Trump tropes

Donald Trump in London, 6 versions, 13 July 2018

Trope#1 Gender bending fake-news hawker

As a sort of finale to any interventionist or proxy war, there is the demand of the people to lay their hands on the body of the demagogue that intervention helped to free them from. The same logic seems to have subliminally sunk into the very centres of the powers of intervention. The lust for the body (of the Leader), at least symbolically, was more than apparent in the masses who greeted Donald Trump in London.

However Trump never actually exposed himself to London's public space. But in his absence, the people compensated themselves with self-produced avatars, effigies, and imposters; each one a do-it-yourself trope of Trump. In their mockery of the person, and the person alone, these tropes amalgamated in a carnival of resistance to bare as much about us and our political horizons, as about Donald Trump.


The carnival as a space for unmediated popular expression is an exposé of collective belief. It renders visible the shared allegorical space that Walter Benjamin called the dream state that we inhabit in modernity (from which the masses may awaken to realise the nakedness of its reality). The dream state of our modern fate that too easily surrendered to fascism (in its multiple tropes) as Benjamin diagnosed in 30s Germany.

We can read the tropes of Donald Trump as naïve figures from Benjamin's dream state, forewarnings as in a Berlin street before the Nazis and Benjamin's complex but doomed escape. Yet this carnival by its return to the body in Europe as a site of direct political mockery recalls the rawness of another aesthetic and imagination. That is in the carnival itself and from Mikhail Bakhtin's writing on the Rabelaisian carnival, the power of the medieval carnivalesqe where terror is conquered by laughter and the grotesque body becomes the property of the people.



Trope#2 pussy grabbing primate best kept behind bars (for public protection)

Bakhtin's grotesque body is of course that of our own democracy become demagogue, from which the people need protection. Writing through the imposition of 'socialist realism' as a literary form during Stalin's rule, Bakhtin found escape through Rabelais and the language of the people, the language which mocks and insults the deity. Mockery was the means to unleash what Bakhtin saw as the people’s power, to renew and regenerate the entire social system. The carnivalesqe and grotesque realism were the means of dissolving the system. That when enclosed by it, there remained for the people a possibility of living outside it; of living in yet outside, in a parallel universe of the carnival.
As Bakhtin wrote, carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people.


The Carnival is the people's response to Gargantua, which in our age is that of the gargantuan alliance of money and governance. A coalition of democracy and oligarchy that enables a scale of infliction on the common akin to Rabelais' narrations as when, Gargantua drowned in his urine two hundred sixty thousand four hundred and eighteen Parisians.
Yet the people turn the terror of profligacy into the blind laughter of the carnival. The cosmic catastrophe (of Trump in our case) represented in the material bodily lower stratum is degraded, humanised, and transformed into grotesque monsters – monsters to now identify if only to mock with impunity.



Trope#3 White maleness trapped in the mirror phase

Freud and later Lacan described the mirror phase of life when a baby comes to recognise itself in the mirror. And so with Trump, stuck in an infantile mirror phase, condemned to recognise only himself, his own self as a trope. All of Trump's utterances are read as this, an exclusory White Eurocentric Maleness out of which comes a transparent racism and the incapacity to consider diverse social realities.


Against this Bakhtin's carnivalesqe asserts itself by the diversity it necessitates; a plurality of consciousnesses, with equal rights and each with its own world, combine but are not merged in the unity of the event.
The carnival's contemporary revival in Europe largely through Afro-Caribbean peoples crosses a broken bridge to that pre-colonial past of European traditions. Bakhtin describes how the Renaissance and its latinisers spelt the end of the Rabelesian world and its conception of art and of people. If the two were interlinked through folk culture and its dialects of the incomprehensible, the naive and peaceful coexistence of the dialects came to an end; they began to clarify each other, and their variety was gradually unveiled.
That the space by which the auratic power of the folk could exert its public (and vulgar) imagination became narrower with each century, Benjamin's adage that Art teaches us to see into things. Folk art and kitsch allow us to see outward from within things identified the reflective inversions in the political-aesthetic order along with the coming of the modern fascist mirror. 




Trope#4 Totalitarian ideologue, proto führer, ...

Trump's Make America Great again tells us again and again who the nation is for. But in that sense Trump is repeating one of our conundrums - whether it's through Hegel or Max Weber or Carl Schmitt. That the project of an universal modernity was built on the nation state as the bearer of identity, and so demands the making of its people, the volk. In this making lies both the compulsive reason and the irony of modern nationalism based on the imaginary of a pre-modern racially pure culturally harmonised identikit people. As Bakhtin writes of Rabelais time, a single national language did not exist as yet; it was being slowly formed.  That social life was an intense interorientation (of dialects).

For Benjamin, if our broken history is connective and not progressive in the Marxist sense, the failure (of history) lies in the capacity to develop technology yet not use it to inaugurate a new political outside the old reign of property. Thus the revolutionary means of film and photograph, mass media (analogous to the utopianism of the internet and social media of our digital age) could have been deployed to create a new social order, but instead became tied to a new relation of property, the commodity. Though uncommitted to any Marxist conception of communism (whilst Bakhtin lived in its deformed Stalinist version), Benjamin's fear was that in our incapacity to forge the aesthetic and social order promised by our technology, other ‘powers of enchantment’ beckon. 




Trope #5 pathological twitter addict, infantile troll,..

The most cyborg of all the tropes, with hand and cellphone morphed perhaps congenitally, this bloated baby bombards us, not with depleted uranium but with rabid memes. Because the success of a meme has little to do with its veracity, in fact the opposite  (the greater the falsehood, the greater the viral potential), what matters is quantity not quality. Trump's meme bombardment, analogous to what Benjamin wrote of art in the age of mechanical production, has little to do with values of the past like creativity, genius, eternal value, but deal with concepts whose uncontrolled (and at present almost uncontrollable) application would lead to a processing of data in the Fascist sense.
The trope is reliant on the right bodies as receptacles, to tune them to its wavelength as a monolithic volk necessary to Make America Great again, Make Europe Great again, Make Britain Great again.



Trope #6 The head of Trump, #DumpTrump, ..

As popular expression in the mass march, mockery has a political limit. They may serve as wish images, dialectical images that move across time, past and present to imagine possibilities. But our digital age has other logics. It replicates them ad nauseum, to produce its own cacophony (of mockery and a counter mockery) just as our democratic edifice has in its own hall of mirrors (of fake news and post-truth). In a viral cycle, the more we lose our faith in the core beliefs that underpin our governance, the more we need that single corpus of power and lay claim to a body. It's rooted in the contradiction between our means (of technology) and material conditions of our political existence as Benjamin warned. That an unrequited quest for the transparency of power also leads perversely to the one body, the spectacular enactment of Great Leader.
That is also why Bakhtin reminded us that grotesque realism is so opposed to severance from the material and bodily roots of the world, why carnival laughter has to build its own world in opposition to the official world , its own church versus the official church, its own state versus the official state.
As democracy and technology in the digital age produce more Trump tropes, the louder the carnival laughter has to become, as Bakhtin suggested in Stalin's time, to redefine the borderline between life and art, and its new politics.