The despair that followed Trump’s victory for many only began to shift for me when I remembered some words from 1972, written in a similar state of despair at the time of Richard Nixon’s victory over George McGovern in that year’s Presidential race. Not that these words were hopeful, but their outrage reminded me of the value of outrage:
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it—that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.
The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern … is one of the few men who’ve run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.
McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.
Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?
~~ Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, p. 413-4
Replace Nixon with Trump and the sentiment still seems valid*. There at the beginning of the period we have come to label ‘neoliberalism’ we find a sentiment we might all recognise as relevant for 2016. In discussion with folks about the Brexit-Trump rise of fascism nexus in 2016 politics there has arisen for me the idea that even while the victories of neoliberalism have been embedded in our worlds and continue to operate (have a look at recent changes proposed to British higher education to see neoliberal ideas alive and well), we are now seeing the closing of neoliberalism as an organising political framework and the emergence in a period of chaos of something else (again look at recent British higher education and the attacks on receiving overseas students).
It’s no longer fanciful to see flows of capital being blocked or regionalised. It’s no longer fanciful to see the flows of labour globally, which have been key to neoliberal capitalism feasting on the poor, being blocked. And the intertwined hate campaigns based on race and immigration are central to these possibilities of the global giving way. It’s not that we can be sure these blocks will happen but maybe they indicate that a different kind of politics to the neoliberal may be inflecting all around us.
This is potentially also true for the forms of resistance characteristic of this era. While I disagree with Jodi Dean’s call for the return to a Party based left, I recognise well her point that the horizontal and flattened form of dis/organisation, so familiar from the new social movements through to the uprisings of the camps, has had difficulty dis/organising embedded and widespread change. As Nick Couldry has argued on this site, we need to think about how to make change, not just what change we want.
For the latter, we have extensive, complex, insightful and powerful reservoirs of intellectual work to build with; from social media analysis, to privacy arguments, to the critique of the digital and gig economies and more, we have analysis of the digital that is key to any rethinking. In our traditions of radicalism including feminism, queer, post colonial, ecological and so much more we have ethics and ideas to build on. Perhaps here those of us working on the digital have something specific to offer in understanding different methods of connecting and our experience, if at times bitter experience, in the cultures of online discussion.
I don’t mean in the sense of manifestos, the left is hardly ever short of those, but in the development of connections that, as Haraway argues, ‘stay with the trouble’ of each entanglement but also, additionally, connect to other entanglements. And to push this to develop a politics of digital media change that encompasses our ethics, however complicated, and the complexity of our worlds, however messy.
* Just as an aside, I’m not suggesting equating Clinton with McGovern, nor entirely this 1972 race with 2016. For the latter, Nixon was an incumbent President, which makes a big difference. For the former, while the phrase ‘Hillary Clinton made some stupid mistakes but …’ might seem relevant when comparing her mistakes to Trump’s (a point John Oliver emphasized), if anyone from 2016 compares to McGovern in 1972 it might rather be Sanders. And there the comparison runs out.