David R. Cole
The 2020 US elections mark a breaking point in universal history, with two sides, and two paths defining different future realities for humans and their inhabitation on planet Earth, here called the Anthropocene. I argue that never before has this breaking apart been so clearly defined and presented. In this article, I would like to prise out the factors, influences, and themes associated with this breaking apart, not to reduce the event to an easily dismissed and ignored micro historical occasion, that will pass and be automatically overridden by normalised and continuous forces in time, but to unearth the real power that is at work here, as a mode of occultation, and that I am calling: a general cleavage.
- The media. On one side of the general cleavage we have a call to return to the Obama years (2008-2016), wherein the media were routed and pummelled along neo-liberal lines, to reproduce and augment calls and images to live harmoniously, multi-culturally, and at peace, and hence not to question the general ruler and designator of what these terms mean: the market and superstructure that the market enables. On the other side of the ongoing equations established due to and as the media, are the forgotten and left behind, silent media users, observers, and those unable to project the necessary values and image that could be taken up and promulgated through the media in a market-driven situation. This specific US population were ruthlessly targeted and made to feel like heroes by the Trump campaign, and who were famously named as a ‘basket of deplorables’ by Hillary Clinton. Trump has spent years working the media, and, supported by likeminded, attack oriented media sharks, came up with a successful media strategy that mobilised discontented voters, who felt as if they had been scrubbed out of the years of Obama-media-domination. In 2020, the Trump camp is seeking out and is deploying similar strategies that gave it victory in 2016, yet to an extent, events have over-taken this strategy, and the media landscape has changed since 2016, especially with the traction and role that negative identity politics is able to play.
- The pandemic. This fundamental reorientation of the media and the way it is able to project and mediate negative identity politics, as it was able to do pre-2020, has largely come about due to the pandemic. The pandemic has been extremely bad for the Trump re-election campaign, as ‘business-as-normal’ has been suspended, and many of the underlying assumptions that were built into the 2016 campaign have been necessarily undone. For example: large, noisy, raucous political rallies are now deemed to be unsafe to attend by the majority of the population, due to the danger of catching the virus. The words and facts of science, that have been ignored, exaggerated, or systematically incorporated into a political frame if they were useful (by either side), have now come to resound like a decree from God, as your very life could depend on them; e.g., maintaining social distancing, wearing a mask in public, not going out if you are sick, washing your hands. Now, the democratic side of this election battle will abide by and enforce the directives of science, to eradicate and diminish the spread of the virus, and will therefore simultaneously, denigrate the economic cost, such as been successful in other places, for example, by putting the country into lockdown. Contrarily, Trump advocates the continuing strategy of largely ignoring scientific advice for viral diminution, keeping the economy running as per normal, and of talking up the prospects of a successful vaccine.
- Climate change: Joe Biden and his team have worked out an extensive policy platform to tackle climate change: https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/. In the Anthropocene, wherein human inhabitation of the planet Earth has been recognised as an existential threat, that will haunt many generations to come, these policies and stances may be seen to be very sensible, and could be effective in at least mitigating against many of the predicted horrors of future climate change, such as the increased occurrence of wildfires, drought, floods, hurricanes, and subsequent crop failures and food shortages. On the other side of the cleavage, we have a Trump campaign that has systematically avoided mention of climate change, and, for example, has addressed the recent catastrophic fires in California as a matter of ‘forest management’. Again, what is being displayed here is a wilful ignorance of science, that might play well to audiences not versed in research, but as has been suggested, anyone with a modicum of education would be able to appreciate the connections between the continued domination and economic power of the fossil fuels industries, and augmenting climate change. The danger for the democratic side here is that their plan for radical climate policy and change, deemed as the Green New Deal (GND), will not eventuate, but will fall back into greenwashing, or market-driven solutions to climate change, that do not deliver the desired reductions in CO2 emissions over the long term, but act as fronts and counterfeits for corporations and businesses looking to survive in a changed federal (tax) situation.
- Desire: Finally, it may be stated that this election presents a question of desire in the present situation, and, as ‘the general cleavage’. In the recently released Amazon Prime film, ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’, the desire in and as the situation is cleverly subverted and held up for inspection against the backdrop of Borat’s adventures in the US. A Mike Pence rally is interrupted as Borat, who is dressed in a rubber Trump outfit, tries to present Pence with his daughter as a gift from his President. Later, Borat’s daughter, posing as a blonde, patriotic news reporter, ends up in a sexually compromising situation with Rudy Guiliani in a hotel bedroom. Trump’s recent COVID-19 infection (and subsequent miraculous recovery) has been portrayed by him as an attempt to weaken his masculinity, and his emergence from the diseased state has presented him as a strongman able to defeat the ‘China virus’ (i.e., as virile/not viral). Hence, on one side of the equation of the general cleavage, we have a horny, sexual election, largely dominated by the exaggerated libidos of old men (the Viagra generation). On the other side, it is a lot more boring. Even though Obama has been introduced into the equation at the last moment, and Kamala Harris introduces a different take on the sexuality emanating from the Trump side, it is clear that the democratic perspective is not driven by libido and sex to the extent that we encounter from the Trump camp.
In sum, it may be surmised that the factors of the media, pandemic, climate change and desire are active influences and forces prevalent in the 2020 US presidential election, and as productive and part of ‘the general cleavage’. On one side, we have a call to return to the general rules and functioning of the market, a neoliberal rendering of capitalism as a force for prosperity and good in the world, but threatened by a rise in viral death (COVID-19) and civil chaos (Black Lives Matter) as has been seen in 2020; on the other, we have the mechanics of runaway, unfettered, individualised capitalism, looking to break free of regulations, and to unify flows of capital as power. Both sides work to extend the differences in space/time between them.