Donald Trump must not be treated as the cause of the recent debacle of American democracy – its attempted usurpation by fascistic forces. He may have been the catalyst for this ugly scenario but it arose from conditions that are endemic and systemic. We have to remember and accept that 73 million Americans voted for him in the last election. As Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff explain, it is in fact the relentless bipartisan entrenchment of neo-liberal economics by both Republicans and Democrats that has brought this demon seed to fruit. Donald Trump has simply, “peel[ed] back the gilded veneer of democracy in America. His presidency has revealed what neoliberalism has wrought: a post-democratic U.S. ripe for fascism.”
The decimation of America’s public sector and its national industries in cynical programmes of privatization and globalization, as well as the hollowing out of American society by the depletion of support and services for its most vulnerable, have reduced American democracy to being a lifeless shadow of its imagined self. As Peter Fairman shows, while the Reagan administration pushed privatization forward as an overt political ideology, Clinton sold the privatization as a politically neutral management reform. Neoliberal devastation his has been a bipartisan adventure.
As Higdon and Huff go on to say, “Democracy ceases to exist unless the citizenry participates in and respects the process, put its faith in and defends public institutions, accepts verifiable electoral results, and attains the critical thinking and media literacy skills necessary to make well informed and sophisticated decisions.” While the United States of America is our case-in-point, I believe that these criteria are not met in numerous other failing democracies across the world.
In an essay titled Ur Fascism, Umberto Eco lists 14 Fascistic characteristics. This essay appeared in the June 22, 1995 issue of the New York Review. I have taken the liberty of encapsulating Eco’s explanation of these characteristics as follows – 1. A penchant for traditionalism 2. The rejection of modernism 3. The cult of action 4. A prohibition of disagreement 5. A fear of difference 6. An appeal to the middle class 7. A belief in conspiracy theories 8. A feeling of humiliation 9. The glorification of war 10. A contempt for weakness 11. The cult of heroism 12. The cult of machismo 13. A charismatic populism 14. A stupefaction of language
It is instructive to compare, contrast and combine this list with Robert Paxton’s List from his The Anatomy of Fascism which I present in my post titled It’s Time to be Clear 3. It is imperative, given the unprecedented storming of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters, that Americans and, indeed, people of all nations consider their national polity in these terms. As we move deeper into the 21st Century, many other exemplars of democracy, albeit of less consequence on the world stage than the USA, will fare just as badly, if measured against these criteria.
For Americans, I suggest that this means more than seeking retribution from the Donald. While I do not doubt that he is culpable, I feel that such simplistic scapegoating, belies the true nature of American exceptionalism, of the bipartisan dialectic of its military-industrial project: War on Crime – Globalization – War on Terror – Yes, we Can! – Make America Great Again! The Republican Party will want to purge the memory of their willing Trumpian engagement from the record and the Democrats will want to foreground this entanglement for political advantage, but all this will distract us from their reciprocal complicity in their nation descent from democracy into oligarchy and authoritarianism.
Keling Maya: Post-traditional Media, Malaysian Cyberspace and Me, presented at the Aliran Semasa Symposium, 2013, at the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.
Please Note: In this video the Japanese term ‘Dochakuka‘ is mispronounced ‘Dochakaku.’
“In the late 1990’s, as our children were growing up in Kuching, Sarawak, far from a Tamil milieu, I was always looking for ways to expose them to the sounds and images of Tamil culture. I found at the local night-market a copy of the 1995 film release, Muthu, starring Rajinikanth. I bought it for them and, to my delight, they loved it. What’s more, I found that I loved it too. Shortly afterwards, on a visit to Tokyo, I was surprised by a large billboard image of Rajinikanth in the Shibuya district. Somehow, Muthu had become a box-office sensation in Japan! Something ineffable in this icon from the notably colloquial Tamil cinema, had enabled the film to achieve its unlikely crossover success in the equally idiosyncratic Japanese film world or nihon eiga kai. I recognized, in this anomalous crossover, the antithesis of the homogenization that was taking hold in the global arenas of contemporary art. “
The Koboi Project begins with the Koboi’s return to Kuala Lumpur in 2013 after a decade away in Vancouver. This homecoming was treated both as lived experience and as an enactment. This return was photographed and became the first Koboi series, titled Koboi Balik Kampung, published in 2015.
Or perhaps ‘Post Photo-conceptual Performance’ … a tag I have been developing to locate my practice at the junction of photography and performance. While the tag needs much refinement, I think the praxis itself seems now, after 5 years of the Koboi Project, to be reasonably developed. I had the privilege of delivering a Masterclass in Performance Art as Faculty at the International Ismaili Diamond Jubilee Arts Festival in Lisbon, which ran from the 5-9 July 2018.
In this class, I shared my preparations for two impromptu photo-performances that took place at the Alfonso De Albuquerque Monument and the Discoveries Monument in Belem on 7th and 8th July 2018, respectively. I took the workshop participants, who were amateur and professional artists from the global Ismaili diaspora through my preparations for the two street interventions. They participated in my search for a meaningful action. We began the class within the designated presentation space and finished outside absorbing the architecture Portugal Pavilion and the masterclass itself into the spectacle and symbol of the event. In the light of his exercise and the images it produced, I have clarified for myself the stations of my process and have articulated them in a set of 12 words and images.
The monument to the Discoveries was initially a temporary edifice built for the Portuguese World exhibition of 1940. It was reified as a permanent monument to Portuguese marine adventure and power by the far-right imperialist Second Republicgovernment that ruled Portugal from 1933 to 1974. It was completed in 1960. I will erect my Kabali banner in the vicinity of the monument and in my performance, make reference to a rather different representation of mastery over the world by way a song from MGR’s Ulagam Suthum Valiban (World Perambulating Young Man), a blockbuster of Tamil cinema from 1973. On a personal note this intervention brings together fragments of knowledge and memory from my childhood in Malaysia – history lessons, local tourism, globetrotting relatives … indeed, I was taught about the great European voyages of discovery and conquest. The film song I use, Ulagam Ulagam, and its visual elements are also resonant for me – Subang International airport in Kuala Lumpur, Tiger Balm Gardens in Singapore and Expo 70 in JApan … one of my uncles went and brought us some souvenirs. The idea of globalization was just taking shape in the time of the film’s release tourism and it seems to me MGR was looking back up the marine telescope of Discovery via his images of global tourism.