Do you remember, in the summer of 2020—such a long time ago—when the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) in Seattle endorsed Joe Biden for president? Admittedly, this happened at a specific interval and only as a glimpse. The evidence appeared and was then deleted, though traces remain.
Yet the potential ironies are hard to ignore. After weeks of what the U.S. media presented as the greatest antiracist, anti-police, anti-incarceration protest America had ever seen, leading to the centerpiece of the occupied district of Seattle, CHOP closed down with the flourish of what appeared to be an endorsement of Biden. Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., the guy who built the very prison state the protestors spent the summer working to abolish. Was this a mere surface contradiction or a flash of deeper logical devastation to come?
CHOP’s now semi-mythical endorsement was, at the very least, an historical echo, and returns differently in the ongoing aftermath of the 2020 election.
During that summer moment of statue-felling and social media protest, the French Revolution was often recalled, Robespierre in particular. The story of Robespierre contains its own lesson about abolitionist thinking. Robespierre was an abolitionist until he had power. Before the revolution, he was against the death penalty, and even wrote at the beginning of the Constituent Assembly of being against the death penalty in general. But as soon as it came to the case of Louis XVI, his position changed. The execution took place, including everything that followed—not only the Terror. The abolition he originally sought was postponed for two centuries.
Will the same laws of political amnesia be applied to the abolitionist thinking of the present? With the Biden presidency now supposedly underway, the possibility of severe political relapse cannot be ignored—or rather, given the presidential senescence and vegetocracy, perhaps it can only be ignored (such is relapse as mechanic political forgetting).
Biden is directly associated with a substantial number of catastrophic and genocidal ideas and policies in the history of American politics. When Trump was figuring out how to rebuild the Twin Towers as Twin Trump Towers and creating ghastly posters to convict the Central Park Five, Biden was busy being the legislative point man for the invasion of Iraq and working out details of a crime bill that was a prime mover in the creation of the very prison industrial complex that BLM last year would have done anything—except abolish Biden—to abolish.
Anyone but Trump, so the lesser-evilest jargon went if allowed to max out. Especially a senile, stage-two dementia, segregationist, Sino-compromised, alleged rapist, alleged pedophile, instigator and supporter of the Iraq War who wrote the first version of the Patriot Act as well as the secret 2013 memorandum of understanding creating a loophole for Chinese companies to trade out of native Tibet, and helped design the color revolutions in Europe whose model has now been imported into America itself to steal an election.
Anyone But Trump?
Chomksy, of course, wandered in last year from retirement, tele-empathizing with Biden’s civilizational senility, making what was supposed to be a slam-dunk argument: that Trump’s neglectful attitude to the facts of “global warming” made him, by definition, an absolutely evil candidate whom even Biden couldn’t come close to. Let’s ignore Biden, in other words, and work at getting rid of Trump, because Trump is in fact “the worst criminal in history, undeniably.”
There is no doubt that Chomsky’s argument is intelligible from a certain angle. However, the argument was made only per the assumption that tipping points in accelerating extinction have not already passed, and, therefore, that Trump was the contemporary pivot figure uniquely responsible for eons of destruction to come.
Chomsky’s accusation relied on the idea that we still have a chance, and an extreme personalism to boot: Orange Man Bad was the sole signatory for the eco-holocaust to come. The problem is that only a small amount of reading shows that the crucial ecological damage indicated by Chomsky to be in the future is already in the past, probably somewhere around the time of the Bush-Clinton-Bush Administration at the very latest.
To take only one superficial example from a mass of data and relatively conclusive judgment, the title of Nathaniel Rich’s book The Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change is immediately assumed to be about the decade in which things could have been really changed, that is, the last decade, the decade which included the four years of Trump’s first term. On reading the book, however, the decade in question turns out to be not the 2010s, but the specific period going from 1979 to 1989 (the 1980s, in effect). As is fairly well-known, the rallying cry “Exxon knew” takes us back even further:
It is incontrovertibly true that senior employers at Exxon, and its predecessor, Humble Oil, like those at many other major oil and gas corporations, knew about the dangers of climate change at least as early as the 1950s and did nothing to reduce emissions.
Rich adds: “Everyone knew—and we all still know.” (One can easily find plentiful confirmation of this here.)
The point isn’t that Chomsky was entirely wrong to announce Trump as the greatest criminal in history because of his environmental crimes, but that doing so opens up enormous, extremely radical questions about, for example, just what responsibility every single American president going back to the 1950s, including top-level senators and vice presidents like Biden, might share in terms of this singular criminality, and whether it can be usefully apportioned in that way at all.
It would, after all, be quite easy to argue that by the time we reach 2016, the many decades in which we could have stopped climate change have already passed, and that Joe Biden happened to spend them legislatively enabling—with a degree of continuity unmatched by any other figure—the very national governance that most crucially ignored our doom.
Cornel West was entirely clear in 2020 about who Biden is:
Biden is still Biden. Let us be very clear about that. He’s the architect of the largest prison system in the modern world and of a war that was a crime against humanity, killing millions of Iraqis.
Kanye West said the following about him:
And Joe Biden? Like come on man, please. You know? Obama’s special. Trump’s special. We say Kanye West is special. America needs special people that lead. Bill Clinton? Special. Joe Biden’s not special.
Perhaps what has to be reckoned with, looking back, is that Trump’s own specialness involves a degree of intuitive, symbolic genius and graft foreign to Bidenism’s more common administrative grift and senescence.
Informally speaking, the Trump Administration may indeed be held responsible for atrocious environmental (mis)management. Yet, this is really not how Trumpism encouraged us to read. The symbolic content of Trumpism in 2020, as we now view it, mostly guided us to work against the image of governance that had come before, even if Trump’s own extra-governmental corruption was self-evident and relatively malignant. The redress at depth we can offer to Chomsky’s slam-dunk is that in some ways Trump simply arrived on the scene like the rest of us, a late-comer to the occlusion of accelerating extinction that has guided American policy for the last century.
In a more ultimate sense, Trump was the last pragmatist when it came to climate change, and not the poster child of an insane and frenzied denialism. He merely formalized what came before him, and revealed it to us in a clearer light.
In other words, where Trump began by signing whole buildings, a kind of Duchamp transplanted to the property market of Manhattan and Atlantic City, he ended by signing the failure of the West itself and being hyperbolically scapegoated for it.
What “Trumpian” meant, when we get down to it, is the countersigning of Western Metaphysics as an ecocidal hoax.
Trump—not by conscious implementation but by unconscious underwriting—came to see the whole world as signable. And here’s what that included: hate. What 2016-2020 allowed to be figured is a live-session with hate the like of which has not been seen since Proust’s analysis of the Dreyfus affair in À la recherche du temps perdu. With Trump in session, we got to love to hate and we got to hate to love and we got to entertain the ultimate mirage: the possibility of hating without any love at all. Since pure hate is analytically delicious and intractable, and almost impossible to recover from, like life itself, Trump’s innovation in hate will have been equally artistic. Nothing else, really, can explain the lethal tumult of those years.
The Cure Cannot Be Worse Than The Problem
When Kanye announced his run for president in 2020, he specifically described his decision as a decision to walk, a walking-not-a-running. This non-teleological approach to the presidential process (pointing to 2024, 2028, and beyond . . . ) uncovered the outrageous assumption of a model that has now inwardly lost its truth along the way. That model is leftism as a counterfactual compensatory fantasy. While the “radical leftists” of CHOP (earlier called CHAZ) were able to at least momentarily endorse Joe Biden, no such attitude was widespread towards Kanye, probably the greatest black genius of the last few decades. West’s announcement to walk-not-run was itself of course speculative. “Kanye West is running for president” was one of the key speculative statements belonging to 2020 in the strong Hegelian sense: spirit is bone, the cure cannot be worse than the problem, Kanye West is running for president.
Kanye’s presence in the race was never taken seriously by the Left, not because of his imagined mental state or lack of serious plan, but because his very appearance reminded them too painfully of the fundamental truth of politics of that time: that in 2016 Donald Trump symbolically defeated the Sino-DNC-retro-academic-MSM-Marxian caliphate in improbable fashion.
The lesson of “2016” was that the Left had fucked up so badly that they would need a generation to wash the defensive fury out of their system—which nobody had, hence the impressive display of industrialized ressentimentalist fireworks for those last four years, an aborted mourning and extended plateau of hatred which will ongoingly provoke analysis. In anecdotal mode, Slavoj Žižek recounted how when asked to write a book on Trump and psychoanalysis, he demurred, giving the reason that what really needed analytic attention was the reaction to Trump and the failure to admit what had been at stake in the defeat—not Trump himself, but the resistance.
Whatever happens in 2022 and 2024, we still await that particular analysis.
The Repressed Memory of CHOP Returns
When it came to CHOP’s effaced support of my friend Joe, as Bernie Sanders calls him, to some extent all of that denied away affair smacked of the past. The French Penal Code of 1791, adopted during the French Revolution by the Constituent Assembly and influenced by the Enlightenment thinking of Cesare Beccaria and Montesquieu, made 32 crimes punishable by death. The 1994 Crime Bill in the United States, also called (for good reason) “the Biden Crime Bill”, created 60 new death penalty offenses.
Antifa may have been keen to scorch the Portland elk statue but they were less keen when it came to making a serious and public critique of the legislative point man for the largest prison system in the world. In fact, in an election year in which one of the candidates happened to be Biden, BLM chose not to release a single official statement criticizing his candidacy. Anything to get rid of Trump, as was said again and again. Including, presumably, two centuries of strategic oblivion and self-calumny. On Twitter, John Legend talked about “doing your reading.” Accurate reading and perception (the Google-sponsored fact checking added to the Wayback Machine internet archive during the Hunter Biden Laptop scandal) gets the last word, but not of the Biden crime bill and its effects.
On the contrary, in the psychological hellhole of the first presidential debate in Cleveland on September 29, 2020 (remember that, too?), the emphasis was not on the actual history of legislative racism in America but on the performative gestures of the last president, none of which were ever enough, given that the function of their failure was to cover over the historical ironies just now briefly outlined.
Here, in essence, was the uncanny valley between leftist critique and the media’s manipulation of the addiction regimes of Trump hatred. Biden, the legislative insider who enabled what the abolitionist logic was directed against, voiced for those concerned the gesture of radical critique (“critical race theory”) targeting the real racist in the room, President Trump (a “clown” according to Biden, the same word that Mary L. Trump happened to use for him in her then-newly released book).
In some ways, Trump’s wounded exasperation in that first debate can now be understood only in terms of this matrix vis á vis racial history: he was intelligent enough to know he was the fall guy for what Biden was in the process of getting away with. Biden was the daddy in that situation, aided by the Fox News double agent liberal Chris Wallace, and Trump was not. Biden cannot be touched or tampered with, because of a civilizational incest taboo in politico-eugenic form: Biden, as the father of a nation he racially abused in plain sight, as if touching children on CSPAN, will forever be forgiven precisely because it is too painful to remember, and because his sibling happened to be extrovert and have a foul mouth, and besides, the brother’s words resembled a confession of the same.
The paradox here is that only Trump might have offered America a degree of complex resolution. What is always easier than taking on daddy is blaming the other brother for his failure to verbally condemn (or, after that, concede). The Crime Bill has been catastrophic, but the implication to this day is that a true confrontation of Biden on those terms would hurt the nation too much. Safety is preferred. What replaced true risk in that juncture which we are now reliving was the gotcha interpellation and demand structure (you must condemn, you must concede) designed to transfer decades of guilt (not entirely Biden’s fault either, in the final analysis, to be sure) over to—literally—just one man, the ghost of Orange Man Bad.
Stop it, said Chris Wallace at the time, caught in the middle, when the president refused to stand the transference. The primal scene and its cues remain right on.
Does anyone now remember any of this? Since politics is amnesia, how is either side to reconstruct a lesson? The immediate aftermath of that wretched debate is ongoing as a saturation mirage: we must still, even now, be made to say what we must be made to say, that racist groups must be condemned, that the voter fraud which has shaped every single modern American election does not exist, that Trump’s failure to clearly make an anti-racist statement is the racial tragedy of the American present, not the presence of Joe Biden as president. “Every woman adores a fascist,” wrote Sylvia Plath. “What you want is another Master,” said Jacques Lacan. By this stage, it has to be said that CHOP and BLM have got one.
To Win or Lose
As we headed into lawfare season in November over whether Biden could confirm the votes he seemed (according to certain sectors) to have won, it may be said that a Biden victory appeared to be available as a phantasm at best. Even in his orchestrated absence, there is no such thing as a post-Trump moment.
Trump will, short of assassination, continue as the frame itself and the memory of an interpassive, delegated, objective-hatred machine that is now all but indestructible in needing some kind of other Trump as an icon and avatar. This is why we have allowed him to guide arguments for these years, and ceded to the idea that modern media has now become more than what Jean-Luc Godard once called “the poor cinema of the news.” As the libretto to John Adams’ Nixon in China put it, “news has a kind of mystery.”
The news we had in those years was even something like the plasticity of what artificial intelligence makes possible. Since the spectacle of others hating or being wrong is even more addictive (and deliciously intractable) than hate itself, Trump-as-signature will survive.