Judith Butler: On Trump, post-truth politics, speech acts, and fascism

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Trump, fascism, and the construction of "the people": An interview with Judith Butler, von Christian Salmon, in: Versobooks' Blog, 29.12.2016

zuerst erschienen in Mediapart, Judith Butler: pourquoi «Trump est un phénomène fasciste», übers. v. David Broder

... Salmon: Donald Trump did not campaign in poetry or in prose — as in the old saying coined by Mario Cuomo — but, like all fascist leaders, in argot. He invented his own sociolect, a mix of jokes, funny faces, scatological allusions, complaints, slogans and imprecations. His rhetoric corresponds to a sort of ‘branding’ based on exclusion. He communicates less by structured discourse than by signals, an amalgam of slogans and insults brandished as a massive weapon for delegitimising minorities. How would you analyse Donald Trump’s slogan in TheApprentice — «You’re Fired»?

Butler: Once again, the speech act presumes that he is the one in power to deny people of their jobs or their positions or their power. So part of what he managed to do is to communicate that sense of power that he delegated to himself. Speech acts such as the one you cite do precisely that. Let us also remember that the anger against cultural elites takes the form of an anger against feminism, against the civil rights movement, against religious tolerance and multiculturalism. All these are figured as «super-egoic» constraints on racist, misogynist, passions. So Trump “liberated” hatred from the social movements and public discourses that condemn racism – wit Trump, one is «free» to hate. He put himself in the position of the one who was willing to risk and survive public condemnation for his racism and sexism. His supporters wish to be shamelessly racist as well, which is why we saw the sudden increase of hate crimes on the street and in public transportation immediately after the election. People were «liberated» to shout their racism as they wish. How then to liberate ourselves from Trump, «the liberator»? [...]

Having been accused of lying, Trump defended himself by saying that he practised what he called «truthful hyperbole,» «an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.» European media are increasingly using the expression «post-truth politics» to designate the blurring of true and false, reality and fiction that Hannah Arendt described as a property of totalitarianism. In this view, social media have created a new context characterised by the appearance of independent news bubbles, creating a sort of news echo-chamber allowing for the wildest rumours, conspiracy theories and lies to spread. Indeed, it is inaccessible to media fact checking. During his campaign Trump was able to address his little republics of resentment via Twitter and Facebook, and federate them into an over-excited «wave.» What do you think of this concept of «post-truth politics»?

Somehow I cannot believe that those are Trump’s own words, but someone who is trying to normalize and even applaud his cavalier relation to truth. I am not sure we are in the middle of post-truth. Trump seems to me to attack the truth, and to show that he does not show evidence for his claims or even a logic to what he says. His statements are not utterly arbitrary, but he is willing to change positions at will, bound only to the occasion, his impulse and his efficacity. So for instance, when he said of Hillary Clinton that once he became president, he would «lock her up» that brought cheers from those who hated her; it even allowed them to hate her more. Of course, he does not have the power to «lock her up» and even as President, he does not have the power without a rather lengthy criminal proceeding and the judgment of a court. But at that moment he is above all juridical proceedings, exercising his will as he wishes, and so modeling that form of tyranny that does not really care whether she committed a punishable offense. The evidence so far suggests that she did not. But he is not living in a world of evidence. Similarly, his claim that Clinton would not have won the popular vote if it were not for the millions of illegals who voted for her cannot possibly be substantiated. At that moment, though, he exposes his own narcissistic wound in public, and seeks to de-ratify the popular vote. At the same time, the idea that votes in his favor were ever illegal is radically discounted. On the one hand, it does not matter whether or not he contradicts himself or whether it is obvious that he rejects only those conclusions that diminish his power or popularity. Both the brazen and wounded narcissism and the refusal to submit to evidence and logic make him all the more popular. He lives above the law, and that is where many of his supporters also want to live. [...]

> read more about a «reality TV character breaking through onto the political stage ... allowing for an identification with someone who breaks the rules, does what he wants, makes money, gets sex when and where he wants it. The vulgarity fills the screen, as it wishes to fill the world» ... excitable and racist speech ... performative theories of assemblies ... Foucault's agora ... > here

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13. März 2017