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Hullabaloo


Sunday, August 28, 2016

 
Friends, Romans, Alt-right countrymen ...

by digby















In the New York Times today there's a really fascinating article about Trump's rhetoric. It compares him to Shakespeare's Caesar and Mark Antony even --- his appeals to the common man, "I am your voice" etc, etc. Great stuff.

But here's where it gets interesting:
The quality to which every anti-rhetorician aspires is authenticity. But there is a big difference between proclaiming your authenticity and actually being true to yourself and the facts. So let me use a different term: authenticism, for the philosophical and rhetorical strategy of emphasizing the “authentic” above all.

Modern authenticism began as a reaction to the Enlightenment program to recast language to conform to the notion of Reason. Immanuel Kant’s friend Johann Georg Hamann was one of the first to make the case that, if you take ideas and words out of their behavioral and cultural context, they lose meaning and relevance. A purely rationalist language would no longer be able to express community or faith. Hamann’s contemporary, the philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, made the critical link between language, culture and nationhood, and soon authenticity of language became associated with another product of Enlightenment thought: nationalism.

These ideas entered European thought through a chain of influence that stretched from Hegel to Kierkegaard to Nietzsche. By the early 20th century, Martin Heidegger was distinguishing not just between authentic and inauthentic modes of being, but between authentic and inauthentic language.
“Once you heard the voice of a man, and that voice knocked at your hearts, it wakened you, and you followed that voice.” That was Adolf Hitler, the man whom Heidegger would praise for helping the German people rediscover their authentic essence, addressing government and Nazi party leaders in September 1936. According to Hitler, the miraculous appearance of the “voice” — by which he meant the profound bond between himself and his audience that let him express their deepest feelings — allowed ordinary men and women, who were “wavering, discouraged, fearful,” to unite as a Volk, or national community. It was at once a political and a personal “voice” that, thanks to the invention of radio, could reach out not just to audiences at political rallies, but into any living room.

Authenticism was banished to the fringes of politics after World War II and the defeat of European fascism. Technocratic policy-making delivered relative prosperity and security for the majority, and many voters found the rationalist rhetoric of mainstream politicians credible. Authenticism does not even rate a mention in George Orwell’s landmark 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” But the uncertainty and division that have followed the global crash, mass migration and the West’s unhappy wars in the Middle East have given it a new opportunity. 
Today’s authenticists come in many different guises, from pure anti-politicians like Mr. Trump and Italy’s Beppe Grillo to mainstream mavericks as diverse as Britain’s Boris Johnson and Ted Cruz. None of them are Hitlerian in intent, but nationalism typically looms large (“Make America Great Again!”), as does the explicit or implicit contrast between the chosen community and a dangerous or unacceptable “other,” which in 2016 almost always means elites and foreign immigrants.
The "blue-collar billionaire" schtick sounds ridiculous to a lot of us (most of us I hope) but it does have resonance with millions. And as I've been writing, Trump is not just a garden variety racist demagogue in the mode of George Wallace. His nationalism isn't isolationist --- it's aggressive militarism. He doesn't care about continuing the post-war security consensus to be sure. Alliances are fine as long as they pay protection and he feels like they "deserve" it.  He's got some other ideas. He will make America great again by making the world "respect" us again. Trump is all abut dominance. And anyone who doesn't see what he means by that is being naive.

One little side-note about this piece is his observation that Trump's "authenticism" is especially potent in comparison to the "cerebral, calculating" Clinton, a perfect example of the "technocratic, policy-making" that's going out of fashion.

Of course, it must be noted, as Todd Gitlin does here:




It's also interesting that the NY Times piece left out President Obama, widely considered to be one of America's great presidential orators who is also very cerebral and possibly even somewhat calculating (although that's a gender freighted term) and for similar reasons that Clinton might be --- Obama cannot be too emotional because of the racist assumptions about angry black men. Similarly, Clinton cannot be too emotional because of the sexist assumptions about hysterical women. These are not necessarily determining factors, but they do exist, so the analysis is a little bit two-dimensional. Still, fascinating stuff.

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