Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Firing uselessly

Tens of millions of people are currently roaming the internet, searching for the vaguest premonition of the outcome of America's presidential election. If any of them stumble through the door of this blog they'll disappointed. My coverage of the election campaign has been sporadic and erratic.  

Back in January I blogged about the grotesque but compelling pieces of performance art that Trump was staging across America, and suggested that, like Oswald Mosley, his appeal was as aesthetic as it was ideological. I argued that, like Mosley, Trump was a response to an imperial power's long-term and irreversible decline. 


In July, after Trump had taken the Republican nomination and begun his erratic campaign against Hillary Clinton, I used an unpublished Kendrick Smithyman poem and the lapidarian research of Alastair Bonnett to query the notion of the United States as a traditionally white nation. I argued that the rise of white nationalism in America was a sign of that nation's decline as a world power. 


In August I speculated about the foreign policy Trump might pursue as president, and about the unintended consequences that policy might have in the Pacific. I suggested that Trump might accelerate, rather than reverse, America's abandonment of parts of the Pacific to China. 


It seems that last post was in vain, because Trump faces a narrow and precipitous path to victory today. 


Despite his deficit in the polls and the demographics he has managed to mobilise against him, Trump has announced that he's bringing a massive arsenal of fireworks for his post-election party. Trump is of course a uniquely hubristic individual, but the high-pitched triumphalism of his campaign has had its counterpart in Hillary Clinton's frequently repeated and impossible promises to revive American manufacturing and restore the country to its old eminence in global affairs. 


I'm reminded of a poem that John Ashbery wrote in 1976, while watching a beleagured America attempt to celebrate its two hundredth birthday:


OUT OVER THE BAY THE RATTLE OF FIRECRACKERS


And, in the adjacent waters, calm. 


Ashbery is known for writing long and cryptic poems, but he had begun to experiment with haiku-like fragments after encountered an anthology of Japanese verse in the mid-'70s. In 1976, as in 2016, the United States was contending with the aftermath of a disastrous war and an economic crisis. By contrasting the bright but brief fireworks of a Fourth of July celebration with the vast indifference of the sea, Ashbert reminded his readers that the American empire, like every empire, is a mortal, even fragile thing. His vision of fireworks rising noisily before falling pathetically into dark water might be considered a peculiarly American version of Joseph Conrad's famous image of the hubris of European empires:


There was no settlement visible, but the ship was firing its guns into the forest. Apparently the French were fighting some war near there. The boat’s flag hung limp like a rag while the hull, with guns sticking out over it, rose gently and fell on the greasy, slimy waves. The ship was a tiny speck firing away into a continent. It was pointless and impossible to understand. The guns would pop, a small flame would appear from their barrels, a little white smoke would puff out, and nothing would happen. Nothing could happen. It was insane, and it only seemed more insane when someone swore to me that there was a camp of natives (or ‘enemies,’ as he called them) hidden in the jungle.


America's politicians will keep firing uselessly.


[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

5 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

I haven't seen those Haiku by Ashbery. How consciously "poliical" or satirical do you think he is in his poems. He sometimes is but he rarely takes a clear position. But you would have heard from Ed Dorn of "Abhorrences".

My internet crapped out so I missed coverage of the Election and finally we hauled out a TV set but by then I realized that Trump had won. We had been looking after 2 grandchildren so that didn't help to get time to organise.

It was increasingly fascinating from all kinds of angles. Mao tse Tung pointed out that Fascism arises when Imperialist nations (world dominant Capitalist nations) near the end of their historical term so to speak -- hence also as in your example, I presume it is 'Heart of Darkness' which is a great novel, I have read it quite a few times, but another "political" novel by him I read recently again a few times is 'The Secret Agent' which is a mix of Dickens and, well, Conrad. Brilliant satire-tragedy of anarchists and "terrorism" at the turn of the century.

There, as in the parallel to it, based on the novel, the movie Apocalypse Now, with, ironically Mr. Kurtz (Marlon Brando who supported the Amerindian's struggles for fishing rights etc in his "real life") muttering from Eliot's 'The Hollow Men'.

The US never really had an empire on which 'The Sun Never Set' (something that is still true of the British Empire, because of its vast extent in geographical terms...and empires etc don't collapse as Mao and other theorists thought, he and other Marxists saw the turning point at Stalingrad...

The optimism of the Left has not been justified. It is still possible for it to happen again. To say that the Holocaust or Stalin's atrocities and all the other ones have ended or that "freedom" and "right" and "the people" (a term Trump has coopted) will prevail is to ignore that there are no guarantees. Humans are very fallible and it all CAN happen again. The Hitlers and Trumps etc CAN triumph. The working class are clearly either demoralized or enamoured of nationalism, racism, paranoia, love of guns and hatred of women. "Power" was another rhetorical way with Trump.


11:44 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

In fact, he is like someone from a Shakespearian play (or maybe one by Marlowe). He knows exactly (he has an immense talent for connecting with people, I'm not surprised he won by the way). Hilary Clinton simply lacked charisma. Policies are almost irrelevance. The people want the amazing nothingness of Promise. They want the Dream. Trump is going to empower them. With about 10 vague "policies" (get down on wogs, blacks, women, hispanics, immigrants and 'the disabled'; opposition to climate change action [something that was a brilliancy, as it is an area that no one has actually proven, so it was clever: and if it is true that it is really of concern, by swishing it away, such a man can stop people feeling concerned or "guilty" and so on...I have to say it makes sense in some ways if one DID want to build big and other US industries]; and his Wall (one thinks of Robert Frost's great poem "Mending a Wall" and in it the old saw: 'Good fences make good neighbors'); and of course the 2nd Amendment....

And it worked! Simplicity for the simple!! You have to admire it, like a genius chess master he knew that the educated and rational and woman politician of long standing had a good chance of losing over stupidity and hate and jealousy and fear: simplicity and the promise of Everything to everyone: of empowerment to You, the Volk, the People: this worked. His voice, his bizarre methods...I might have voted for him on an impulse. He has a seductive and in fact a beautiful voice. He is a master of his craft and it paid off for him. It was Trump 1, Clinton 0.

He is all things to his followers. They think that he is a kind of Jesus Christ and will stem the tide, stop the Jew Banks and the conspiracies (my son likes him against Obama who he thinks from watching YouTube etc, is an evil puppet in the hands of the Rothschilds)...but many people think things like this....

He is Jesus Christ and everything and he united the people as the Left have inevitably failed to do. Intellectuals are disliked, cleverness and knowledge are irrelevant: we replace these things with lovely power, lovely hope and the wonder of a New Nation: the wonder of great new infallible wonder. We can now accomplish all things. Just love me, I dont know much but I love you. That is all ye need to know. My light is the way. Follow me.

So it has happened. The unthinkable, as I knew, could and did happen. Look forward to an infinite series of Holocausts, wars and so on as everything winds down...I dont mean immediately, as in the next 4 years, all things being equal, nothing more terrible than the events that have happened in the past of human history will happen...but now we have proof that history is well. History is telling us it will continue. It doesn't promise us hope or "freedom" or good or "justice". It just says, well, I am here, and things will just keep happening. For thousands of years or until humans have died out or until...Until what?



11:47 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Sobering news, Richard. Sio Siasau is back from NYC and has interesting observations on the place. He think Clinton only marginally better than Trump. I think in some ways the election of Trump takes us back to the George W Bush era - the mask is off American imperialism and the left is galvanised. There could be real pressure on the NZ-US military alliance.

4:04 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

If you are taking a general view of Capitalism, yes, it is the case. But in the moment, it is disturbing why she is rejected. I know she voted for the Iraq War and I think she pushed for sanctions against Iran. However she has begun some positive moves. She is very experienced and well educated. She lost to a popularist who has similarities to Hitler. How? If you read 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' you see the way he manipulated the populace with (perhaps in fact, initially, quite more dignified rhetoric than Trump: he would tell -- as indeed politicians always do -- whoever was listening what they wanted to hear) rhetoric and eventually played on the difficulties Germany was under. He promised nothing really except some kind of mythic wonderland of a new and Great Germany. He talked about the Volk, the People, as does Trump. He inveighed against terrorists. There are differences of course. It is not clear if Trump will use the military inside the US and outside in the same way. But his views are clear. His views are clearly not what liberals want. He appealed both to Big Money and the working class. In some ways, like Hitler he appeals to the nationalism and to the 'macho' and the feelings of resentment felt by that class how don't like 'smart alecs' such as Clinton. They also don't like the women's movement, or gay rights and all the rest. I understand this. So, in the absence of a strong left esp. in the US, or any sense of a class solidarity, and the ethnic divisions and the attacks on disabled or unfortunate people, and his advocation of guns and so on: thus Trump has won. His methods are brilliant: he has the art of the whole thing to a T. T for Trump...laugh. Fear is the other factor added to the paranoia of immigrants and possible refugees. It panders to a very selfish way of thinking. US Imperialism is in crisis. But the Left galvanised? It may happen. But the Left have to be prepared, ultimately, for war. It might have to go down to street battles, literally. That is where the Nazis won. They had plenty of working class thugs. They were prepared to terrorize. The Communist Party in Germany, the largest at the time, failed to respond with fire power. "Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun." is still true.

Will it come to that? I could, it easily could. The mid Western states voted as expected but so did many in the traditionally Democratic states. I believe there are protests...

Meanwhile I am trying to get to see the 2016 World Chess Championship live in New York, talking of businesses, the chess site I am with and others just won an against an injunction and can use the game moves. This is important as it shows that the judiciary and the laws are working perfectly well in the US. Trump has piggy backed on the Loonies who think the Banks and the Rothschilds are against everything, and that lawyers are all bad whereas in fact, Obama and Clinton et al have used the banks and the law pretty well considering the odds they were up against starting from 2008. The problem of overproduction and general decline in the US remains, but the denigration of the fundamental principles of the US Constitution are what Trump has done. He is a billionaire and decries those who (banks etc who in fact he knows know he is bullshitting...he has fooled a lot of people). Clinton was a woman and it counted against her for the working people and many men. Also the fact that she is a bit dull. That shouldn't matter if you want reality, but Trump promised magic. He is a magician of politics, clever, confusing people, and promising smoke: but he is a nasty bastard all the same.

4:51 pm  
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6:59 pm  

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