In populist times, political battle-lines are redrawn: “old” arrangements (however new) partially erased. Borders blur; people switch foxholes; the terrain’s rearranged by new weaponry: heavy shells, grapeshot, gas. Populist moments challenge “official culture,” “politics as usual,” the “mainstream,” but what this means depends upon where you stand. The new culture wars are coming. Multiple terrains revised, others reactivated. Law v. order. Migrant v. resident. Environment v. resources. Love v. hate. Everyone enjoys the disorder (enjoyment v. fun).
In populist times, heroes emerge. Cowardly lions; bold Suffragettes. Anarchists give beautiful speeches; fat cats capture the headlines. “For every nine parts Moses, you need one part Jesus,” sings the radio’s vaudeville. “If you zoom out, this is a strategy that seems woven into the fabric of the cosmos,” the so-called rational voices croon.
Peter Bagge predicted this condition in Hate and related titles. His ordinary working-class partial dissenters suffer the contortions of cartoons. They don’t explode, except when they kill themselves. Alive, they bend and bulge, bounce, bubble, fold, collapse. Comic-book realities: bodies subject to extreme forms of fantasy. The airports are full, but it’s not the Thanksgiving rush.
In populist times, the spectacle overwhelms rational discourse. It wasn’t so rational to begin with; it just got worse. When, in the face of this, we fall for rationality, we justify the old regime. Already, numerous critiques of Trump stack him against Obama AND Shrub, legitimizing the latter. George W. Bush, a ‘normal’ president. The “alternative facts” mostly bend us; sometimes we break. A new puncture replaces the old, but leaves the tire weaker. Fortunately, human culture isn’t my bicycle. We get to do more than absorb our punctures. More kicks than pricks; more pricks than kicks: everything’s reversible.
How avoid the spectacle? The marvelous helps. A marvel is like a miracle, but made by us (the world), not god. The OED: “such as to excite wonder or astonishment (chiefly in a positive sense).” We need more of that in Trump’s Twitter Empire, I think. The marvelous distracts us with the glamour of our own creation. It may be rude; it may be graceful. The marvelous is like an angel of indecision that confronts us in the garden of our betrayal and delight.