Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Trump or something

Despite my triumphant assertion that dramaturgy now provides the answer to political analysis, I had a proper nightmare last night. Then I woke up and remembered that Walter Benjamin off the Frankfurt School identified the 'aestheticization of politics' as a feature of fascism. If life becomes art, and politics gets treated like a show, it's a good bet that totalitarianism is happening.

I'm not keen on assessing the psychological condition of public figures, or throwing about comparisons to Hitler. Putting Trump's antics down to the Dunning-Kruger effect, or making lists of how his policies imitate Nazism seem like reductionism, and the latter is too easily dismissed as hysteria. But using a system that I vaguely understand allows me to make similar judgements and pretend that I am on top of the issues. Welcome to the blog of hypocrisy.

If dramaturgy is a valuable tool for the critique of politicians - and this goes beyond Trump, because Hilary Clinton, Putin, Boris and the gang can all be interpreted as petty players - then isn't that admitting that politics has become an aesthetic display? And following Benjamin, doesn't that mean that the trappings of totalitarianism are in place? Rather than being a celebration, the use of dramaturgy to critique Trump becomes a despairing acknowledgement that democracy is in trouble. 

It almost makes me sentimental for the time when Christianity was the moral standard for socio-political standards. Hear me out... it didn't work out, but at least Christianity offers certain rules and standards by which politicians can be judged. There's a meme going around that has a picture of Theresa May, asking how she can claim to be a Christian and enact policies that attack the most vulnerable members of society. That's what I'm talking about.

(Yes, I know, there is a flip-side to that: Christianity used as a way to object to Islamic immigration, for example, or the persecution of homosexuals. It's all very well to argue that these behaviours are not Christian according to a liberal interpretation, but there's a tradition of Biblical justification for some terrible behaviour.)
But I am using Christianity as a contrast to dramaturgy: it is a system with an integral moral system. Dramaturgy merely answers questions about presentation. Approaching Trump's campaign as if it were theatre might even mean praising it, since it achieved its intentions.

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