Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Facts-ism versus Fascism (The King of Ambrosia, pt 2)

"Right from the start of his career – before the start of it, really – he told tall tales, offering journalists grossly inflated accounts of real events and circumstances, while promising things that would never be delivered and that in most cases never got beyond being an idle fantasy:  TV cartoon series based around him and scripted by him, screenplays for “three European pictures... including one for Fellini”, several science fiction novels on the verge of UK publication. He boasted of having painted “enough for an exhibition” and having “five books finished which I`ve been sitting on for a long time”....  Music journalists ate it up because it was good copy.  PR man Keith Altham compared him to Walter Mitty: “he knew that people always wanted something larger-than-life, so he always exaggerated. And sometimes he actually began to believe that himself”. Billy Liar is another parallel. The opening line of Keith Waterhouse’s novel is “Lying in bed, I abandoned the facts again and was back in Ambrosia”—the latter being Billy Fisher’s fantasy-land, where he rules as a benign dictator/generalissimo.  For Marc Bolan as for Billy Fisher, reality was a facts-ist regime from which he was determined to secede."
         - from early draft of Shock and Awe 

"... A clinical psychologist told me...  that the pandemic and its economic fallout “overwhelm Trump’s capacity to understand, are outside of his ability to internalize and process, and [are] beyond his frustration tolerance. He is neither curious nor interested; facts are tossed aside when inconvenient or [when they] contradict his parallel reality, and people are disposable unless they serve him in some way.” 

... Trump’s success as a politician has been built on his ability to impose his will and narrative on others, to use his experience on a reality-television show and his skill as a con man to shape public impressions in his favor, even—or perhaps, especially—if those impressions are at odds with reality. He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

But in this instance, Trump isn’t facing a political problem he can easily spin his way out of. He’s facing a lethal virus. It doesn’t give a damn what Donald Trump thinks of it or tweets about it. Spin and lies... including that it will soon magically disappear... don’t work. In fact, they have the opposite effect. Misinformation will cause the virus to increase its deadly spread.

So as the crisis deepens... it’s reasonable to assume that the president will reach for the tools he has used throughout his life: duplicity and denial. He will not allow facts that are at odds with his narrative to pierce his magnetic field of deception"

- Peter Wehner, "The President Is Trapped", The Atlantic

"With Trump’s clinical narcissism, there is no rational road map to his decision-making. There is merely the impulsiveness of his feelings, what he sees at any moment on Fox News, or what some billionaire blowhard might tell him on the phone. My best bet is that Trump’s initial China travel ban was due to his love of all travel bans. They’re a way of exerting total power over others, and that’s the kind of action he feels most psychically at peace with. And it was the kind of governance Trump can actually accomplish: It required nothing but an executive order and a tweet. No work. No follow-through. Just power.

T"he rest is explained entirely by Trump’s reliably rock-solid instinct to preserve himself and his own perceived interests over any kind of rational assessment of the public good, or any measure of internal consistency or coherence.

"So he suddenly panicked that an epidemic could hurt the stock market and slow the economy in an election year. It could obliterate his key reelection platform: that he brought the U.S. economy to near full employment. It could be his Katrina. So he reverted to his core psychological mechanism: He simply denied reality. His goal was to do what he always does: frame a narrative that looks good for him but which isn’t, you know, true, but that he could almost persuade a majority of his cult followers to swallow. He pulled all the levers — the Hannity and Limbaugh disinformation machine — but in the end, even they couldn’t hide the mounting numbers of the sick and the dead. He tried to sell the market on his inverted reality — and this time, the attempt to create reality didn’t quite work, as the market cratered. Epidemics are like that. They are reality at its edgiest. This one finally called the con man’s bluff." - Andrew Sullivan, "America Is Trapped in Trump's Blind Spot" 

Bonus beats:

"Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals" - The New York Times, 2017 

"After the rally, I loitered near one of the exits, chatting with people as they filed out of the arena. Among liberals, there is a comforting caricature of Trump supporters as gullible personality cultists who have been hypnotized into believing whatever their leader says. The appeal of this theory is the implication that the spell can be broken, that truth can still triumph over lies, that someday everything could go back to normal—if only these voters were exposed to the facts. But the people I spoke with in Tupelo seemed to treat matters of fact as beside the point... Tony Willnow, a 34-year-old maintenance worker who had an American flag wrapped around his head, observed that Trump had won because he said things no other politician would say. When I asked him if it mattered whether those things were true, he thought for a moment before answering. “He tells you what you want to hear,” Willnow said. “And I don’t know if it’s true or not—but it sounds good, so fuck it.”

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

Leaving the rally, I thought about Arendt, and the swaths of the country that are already gripped by the ethos she described. Should it prevail in 2020, the election’s legacy will be clear—not a choice between parties or candidates or policy platforms, but a referendum on reality itself."
---  McKay Coppins, "The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President", The Atlantic March 2020

"Trump is an extreme version of what people on Wall Street call a “glamour stock”: an investment that outperforms the market based on an inflated belief in its growth potential or on even more intangible qualities of cool and buzz. Twitter has been described as the ultimate glamour stock, its attractive image vastly out of whack with its ability to make money. A glamour stock will keep on winning right up until it loses – when the gulf between its perceived value and actual wealth-generative potential gets too huge, when reality finally disrupts the reality distortion field surrounding it.

.... With no fixed political principles, Trump’s only consistency is salesmanship and showmanship: the ability to stage his public life as a drama. And it’s the drama that holds the public’s attention – the edgy promise of a less boring politics. The New York Times recently quoted a voter who confessed to flirting with the idea of voting for Trump because “a dark side of me wants to see what happens… There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen.”

-- SR, "Is politics the new glam rock?", The Guardian, October 2016

Nostalgic for the Boring Dystopia yet?

bonus beat 4/17/2020

"Trump claims the powers of a tyrant, behaves like one, talks like one, struts like one, has broken every norm a liberal democracy requires, and set dangerous precedents that could enable a serious collapse in constitutional norms in the future.

"But he doesn’t actually want to be a tyrant. It’s way too much work. It requires real management skills — and Trump has none. He wants to be treated like a king, regarded as a king, and fawned on like a king, but that’s about it. He seems only attached to power insofar as power is attached to fame, and fame without criticism helps assuage his acute and disordered psychic needs.

"This, in Bill Kristol’s rather brilliant phrase, is “performative authoritarianism.” ... Trump saw [the coronavirus emergency]  purely as an obstacle to his reelection message about a booming economy, a blot on his self-image, an unfair spoiling of his term. Instead of exploiting it, he whined about it. He is incapable of empathy and so simply cannot channel the nation’s grief into a plan of action. So he rambles and digresses and divides and inflames. He has managed in this crisis to tell us both that he is all-powerful and that he takes no responsibility for anything.

And I suspect that this creepy vaudeville act, in a worried and tense country, is beginning to wear real thin....  While governors are acting, Trump is chattering. While people are dying, Trump is bragging about his own ratings, signing his name on stimulus checks, pushing quack remedies, and abetting conspiracy theories about Chinese laboratories. And although there is a rump group of supporters who will follow Trump anywhere and may launch tea party–style protests against social distancing on his behalf, I suspect this fundamental unseriousness after responding to the virus so late is finally taking its toll." - Andrew Sullivan 


  1. I have noticed David Bowie´s music has appeared in film as the soundtrack to fallin in the grip of a destructive power. Christian F, a german movie of 79 or 80, set a few years earlier about a 14 year old girl who becomes a junkie, based on a true story, almost doubles as a "Berlin period Bowie music" movie, the girl actually first tried heroin at a Bowie concert, and he makes an appearance. I read once that heroin provides a sense of purpose and structure to the adicts life.

    Then there is "Breaking the Waves" from Lars Von Trier in the nineties but set in a scottish town in the early seventies, were a woman "listens to god" and there is a very explicit theme about listening versus reading God´s word. The woman ultimately dies obbeying her head voices and her lover that push her to prostitution. In both movies Bowies songs are like siren songs I´d say. In Breaking the Waves it´s only one song, Life in Mars, and it´s only in one of the versions of the movie, the original i think.

    And now there is jojo rabbit where adultness and authoritarianism/fascism/nazism are likened, all of it, the adultness and the rest, viewed negatively. But not by the kids (not before everything falls apart), for whom joining the nazi youth is the rite of passage to manhood. Makes me think of the alt right who they say are a bunch of adults living in their parents vasement who don´t have girlfriends or sex.

  2. Oh, and i forgot, jojo dances to "Heroes"

  3. ah i didn't realise there was a glam undertone to Joker (which I still haven't seen). very appropriate. Return of Kings / Fight Club etc as craving for one's "birthright" of heroism.

  4. Joker? glam? your kiddin me! I don´t know what Return of kings is but when I saw Fight Club my never humble opinion was that it was an obvious metaphor for drug adiction.

  5. sorry i misread your comment, read 'jojo' as joker!

    Return of Kings is that 'new masculinism' web board, advice to beta males on how to become an alpha male

    i don't see the Fight Club as drug addiction analogy i must say - it's much more to do with men feeling impotent and role-less in the new age of metrosexuality and looking for some kind of warrior male identity as a bulwark against this insidious decadence eroding their spirit from within (c.f. robert bly's book Iron Man and the Men's Movement which was early 90s so preceded the Palunik book which came out 96). Nietzche's "in times of peace the warlike man attacks himself" springs to mind - especially when the lead character is seen punching himself in the face later on, via his delusional alter ego Tyler Durden.

  6. Maybe there´s something to both interpretations. Fighting addiction, in my case, smoking :D (I´m not such a square, i´ve tried other drugs but my real addiction was cigarettes) was the mother of all inner battles. And as I said regarding Bowie and Christiane F, I once read something about how heroin provides a sense of purpose to addicts so I link feelings of role-lessness and lack of identity with drugs.

    BTW I think I didn´t explain well my "Breaking the Waves" idea, lets say that I think there must be many cases in real life where a girl or a boy from a small, rural, religious community got carried away by music, radio, Tv, Bowie etc. and that led to a path of perdition. I´m a liberal, I like Bowie and pop music and culture and I am actually kinda antireligious. But shit happens, and Bowie could have played the role of a siren luring people to shipwreck. Like his music in movies. "I´m a blackstar" he said. And he also said he felt he didn´t had an identity. And drugs or fascistic politics can come in to fill the identity gap.

    Something I remember about Fight Club, is that at some point the club was like a fascist organization. With a dear leader, followers subjected to abuse, their whole life belonging to the club etc.


glam / new wave (1 of ??)

Jeff Duff, or Duffo, is an Australian singer/cabaret performer in the tenor range, who in his career has used various personae, wardrobe,...