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Chaos as governance in the United States

Under the Cover of Chaos: Trump and the Battle for the American Right
Forfatter: Lawrence Grossberg
Forlag: Pluto Press (Storbritannia)
The goal of Trump's policy is chaos, argues American cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg in a new book.


Faced with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, most of us were surprised, if not exactly paralyzed. How could a narcissistic, paranoid, racist, womanist, nationalist and ignorant millionaire win the US presidential election? Admittedly, the United States has had quite a few special presidents through the ages, but Trump was now something else anyway. Many then thought that things might stabilize, that Trump would somehow turn out to be more normal than his election campaign showed, or that he would bang his forehead against the deep state wall and be forced to correct , but that has not been the case. Trump has been busy, and not just on Twitter, but also implementing a wide range of policy changes, domestic as well as foreign policy, from large tax cuts to companies and the richest to 25 percent more deportations of immigrants, the introduction of an entry ban from Muslim countries , the settlement of numerous climate regulations, tariffs on steel imports, termination of trade agreements and the withdrawal of the Iran nuclear deal.

Economic analysis 

American cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg tries in his new book Under the Cover of Chaos: Trump and the Battle for the American Right to find meaning in the madness and presents what he calls, in the wake of British Cultural Studies, a cyclical analysis, drawing on the current crisis and analyzing its historical origins. Trump is not just something new, either novelty, he is also the continuation of an already existing U.S. right-wing politics. He is both continuity and discontinuity. Grossberg warns against being too engrossed by all of Trump's bizarre inventions and daily outings. The risk is that you are overwhelmed and desperately trying to keep up with the auto-erotic image policy that Trump is pursuing and that is why you lose sight of it.

Trump is the morbid symptom of an ongoing mutation.

Grossberg makes a point of pointing out that in many ways Trump is merely a continuation of the new right that emerged in the 1960s. A new right wing that responded to the 1960s youth culture and tried to take up the fight with the non-dogmatic left wing by focusing on right-wing identity politics. If we zoom out a little, it becomes clear, according to Grossberg, that Trump's behavior is a continuation of a policy the New Right has practiced for more than 50 years in the United States. A policy made up of racist outbursts, anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism, affective politics and widespread use of misinformation wrapped in visions of a national rebirth (exemplified by Reagan's "Morning in America" ​​and now Trump's "Make America Great Again"). Trump is a continuation of this policy.

But, Grossberg continues, Trump is not only the continuation of the new right, he is also part of a shift toward a more reactionary new right that is even more racist and misogynistic than before, and that is taking away from the Republican Party and its function in American national democracy. It is a new right that has emerged in recent years and that we know in the form of the Tea Party movement, but of course also the various parts of the so-called all-right movement, the post-libertarian provocateurs like Milo, the neo-reactionaries led by figures like Moldbug and Trumpists like Publius. All of them account for a more radical reaction, which Grossberg describes as "a revolution against the political" (76).

Reactionary counter-modernity and organic chaos

Grossberg calls this new reactionary trend "reactionary counter-modernity". The project is white supremacy and the way to it is provocation and shock. It's about creating panic and uncertainty, the goal is chaos. It is a form of reverse or reactionary avant-garde that will undermine society in the reactionary direction. Grossberg abides by the widespread opposition to Trump in the Republican Party and sees it as an expression of a right-wing battle between a number of different positions. Thus, the right wing is not a single block, but is like the left wing divided and without any unified program. In Trump's government, this is reflected in the split between Bannon on the one hand and Kuchner on the other, between ethno-nationalist protectionism and a more globalization-friendly plutocratic financial capital. One of the interesting things about this conflict is that Trump does not seem to be keen on or able to resolve the conflict, Grossberg writes. There is no real attempt to create hegemonic unity in the Trump project, the counter-modernists are not trying to persuade the other parts of the right wing to join them, instead the factions are fighting, but maybe that's the point, Grossberg writes. What if the chaotic is intentional, maybe that's how the new reactionary right rules.

Grossberg writes with reference to Gramsci, that the old is dying and the new is not yet born.

Grossberg describes the result of this policy as "organic chaos". Where the point is that the chaotic is not a result of Trump's inability to lead politics, or is a result of opposition to his agenda, but on the contrary, the project itself, chaos is simply the goal. As Grossberg writes, Trump produces the struggle against the mass media, the use of 'alternative facts' and the ability to constantly surprise 'a form of baroque assembly whose immediate effect is an overwhelming sense of chaos' (126). The Baroque chaos er Trump's policy. Entertainment culture such as panic-creating xenophobia.

Trump as a transitional figure?

Grossberg's book is an important contribution to the analysis of the new reactionary forces and their acquisition of a previously progressive leftist political provocation aesthetic. Like his teacher Stuart Hall, Grossberg stops before he comes to actual economic and state criticism, but his analysis of the reactionary counter-modernists is a good starting point for an analysis of the current business cycle and possible future scenarios. According to Grossberg, things can quickly get worse and worse. Trump may be, in fact, merely a transitional figure, opening the door to even more authoritarian tendencies at the center of capital. As Grossberg writes with reference to Gramsci, the old is dying and the new is not yet born, and Trump is the morbid symptom of an ongoing mutation.

Mikkel Bolt
Mikkel Bolt
Professor of political aesthetics at the University of Copenhagen.

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