Trump is Not Real

Trump has one policy and that is immigration

Trump’s lone policy

So many people are taking Trump seriously that I went to his site to review his policies. I wanted to see how he worked out policy such as how to deal with the complex relationships between the Sunni and Shia Muslim groups at odds in the Iran/Syria/Turkey/Iraq cluster. Perhaps something on the Islamic State, business with China given its recent shift in economic policy, or how to handle the volatility of the EU economy and its currency issues with Greece. Or maybe even how he will work out infrastructure issues, student debt, or corporate taxes. No. The image you see is it. His sole policy is a sparse idea with how to deal with people coming over the US/Mexico border. The damn wall is all he’s got.

Trump is what cultural philosophers might call a simulacrum. He is a symbol, but he is not a representation of anything real. Trump points to nothing.

He talks about loving the bible, blowing up IS and stealing their oil, and persists in his drumbeat of America’s lost greatness. But he never grounds any of what he says in reality. He has no ideas for how to fix these issues or strategies to work through the enormous complexities of the world. He does not even have bad policy ideas. In fact, he has no policy at all. If this “Great America” is something that Trump will bring us to, what is he really talking about? Nothing.

As philosopher Jean Baudrillard defines simulacrum, “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.” Trump is a brand, but has no product.

The only reality that Trump represents is emotion. He’s dyspeptic and ornery and he is touching the emotional nerves of people who are likewise dyspeptic and ornery. But a bad attitude is not a core competency for public office. He made his riches through calculated risk and large safety nets in wealth he had already inherited and the government bankruptcy system. His deals were just too big for banks to let fail. It was better for him to be bailed out than fail because he would be pulling a lot of capital away from his lenders. He is the spitting image of “too big to fail.” Perhaps that should be his campaign slogan.

The Trump we see visibly repulsed at state fairs, eating fried chicken, and having to mix with all of the people of the world that are beneath his social magnitude is a brand without a product. He is like the hundreds of “dot com” businesses of the late 20th century that sucked up venture capital on an idea only to fail as quickly as they absorbed cash. They failed because they had no product. They had a brand and an emotion but little else. In the tech industry products like these are called “vaporware.” They are sketches with slick sales pitches that will never come to fruition. In Trump’s words they are miserable failures probably run by losers with not really a whole lot of talent.

Here is the danger with Trump. He has fooled enough people into believing he has a real product that they will follow him to the edge of a cliff. If he can stick around for the next 7 months or so, he will gather people like the Blob and they will feel great tucked in by the bedtime stories of his ill-fitting baseball cap brandishing America’s lost greatness. The question is whether they will be willing to jump for him while he flies away in his helicopter having finally fooled everyone.

Isis Isn’t Real

Perhaps only the allegory of the Empire remains. For it is with the same Imperialism that present-day simulators try to make the real, all the real, coincide with their simulation models. – Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (1983)

a message signed with blood to the nation of the cross
When ISIS burned Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh alive for all of the world to see it was a simulated event. Many wondered why burn rather than behead as they have become very skilled at doing. By burning him in a cage and dumping tons of concrete and steel on him, they created a punishment that corresponded directly with an aircraft bombing a building filled with people.

Where ISIS differs from their terrorist predecessors is both their media sophistication and their cheesy Western bravado. They are like the Mandarin from Iron Man 3. He is a terrorist who turns out to be an actor masking the reality of the person who is behind the violence.

ISIS operates like a Hollywood studio with production values high enough that it is difficult to discern their violence from green screens, makeup, and set production. Our experience of violence is flattened. From Ferguson, 9/11, O.J., and the “shock and awe” of Operation Iraqi Freedom; and from Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, and Welcome to Sarajevo the line between a simulated war and war itself is erased. We no longer see the difference.

ISIS, The Killing of David Haines
Your evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction, and playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinnable war.

The Mandarin, Iron Man 3
My disciples just destroyed another cheap American knockoff: the Chinese Theatre. Mr. President, I know this must be getting frustrating, but this season of terror is drawing to a close. And don’t worry. The ‘Big One’ is coming: your graduation.

Our emotional responses are an attempt at feeling disgust and horror when the referent of what actually happens is simply not there. While we raise our fists and prayers at the terror of ISIS, we have been inoculated from the bloodbath of retaliation. We do not see the beheadings and disembowling of the enemy both before and after an ISIS film production.

ISIS delivers us films, previews, and advertising of their violence while our violence comes in identical packages from Hollywood. The brilliance of ISIS is not in their killing. Their brilliance is in understanding that the West can decode meaning only through advertising and fantasy. If we do not understand the real, we will understand its simulation.

We are a society that can no longer feel anything real. We have created simulated affect to mirror a simulated reality.

There is nothing of “shock and awe” to the privileged.

There is only apathy and cynicism.

There is only resentment.

There is only “contempt prior to examination.”