And so, the Joker has taken the White House. And no one saw it coming in the script. He didn’t need a truck full of explosives or a countdown on a giant LCD screen. It was enough to simply run in the election—the most democratic election in the world—and he won it.
The news was universally met with incredulity, afflicted for some, exultant for others. It’s always an event, in this world, when a truth comes to light and manifests itself; and so it’s customary to bury this truth as soon as possible under a cartload of “commentary,” “explanations” and other blabbing. We dismiss the truth on the grounds that it shouldn’t have happened, that it was an accident. The problem is that as the accident becomes the rule, as Brexit has done in the U.K. or as the bloody Duterte has done in the Philippines, it becomes harder and harder to mask the unreality of “what should be.” Moreover, to disqualify as “fascist” the result of processes we consider and celebrate as “democratic” does nothing but add to the dishonesty and to the aberration.
The election of Donald Trump as the President of the United States—let’s take this moment not as an accident, but rather as a moment of truth. Let’s talk about some of these truths, old and new, that are making themselves clear. Let’s look at the “real” that all this sketches out, and how to subsequently orient ourselves in relation to them.
1. Elections themselves are by no means a “democratic” process. They were practiced on all sorts of monarchic regimes. The pope himself is elected. Universal suffrage is a plebiscitary process. The plebiscite has always voted through dictators. Thus, the first president of the Republic “democratically elected” in France was the dictator Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte.
2. Dictatorship is an institution, and not the lack thereof. It was invented by the Roman republic so as to face in the most efficient way possible an emergency situation—a secession by the plebs, for example. If a dictator finds himself imbued with full power, it’s to save the Republic or to re-establish the “normal situation.” Dictatorship is an institution of the republic itself.
3. Politics, essentially, is the art of the manipulation of appearances, it’s the art of pretend, of strategy, it’s a game of pool, a game of permanent coup d’État, of bad faith and of domination. In short: it’s the art of the efficient lie. What could be more logical than to elect as president a patented liar? Those who see in this election the triumph of “post-truth” politics, because the winner of the moment never bothered himself with “respecting the facts” are trying pathetically to obscure the obvious—that if he got elected, this is precisely because he incarnated the truth of politics, the truth of its lies. What makes the left everywhere so hateful is their lying about the lies by making politics out of nice feelings. Every time that the left targeted the obscenity of Trump, it did nothing but reveal the phoniness of its own priggish moralism. The restraint the left got off on demonstrating is also a restraint of the truth, which eternalizes the reign of lies. This is how Trump came, for some, to represent the end of lies. The only thing missing was that these same people had never read Gracian, who said of the “homme de cour”: “When his artifice is known, he refines its dissimulation, using truth itself to trick others. He changes tune, changes drumbeat, to change his ruse. His artifice is to not have one anymore.”
4. If to govern is, in our days, but a game of emergency communication; if politicians do nothing but play their own role in a sort of spectacle of diversion accessible to everyone; if they work together day after day to do little more than put off answering vital questions whose irresolution threatens our existence; if the exercise of State power now aims only to provide a decoy so as to let those in real power, because they have real interests in the world, continue to be served by this power; if then the government is no longer in the government and if its palaces are empty; then it is highly rational to elect as president a professional buffoon of Reality Television. A clown-puppet is quite simply the best candidate to play the leading part in a puppet theater.
5. For as long as democracy has been “in crisis,” experts have been getting lost in superfluous considerations of “votes of assent” and “votes of dissent.” They’d be better off adding to their pitiful categories a new term: the “vote of contempt.” We can’t discount the fact that a huge number of libertarians—enemies of all government—voted for Donald Trump. To bring a despicable being to a function that they despise, to put a grotesque character in charge of an authority they consider superfluous—is there any more efficient way of manifesting their own inanity? To make a president out of “nothingness” is as good a way as any of annihilating the very function of the presidency. In this way these “contempt voters” remain free to believe themselves clever while simultaneously lamenting the triumph of “idiocy.”
6. Encounter with the White Man has left an indelible trauma on a vast number of Native Americans—a trauma that hasn’t died out even in the places where those people in question were all exterminated. Generally consensus is that the White Man is a vulgar being, a liar, insensitive, narcissistic, ferocious, hypocritical, greedy for gains, ignorant of everything around him and for whom nothing is sacred; the White Man is a criminal, a rapist, a nihilist, a sicko, a wretch even in his own opulence. In giving themselves a degenerate of the moral fiber of Donald Trump for president of the “Western hemisphere,” the citizens of the United States have managed to make of this truth a glaring fact, and for some, a blinding one.
7. Everywhere in the world the juridical-formal edifice of the State is in danger of being dismantled in the name of the police criterion of efficiency, which coincides not by chance with the ideal of management. Where ends default, what’s left as a presentable end-product but the infinite intensification of pure means? Purges of Soviet proportions, repression with real bullets, mass incarceration, the “war on terror,” the emergency state, “immigration politics,” shameless propaganda, the “war on drugs,” paramilitary massacring of citizens, the liquidation of opponents without warning: this is not that “the exception becomes the rule,” it’s that a certain form of governmentality spreads—to wide allure—across the world. President Duterte—the “Filipino Trump”—who proposes the number of extra-judiciary executions in the streets of his country as a measure of the efficiency of his politics, and who incites citizens to enthusiastically join him in this blood bath, points to a possibility and also a new paradigm of the exercise of power, all as “transgression.” Obviously the most worrying part of this Filipino paradigm is that there are still human rights organizations who wonder aloud publically if the situation might, just might, fall outside of the “State of law.”
8. Western civilization just can’t ever finish with being finished. This itself, for over a century now, is part of the torture it inflicts on itself; to the point where even its most fanatical proponents can’t take it anymore. And so they voted for Donald Trump, in a rallying cry of “Let’s get this over with!” They literally preferred a terrifying end to a terrifying without-end. What’s expressing itself here is at once a certain Calvinist taste for apocalypse and a uniquely Western desire for catastrophe. In that is a way to give in to the vertigo, to stop holding back, a need for a decisive confrontation, or to say it in theological terms the arrival of the katechon, which will be followed by aftershocks that reach well beyond the United States.
9. Since its conception in Greece, democracy has essentially worked to bring about civil war—the very civil war that gave birth to it and that permitted it to keep going, but above all civil war as a sort of ultimate reality of coexistence between different ways and forms of life—human and non-human. War on the outside, since Athens: the most banal way of bringing about war within. It’s a feature of democracy to treat one’s enemies as “enemies of civilization,” as “barbarians,” as “monsters,” as “criminals” and more recently as “terrorists.” In short, to reject them from the category of “humanity.” It’s this way of carrying out war that Trump has “repatriated” those outsiders, has brought them back to the heart of politics, by treating Hillary Clinton not as an adversary with whom he had to debate, but as a “criminal” he swore he’d send to prison. This is how the politics of democracy has once again become the continuation of war through other means. The “distinguished” class for a long time preferred to speak of “pacification” rather than counter-insurrection. This is manifestly no longer the case. If democracy is essentially a form of civil war that consists in denying civil war, a certain number of citizens of the United States have tried to make this visible from here on out what this war really is. This is one of the first steps that democracy in America has taken that diverges from the paths predicted by Tocqueville, preceded, in this way, by Russia.
10. The victory of Trump presents itself so obviously as the revenge of those defeated in the American Civil War of the 1860s that the risk is large, while finally detecting the clandestine continuum of the civil war, to see him as the figure of a curse that must be deplored, and not as a fact that must be accepted. This election can function, beyond the puppet-like character of the US presidency itself, as a portent of vengeance, as a carte blanche given to police to kill as many Black people and as many leftists as they feel like. It’s always hard to forgive your victims for all the wrong you’ve done to them. And it’s true that Trump supporters seem, for the most part, well armed. But we can also imagine that the manifest madness of the new government puts it face to face with a new sort of war of secession, that the illegitimacy of the new power feeds an infinite fragmentation of the national territory, the end of the United States of America, where the multiplication of militias will be finally met with the multiplication of communes. What’s essentially ineligible in Trump might be able to kill, by contact, the function he was supposed to take on, as well as the system in which this function inscribed itself. The reigning aberration of the “center” might be able to put an end to all “centrism,” to all centrality. No more State, just territories to cross, or to avoid. No more hegemonies. Then a contagion of discredit among the group of western leaders who so much as touch Trump: how to possibly take seriously a head of State who pretends to take Donald seriously? One more question for the road: What will happen to the administration of things and of governments, once they can’t don the impersonal mask of the State?
We send you these thoughts from France, dear cousins, to let you know you’re not alone, whatever fate the electoral system might bring to us, here, in a few months, or not.