Politics and culture in 2017 through the eyes of some classic sociologists.
One of the biggest issues it seems with the rise of Donald Trump and his friends Nigel Farage and Marie Le Pen is where do they sit on the traditional left and right of politics? Instantly we shout “the right of course”, of course the brand of populist nationalism, sexism and racism puts them so far right it’s not an argument. Then we hear that the White House has been taken back for the people, new jobs are going to be created by the state in huge infrastructure projects, work and prosperity will return to the traditional factory floor of the USA – all traditional left wing ideologies. All this is thrown in with a big dollop of conservatism – returning to the good old days, days when jobs weren’t being automated or products being made in a globalised world. Is this post structuralism in action and the left and right are no more? Or does Trump and his ilk have no ideology at all? Can they take on an ideology and discourse that some voters want to hear. After all Trump has been part of the Reform Party, the Democratics and now the Republicans. We can all change our stance, but is this just a goal of power and a result of the ultimate neoliberal goal of you can choose what you want as long as you pay for it? He’s got a few dollars. I am interested in what this approach by the populist right means for culture of the UK and the US following a unique campaign for Brexit and the White House in 2016 and 2017. Politics is now celebrity and the use of the media to coerce, market and manipulate cannot be ignored. Here’s a look at where we are through the eyes of some cultural sociologists.
Antonio Gramsci challenged classic Marxism to say that not all class struggles are born out of material inequalities will result in worker revolution. Gramsci’s cultural hegemony says that the ruling classes can impose their ideas in such great detail the working classes do not automatically become supporters of the ideals of the working classes but fascists who support the word of the ruling classes. Sound familiar? If we are told over and over again that we have no jobs because of immigrants to our country and globalisation taking our work abroad, ‘foreigners’ become the problem and populist nationalists will solve the problem and bring the glory days. The glory days of long back breaking work in the factory. It doesn’t sound too glorious to me. Breaking out of this automatic ‘norm’ Gramsci called “counter hegemonic thinking” similar to the existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre. Counter hegemonic thinking has happened a lot recently with challenges to the European Union and the established political elite. As culture takes on this hegemony, the discourse of Trump and Farage permeates society as ‘common sense’ and the norm.
Gramsci said that the message of the ruling classes to create cultural hemogony was delivered by journalists. In Gramsci’s time there was no 24/7 news, media moguls with political interests, internet or social media. Jean Baudrillard said that all life is now simulacra or a simulation due to the amount of information in the world, so much information that there is less and less meaning. Fake news and post truth politics are terms that have recently been used to describe both Brexit and US presidential campaigns. These terms have come from the mass if information in the media. Baudrillard puts much of the idea that image is more important than substance down to modern marketing. Donald Trump’s marketing department have made him a billionaire, making him president is just an extension of this. His use of social media is ground breaking in the political world. Baudrillard says that the huge amount of information thrown at us leaves us reaching for the simple, easy solution – maybe this is the most entertaining option, even in politics. Trump and Farage certainly attract TV minutes and column inches.
Donald Trump’s inauguration speech was trademark nationalistic and looking to God to bring the US together behind him. America first and me first? Benedict Anderson says that nations and nationhood came about during the enlightenment as a way of controlling people. Anderson called nations imagined communities. When the enlightenment questioned religion and the birth right of monarchs to rule over subjects there was a gap which needed to be filled. Anderson says that the imagined community is a socially constructed community that feel connected to and communicate with a nation. Arbitrary national borders connect a New York hipster with a Texas farmer in the US. In the UK a London city banker is joined with a supposed shared purpose with a vet in Cumbria. Nationalism and religion then are great ways to bring people together as perceived shared values. Something that was evident in the Brexit campaign of sovereignty and ‘taking back control’ of dear old Blighty, the city banker and vet, brothers in arms together against the world eh?