• Where Id Was, Ego Will Be

    What events in Chicago and Kansas City showed us over the weekend is that it's increasingly dangerous to protest these rallies. We start to wonder how long it will be before someone is killed. We haven’t any excuse for our surprise. As Freud put it, “where the id was, the ego will be”—we desire unconsciously, and then we craft justifications for our brutal actions. He likened the relationship to a rider (ego) struggling to control a much more powerful horse (id).  At the moment, that horse is called rage and racism, paranoia and nostalgia.  It doesn’t care whether you understand the world that is changing, just as it doesn’t care that you might have preferred a “reasonable” candidate,” and it scoffs as your vain attempts to rein it in. 

    Deleuze said this ravenous id is a machine that eats and breaths and heats.  It is a desiring machine that can’t and won’t stop; it will drag the ego along with it, and the ego will search out excuses for wherever it is dragged. While many by November will equivocate and find clever ways to trick themselves into thinking there could be a morally coherent reason to support an implicitly fascist and overtly white supremacist candidate, he is only popular because he is their truth, their id. One could only cheer for this out of a lack of information or a poverty of morals, and the ignorance excuse is quickly fading.

    When I think back over the political events that have shaped me during my graduate and doctoral studies, there have always been three that stood out: 1) the recession from which I wrongly assumed we would learn, 2) Occupy Wall Street, where the taboo against speaking ill of capitalism was broken, and, most importantly, 3) Black Lives Matter, where we found out just how controversial it could be to suggest we shouldn’t kill unarmed human beings. I’ve protested alongside both of the latter two movements, and I’ve watched friends in social media space openly talk about how protesters should be pepper sprayed, jailed, or worse. The “desire not to know” is an entrenched beast. 

    But I’ll finish my doctorate during a fourth event, one which scholars in my fields have discussed and expected for decades but which is now happening before our eyes. In each of these events, I’ve watched people who doubtlessly think themselves moral consistently take the easy, regressive, and brutal path, and those without “eyes to see” have armed themselves with every ounce of self-deception imaginable. As a privileged, straight, and white male, I haven't much to fear beyond the continuous assault on education (dire as that may be, it isn't even close to life-threatening). On the other hand, those without such privilege—especially those who are shamelessly called "thugs" and troublemakers—are living in dangerous times, and many were assaulted over the weekend. People of color, immigrants, and Muslims have legitimate concern for their safety right now, and their fears lie in those who (without any trace of irony) actually consider themselves Christian. This is an interesting time where nostalgia for imaginary pasts reigns, where paranoia over fantasized threats wins over any inconvenient barrage of reality, and where xenophobia expresses itself with open vengeance. When psychosis is the new normal and the “talking cure” won’t work, opposition has to be framed as a moral argument.


    A friend I quite respect, who is viewing this from outside the US, pushed back on framing the Trump phenomenon as a matter of ignorance and/or bigotry.  I wrote this for context, and perhaps it’s helpful to put it here.  * Be aware, this description includes very terrible southern comments on race.*

    For those who don't know me, I should probably say that my comfort with framing this as a matter of ignorance and/or bigotry has to do with growing up in exactly the culture that enthusiastically supports Trump. My home state, Arkansas, just went for him in the primary.

    I’m either the first or among the first in my family to ever graduate college. I hesitate to discuss college, because while many of my friends dropped out at some point, several of them are also among the most intelligent people I know.  So I’m not talking about intelligence here at all but instead about the perceived role of public education. College education is difficult enough as it is, but for much of our culture, education is often considered unnecessary and even derided as counterproductive. Universities are seen as liberal indoctrination sites. With few exceptions, America as a whole doesn't really teach political theory below the graduate level, so many literally don't know that there is any difference between "liberal" and “left” (I am often called a liberal leftist, as if that is a thing). I was taught (and this is a very common belief) that teachers and their unions want only whatever is worst for students, and they are selfish and can't be trusted. Many truly believe that Obama desires the worst for them, is trying to kill them through healthcare reform, and is helping ISIS invade. Fox is viewed as news, and I would regularly listen to extremists on talk radio during my lunch breaks without realizing the views I heard wouldn't be taken seriously by anyone with training in political theory. When I visit home now, I'm sometimes told I'm "learning too much for my own good," as if that's a thing. Many close friends from earlier days cut ties with me when I started reading philosophy and left fundamentalism. I hold a BA, two MAs, and I’m nearing the end of a doctorate, and it is precisely because of my educational formation—because my views changed as I was exposed to more information—that I am often told I am delusional (and not uncommonly, as the last time this happened was yesterday). And this is in Little Rock, where rates of education and progressive views would be higher than throughout much of the south.

    On the bigotry side, I grew up in a world where it is not so uncommon to hear people say that slavery was actually good for African Americans. So many seldom need to say "thugs," because they openly use the "n" word as their preference in offline conversation. The vast majority (polls have shown as much as 3/4ths) don't believe Obama is American, and Trump launched his political career by tapping into the birther conspiracy and the prejudice on which it depends (that's to say, even if the birther conspiracy turned out true, it still doesn't absolve the reasons for its popularity among statistically more prejudiced groups). The entire network of private schools and the widespread phenomenon of homeschooling (at least, in the Evangelical south) is historically almost entirely a response to desegregation and, later, the removal of prayer from schools. In my home town of Little Rock, AR, when they began desegregating schools the city responded by shutting down all schools for a whole year rather than let black and white students interact. To this day, people still talk about desegregation as an example of government overreach in a state's rights issue. It's sometimes the case that white people will talk about the African American friends they do have as "good blacks” (literally, I've heard this throughout my lifetime). We are also taught that the civil war had nothing (not a little, but absolutely nothing) to do with slavery, and this version of the civil war is taught in schools just as creationism and abstinence are taught in schools. It's partly why, after the Charleston shooting, it was controversial to suggest Confederate flag has any connection whatsoever to slavery. It's a different culture, and none of what I've described above is statistically abnormal or a fringe viewpoint.

    Pundits and self-proclaimed wonks ask why Evangelicals are flocking to Trump, but, as many are now pointing out, I would argue that what we are seeing is the white id of Evangelicalism. They'd have less trouble describing Trump’s appeal to Evangelicals if they admitted what they already see but can’t openly state: hypocrisy actually is a primary virtue throughout much of our culture. It is what you inwardly say and not what you outwardly do that defines your righteousness. It has always been about whiteness more than confessionalism, just as it has long been more about conservatism than faith. Just as Evangelicals promote purity codes and design theocratic measures built around those codes even though 95% of Americans have sex before marriage (see NCBI), we need to listen when the id speaks louder than the ego. We should ask why it is that 54% of GOP voters and 66% of Trump supporters report believing that Obama is Muslim (see PPP). You can explain a lot of anti-Obama rhetoric through policy differences, but you can’t explain the Kenyan/Muslim conspiracy theory through policy alone.  This is precisely what Trump used to exploit a gap between the GOP’s tacit support but overt hesitancy regarding conspiratorial, race-based delusion (recall that after the Tea Party revolt of 2010, not one 2012 candidate was willing to admit Obama was definitely a citizen). Sometimes I’m told I make too much of the birther conspiracy, and perhaps that is so, but we need to be honest about the fact that Trump’s exploitation of that singular conspiracy theory was his self-selected point of entry into the GOP field.  It was cynical, wrong, and brilliantly effective.

    I fully recognize that Trump support must be analyzed through the lens of economic disenfranchisement, but one of the defining features of fascism (as far as I've read) in any post-war critical theorist is that fascism (in order to justify the disenfranchising aspects of the capital-state union) deploys traditionalist and racist animosities. The fascist deploys these techniques in order to convince citizens to support the very antagonisms that created their trouble in the first place. As many critical theorists have said in some form or another, every instance of fascism is the aftermath of a failed revolution. I take that to be the reason that Sanders and Trump appear similar in their populism: one is calling for small yet genuine reorganizations, while the latter is calling for reorganization-without-reorganization and using the fantasy of the rapist immigrant or the invading Muslim. There might be rightwing populists who could be explained without incorporating prejudice discourse (perhaps, though I'm not sure that any examples come to my mind), but Trump support simply can't be explained without taking southerners at their word when it comes to race.