“A wimpy commute tonight,” the radio sighs. The late-afternoon dj, late in the afternoon, sides with the traffic jams and accidents. They’re ‘strong’; they give her something to report. A downgraded, democratized media increasingly finds itself siding with the disaster. Or if not that, with itself; disaster and celebrity collide in Trump, but these forms of publicity are brought together by a more general (yet not more diffuse) structure of feeling.
Later in the same episode, WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago, reported on a speech Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave to “MBA students.” It wasn’t the speech so much as honest answers that were delivered “a bit more freely” than normal, that our reporter observed. For good reason, as they revealed a stance toward politics that’s worth observing:
Winning’s everything. If you don’t win, you can’t make the public policy. . . Sometimes, you just gotta win, OK? [Cheers and applause.] . . . And our party likes to be right, even if they lose. . . I’ve never lost an election. It’s about winning because if you win you then have the power to do what you need to get done. If you lose, you can write this book about what happened. Great. That’s really exciting. . . . Schisms [in the Republican party] have to be wedges, wedges have to be divides and divisions. . . Take a chill pill, man, you’ve got to be in this for the long-haul.
Our Mayor is the exemplary neoliberal technocrat. The long-haul means, among other things, the closing of an unprecedented number of public schools. He’s Betsy DeVos all the way. A professional politician who’s never lost a race because he doesn’t care what it takes to win. Regarding politics as a contest (therefore a spectacle, in which nothing’s at stake) is akin to regarding traffic jams as news. Consequences are foreclosed upon as “tough choices” and “difficult decisions.” It’s not that politics shouldn’t / doesn’t require these bold words; it’s that politics must also be played for stakes. Rahm appears to borrow from Saul Alinsky’s playbook when he insists that “If you don’t win, you can’t make public policy,” but despite what the neo-fascist right may assume, Alinsky wasn’t writing a playbook. He wasn’t an NFL coach, plotting spectacular action because you gotta win and when you’ve won, you’ve won, so you gotta win, right? Right! That’s why we went out there and won that game. We wanted to win it, so we won it. You gotta do what you gotta do and what you gotta do is win that game, so you win it, am I right?
Structures of feeling, as the above sentence painfully enacts, depend upon certain grammars to set them free. The so-called “Trump Era” (as though everything were going to go as expected already) is built. in part upon the neoliberal relation to political events that Rahm describes. Politics as spectacle, stripped of cause and consequence. When people call this “politics as usual,” they don’t refer only to the obvious entanglements of capital and politics (such as the pass Trump’s been given on taxes, or the foul that sent Illinois Governor G-Rod to jail), but to a larger sense of politics as a gladiatorial battle.
Frank Miller’s best-selling graphic novel, 300, supports this feeling’s structure. A rendering of the Battle of Thermopylae that loves the spectacle of macho cunning and brutality more than its consequences. A small group of white, technologically elite warriors make heroic stand against dark-skinned Muslim hordes. The episode is constructed with a loving attention to the dramatic image. It’s the complexity of the cinematic scene, the angles and arrangement and postures that justify the slaughter This is the auteur’s approach to comic-book realities.