Tag Archives: alt Right

Get Me Out of Here, Fast: Escape from D.C.?

The forced monotone of Donald Trump’s most serious public address to the nation was a striking contrast from the theater of his most recent State of the Nation on March 12, where he sought to calm the nation as it faced the pandemic of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. On the verge of breaking beneath the gravity of circumstances that spun far out of his control, Trump seemed a President scrambling and in panic mode trying to rehearse stale tropes, but immobilized by events. With his hands grasped but thumbs flickering, as if they were a fire under which he sat, as if he were wriggling like a kid strapped in the back seat of a car where he was a passenger to God-knows-where, wrestling with the increasing urgency that his aides demanded he address the outbreak of the virus in the United States that he had long tried to deny. And who can doubt that the serial flag-waving continuing to fuel President Trump’s attacks on China and the World Health Organization don’t reveal an adherence to America First policies of nationalism before a global catastrophe?

President Trump tried to look as presidential as possible, re-inhabiting a role of authority that he had long disdained, as he was forced to address a nation whose well-being he was not in control. The national narrative, as it was begun by WHO’s declaration of a pandemic, was perhaps seen as a narrative which seemed to spin out of his control, below his eyes, as he tried to calm markets by addressing the nation in what he must have imagined to have been as reassuring tones as he could summon. And if America First as a doctrine allows little room for empathy, affirming national greatness and the importance of a logic of border closures was all he could offer, and would be predictably lacking reassurance or empathy as he attempted to create a connection at a defining moment of his Presidency.

March 11, 2020

The link of America to the world defined in his America First cand–evenidacy made the very identification of a pandemic difficult to process. And he did so in the starkest national backdrop possible, vaunting his closing of borders, suspension of “flights” from China, and ties to Europe–even as he encouraged Americans to return from abroad, and had allowed unmonitored entrance of Europeans and world travelers into New York that would make it the site of the entrance of the disease to the majority of American cities where the viral load arrived, with over 900 people entering America through New York daily for months after China suspended travel from Wuhan on January 23–after China called the outbreak “controllable” on New Year’s Eve. The declaration that echoed the concerns of the World Health Organization may have been buried in global celebrations, even as Trump blamed it for starting a sense of false complacence.

While he had kept the virus at a distance in public remarks before March, viewing its spread in the lens of a narcissist as a motivated attack against his political fortunes, politicized by Democrats to advantage, but a hoax and fundamentally fake news, fears of the newly declared pandemic entering the United States assumed new concreteness–given the skepticism with which he approached all medical advice, and laissez faire attitude toward public health–in a map of airline flights–the only optic of globalization he would be able to process or allow. Would the virus allow itself to travel to the United States not from the southern border, but on flights from either Europe, where it ran rampant, or from Wuhan, Tokyo, and Beijing?

Delta Airlines Route Map between Asia and United States (January 2018)

The possibility of an industry-wide free fall was perhaps placed on his front plate, but the potential collapse of the airline industry, from which he tried to find some silver lining, suggested the clearest problems that COVID-19 would strongly effect the United States–and shape the economic profile of the country, as airlines announced new plans to maintain surface cleanliness in planes, misreading the dangers of contracting coronavirus as the subject on which he had to reassure the nation. (The airlines would be seen as vital to the nation in coming months, as he championed “a great plan for the airlines” able to “keep the airlines going” in mid-April, juggling balls of the economy, while never admitting responsibility for its spread.

The deep dissonance between undermining a policy of public health care that had been a pillar of his political platform–with projection of all danger on immigration from south of the border–left little logical room to confront the novel coronavirus whose spread Americans increasingly feared. Having excavated the hopes for a public health program and international commitments to health, Trump shifted to demonize the virus as coming from abroad–“a foreign virus”?–already in the ecosystem of alt right news, and sought to calm markets into faith in the fundamental security of the economic system. Rather than challenge his notion of the security of the border, the border-crossing virus only

The relative complacence with which he faced COVID-19 may have burst after three American airlines–Delta, American, and United–all promptly halted flights to China, after meeting with other airline executives with Trump on March 4, was their decision possibly in response to Trump’s limited stoppage of airplane flights of foreign nationals from China, even as he raised an elevated travel advisory? Or was it their response to the massive bailout that they had just secured. Having made them happy, Trump tried to turn his attention to the nation, but foregrounding in coming days a sudden fear of economic collapse: “we do not want airlines going out of business, we do not want people losing their jobs and not having money to live when they were doing well four weeks ago”. Trump proclaimed, foreseeing an end to the new “invisible war” that metastasized before his eyes, promising money would be “on the way, . . . now, in the next two weeks,” as if suddenly contemplating the scale of economic collapse.

Panic had quickly set in days before the attempt to rally the nation. Did Delta, American, and United already realize the risks that continuing such flights ran? While no one stopped valuable revenues of flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Singapore or Macau, did the funneling of flights to New York and San Francisco could even create a dense viral load?

Turning attention to the nation, and national worries about the state of health care, was not nearly as fun, or as close to his heart. The address to the nation that was intended to restore faith of the markets turned to some of the worst tropes of national opposition, and defending sovereign borders, that suggested how poorly the President perceived the geography of the highly infective virus that had already spread across China, but which Trump had ingested among his talking points somewhere between Making America Great Again and a paranoid Plot Against America. If the meeting that he had with airline executives in the White House as a para-cabinet meeting had failed to calm alarm at the pandemic outbreak, the addresss provided an even less reassuring sense of control as the pandemic had already entered our borders, and no plan to address public health needs or risks were even being formed among this crew of needy businessmen, who seem to have been seeking with Dr. Birx and President Trump and a grim-faced VP to see how they could maintain a front on normalcy in the face of the pandemic’s infectious spread, by keeping the planes in the air as much as possible, but by reducing flights to China in the continued magical thinking that this whole coronavirus thing would pass.

The preservation of global flight paths would lead to a bailout of the airline industry, by April, with the arrival of $25 billion in grants to help an “industry” that the CARES Act singled out so prominently as being crippled by COVID-19. The final residue of a globalism that America still cares about and imagines to dominate–even as 30% of these “grants” turned into “loan” as Congress considered the broader impact of COVID-19 on the US economy–although they were deemed sufficient to prevent employees from seeking unemployment insurance, a number Trump hoped wouldn’t rise on his watch, as well as capping executive pay. But as shelter-in-place orders moved all business flights to Zoom platforms, and the idea of any tax on the internet seemed outrageous, the airline executives were by no means happy, even if fuel was cheap, as seats sold were in free-fall. (Was the decision to ask all Americans to return home immediately a needed boost to airlines to engage in a massive airlift, even if health ramifications were not so fully thought through?)

The issue of the economic figures, the macro picture of microeconomics of Americans, that dominated the discussion, would dominate the public address. The conference led the wheels to keep spinning as the airplane employees were kept “employed,” and prevent airline stocks from absolutely tanking. The impact of rushing to return all Americans from Europe and China who might be infected by COVID-19 was less something that was on the radar of the Trump folks, even if Dr. Birx attended the meeting, which was dominated no doubt by quarterly losses of airline companies and their liability for passengers contracting COVID-19, as well as what funds they could secure from the government, as the percentage of seats sold had already dropped massively and refunds were offered to all passengers who had tickets that they wanted to exchange or refund. With American Airlines getting $5.8 billion, Delta promised $5.4 billion, and United Airlines securing $5 billion, with $3.2 billion for Southwest Airlines, they would listen to the demand they stop China flights. Trump had less success turning his attention to the nation, outside the old categories of national borders, security, and foreign threats of what he called on national television “the foreign virus,” in his first attempt to address the nation Presidentially in a true emergency.

How could Trump respond by declaring the pandemic a national emergency, but by returning to themes of national defense and strong borders? A hasty huddle with Steven Miller and Jared Kushner fell so flat as a defining moment of how Trump confronted the pandemic precisely because of the immobility of national terms on which he fell back, employing the threats of external danger to the nation that he had adopted in other national emergencies, while his utter lack of comprehension for managing a public health disaster revealed an almost tragic inability of empathy: twiddling his thumbs, or restlessly sitting before his teleprompter, he tried to summon a Presidential self–as opposed to the “raunchy” populist Trump persona of attack, but seemed unable to not try to map the national emergency as a foreign threat. And amidst the staid tones of a national scripted address recited woodenly from the teleprompter, showing no empathy for Americans who feared the impending spread of the disease, in describing the “foreign virus” in his national address. What was widely described as a failure to be Presidential lead Ben Rhodes to see the speech as a defining moment that registered the extent of failure before the biggest test of the Trump Presidency.

For President Trump, undoubtedly with help from Kushner and Miller, had hastily adopted the habit of relabeling of the novel coronavirus that the World Health Organization had named COVID-19, as if one of a variety of possible deceptive nicknames would take hold. Since reposted a tweet on March 9 from a conservative commentator that cast the coronavirus as “China Virus” his Secretary of State, choosing how Mike Pompeo had not only attacked China for suppressing information about the virus in “a classic Communist disinformation effort” on March 3, but described a “Wuhan virus” on FOX on March 7–an association shared on social media as similar mischaracterizations were tweeted by Republican congressmen–Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on March 9 describing the “Chinese coronavirus” and Paul Goasar (R-Ariz.) on March 8 the “Wuhan virus” and Tom Cotton (R-Ark) describing the “Wuhan coronavirus”–as if seeking acceptance of a shorthand of displacement with traction on alt right social media, after the Washington Times launched the unfounded rumor linking the virus to “a lab linked to China’s biowarfare program”–a social media meme generator of sorts, that began as travel lockdowns in China began, as a Daily Mail article sourced to Israeli intelligence about the lab was broadcast that day on Steve Bannon’s podcast, linking bat studies of the Wuhan Institute of Virology of zoonotic viruses, and allegations of a need to investigate the Institute’s laboratories link to the novel coronavirus outbreak–recasting the pandemic as a matter of sovereign relations and sovereign borders.

The appeal of the isolationist reading of the pandemic outbreak sought to underplay its global nature, by assigning sovereign responsibility, in short, to the virus as it was infecting global populations among unseen pathways.

The actual apocalypticism of a viral outbreak that would depopulate the globe met a Machiavellian eagerness to demonize the other–if not immigrants, the Chinese government, and perversely perpetuated a war of civilizations a the basis for reading the pandemic’s global spread.

Or, more likely, was Trump’s intent to displace blame from his own denial of public health dangers and Presidential incompetence? As Trump embrace the misidentification as a strategy of public deception and in public policy debates, issuing two tweets of March 16 again investing the virus with national provenance, building on the foreign provenance of the pathogen cast on March 11 as a “foreign virus” that was to be seen in national terms that demanded to be confronted as a nation–long before using the term in addressing the Coronavirus Task Force March 18. After refusing to apologize for using the term ‘China Virus’ on March 11, he inserted the phrase repeatedly in public remarks, as a strategic response to the paranoid attribution of the virus to American bioterrorism, as if hoping to nurture a similar home-grown paranoia of the sort he had earlier sewn..

March 19, 2020/Jabin Botsford

Disinformation became a staple of confronting COVID-19. Investing a global pandemic with sovereign terms was a category confusion accentuated in Trump’s continued mis-mapping of the novel virus as a “Chinese plot”–or, as Trump prefers, a “Chinese virus,” potentially brought in our borders by migrants, rather than address fault-lines within our health care system, or the global risk coronavirus posed. In intentionally mis-mapping the virus by investing it with nationality, Trump sought to deny the global nature of the emergency facing the nation. The origin of the novel coronavirus was, as the ravages of the virus outbreak in China had taken a huge toll on medical facilities and hospitals in China, creating a shortage of medical workers, suspending elective surgeries, who were forced to turn away patients from many hospitals turned into coronavirus clinics. As the spread of infection paralyzed public hospitals in Wuhan, creating a public health crisis as over 80,000 were infected, would American medical facilities be able to cope?

Continue reading


Filed under borders, Coronavirus, COVID-19, data visualization, national borders

Mapping the New Authoritarianism: Trumpism, Tampons, Misogyny and the Volatile American Electorate

It seems, goes the popular wisdom, Donald Trump stunned the country by being able to make up for the lack of a party organization by followers he developed on Twitter.  But Trump was able to tilt against a candidate he was able to identify with an establishment, and an establishment that he convinced voters had not served a plurality of states, as a salesman of something different than the status quo, adopting a highly mediated populism that was rooted din claims to reorganize the state and its effectiveness.  The bizarre combination of an outsider who promised a range of constituencies that the state would be remade in their own interests–defending American sovereignty; returning jobs to depressed regions; defending anti-immigrant interests–may not be able to be aligned directly with the appeal of a fascist state, but provided a collective identity for many that gave meaning their votes, at the same time as dropping voter turnout across the midwest and new restrictive voting laws, including in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Trump gave a greater sense of urgency to the crucial number of undecided in his favor–before a broadly declining turnout nationwide, but also decreased turnout in many states where differences in the popular votes were small, as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and pronouncedly higher in the “deep south,” based on estimates of the U.S. Elections Project.


bialk-turnout-21U.S. Elections Project


The extraordinary effectiveness of Donald Trump’s affective appeal to voters in the 2016 Presidential remains particularly difficult to stomach for many, moving outside of a party or any civic institutions, but rooted in the adroitness by which he branded himself as a political alternative.  Trump’s uncensored comportment was central to the success of that campaign, many have noted, as it lent cathartic license for exposing emotions of fear, hatred, and anger rarely seen in political discourse–and seemed to run against reasoned discourse.  The performative orchestration of a wide range of emotions–tilted toward the red end of the spectrum market by fear; resentment; indignation; anger; disorientation–which drew lopsidedly from an atlas of emotions.  If the range of emotional responses were triggered in a sense by the prominence of social media, which allowed a quite careful orchestration of retweeting and public statements designed to trigger emotions to make political decisions, it was orchestrated carefully more from Reality TV than Reality,–orchestrating its audience’s attention by means of quite skillful editorial manipulations of footage, fast cuts, and clever stagecraft to create the needed coherent story from declarations, angry accusations, and assertions.  Trump’s campaign touched on issues of fear and anger, hopping between nearby sectors of the below map, but focussing attention on a fear of women and scapegoating of others to manufacture an actually illusory model of strength.

The emotional integrity was more important than the language–leading to bizarre debates as to whether his supporters took him literally, or if his references were serious in content even if the actual utterances he made were not in fact as central his appeal as the feelings of antagonism and alienation that he so successfully seemed to tap.


As a creature of the airwaves, Trump used emotions as a way to orient voters to the changing world of globalization by emotional venting that appeared to defend a past order:  despite his lack of qualifications to serve as President of the United States, the defensiveness created a source of validation for his candidacy that few expected, but are so familiar to be available to install as browser extensions via Reaction Packs.  The recognition of Trump’s display of emotions are so familiar that they convert easily to downloadable Reactions as emoji, so iconic has been Trump’s animated orchestration of anger, fear, and resentment across the body politic, in ways that remain difficult to map.


The popularity of such “rage faces” recouped the repeated registering of emotions in Trump’s campaign.  Indeed, Trump’s–or the Trump campaign’s–active retweeting of 140-character declarations defaming individuals or amping up socio-economic antagonisms prepared the way for the recognition of these emoticons which, although not released or sanctioned by Facebook, had first become recognizable in American political discourse that summer in much of the American subconscious.

The animated reactions engaged many online not politically active or voted in previous elections, redefining the political landscape outside of red versus blue states, and mirroring tools of psychometric profiling–first successfully used in political settings to mobilize support online for “Leave E.U.” in the Brexit campaign–first framed by researchers at Cambridge Analytica, developed by an psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, before changed his name to Dr. Spectre, sold to the MyPersonality tools of Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre to the shady Strategic Communications Laboratories, who in 2013 established Cambridge Analytica in the United States.  The tools had indeed boasted the ability to measure voters’ personality from their digital footprints, decrypting psychological criteria for emotional stability, extraversion, political sympathies, able to predict sexual orientation, skin-color, and political affiliations by using FB likes as an open-source psychological questionnaire based on an OCEAN scaling of personality traits that rank the positive-sounding values of Openness, Conscientiousness, Aggreeableness, and Neuroticism, all the better “to understand [their] unique personality type” in order better to define their decision-making process–each letter can be clicked to reveal a face registering individual emotions on their website, in ways that creepily echo emoticons as tools to achieve “better audience targeting” by “better audience modeling” through 5,000 data points per individual.




Through such data profiles and the pseudo-scientific claims of “audience insight” or “targeting”, Trump was helped to orchestrate emotions to construct a sense of belonging.

For despite his lack of political qualifications, if in part because of it, Trump represents the victory of the unqualified–“the people”–and an illustration that someone outside of a political system can assert their importance in government, and to discredit the political system itself.  While Trump’s campaign had not been data-heavy, the use by Democratic strategists of big data analysts from BlueLabs had perhaps encouraged the Trump campaign to turn to Cambridge Analytica, whose boasts of a huge ROI for political campaigns would be wildly boosted by the June success of “Leave” in the Brexit vote.  The orchestration of emotions most familiar from the production values of Reality TV have little precedent in politics, but was honed against those assumed to be part of a political class and designed to refute any notion of scientific expertise.

The particular targeting of emotions of dislike, fear, and resentment increased in the Trump campaign from mid-August 2016, about a month after the marquee event of the Democratic convention celebrated diversity, with the entrance of Stephen K. Bannon, serial wife-abuser of Breitbart fame, and he who invoked the “church militant” to explain the need to bind together church and state in fighting for the beliefs of the West as campaign chief of the Trump campaign, united a deep fear of refugees, terrorism, and “Radical Islam.”  The accentuation of such a call to militancy was tied to an accentuation of misogyny in the Trump campaign, as Bannon joined Trump’s new campaign manager pollster Kellyanne Conway,to play to the lowest common denominator of voters through their economic and social fears, in ways that particularly distorted the campaign that benefited Trump and tilted to the unique brand of misogyny.  In ways that shifted the logic of the campaign for U.S. President after both conventions had concluded, the expansion of Team Trump helped direct a model of behavioral sciences–already used by NATO in Eastern and Central Europe as propaganda against the dis-information released by the Russian government–as a rallying cry uniting many ranges of hatred–the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton famously and perhaps fatally invoked–within the highly charged emotional language of Trump’s campaign.

Many refused to label Trump as recognizably fascist in his political thought, despite his outright xenophobia, manipulation of fear, and cultivation of a rhetoric of crisis, refusing to recognize the roots of his strong authoritarian characteristics by a name that has long been identified with utmost evil, in an attempt to explain Trump as something else.  Most notably, historian Robert O. Paxton allowed that Trump only openly took a selective rehabilitation of the anti-modern fascist movements, whose strongly authoritarian character offered “echoes of fascism,” rehabilitating the sanctioning of social violence, suspension of rights, and dehumanization from fascist movements in his assertion of openly extra-judicial rights he asserts as a leader.  Yet in its open aggression motivated by a the violence of urgency–and in its turning in from the increasingly complex world that Obama attempted to navigate, and rejection of globalism, as in its rejection of civility and disdain for women, Trumpism closely rehabilitates fascism in its doctrine of prerogatives of the protection of the state that transcend constitutional law, or the subordination of constitutional law to Staatsrecht.  Whereas fascism arose in response to international communism, Trumpism seems an open response to globalism of the twenty-first century.

While not a direct descendent of fascism, Trump has defined himself as a man of action–together with Bannon–in his proliferation of executive orders as a form of decisions, creating the relation of individual to state in his own oratory and the security of America that he claimed to guarantee.  The championing over urgency and privileging of emotions and accusations over issues–a hallmark of fascist politics–serves to fabricate public consensus, cast in Trump’s tacitly gendered assertion “America needs a CEO,” as if to call into question the existence of a historical authority in the state. While Paxton rightly lamented increased usage of “fascist” as an accusatory epithet, able to be applied interchangeably to the intolerant authority of the Tea Party, the intolerance of the Islamic State, or Donald Trump, but failing to discriminate its actual target, Trump’s near-consent courting of the limits of Freedom Speech led him to launch attacks that test the limits of Free Speech and First Amendment, shocking many neighboring countries,– “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap”–labelling political correctness as “the big problem in this country” to which he claims his own authority will create a long-awaited corrective.

His campaign, notwithstanding serial unrepentant falsehoods, his campaign promised to rectify confusion by the ability to Make America Great Again, invoking an idealized notion of country to which he invited all to rally behind and stigmatizing the most vulnerable scapegoats–the undocumented; the refugee; the poor–as targets of collective anger, albeit without racialized theorization of a subordinate status or staking openly ethnic claims.  Trump sewed a steep set of divisions in the nation that were concentrated in non-urban areas in “swing states,” but which corresponded to the emotional aesthetics of and a deep feeling of abandonment–a deeply declining distrust of government across the nation not adequately mapped a full year before the election, far deeper among Republicans than Democrats but at  record low–but supported by a broadly declining belief in government fairness, across “red” and “blue” states.


In many ways, the vote was the victory of a performative model and the emotional satisfaction that that model of performance offered.  Trump’s victory made sense to those who bought the promise of those who believed that America Needed To Be Made Great Again–and who entertained the importance of time-travel to do so, and entertained  a delusion of going backwards in time.  For Trump appealed precisely to those areas and regions that entertained return to a past, conceived of often as a rebirth of a lost economy, peacefulness, and prosperity, but concealing an era of small government, and proposing the myth that there was indeed a chance of returning to a bygone of the imagination:  many saw a rejection of globalism and of multiculturalism or of a disturbance of a past gender politics, and they saw it as best embodied in someone himself moored in an earlier, whiter era,–and a civil society in which charges of Trump’s gender could not be made to stick.  Trump’s performative model seemingly surpassed logical contradictions  inherent in his words or person, making it all the more difficult to comprehend, even as we have repeatedly turned to maps to do so–even as we were frustrated by them:  Trump’s wealth papered over the huge contradictions of someone whose wealth was apparent, as he performed the role os a man of the people; his age was apparent, even if his improbably marriage to a younger woman could conjure an image of apparent potency; his lack of political convictions was concealed in a patriotism that few saw the need to question; his lack of political expertise affirmed the lack of relevance of expertise to getting the job done, as it only confirmed a belief in the failures failures of a political class and distrust of government already at historic lows across the country.



1 Comment

Filed under 2016 Presidential election, 2016 US Presidential Election, data visualization, Donald Trump, Reality TV