Sunday, August 14, 2016

What Trump Means By "Loser"

Neo-Liberalism seeks to, in Henry Giroux's words, "atomize individuals." It's not a new idea. It pre-dates the rise of Donald Trump:

I have recently returned to reading Leo Lowenthal, particularly his insightful essay, "Terror's Atomization of Man," first published in the January 1, 1946 issue of Commentary and reprinted in his book, False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism. He writes about the atomization of human beings under a state of fear that approximates a kind of updated fascist terror. What he understood with great insight, even in 1946, is that democracy cannot exist without the educational, political and formative cultures and institutions that make it possible. He observed that atomized individuals are not only prone to the forces of depoliticization but also to the false swindle and spirit of demagogues, to discourses of hate, and to appeals that demonize and objectify the Other.

If there is one thing that Donald Trump is very good at, it's demonizing the Other -- whether she be Hillary Clinton or Mexicans. Trump's word for the Other is "loser:"

As has been made clear in the much publicized language of Donald Trump, both as a reality TV host of "The Apprentice" and as a presidential candidate, calling someone a "loser" has little to do with them losing in the more general sense of the term. On the contrary, in a culture that trades in cruelty and divorces politics from matters of ethics and social responsibility, "loser" is now elevated to a pejorative insult that humiliates and justifies not only symbolic violence, but also (as Trump has made clear in many of his rallies) real acts of violence waged against his critics, such as members of the Movement for Black Lives. As Greg Elmer and Paula Todd observe, "to lose is possible, but to be a 'loser' is the ultimate humiliation that justifies taking extreme, even immoral measures." They write:
We argue that the Trumpesque "loser" serves as a potent new political symbol, a caricature that Trump has previously deployed in his television and business careers to sidestep complex social issues and justify winning at all costs. As the commercial for his 1980s board game "Trump" enthused, "It's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win!" Indeed, in Trump's world, for some to win many more must lose, which helps explain the breath-taking embrace by some of his racist, xenophobic, and misogynist communication strategy. The more losers -- delineated by Trump based on every form of "otherism" -- the better the odds of victory.

The unbridled individualism which drives neo-liberalism creates very few winners -- Trump sees himself as one of the few -- and turns everyone else into "losers." Its results are catastrophic:

Atomization fueled by a fervor for unbridled individualism produces a pathological disdain for community, public values and the public good. As democratic pressures are weakened, authoritarian societies resort to fear, so as to ward off any room for ideals, visions and hope. Efforts to keep this room open are made all the more difficult by the ethically tranquilizing presence of a celebrity and commodity culture that works to depoliticize people. The realms of the political and the social imagination wither as shared responsibilities and obligations give way to an individualized society that elevates selfishness, avarice and militaristic modes of competition as its highest organizing principles.

Under such circumstances, the foundations for stability are being destroyed, with jobs being shipped overseas, social provisions destroyed, the social state hollowed out, public servants and workers under a relentless attack, students burdened with the rise of a neoliberal debt machine, and many groups considered disposable. At the same time, these acts of permanent repression are coupled with new configurations of power and militarization normalized by a neoliberal regime in which an ideology of mercilessness has become normalized; under such conditions, one dispenses with any notion of compassion and holds others responsible for problems they face, problems over which they have no control. In this case, shared responsibilities and hopes have been replaced by the isolating logic of individual responsibility, a false notion of resiliency, and a growing resentment toward those viewed as strangers.

When you atomize people, you turn them into losers. One wonders what will happen if the public resoundingly declares that Trump is a "loser."



the salamander said...

.. this is such an interesting topic.. Mound also wrote a very substantial blog entry presenting authoritarianism as a way to understand politics, voters.. cluture etc. I may be mistaken, but I wrote a comment to Mound re that blog entry & topic, just as I am today. I find the perspective.. certainly my perspective.. of politics, elected and unelected 'public servants' such as Canadian MP's or PMO hacks, American congressmen & women.. presidential candidates a la Trump, Senators, speechwriters, spokeswanks... and last but not least VOTERS, comes into much clearer focus when aided by awareness of authoritarianism.

I find myself looking at demagogues (political animals) whether successful or unsuccessful.. and measuring their authoritarianism.. is it real, or is it contrived.. or is it just part & parcel of 'old snot' (stock) political behaviour.. part of the ritual shtick to get elected & remain elected?

Is this why creatures such as Jason Kenney thrive in Canadian politics? Or why piggish political parties such as the republican GOP can avoid extinction? Do secretive operators such as Ray Novak hatch at universities with the trait embedded fully? Some American State Governors.. ie in Wisconsin or North Carolina exhibit frightening levels of either faux or real authoritarianism! Here in Canada we had & have the perfect example, in our yet to retire MP & former PM Stephen Harper, who simply stank.. reeked of a public & private itch to promote his secret values & ideology uber alles. Harper was authoritarianism personified. I also wonder how the trait ties into the bizarre situation of Israel - Judism & the war cry of anti-semitism. Is authoritarianism an underlying 'religious belief' that can prop up any related or unrelated belief or ideology? Whether in a politician, a voter or ordinary citizen.. an adult, teen or child? Is it a product of environment & upbringing?

Its a fascinating topic.. Thanks for the post !

Owen Gray said...

Mound's post was excellent, salamander. Recent research suggests that there are a lot of authoritarians around. I suspect they've always been around -- seeking to explain existence in terms of a god who throws thunderbolts or a Fuehrer who offers a return to a Golden Age.

Authoritarians, like cockroaches, continue to thrive.

John B. said...

I'll have to go back and read the chapter in which Robert Presthus in "The Organizational Society" discussed his take on "lower class authoritarianism". Having always been less intrigued by the antics of public figures who express extreme and often nonsensical views on political issues than by observation of their followers, I've been reminded lately of one of the messages I took from reading that chapter back in the days when the "liberal poison" dominated academia: identify some of the commonalities of confused, frightened and often angered individuals generally possessed of a low tolerance for ambiguity; develop messages that can form these individuals into a an audience; and then turn that audience into a mob by "telling it to them like it is". Because of the nature of your audience, you can "tell it like it is" even when you actually don't have a clue.

Too easy. Most, if not all, of them are powerless losers anyway; just restrict any discussion of that to the strategy sessions. Of course, as some conservative strategists have openly admitted, there is little to fear in alluding to their ignorance and stupidity, because most of them wouldn't notice. That's how Trump can get away with such an insult as claiming he would lose no followers even in the event that he committed murder. Not only are his supporters unaware of the insult, but they receive it as a compliment. I take it as both an explanation and an affirmation of his true love for the poorly educated.

Owen Gray said...

There's an old movie, starring Andy Griffith, called "A Face in the Crowd," John. Griffith plays a television personality whose aw shucks persona hides his genuine contempt for his audience. His downfall comes when he expresses his contempt for them. So far, Trump hasn't done that. Maybe he's too smart to do that.

Toby said...

The attraction to authoritarianism is not having to think for one's self.

Owen Gray said...

Exactly, Toby. Authoritarianism is rooted in laziness.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

Thank you for an excellent post Owen. There is so much to be said about this subject, I hesitate to give such a short comment for fear of minimizing its signifigance in todays culture, but here goes. Authoritarianism exist across the world in epidemic proportions. The pursuit of power from governments of countries including Canada who at one time felt their most important achievements were achieving an on-going democracy are being replaced by authoritarian governments.Freedom and rights were values to be valued and upheld only in democracies.

The rise of authoritarianism is one of the most important issues that needs to be understood.Never has this rise been realized more then with the creation and imposition of Neoliberalism.Unlike the nature of democracy that is sustained by a culture that values ongoing progressive ideas where discussing and disagreeing is the norm, where freedom is the ultimate standard by which a countries civility, intellectual progression and political health is judged, authoritarianism in all of its political forms is ultimately sustained by force.Authoritarianism does not evolve from reason and freedom.It is not transparent and cannot operate in an open society.

One doesn't pursue political power in government by discussing that pursuit with the very people that one plans to have power over. In order to understand authoritarianism, one has to understand the nature of power and just as important is the character and thinking of those who pursue that power.The rise of authoritarianism means the fall of democracy. The creation of a culture where freedom cannot exist.

I don't know how aware people are about losing their freedom, but time is running out and in the not to distant future they may find that their government leaders have become their rulers. I discovered Henry Giroux's writing and lectures a few months back. He is an intelligent, knowledgeable, compassionate and humane man.Once again thx for your post.

Owen Gray said...

Giroux is an American who knows his country very well, Pam. We're lucky that he calls McMaster University and Hamilton his home. These days, he wouldn't feel at home in his native land.

Askingtherightquestions said...

Owen, great post! Dr. Giroux has worked hard as a public intellectual to explain the real basis of neoliberalism to a wider audience (all from his post at McMaster University!!). Another site your readers may wish to visit is by University of Manitoba researcher Bob Altemeyer ( and contains a free download of his interesting 2008 book, "The Authoritarians".

What I find so interesting about Trump's campaign is his scattershot attempts at policy combined with a Twitter campaign that appears orchestrated by Jason Kenney! Like all authoritarians, he cannot abide ANY criticism, even if justified and this has lead to an incredible number of unforced errors, raising questions about his fitness to serve. But it is Trump's propensity to develop and run with patently false themes that are free of facts (his latest naming Obama as the "founder"of ISIS) that moves the GOP bar for mendacity and deception to it's lowest level yet.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Asking. It's disturbing to read about the growing number of authoritarians in our midst. That number is supported by excellent research. And the larger the group, the less facts and logic matter.

Steve said...

It's disturbing to read about the growing number of authoritarians in our midst

I dont think the numbers have changed, just they are more effective in an enviroment where every major institutuion has proved to be sadly Oz like.

John B. said...

I think your reference to the Andy Griffith movie is bang-on, Owen. It's Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" from 1957 or '58. I had never listened to Limbaugh's radio show and was unaware of who he was when I first saw his late-night TV version around the time that Bill Clinton was first elected President. I watched it for several days before I came to realize that it wasn't a comedy act. I would have gotten it sooner if I'd paid more attention to the imbeciles in the audience than the clown on the stage. As soon as I stopped laughing, I called up my father and told him to tune in to Channel 4. When dad asked why, I told him, "It's Lonesome Rhodes."

Some time later I heard that Limbaugh had actually conceived of his shtick as comedy, but decided to go full wing-nut when he realized that there was an audience that would take it seriously.

"For those morons out there: sure. I can take chicken fertilizer and sell it to 'em for caviar; I can make 'em eat dog food and they'll think it's steak. Sure - I got 'em like this. You know what the public's like? A cage full 'a guinea pigs.

"Goodnight, you stupid idiots. Good night you miserable slobs. They're a lot 'a trained seals. I toss 'em a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers."

My ninety-year-old mother still often remarks that it's "another Lonesome Rhodes" when she observes one or another of our right-wing politicians or spokespersons tossing their dead fish into the TV room.

Owen Gray said...

I believe Budd Schulberg wrote the script, John. He knew his Rhodes, Limbaughs and Springers.

Owen Gray said...

Authoritarians are tailor made for those who pose as wizards, Steve.