Who does Trump represent?
The rise of Trump is the last move by a dying species, not the first move of an emerging culture.
This is a reply to different interpretations of a reddit post by notjaffo, that has been making the rounds lately, especially the analysis made in ‘Situational Assessment: 2017 Trump Edition’ by Jordan Greenhall. This post claim that the the rise of Trump is not a victory for the old right, but the first victory for an emergent new cultural movement — by notjaffo termed ‘the red religion’. I believe this analysis is true when regarded on a cultural-organisational basis, but that it misses the role of capital. The people who run the show are still the same people as always, they have just learned how to influence and control this emergent new culture — just follow the money.
To apply Greenhall’s analysis to the whole of the contemporary political situation is a dangerous misinterpretation of ’the war to come’ — to use Greenhall’s terminology. Trump is not the face of the alt right, the disenfranchised fly-over America middle class, the poor souls left behind by globalisation, the new man of 4chan, the European nostalgic neo-fascists, and so on. Trump is the face of ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, Koch, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, etc. To believe that ‘the war to come’ is a culture war between an emerging new right (the ‘red religion’) and an old liberal left (the ‘blue church’) is to swallow the narrative that ExxonMobil et al has crafted to obscure what is really going on here. The ‘war to come’ is a war over resources between people and large dysfunctional corporations. More on how to fight this war further on.
What is really going on here is a corporate coup d’état, as Naomi Klein puts it. ExxonMobil et al is using the votes of the emergent alt right — among other groups, to gain power and win elections, but they do not care more about their cultural values than they care about any other. Neither do they represent a new cultural movement, but a very old power who previously haven’t bothered with getting involved in petty culture wars. For example; the media of the 60’s could criticise global finance how much they wanted to but they were still dependent on these banks to be able to function, and the hippies could criticise global oil however much they wanted but they still needed petrol to drive their cars. There was no reason for these corporations to get involved, because they were — wether we like it or not — indispensable. However, just as ExxonMobil correctly predicted climate change several decennia before anyone else, it has now correctly predicted that ongoing cultural and technological shifts pose a substantial threat to its future existence. As anyone that is threatened, it tries to change its future. That’s why these corporations on an unprecedented scale have their own people getting engaged in public politics.
The people of notjaffo’s ‘red religion’ — loosely defined as the alt right, the disenfranchised middle class, the nostalgics etc — are themselves experiencing similar threats to their future existence, making them more susceptible to outside influence. Thats why they have been targeted in this election, and that’s why Trump was chosen as the presidential candidate. ExxonMobil et al has previously always been able to subvert the whole neoliberal hegemony in their favour through the simple trick of being indispensable for the economy and the rest of society — “to big to fail”. This is changing, among most people in general and young people in particular there is a growing awareness that these corporations are not at all “to big to fail” but rather the opposite; to harmful to succeed. Exxon Mobile hence shift their focus. This shift has of course not happened unanimously among large corporations, most of whom supported Clinton in the last election, but what is important here is that it is the companies whose business model is incompatible with a progressive politics that supported Trump, e.g. ExxonMobil. It is the large dysfunctional corporations that is desperately trying to gain power and change that future. Large functional corporations have nothing to fear of a lush green progressive future.
How to fight the war to come
The war to come is a war over resources with dysfunctional corporations whose metabolism is incompatible with our future.
What does ExxonMobil care about? You may have noticed that I refer to ExxonMobil as a person — this is crucial for ’the war to come’: we need to recognise corporations as beings in their own right to be able to successfully subvert or fight them. I base the following analysis on Levi Bryant’s concept of thermodynamic politics, outlined in the chapter 3 in his ‘Ontocartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media’. To make the argument a bit more accessible I’m leaving out most of his terminology, but I encourage anyone interested in developing an analytical framework for how to tackle the issues of the 21th century to read his very lucid book.
“All to often we confuse large-scale [entities] such as institutions with the people that occupy them such as CEOs. As a consequence we are led to believe that it is enough to persuade these people to produce changes in these [entities]. …the people that work in these [entities] are more akin to neurons or neuronal clusters than they are to the agencies that control and direct these [entities]. To be sure, they influence these larger-scale [entities], but the [entity] is itself its own agent.” Bryant, 2014 pg.72
ExxonMobil is comprised of 75,300 people and $349.49 billion in assets, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. ExxonMobil is a large independent intelligent system, and as any intelligent system it aims to maintain its composition — it is negentropic. It maintains its composition through producing oil, which it sells for money, which it uses to produce more oil and so on — this is the metabolism of the ExxonMobil organism. This organism is certainly a product by humans acting within a certain ideology, but it is fully independent of the ideology and the humans who spawned it.
This organism does not speak our language, neither can it understand our arguments, just as you can’t explain to a fox that it is wrong in killing your sheep — you can only prevent it either by fencing off your sheep or by killing the fox. ExxonMobil is an non-corporeal being so we can’t just kill it by cutting its throat, however we can prevent it from accessing its food source — preventing it from access to oil, and money. Cut these of, and it will either have to change it’s ‘food source’ or die. This is why protest like the one against the North Dakota Access Pipeline are so much more successful than signing petitions on Avaaz.
The fate of these types of corporations doesn’t have to be the same as for ExxonMobil, for example Danish energy giant Dong have faced the same existential crisis, but they have identified another food source; green energy. This is a large functional corporation, a type of organism which can adapt to changing environmental conditions and will survive ‘the war to come’. The ‘war to come’ will be a war of either making dysfunctional corporations functional, and if this fails cutting of their food source and letting them starve to death.
The ‘red religion’ — the nostalgics, the alt right and other groups, are merely a historical parenthesis, the unfortunate who perceive themselves as left behind by our current cultural progress. I believe they are given so much importance in these issues because its much easier for us progressives to perceive this ‘culture war’ than a war over resources. It’s just so much easier to fight racists on twitter than to actually stop flying and driving everywhere. It feels so much better to say that Trump is the face of a new bad ideology than to admit that Trump represents powers that we as well in many ways are dependent on. However, if we want a chance to ever win this war we need to understand where the real battleground lays, and it does not lay in ideology or culture.
The rise of Trump is a last move by a dying breed, not the first move of an emerging culture. If we miss this we miss who the real ‘enemy’ is and we let this dying breed continue to ruin our future while we infight over ideological values.
For those who want to take action, I have a few recommendations:
- Do not believe the narrative painted by Exxon Mobile and the other dysfunctional corporations, this is not a culture war, its a war over resources and the future.
- Divest yourself from harmful energy sources. I admit it sounds super naive, but set a personal example and stop flying and use green energy.
- When protesting, speak the language of the entity you are protesting against; boycott instead of demonstrations, blocking pipelines instead of arguing over twitter.
- Make the corporations you have influence over divest from harmful energy sources, broaden their food source.