Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Only Ego- Maybe

Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to plan a grand military parade to show off the military might (the North Korean way, from 2017, below) the entire world already recognizes.

Steve M realizes

But he's Trump, so he'll just spend hundreds of millions of dollars to ship weaponry to the streets of D.C. because he's an overgrown eleven-year-old boy still mentally living in the 1950s, and also because he's a crushingly insecure plutocrat who needs a steady succession of gaudy displays in order to feel that he's adequately demonstrating his own greatness to the world.

He's evidently confident that

This parade won't be part of a grand plan to crush democracy in America -- there won't be roaming goon squads, and a protest will probably be permitted, though at some distance from the main event. Trump might want the parade to intimidate foreign foes, but it won't accomplish that goal, because the military will probably agree to display only weapons our enemies already know about. This will just be a pointless moment of excess, with Trump using weapons the way, in his hotels, he uses gilt.

Fox will broadcast the entire parade live -- and in order to avoid McCarthyite attacks, so will MSNBC and CNN. The coverage on Fox will be ecstatic (I'm guessing the Fox & Friends crew will do the honors), while on MSNBC, Chris Matthews will probably match the Fox crew in enthusiasm, reprising his embarrassing performance on "Mission Accomplished" day in 2003.

And then it will be over, and we'll be the same country we were beforehand. Trump will have gotten his testosterone rush. The real work of harming America will be taking place elsewhere, in meetings of House and Senate Republicans and in Cabinet-level departments run by cynical, grasping officials who despise ordinary Americans.

SM argues that the primary danger is in overreaction by Democrats, thus

Seriously: Don't get worked up about this. If you get worked up about this, your resentment will be the story: There go the liberals, hating America again. Don't give them the satisfaction. Seventy-two hours after it's over, we'll be chasing some ridiculous Trump tweet, and no one will remember the parade even happened.

They won't remember, but that doesn't mean it would not have had its desired effect.  Researcher-journalist Sarah Kendzior, detecting a parallel between Central America's "spectacular states" and authoritarianism in the USA, has written

In 2010, Laura Adams, a sociologist who conducted extensive fieldwork in the nascent Central Asian states in the 1990s, published The Spectacular State, an analysis of Uzbekistan’s nation-building through massive public spectacle.

“A spectacular state,” writes Adams, “is one where, more than in other countries, politics is conducted on a symbolic level, promoting the state’s domination over the shared meaning of concepts such as heritage and progress.” The ultimate goal of the spectacular state is the restriction of the public sphere, where all ideas of culture and heritage are either filtered through – or respond to – the narrative of the state, ruled by a dictator who has developed a cult of personality. The nation becomes a brand; the dictator, a brand ambassador; the people, a captive audience.

In January, shortly before he began sweeping the primaries after months of hate rhetoric, Trump staged a rallyin which three girls–called “The Freedom Kids”–lip-synched a pop song praising the brutality of their incumbent leader. “Enemies of freedom face the music/ C’mon boys, take them down/ President Donald Trump knows how to make America great/ Deal from strength or get crushed every time!” they sang, dancing in their red, white, and blue outfits before an enthusiastic crowd. Many Americans found it baffling. For those familiar with the decadent patriotism of Central Asian national performances, which commonly feature declarations of loyalty from dancing children, it was disconcerting in its familiarity.

Adams notes that “spectacle enables elites to close opportunities for input from below, but without making the masses feel left out.” Spectacle soothes the masses while distracting them from their suffering. Trump, a master of the American reality TV genre which has made a spectacle of human suffering – he made “You’re fired!” a beloved tagline during one of the worst economic crises in U.S. history – knows how to make an audience feel included through the theatrical exclusion of others. This tactic carries over into Trump’s rallies, where protesters are booted — and sometimes beaten — with fanfare. It also carries over into his policies, which are structured around exclusion: a wall against Mexico, banned entry for foreign Muslims, a database for U.S. Muslims, and a media denied access unless they acquiesce to Trump’s demands.

It's no accident that, as their organizers understand, parades are effective as bread and circuses.  They may serve a critical- though sublimely subtle- purpose as one of many spectacles, which in the whole are intended to make some people feel included and others excluded.  When the leader wishes to build the case for a military of unprecedented size, the dangers are greater. When the leader has shown a partiality for the most bloodthirsty genocidal individual in human history, the danger is greater still.  Although the peril is limited now, it is magnified exponentially in the unlikely event Donald Trump is re-nominated and re-elected (Russian parade plans, 2010, below).

Kendzior, who does not claim a crystal ball, probably understands this. (How it was done some 75 years ago is shown in video below.) She wrote her article 23 months ago.

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