policy, and so on. In tormenting his enemies, the troll is putting on a good show for his most loyal toadies—hence the endless campaign rallies eight months after winning the election. The campaign trail seems to be the only world he understands.
The troll’s decrees, tweets, administrative appointments, and what little coherent policy statements he can fart out his mouth all point to only one thread—he is our troll. He is trolling a plethora of disparate constituencies that constitute most of the American population. If you feel like you are under attack every day, that’s because you, your friends, your family, and everything and everyone you cherish is under attack by the troll.
The troll wants to make you sick, then take your healthcare away. Everyone is talking about the troll. Increasingly his destruction is visible all around us. His antics have poisoned our discourse and civility. All forms of communication amplify the troll’s freak show. His gross persona even soils our dreamscapes.
The vampires feed on civil society
The reason this dystopian nightmare continues on, with the troll dominating the news with every waking day, is because we are all suffering abuse at the hands of a sadist that is maintained and empowered by almost every Republican member of the House and Senate, supported by GOP ground operations around the country. These are the vampires. The vampires want to destroy us and almost everything we cherish. Then they’ll turn on each other. I’ll explain why I call them vampires below.
In February, the troll’s senior adviser, Steve Bannon, laid out his master plan at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC. According to Bannon, the troll’s cabinet members, all voted into office by the vampires, were selected for “deconstruction of the administrative state.” This in practice means the destruction of civil society—everything useful and good that government does. Last August when Bannon was running the Trump campaign, in an interview with Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast, he likened himself to Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, stating that Lenin “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Toward this end, while we’re distracted by the troll’s childish antics, while liberal TV personalities poke fun at his daily gaffs, the vampires have been enacting Bannon’s agenda. Each and every federal agency charged with running or protecting various aspects of our civil society—providing public education, protecting our air and water, protecting our voting rights and human rights, administering public health systems, protecting the rights of workers, protecting food safety, building a 21st-century energy infrastructure, and so on—is now each under the command of an opponent of those rights or services, nominated by the troll and voted into office by the vampires.
Some Republican legislators are driven by radical anti-democratic corporatist or theocratic ideologies, all of which call for destruction of democratic institutions. Others are driven by pathological greed, violating the public trust to enrich themselves, or by an insatiable quest for power and domination, sometimes the result of childhood trauma. Most of the vampires, however, are simply tools, performing legislative tricks when their masters and sponsors whistle. Republicans need to understand they’re electing and re-electing vampires hell bent, literally, on destroying everything their forbearers created.
Together with the troll, the vampires have been able to successfully attack and undermine popular aspects of government such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Voting Rights Act, and public access to healthcare, to name a few targets. They’ve gone after Social Security and Medicare, they’re now moving to decimate Medicaid—all programs that provide services that citizens of every other industrial democracy take for granted. In all of these areas, while our protections and services have been embarrassingly weak, the vampires lust to suck the last remnants of life out of them—and, in turn, from many of us. The vampires live to suck the life out of the good and the beauty of our world. While the spotlight shines on the troll, they plot their attacks in the dark, in secret, shielded from public view.
Starve the poor, get jacked
There’s no political sense to any of these actions. Medicaid and Welfare programs don’t exist to help the poor. Their services are minimal, an insufficient safety net that serves as a last resort when you’re beaten down, for whatever reason, so badly that your very physical survival is imperiled by your poverty. These programs exist to prevent the collapse of society. Contrary to what the vampires may believe, the poor are human. When disease incubates among their ranks, it can jump to the rich. That’s why we have Medicaid.
Middle-class folks pauperized by catastrophic health events also wind up on Medicaid. When they die, Medicaid seizes their assets, which often translates into a 100 percent inheritance tax on middle-class households. Thank the vampires who keep Medicaid underfunded and hence predatory. The estate tax on the rich, by contrast, is only paid by the richest 0.002 percent of households in the United States. Yet the vampires want to eliminate this tax on the wealthiest fraction of the wealthiest one percent, and pay for it and other tax cuts for the rich by gutting Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
This is Trumpcare, named for the troll. Let’s be clear and blunt. If enacted as proposed, it would move nursing home patients to the curb to die. The troll couldn’t do this on his own. The vampires, under the cover of darkness, wrote it up and are now struggling to enact it. They want to suck the life out of the weakest among us to quench their insatiable desire to enrich themselves and their handlers while pauperizing middle class families and leaving poor people to die without proper medical services. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the troll’s latest health plan is even harsher than what the vampires came up with, taking access to healthcare away from 32 million people who are currently insured. This Twitter freak show works to frame the bloodthirsty vampires as competitively human.
When people are driven to poverty or born poor, when they cannot feed their children or afford medicine, even nice moral people will rob you. That’s why we have welfare. Welfare sucks. Its provisions are brutal and dehumanizing. It’s not an enviable life style. Welfare recipients are not allowed to save money for a house or car and can seldom use their money to pay for education. Welfare doesn’t exist to help the poor escape poverty. Welfare exists so that wealthier people can consume conspicuously without constant fear of being jacked at a red light by starving people.
The common thread in all of these cuts is the troll’s signature sadism. This is especially visible in the proposed $200 million cut to nutritional subsidies for pregnant women and newborn babies, which will offset only 0.004 percent of the eventual $50 billion estate tax tax cut to the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) should the troll’s plan to eliminate the estate tax become law.
The policies enacted by the vampires and celebrated by the troll don’t make sense in an electoral democracy. Breathable air, clean water, and apparently access to healthcare are all wildly popular across all sectors of society. For the vampires to both oppose these basic expectations and win elections they need to game the system. This happens on the state level where vampires control most legislatures and statehouses. There they use their power to gerrymander local and congressional districts, and to suppress the popular vote with targeted restrictions on voting.
People prefer civil society to chaos and barbarism. And when it comes to civil society, Americans overwhelmingly prefer democracy to plutocracy, oligarchy and theocracy (dominionism). Look these words up if they’re new to you, then look at what the vampires are proposing, doing, voting and fighting for.
The combination of the troll and the vampires, which together control the executive and legislative branches of government, are joining forces to take over the judicial branch for a perfect trifecta. Imagine vampires with a track record of exhibiting disdain for empirical reality taking over an evidence-based system of justice. They have the votes to replacing retiring old-school Republican judges who support the Constitution with vampire judges, the true face of judicial activism.
The rise of the troll has been good for the vampires but also for the corporate media—especially legacy media like newspapers and “cable” news operations. The relationship, though on the surface it appears otherwise, is symbiotic. The troll couldn’t have risen to power without being aided and abetted by the likes of CNN.
It didn’t matter that CNN’s coverage was grounded in reality and often critical of the troll. More than any other legitimate news outlet, CNN framed the troll as a presidential contender to be taken seriously. During the primaries he received more coverage from CNN than the other 12 GOP candidates for president combined. Obsessively covering the troll’s freak show made CNN the nation’s top digital news source. This symbiosis is history. Every other corporate news outlet took note and followed suit. ABC World News, for example, gave the troll about 240 times as much coverage as Bernie Sanders during the pivotal 2015 portion of the primary. And all the corporate news outlets took to covering the race more as a game show than an issue-oriented political debate. Overall, candidate’s policies, issues, and track records made up only about 11 percent of news coverage, and major presidential debates ignored pivotal issues such as global warming.
Simply covering the White House objectively can make any news organization appear rabidly anti-Trump—because quantifiable reality makes the troll appear awful. This brings us to another reason why CNN sucks. With so much quantifiable horror, kleptocracy, and sadism to report about concerning the troll, CNN winds up running an inadequately sourced story about the Russia investigation that they would later have to retract. Granted they’ve run well over 1,000 stories on the troll, so one bad story still gives them over a 99.9 percent success rate, but in journalism that’s a failing grade. And such a fuck-up gave the troll and the vampires just the headlines they needed to nourish their propaganda machine with a homeopathic dose of accuracy. With the very concept of reality and truth under assault, we can’t afford to have journalists give the troll ammunition—especially when it comes to his commandeering the concept of fake news.
This ongoing troll distraction keeps us entertained with reality-show vignettes while the vampires do their work destroying the underpinnings of civil society. Last week it was four days of headlines about the troll’s Twitter attacks on the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe show. Sure, they were childish, vile, gross, and of course unpresidential, but they distracted from lots of horrific news about what the troll and the vampires were doing over the course of those four days.
Then there’s all the laughter on the Left, lighting up social media with stories about Trump’s buffoonery and comic spins on the grotesquery of the vampires and the troll. Laughter is important, it releases endorphins, it’s healing, it strengthens us for the next fight. But laughter without action is just, as author Neil Postman put it over three decades ago, “amusing ourselves to death.” We’re all glued to the news. “This Trump thing” is, as Walter Benjamin foretold, very entertaining.
Michael I. Niman, Ph.D., is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College.