People living in the US have entered into one of the most dangerous periods of the 21st century. Donald Trump, the president, is the apogee of an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian culture committed to destroying free speech, civil rights, women’s reproductive freedoms, and all vestiges of economic justice and democracy.
Authoritarianism has now become viral in America, pursuing new avenues to spread its toxic ideology of bigotry, cruelty, and greed into every facet of society. Its legions of “alt-right” racists, misogynists, and xenophobic hate-mongers now expose themselves publicly, without apology, knowing full well that they no longer have to use code or apologise for their hatred of all those who do not fit into their white-supremacist and ultra-nationalist script.
Trump’s victory makes clear that the economic crisis and the misery it has spurned has not been matched by an ideological crisis– a crisis of ideas, education, and values. Critical analysis and historical memory have given way to a culture of spectacles, sensationalism, and immediacy. Dangerous memories are now buried in a mass bombardment of advertisements, state sanctioned lies, and a political theatre of endless spectacles. The mainstream media is now largely an adjunct of the entertainment industries and big corporations.
Within the last 40 years, training has taken the place of critical education, and the call for job skills replaces critical thinking. Without an informed public, there is no resistance in the name of democracy and justice; nor is there a model of individual and collective agency rising to such an occasion.
Of course, power is never entirely on the side of domination, and in this coming era of acute repression, we will have to redefine politics, reclaim the struggle to produce meaningful educational visions and practices, find new ways to change individual and collective consciousness, take seriously the need to engage in meaningful dialogue with people left out of the political landscape, and overcome the factionalism of single-issue movements in order to build broad based social movements.
Manufactured ignorance erases histories of repression, exploitation, and revolts. What is left is a space of fabricated absences that makes it easy, if not convenient, to forget that Trump has not been offered up to the American polity through the deadening influence of celebrity and consumer culture.
State and corporate sponsored ignorance produced primarily through the disimagination machines of the mainstream media and public relations industries in diverse forms now function largely to erase selected elements of history, disdain critical thought, reduce dissent to a species of fake news, and undermine the social imagination.
Historical legacies of racist oppression and dangerous memories can be troublesome for the neo-fascist now governing American society. This was made clear in the backlash to Ben Carson’s claim that slaves were immigrants, Trump’s insistence that all black communities are crime-ridden, impoverished hellholes, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos assertion that historically black colleges and universities were “pioneers of school choice.”
The revival of historical memory as a central political strategy is crucial today given that Trump’s white supremacist policies not only echo elements of a fascist past, they point to the need to recognize as Paul Gilroy has observed “how elements of fascism appear in new forms,” especially as “the living memory of the fascist period fades.”
What historical memory makes clear is that subjectivity and agency are the material of politics and offer the possibility of creating spaces in which “the domestic machinery of inscriptions and invisibility” can be challenged. Catherine Clement is right in arguing that “Somewhere every culture has an imaginary zone for what it excludes and it is that zone we must try to remember today.”
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump’s War on Dangerous Memory and Critical Thought’