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War Culture, Militarism and Racist Violence Under Trump

Posted on Dec 19, 2016

By Henry A. Giroux / Truthout

    Donald Trump at an October campaign rally in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Gage Skidmore / CC-BY-2.0)

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When history repeats itself with a vengeance, it generally signals a crisis of memory, historical consciousness and civic literacy. The ghosts of the past disappear in a comforting somnolence and a deadening market-driven culture of consumption, privatization and individualization. As a mode of moral witnessing, memory withers, lost in forms of historical and social amnesia that usher in the dark clouds of authoritarianism, albeit in updated forms.

Albert Camus understood this as well as anyone, and viewed fascism as a deadly virus that could reappear in new forms. For Camus, the disease of fascism could only be fought with the antibody of consciousness—embracing the past as a way of protecting the present and the future against the damage now forgotten. The words that appear in the concluding paragraph of The Plague are as relevant today as they were when they were written. Camus writes:

[As] he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

With Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, the scourge of authoritarianism has returned not only in the toxic language of hate, humiliation and bigotry, but also in the emergence of a culture of war and violence that looms over society like a plague.

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War has been redefined in the age of global capitalism: it has expanded its boundaries and now shapes all aspects of society. As Ulrich Beck observes, “the distinctions between war and peace, military and police, war and crime, internal and external security” have collapsed. As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, American culture has been transformed into a culture of war.

War culture reaches far beyond the machineries that enable the United States to ring the world with its military bases, produce vast stockpiles of weapons, deploy thousands of troops all over the globe and retain the shameful title of “the world’s preeminent exporter of arms, with more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market controlled by the United States,” as reported by Denver Nicks.

War culture provides the educational platforms that include those cultural apparatuses, institutions, beliefs and policies with the capacity to produce the discourses, spectacles of violence, cultures of fear, military values, hypermasculine ideologies and militarized policies that give war machines their legitimacy, converting them into symbols of national identity, if not honored ideals. Under such circumstances, the national security state replaces any viable notion of social security and the common good. As a militarized culture is dragged into the center of political life, fear feeds a discourse of bigotry, insecurity and mistrust, adding more and more individuals and groups to the register of repression, disposability and social death.

Violent lawlessness no longer registers ethical and moral concerns, and increasingly has become normalized. How else to explain Trump’s comment, without irony or remorse, during a campaign rally in Iowa that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters”? Ruthlessness, narcissism and bullying are the organizing principles of Trump’s belief that only winning matters and that everything is permitted to further his own self-interests. These are the values that underlie his call for “law and order,” which is more properly understood as a call for the lawlessness of the police state. Another register of lawlessness is evident in the presence of a ruthless market-driven corporate culture marked by an economic and political system mostly controlled by the ruling financial elite. This is a mode of corporate lawlessness that hoards wealth, income and power through the mechanisms of a national security state, mass surveillance, the arming of local police forces, a permanent war economy and an expansive militarized foreign policy.

Trump’s recent appointments of neoliberal elites, such as Steven Mnuchin, a long-time hedge fund manager and investment banker, to be his treasury secretary and Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to head the Commerce Department make clear that he intends to allow the managers of big banks, hedge funds and other major financial institutions to run the economy. This is an upgraded version of neoliberalism which, as Cornel West points out, serves to “reinforce corporate interests, big bank interest, and to keep track of those of who are cast as peoples of color, women, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, and so forth…. So, this is one of the most frightening moments in the history of this very fragile empire and fragile republic.”

Military Mania

Trump’s appointment of warmongering, right-wing military personnel to top government posts and his ongoing rhetoric suggesting the need for a vast expansion of the military-industrial complex signal a further intensification of America’s war culture, one that inspired an article to be published in Forbes with the headline: “For The Defence Industry, Trump’s Win Means Happy Days Are Here Again.” William D. Hartung makes the latter point clear by citing a speech Trump gave in Philadelphia before the election in which he called for

tens of thousands of additional troops, a Navy of 350 ships, a significantly larger Air Force, an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions, and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernization” program for the nuclear arsenal…. [all of which] could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade.

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