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Friday, 27 May 2016 00:10

Donald Trump - Old Crazy and New Normal

Written by

Stephen Coleman, University of Leeds

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


When cultural practices and performances become obsolete, they rarely simply collapse into exhausted redundancy. Rather, they linger as grotesque parodies, displaying with uncontrollable intensity the very reasons for their implausibility.

The embarrassing spectacle of the hack comedian whose tasteless jokes and predictable routines generate audience cringe rather than mirth stands as a warning that performative repertoires do not come with sell-by dates. You find out your act is outmoded when the audience start to ask for their money back.

Political leaders are beginning to resemble seaside comics who have failed to recognise that the deckchairs are empty. Repertoires that had them rolling in the aisles in the era of Churchill and Roosevelt – or even Nixon and Wilson – now look like mediocre impersonations.

Donning the fluoro gear, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is a dedicated observer of the political ritual in the UK. Stefan Rousseau/Reuters

Not only are political speeches replete with linguistically risk-averse clichés borrowed from middle management – “facing important challenges”, “we’re listening very carefully”, “moving forward”, “all in it together”, “people who do the right thing” – but the semiotic production has been reduced to a constant replay of metaphors designed for idiots.

Politicians wear hard-hats and orange protective jackets, as if to prove they thrive on the shop floor. Leaders have a routine habit of making speeches surrounded by “ordinary people” who look like involuntary participants in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The surprise is surely not that whole sections of the population are turned off by these preposterous rituals, but that some people are still paying any attention.

Popular distrust of politicians is not a new phenomenon. Apart from a brief period in the mid-20th century when people trusted Churchill because he wasn’t Hitler and then trusted Attlee because he wasn’t Churchill, political leaders have always been accepted on sufferance.

That isn’t a bad thing. The fantasy of perfect political trust evaporated when people stopped believing in the divine right of kings. Democracy can only work well when representatives are held accountable to those they claim to speak for.

The problem of contemporary democracies is not that citizens trust politicians less than they did in the past, but that leaders’ attempts to make themselves appear accountable have become increasingly implausible. Their scripts are stale; their gestures ritualistic; their evasions transparent; their artlessness palpable.

 

The first presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 was watched by more than one in three Americans, an inconceivable audience today. United Press International

Technology transforms image-making

Contemporary political distrust focuses on form as much as content. In the past, leaders were distant and, when it suited them, invisible. They had considerable control over their public images.

Technologies of public mediation have changed that. Television in particular places political actors under unprecedented levels of scrutiny. This has driven party machines to excesses of performance management that cast politicians as mere functionaries delivering approved lines to median voters.

Politicians are caught between a relentless chase for mass-mediated publicity and a permanent anxiety about the risks of unwanted visibility. Now that most people carry smartphones that can capture pictures and sound with a click, political impression management is a losing battle. Politicians continue to perform as if they are on stage (in Goffmanesque terms), but it is the blurry zone between on and offstage that they now occupy, never immune from public judgement.

They are tested by their capacity to conform – literally, to subscribe to a performative form that is readable as “acting like a leader”. But it is a form that is becoming increasingly degraded and obsolete. The new political balancing act entails conforming sufficiently to legitimise the performance, while breaking the formal boundaries with a view to displaying a degree of authenticity that cannot be contained within the bounds of form.

Trump, the performer

Trump’s performance works by using the political stage to denounce the stage. Darron Birgenheier/flickr, CC BY-SA

Enter Donald Trump: so unbalanced in his affair with political form that he permanently teeters between a mesmerising dance of solipsistic decadence and staggering off the stage.

Following a long line of populist form-busters, from Silvio Berlusconi to Viktor Orban, Trump performs as if he had just seen Peter Handke’s 1960s production, Offending the Audience, and concluded that every performance before it had misunderstood what audiences were for.

Handke said that he aimed to do “something onstage against the stage, using the theatre to protest against the theatre of the moment”. This is precisely what Trump does well; he uses the political stage to denounce the political stage. He enters the temple, but only to blow away its walls.

Speaking at a rally before the New Hampshire Republican primary, Trump said what he thought of politicians:

These people – I’d like to use really foul language. I won’t do it. I was going to say they’re really full of shit. I won’t say that. No, it’s true. It’s true. I won’t say it. I won’t say it. But they are.

What is going on here? On the face of it, here is a leader wrestling with the conventions of political form. He simply can’t use certain words. Who knows what might happen to him if he let out what he really thinks? But his frothing authenticity gets the better of him. “I won’t say it. I won’t say it.”

He’s like a character in a Victorian novel who wants to press the hand of the girl he fancies, but is paralysed by propriety. But not quite paralysed; not quite propriety: his authentic self erupts, leaking its proscribed thoughts into the minds of followers who have already bathed in the same forbidden waters.

He is telling them what they know to be true. They trust him in the same way that they are seduced by their own shadow.

This is why Trump’s speech-making never sounds like oratory, but an inner conversation. He is seeking to convince his echo to stay faithful to the original rant.

Manufacturing belief in anything

Contemporary politicians have a trust problem, but Trump is different. It is not a crisis of distrust that Trump symbolises, but an excess of trust. While contributing to a general feeling that “they’re really full of shit”, he uses the pronoun to distance both himself and his followers from the smell. They are politicians. He is a man who happened to stumble on to the stage.

Trump embodies the crudest fantasies of the American dream. He can be trusted because, by his account, he is self-made – except for the estimated US$200 million trust fund given to him by his father, which rather skews the narrative.

Because he is perceived as a man who made his own fortune, he is seen as a leader who owes nothing to anyone. Why vote for a politician who’s in the pocket of shady billionaires when you could vote for a shady billionaire?

The logic is perverse, but it is the foundation of a form of projection that allows the following to be accepted as strategic thinking:

Now, we have to build a fence. And it’s got to be a beauty. Who can build better than Trump? I build; it’s what I do. I build; I build nice fences, but I build great buildings. Fences are easy, believe me.

I saw the other day on television people just walking across the border. They’re walking. The military is standing there holding guns and people are just walking right in front, coming into our country. It is so terrible. It is so unfair. It is so incompetent.

And we don’t have the best coming in. We have people that are criminals, we have people that are crooks. You can certainly have terrorists. You can certainly have Islamic terrorists. You can have anything coming across the border. We don’t do anything about it. So I would say that if I run and if I win, I would certainly start by building a very, very powerful border.

This image of a man who builds nice fences, great buildings and beautiful walls can only be understood from the perspective of biblical metaphor. The politicians droning on about “cutting the deficit” as they pretend to blend in on the factory floor are mere theatrical extras compared to Trump, on stage and in flow, so hard and tall and foreigner-resistant that his audience purrs collectively in claustrophobic bliss.

G.K. Chesterton reminded us that when people stop believing in something, they do not believe in nothing, but are more likely to believe in anything. Trump is a vessel for the deposit of American disbelief. He is the “anything” that occupies the space that would otherwise be “nothing”.

Trump’s support comes from his ability to turn a crisis of distrust into a willingness to trust anything he says and does. Jamelle Bouie/flickr, CC BY

Can democratic politics re-invent itself?

Here lies the lesson for democratic politics. Just as obsolete forms atrophy slowly, lingering until the last drop of affective vitality evaporates, so new political forms often emerge as prefigurative contortions, only discernible through the trace lines of oddity.

Trump might not be the New Normal, but neither can his performance be dismissed as the Old Crazy. He is a spectre of things to come: of political performance in an age of projection rather than representation.

To represent is to stand in for those who must be absent. To represent democratically is to diminish the consequences of the electorate’s absence from the sphere of everyday decision-making by remaining accountable to their interests, preferences and values.

Political projection is representation in reverse. The dummy produces a ventriloquist that is in its own image. Citizens are not re-presented, but offered a fantasy of presence through the demagogic persona of a leader. They, the shit-filled politicians, cannot be trusted because you, the hollow public, should not be trusted.

Trump, on the other hand, provides a receptacle for indiscriminate trust – in him, in yourself, in anything, but never something.

The faultlines in democratic politics are clearly marked. On the one side is a system of representation that is bad at making people feel represented. On the other is a process of projection that satisfies a visceral desire to be affectively registered, but amounts to little more than an incontinent protest against conventional political form.

Obsolete modes of representation are unlikely to defeat Trump – as the US Republican contest has shown. A key question for contemporary democracies is whether they can reinvent practices of democratic representation that allow people to communicate in ways that build commitment to something rather than surrender to anything. Such practices must amount to more than participatory tokenism or technological gimmickry.

Obsolete forms of representation as a distant relationship, ritually reaffirmed by periodic elections, cannot be resuscitated by simply putting them online, encouraging politicians to expose their inner feelings on TV chat shows, or changing the voting system. Clogged up with prejudices, resentments and semi-articulated desires, the political atmosphere surrounding prevailing relations of representation generates default disappointment.

The fast-growing cast of anti-politicians who seem drunk on cheap trust (for Trump is by no means alone) will surely thrive and expand unless a more meaningful form of representation is established.

Rather than devoting huge energy pointing to the absurdity or toxicity of this new populism, democracies would be better served by beginning a debate about what it means to represent and be represented; what form democratic representation might take in an era of instantaneous communication.

The Conversation

Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 13 August 2012 06:29

House Hold "Tips and Tricks"

Written by

Useful Tips and Tricks For Every House Hold

cutaway house

  • To silence your squeaky hardwood floors sprinkle some baby powder on the squeaky area and sweep it into the cracks. Then wipe the floor. The baby powder between the boards will act as a lubricant and will stop the annoying noise.
  • Have friends on their way over and you forgot to put drinks in the fridge. Place your drinks in a large pot and cover with ice. Sprinkle 2 cups of salt on top of the ice and then fill the rest of the pot with water. Your drinks will be ice cold within 2 to 3 minutes.
  • If you have already sealed an envelope and realized you forgot to put something in it, place the envelope in the freezer for a couple hours. It will pop right open so you don't have to get another envelope.
  • After cooking fish put a little vinegar in a pot and let it boil. The nasty fish smell will disappear almost instantly leaving your kitchen smelling clean again.
  • To peel a kiwi cut off the top and bottom, slip a spoon between the skin and the flesh. Twist the spoon around the entire kiwi (keeping it between the skin and flesh the whole time). Then just pop the skin off.
  • When you are done using the roll of tape, fold the last quarter inch down and stick it back onto itself. This will create a little tab that can easily be found so you don't have to waste time searching for the end of the tape.
  • Accidentally close a tab on your browser? No problem! Hit ctrl-shift-T and the page will pop up again.
  • When packing liquids (shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, etc...) for your next trip, take the lid off, place a piece of plastic wrap over the opening and screw the lid back on. The plastic wrap will keep the liquid from spilling even if the lid pops open.
  • Before cooking a burger patty, press a hole in the middle of the patty. The hole will disappear as the burger cooks. This will minimize shrinking and you won't have to worry about them not being done in the center.
  • Rubbing some butter over the cut edge of a block of cheese will seal it and stop it from molding.
  • When masking tape and painters tape sit in the garage or other hot areas for too long, they tend to dry out and break apart when you try to peel them. Place them in the microwave for a few seconds. (keep a close eye on them, you don't want to start a fire.) This should loosen them up and they will peel a lot easier.
Thursday, 16 February 2012 04:07

Meet the Marriage Killer

Written by

Ken Mac Dougall bit into the sandwich his wife had packed him for lunch and noticed something odd—a Post-it note tucked between the ham and the cheese. He pulled it out of his mouth, smoothed the crinkles and read what his wife had written: "Be in aisle 10 of Home Depot tonight at 6 p.m."

Mr. Mac Dougall was renovating the couple's Oak Ridge, N.J., kitchen, and his wife had been urging him to pick out the floor tiles. He felt he had plenty of time to do this task. She felt unheard.

"I thought the note was an ingenious and hysterical way to get his attention," says his wife, Janet Pfeiffer (whose occupation, interestingly enough, is a motivational speaker), recalling the incident which occurred several years ago. Her husband, a technician at a company that modifies vehicles for handicapped drivers, didn't really see it that way. "I don't need a reminder in the middle of my sandwich," he says.

Nagging—the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed—is an issue every couple will grapple with at some point. While the word itself can provoke chuckles and eye-rolling, the dynamic can potentially be as dangerous to a marriage as adultery or bad finances. Experts say it is exactly the type of toxic communication that can eventually sink a relationship.

 Why do we nag? "We have a perception that we won't get what we want from the other person, so we feel we need to keep asking in order to get it," says Scott Wetzler, a psychologist and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. It is a vicious circle: The naggee tires of the badgering and starts to withhold, which makes the nagger nag more.

Personality contributes to the dynamic, Dr. Wetzler says. An extremely organized, obsessive or anxious person may not be able to refrain from giving reminders, especially if the partner is laid back and often does things at the last minute. Other people are naturally resistant—some might say lazy—and could bring out the nagger inanyone.

It is possible for husbands to nag, and wives to resent them for nagging. But women are more likely to nag, experts say, largely because they are conditioned to feel more responsible for managing home and family life. And they tend to be more sensitive to early signs of problems in a relationship. When women ask for something and don't get a response, they are quicker to realize something is wrong. The problem is that by asking repeatedly, they make things worse.

Men are to blame, too, because they don't always give a clear answer. Sure, a husband might tune his wife out because he is annoyed; nagging can make him feel like a little boy being scolded by his mother. But many times he doesn't respond because he doesn't know the answer yet, or he knows the answer will disappoint her.

Nagging can become a prime contributor to divorce when couples start fighting about the nagging rather than talking about the issue at the root of the nagging, says Howard Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Denver and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies. For 30 years, Dr. Markman has researched conflict and communication in relationships and offered relationship counseling and marriage seminars. He says that while all couples deal with nagging at some point, those who learn to reduce this type of negative communication will substantially increase their odds of staying together and keeping love alive. Couples who don't learn often fall out of love and split up.

Research that Dr. Markman published in 2010 in the Journal of Family Psychology indicates that couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication. "Nagging is an enemy of love, if allowed to persist," Dr. Markman says.

The good news: Couples can learn to stop nagging. Early in their marriage, Ms. Pfeiffer, now 62, repeatedly reminded her husband about household tasks and became more demanding when he ignored her. "If I was asking him to take care of something that mattered to me and he was blowing me off, that made me feel like I didn't matter," she says.

Mr. Mac Dougall, 58, says the nagging made his muscles tense, he would become silent and his eyes would glaze over in a "thousand-yard stare." "Her requests conveyed some sort of urgency that I didn't think was needed," he says. "If I said I was going to get to it, I would definitely get to it."

Ms. Pfeiffer decided to soften her approach. She asked herself, "How can I speak in a way that is not threatening or offensive to him?" She began writing requests on Post-it notes, adding little smiley faces or hearts. Mr. Mac Dougall says he was initially peeved about the sandwich note but did show up at Home Depot that evening smiling.

Ms. Pfeiffer sometimes writes notes to him from the appliances that need to be fixed. "I really need your help," a recent plea began. "I am really backed up and in a lot of discomfort." It was signed "your faithful bathtub drain." "As long as I am not putting pressure on him, he seems to respond better," Ms. Pfeiffer says. Mr. Mac Dougall agrees. "The notes distract me from the face-to-face interaction," he says. "There's noannoying tone of voice or body posture. It's all out of the equation."

The first step in curbing the nagging cycle, experts say, is to admit that you are stuck in a bad pattern. You are fighting about fighting. You need to work to understand what makes the other person tick. Rather than lazy and unloving, is your husband overworked and tired? Is your wife really suggesting she doesn't trust you? Or is she just trying to keep track of too many chores?

Noreen Egurbide, 44, of Westlake Village, Calif., says she used to give her husband frequent reminders to take out the garbage, get the car serviced or pick up the kids from school. "I thought I was helping him," she says. Jose Egurbide, 47, often waited a while before doing what she asked. The couple would argue. Sometimes Ms. Egurbide would just do it herself.

A few years ago, they got insight into their nagging problem after taking a problem-solving assessment test, the Kolbe Assessment. Ms. Egurbide, a business coach, learned she is a strategic planner who gathers facts and organizes in advance. Herhusband, an attorney, learned that he is resistant to being boxed into a plan. Now, Ms. Egurbide says, "I don't take it personally when he doesn't respond." "There is a sense of recognition about what's happening," Mr. Egurbide says. "It's easier to accommodate each other."

Source: WSJ reporting

By: Elizabeth Bernstein