So Inauguration Day in Washington came across as a decidedly odd, even slightly unsettling, affair: which is perhaps the only fitting end-point for what has been a decidedly odd, even slightly unsettling, presidential race.
It also seemed to affirm my fears that we’re falling deeper into a bad place.
What was most striking about the scenes is how low-key, even grim, the mood and atmosphere was, feeling slightly more like a Soviet-style event than an American presidential inauguration. Something similar was noted by Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov recently in regard to Trump’s first press event.
This was perhaps more noticeable in contrast to Barack Obama’s inauguration and the enthusiasm, spiritedness and optimism that had infused that entire affair – an event that had been characterised by a sense of hope, momentum and cultural unity. Regardless of what you may or may not think about Obama’s presidency after the fact, the mood and tone of his victory in 2008 and his inauguration in 2009 was something extraordinary, particularly after what had been eight years of a deeply unpopular Bush-fronted Cheney/Rumsfeld Neo-Con regime.
By contrast, Friday’s events saw a departing president with one of the highest approval ratings on record handing over to a president-elect with possibly the lowest approval rating in recent memory: naturally, the inauguration was going to end up reflecting this somewhat. Even so, I’m not sure it was supposed to look and taste more like a funeral than a ceremony. Trump’s people have already lied and tried to suggest that over a million and a half supporters were in attendance; but it was pretty clear from the footage that nothing close to that number of people turned out, with most outlets putting the figure somewhere around the 200,000 mark.
The blatant, stupid lies are in full swing: the new White House press secretary just claimed the inauguration had the largest ever attendance for a presidential inauguration: this clearly isn’t true and almost every outlet – both in the US and abroad – has said it was one of the smallest attendances. The matter actually wasn’t much helped by laying down white plastic sheeting when it rained, as this only served to highlight empty spaces.
Trump – clearly a man with a massive complex – himself has now been quoted as saying any media outlets that “lied” about the size of his attendance will ‘pay a price’ for their lies.
I’m beginning to wonder if the whole ‘fake news’ controversy has been designed from the start to pave the way for the Trump government to shut down journalism and take full control of media: this is what has happened in Turkey under Erdogan and is what goes in Russia under Putin. I said, a year or so ago, that what was going on in Turkey was something we should all be watching closely – because it would be the same model via which we would lose our own societies soon enough too.
The problem now, however, is that various MSM are going to continue trying to operate against Trump for some time: while Trump’s administration – and its Alt-Right allies – will also continue with the lies too. Essentially, it will be an ongoing quagmire of lies and counter-lies, which will make it very difficult for most people to ascertain the reality.
In my first post of this year, I went slightly off-script into a meditation on reality and more specifically on how recent events were prodding at my sense of reality. The reason I began the year with that subject was because it had a lot to do with how I was starting to perceive political situations that were unfolding. I also referenced both Trump and Brexit in that context and talked about how Trump’s Alt-Right/Goldman-Sachs-aligned victory felt a bit like the alternate-reality ‘Pottersville’ in the Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
Some of what is happening now feels like a continuation of that theme, where reality appears to be a work of fiction, or at least heavily echoing fiction.
Watching the footage of the Inauguration, I genuinely half felt like I was watching either a film-set or a Pottersville-style alternate reality vision. There is a very specific pop/cultural reference-point that also came to mind in this context of Trump’s inauguration – which I will come back to at the end of this post. And one reason I want to focus on that fictional reference-point instead of a real-world or historical reference-point is because I don’t want to fall into the cliched thing of talking about the Trump movement in terms of the rise of Hitler or even Mussolini.
I still think it is too early for that – and I’m also continuously caught somewhere between wanting to be positive about Trump and some of his ideas and wanting at the same time to be on-guard against dark forces and dangerous shifts in Western civilisation.
It’s a difficult balancing act – much more difficult than what most people do, which is to either go all-out against Trump or go the fully opposite ‘Trump as Savior’ route.
LBC presenter, Ian Dale – who is generally center-right in his views and who, prior to Friday, had generally been fair and non-hostile in his view of Trump – was genuinely alarmed by Trump’s speech and immediately likened it to Mussolini. This came from someone who, until the speech, had actually been fairly sympathetic towards Trump’s movement.
The problem of course is that fascists tend to arrive as timely saviours with good intentions of restoring their given nation to some vague sort of mythical past glory: typically, some of what they say in the early stages may even sound very positive, particularly the idea of cleansing corruption from the system and giving power back to ‘the people’. But billionaire playboys with abysmal track-records aren’t renowned for selfless service – and Goldman-Sachs isn’t renowned for having great compassion for the common people. Also, Hitler – to a point – could be said to have accomplished some very positive things in terms of Germany’s domestic needs, particularly economically: the problem is he also did a whole bunch of very fucked-up stuff too – all of which rendered his other results completely irrelevant.
Some of the signs and trappings of the Inauguration Day events were ill-boding.
For the record, the “America First” meme that was clearly emphasised in the speech has its roots in US Nazi sympathsiers in the 1930s who advocated appeasement of Hitler and abandonment of Britain in the war. Whether Trump himself is aware of that is unclear: but, given who his advisors and managers are – including the Breitbart man Steve Bannon, who is supported by the American Nazi Party and the KKK – it is very likely that he knows exactly what he is alluding to with that reference.
‘America First’ as a general indicator of economic policy is absolutely fine and even sound: but ‘America First’, if applied as a deliberate allusion to the 1930s, really isn’t fine at all.
And, as I suggested last week, the presence of Steve Bannon always suggests the possibility of a Goebbels/Nazi-style operation going on beneath the surface. By the same token, some of what Trump claims to be for and about is also perfectly fine and even sound: but the reality depends heavily on how much of it is an act and how much of it is very clever manipulation to cover up or dilute other agendas. Which, again, given the inextricable involvement of the ‘Alt-Right’, Steve Bannon, and even shady figures like Blackwater mercenary founder Erik Prince, is entirely possible.
The problem is that we truly are in the ‘post-truth’ age, where a war of ‘fake news’ is being waged on both sides, making reality more difficult to distinguish than it has ever been.
In this post-truth era we’re now in, all bets are off.
Trump could be a well-meaning patriot/savior – or he could be the death of America, the same way Erdogan and Putin have respectively established corrupt and ‘democratic’ dictatorships in Turkey and Russia respectively. Half of what CNN reports about Trump is probably false: but most of what the ‘Alt-Right’ is reporting is also utterly fake. All bets are off – Trump could well be a Russian agent. He could also be an Israeli agent. Either way, he is clearly an agent of dangerous domestic forces within America at the very least.
My policy – as best as I can manage it – is to trust neither side and to look for the ‘facts’ that appear to be the most true, the most verifiable or the most logical.
And this is the approach I have tried to maintain when talking about Trump: when I posted about the array of nutjobs populating the Trump arena, it was all based on actual, factual statements that those individuals have made – and not on speculation. And the people protesting en masse against Trump are not protesting based on unverified conspiracy theories or ‘fake news’, but based on things that have clearly been said and are on record.
That’s why I’ve never said a word about ‘Pizza-Gate’, but did say plenty about why Hillary Clinton was an international criminal who had no moral right to the presidency. And when we come to Trump’s inauguration, I am not suggesting that Trump should be compared to Hitler or Mussolini (the real comparison, I would say, would be to more contemporary figures like Putin or Erdogan), but to point out that the ‘America First’ connection to 1930s Nazi sympathisers is pure, historic fact.
To add to all of these considerations and bad imagery, we also learn, apparently, that Trump and people in his team had originally wanted a Soviet-style military parade (with tanks and missile launchers) to accompany the inauguration – which is, frankly, an extraordinarily bad sign. We are told the idea was abandoned because military officials thought it would send out very negative signals.
But Inauguration Day got weirder and worse.
Donald Trump’s inauguration sermon was called “When God chooses a leader”. The private service at St. John’s Episcopal Church that preceded the inauguration was delivered by a Trump supporter named Robert Jeffries, who notoriously leads a ‘mega-church’ in Dallas. And who is this religious figure who performed this ceremony on Inauguration Day and ran with the ‘God’s Chosen Leader’ theme?
Jeffries has, among other things, previously drawn attention for preaching that Catholics follow a religion created by Satan, that Mormons are essentially Satan-worshippers, that Islam is created by Satan and Muslims are “evil”, and that homosexuals are linked to pedophilia.
He also claimed that Barack Obama was “paving the way” for the ‘Anti Christ’. Which, come to think of it, is an improvement on the general, low-IQ right-wing evangelical trend of portraying Obama as the Anti-Christ himself: but it is also rather disingenuous, as this suggests the ‘Anti Christ’ must therefore actually be Donald Trump; but whatever. But it is no small symbolic matter that this is the man the president chose to perform the religious ceremony preceding his inauguration.
In fact, I already spoke about the somewhat Messianic delusions that surround Trump – how much of it exists in his own head is unclear, but there are certainly scores of zealous supporters who bizarrely see him in that light.
The weirdness (and disingenuousness) continued onto the first Inaugural Ball, with the newly-inaugurated President Trump arriving at a venue filled with enthusiastic supporters, accompanied by his odd, supermodel wife, and stepping on stage to enjoy his ceremonial dance with Melania (soon joined by Mike Pence and his wife). Trump had wanted Sinatra’s classic ‘My Way’ to be the soundtrack to this moment – a request emphatically mocked by Nancy Sinatra. In the end, an appallingly bad cover-version of the immortal Sinatra song was played; but even in this carefully choreographed event, there was an unintended problem.
While Trump had very good reason to choose that song – as its lyrics in large part do fit nicely with the story of this presidential campaign – he and his advisers clearly didn’t realise how ominous the song’s first line would appear: as Donald and Melania took to the stage in an embrace, it was accompanied by the line “And now the end is near…”
In the interests of fairness and balance, I will say that there were hints of positives in Trump’s speech. His reference to all Americans of all colours “bleeding the same colour” was at least an attempt to encourage some degree of unity; his pledge to not want to impose American values or will upon other nations is also a very encouraging sign, given the catastrophes that have come from US foreign policy. And there is still a part of me wanting to give Trump a chance – a chance he now has, of course – to pursue the ideas he thinks will be best for America.
But the ill omens are so numerous, the background players so ominous – and the Inauguration event itself so eerie – that this proves more and more difficult.
I maintain, however, that the worst thing that could happen now is Trump – for any reason – being removed from the presidency; because the last thing we should want is any of the morally dubious figures around him to take his place.
I also still think it is very possible that Trump himself is a pawn – or, to borrow a Soviet phrase, “a useful idiot” – who is being used to service agendas other than his own.
But in the age of ‘fake news’, who the fuck knows anymore?
For the record, I’m still not saying (at least not categorically) that Trump or his people are ‘fascists’ in the classic sense or that any kind of blatant dictatorship is on the horizon. There is also a difference between nationalism and fascism. He may even end up doing some good (there are several ways in which he very much could do good – particularly in foreign-policy and possibly in jobs creation, though it should be noted that, contrary to all the right-wing anti-Obama propaganda, Obama has actually presided over one of the biggest spells of continuous jobs growth in US history): I would suggest, however, that all of us needs to very much have our guard up and watch closely, not just in the context of domestic American affairs, but in the context of how what now happens in the US may influence what is happening with the rise of the Far Right in Europe.
The arrival of the new administration in the United States very much plays into what France’s Far-Right leader Marie Le Penn recently prophesied was “the new world” (or ‘new world order‘?) coming into being.
After Trump’s inauguration speech, prominent leaders of the Far Right in Europe – including France’s Marie Le Penn and Holland’s Geert Wilders – came together in celebration and a show of force, taking Trump’s victory as a symbolic indicator of how this year could see several major Far-Right victories in Europe that could drastically alter the fabric and nature of European civilisation in concert with the potentially drastic course-change that could be occurring in America.
Whatever Donald Trump’s own nature is or his intentions are (good or bad), what continues to bother me is that he has been very reticent in discouraging Far-Right elements in his own circle or disavowing the statements of solidarity from the KKK or American Nazi Party, as well as from European Far-Right entities like Geert Wilders or Marie Le Penn. He has either done this through negligence or because he doesn’t want to separate his movement from their movements – if it is the former, I would hope he clarifies the matter as soon as possible.
The nature of Western civilisation, societies and values, could very much be in existential danger – and if you think Trump’s inauguration has nothing to do with it, you’d be kidding yourselves. In this broader context, a recent comment (that I previously talked about) by Trump’s Breitbart/Goldman-Sachs campaign manager Steve Bannon remains all the more concerning: “Darkness is good,” he said. “That’s power.”
Again, what Donald Trump really needs to do – and which he didn’t seem to do very much in his Inauguration speech – is clarify his own meaning and values and disavow those elements or factions that he should, in theory, not wish to be associated with.
Otherwise, those associations and links will linger in people’s minds and suspicions; and dark, unsavory elements and factions – both in America and abroad – will continue to attach themselves to Trump’s campaign and momentum, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not.
Finally, as for the specific pop/cultural reference I was thinking of and alluding to earlier, it actually brings me back to the theme of the long (and admittedly rambling) post I started the year with, concerning the odd overlap between reality and fiction.
And it isn’t about The Simpsons episode pictured above. But I can’t be the only one who saw Trump’s speech and quickly thought of General Hux’s ‘First Order’ speech in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In that film, the General makes a zealous, almost violent, speech amid a stark, grim setting, and talks about the failure of the ‘weak’ Republic and its corrupt leaders and the need to accomplish a glorious return to the fascist past: a scene that was clearly composed to echo 1930s fascism and the Nazis.
The scene also took the extraordinary and very non Star Wars measure of having the mass of Stormtroopers actually perform a Nazi salute in response to the speech. I alluded to this in my original review of the film and noted that I had been uncomfortable with it because it felt like an inappropriate level of bluntness – Lucas’s Star Wars movies always heavily implied that the ‘Empire’ was essentially a Nazi allegory, but they had never gone out of their way to hammer home the point so bluntly. This scene had always made me wonder if either Disney or JJ Abrams had already had a clear sense of where things were going politically in America and the Western world and had decided to take the Star Wars re-launch in that particular direction in order to reflect it.
Even more curiously, some of the rioters/protesters on and after Inauguration Day literally identified themselves as ‘The Resistance’: which is the name of the faction in Force Awakens that is fighting against the fascist ‘First Order’. Had members of the Trump team actually gone ahead with the ‘military parade’ as reported, this sense of reality/fiction overlap would’ve been even more intense.
This subject of the fiction/reality overlap – and particularly of how Star Wars has always been designed in part to reflect real-world politics and society – could warrant an entire essay on its own: which I will avoid for now (though this older analysis by an astute You-Tuber is well worth checking out: illustrating how the Star Wars prequels were an allegory for the War on Terror and false-flag terrorism for the purposes of establishing dictatorship). And it is worth noting that George Lucas had written in his early notes as far back as 1977 that the ‘Empire’ was “America, ten years from now”.
In terms of popular fiction echoing or predicting the tone and course of political events, several major comic books have in the passed year or so been dealing with the return of fascism in general and the rise of the Trump ‘movement’ in particular: a key example is how the current Captain America title caused outrage recently by having the all-American hero and symbol be revealed as a ‘Hydra’ agent – essentially a Nazi operative – and by having Johan Schmidtt (the Red Skull – and Marvel Comics’ primary representative of Nazi Germany) be involved in an insidious brainwashing campaign to bring fascism and Nazism to America by manipulating peoples’ anxieties over jobs, race relations and the refugee crisis. All of this (and more) was clearly written in anticipation of the Trump ‘movement’ wining the election.
The difference, however, with The Force Awakens, is that it was presumably already written and filmed a significant amount of time before Trump even won the Republican nomination. Like the ‘Independence Day’ movie posters all over London the day before Brexit (which I alluded to in this post), I find this overlap very curious. But seriously, re-watch the First Order scene (above) in the context of the Inauguration Day speech – it’s a little eerie.
Continuing this fiction/reality theme, some also noted that Trump’s speech appeared to be quoting the psychotic villain Bane from The Dark Knight Rises Batman movie. Which is particularly funny because, when I wrote last week that Trump’s team appears to be a gang of Gotham City style villains, I was only being sarcastic (and not expecting him to quote one of those villains in his Inauguration Address).
As Alice said after falling through the rabbit-hole; “Curiouser and curiouser…”
Related: ‘Trump’s White House In-Waiting, Part I – Corporate Strike-Back & the 1% Coup‘, ‘Trump’s White House In-Waiting, Part II – Dangerous or Misunderstood?‘, ‘Trump’s White House In-Waiting, Part III – Israel & the Return of the Neo-Cons...’