Trump rose to power in 2016 on waves of racism and nationalism that have always flowed in the American psyche. As the next election looms, he seeks to ride the same currents and, once again, the Democrats are beached on the sand with a figurehead who may not be able to turn the tide.
“Co-illusion: dispatches from the end of communication” is timely reading; and it’s scary.
Levi Strauss attended the 2016 national convention of the Republicans in Cleveland, where Trump accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency, and the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia which did likewise for Hilary Clinton.
In Cleveland, a cold fear washed over him while watching the faces and body language of the audience.
In Philadelphia, he saw Bernie Sanders supporters protesting outside the entrance. “I cannot vote for her”, says one of them. Four years later, some Democrats must be feeling the same about Joe Biden.
The dispatches in the book’s title begin with the last presidential election but what sends shudders through the reader is the experience of groundhog days.
Back in 2016, Levi Strauss noted how changes in modes of communication allowed the maximization of attention and minimal scrutiny.
A Trump supporter nailed it: “When Trump talks, you’re always trying to catch him up on something, to catch him in a mistake. And then you do, but it doesn’t make any difference. Because it’s not about that. It’s not a game. It’s real communication, person to person.”
Trump knows that keeping his supporters happy is not about telling the truth – ‘it’s not about that’ – hence the blend of entertainment and politics that make up his rallies. His ability to perform blurs the distinction between truth and parody: did he really say ‘When I hear the word “culture”, I reach for my dick’?
The photographs in the book are by Susan Meiselas and Peter van Agtmael and they convey the mystifying mix of reality and fantasy that pervades politics in and beyond America.
As well as hundreds of local police, thousands of officers from other states and 3,000 Department of Homeland Security personnel were part of the infrastructure at Cleveland ($50 million for the convention’s security, 2,000 sets of riot gear and the same number of steel batons).
The photograph of the police presence brings to mind the murder of George Floyd.
There are also photos of transfixed supporters (who call Trump their ‘Messenger’) and their Make America Great Again posters, caps and T-shirts.
They believe in a rapture that bundles ideology, religion, nationalism and an entrenched racism, the legacy of slavery.
Marx writes in The Holy Family how for some people figments of the brain can assume bodily form – ‘ a world of tangible, palpable ghosts is begotten within his mind’ – and that this is the secret of all ‘pious visions’ and ‘ the general form of insanity’.
Such a psychopathology explains Trump’s support and the insanity could re-elect him.
“Co-illusion: dispatches from the end of communication”, by David Levi Strauss, is published by The MIT Press.
Photos supplied by de publisher