How the Rich Tap Anarchy and Anger to Manipulate Us

According to Peter Kropotkin, anarchism: “is a name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by the submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being.” Anarchism is a process whereby authority and domination is being replaced with non-hierarchical, horizontal structures, with voluntary associations between human beings. Anarchists subscribe to a cluster of doctrines and attitudes centred on the belief that government is both harmful and unnecessary. The term today is now applied to any situation where there is chaos and disorder and nobody seems to be paying any attention to rules or laws.

Many people are finding that they are dealing with more anger than usual as a result of COVID-19, and that is understandable. Everyone is experiencing a huge amount of loss. People are losing those that they care about, and many have lost a sense of normality, routine and contact with their family and friends. Anger is a vital emotion. It lets us know where our boundaries are and what we stand for. Without anger, we would be passive and overly accommodating, so it’s really important to listen to the emotion. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Anger is like a spring inside our body. If we push it down and try to squash or suppress it, all that happens is that we become even tenser. Instead, it is important for us to learn ways to recognise and manage our anger so that it can be transformed into something useful. Today more and more protests have sprung up.

 During the COVID pandemic, movements have used the language of democracy to critique our most basic institutions – both political and economic – and have changed the way many people think about politics, arguably leading to a spread of anarchist tactics of direct action and prefiguration along with the re-emergence of left populism. One of Occupy Wall Street’s more enduring consequences – in addition to helping spread anarchist and ‘anarchistic’ ideas, tactics, and strategy – may be its contribution to the slow rebirth of a radical labour movement, particularly in the United States. More recently news coverage associated “anarchy” with the violence and lawlessness that characterised the January 6th Capitol riots, as a direct result of which five people died, including one Capitol Police officer. Incidentally, an anarchist can also be used to describe an officeholder who undermines the constitutional order on which their own office, and the rule of law, depends. 

President Donald Trump, and his administration in particular, were preoccupied with labeling protesters as ‘anarchists.’ “These are anarchists. These are not protesters,” Trump said in July 2020 amid the ongoing protests in Portland. During a June 29, 2020 press conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany proclaimed, “Law and order are the building blocks to the American Dream, but if anarchy prevails, this dream comes crumbling down,” before proudly announcing that the administration had arrested “over 100 anarchists for rioting and destruction of federal property.” “On the national scale, anarchism has become this scapegoat for a way to talk about violence in a way that obscures the violence of the state,” notes Theresa Warburton, associate professor of English and affiliate faculty of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Western Washington University. Trump & co.’s vilification of anarchists also completely missed the point of what anarchism actually is: a philosophy that is deeply concerned with oppression, its origins, and how to best achieve liberation, and that envisions a society based on cooperation as opposed to competition.

Humiliation involves an event that demonstrates unequal power in a relationship where you are in the inferior position and unjustly diminished. Often the painful experience is vividly remembered for a long time. Your vindictive passions are aroused and a humiliated fury may result. There are three involved parties: 1) the perpetrator exercising power, 2) the victim who is shown powerless and therefore humiliated, and 3) the witness or observers to the event. Anger is part of everyone’s emotional compass, helping us navigate the contingencies of life. Anger signals that we are being threatened, injured, deprived, robbed of rewards and expectancies. We must stand up and take care of ourselves and those we love. The Coronavirus pandemic with its extreme disruption of normal daily life and uncertainty for the future, compounded by several other crises (economic distress, racial tension, social inequities, political and ideological conflicts) puts us all to the test: we find ourselves immersed in a pool of negative emotions: fear, sadness, contempt, and yes, anger.

Godwin (1756-1836) argued government was a corrupting force in society. His writings are a profound critique of the state and its structural violence, arguing that the state and its government has a bad influence on society in that it produces unwanted dependency. He has also pointed out that law and legislation is created by the rich and powerful. On a more political level, during the pandemic we are seeing more and more individuals who are shut out of the American dream. They are angry about it and frustrated about it. George Carlin joked that, “the reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.” The dyadic ability of humiliation narratives to affectively anchor populist messaging in feelings of pride and hope on the one hand and anxiety and anger on the other hand underscores the argument that, while emotions shape politics, politics also shapes and channels emotions.

The political significance of shared humiliation as a narrative device, then, is that inward feelings of shame, provoked through the demeaning experience, are directed outward, away from the individual and collective weakened self via blame attribution (Hejdenberg and Andrews 2011, 1278). Indeed, when vulnerable, weak, despised, and helpless parts of the Self are projected upon the external, ideologically distorted member of the out-group, this fosters both aggression and violence (Bohleber 2003). From a psychological perspective, such cruelty directed at members of the out-group will not come as a surprise. Individuals who experience anger in the form of narcissistic rage after encountering humiliation tend to “show total lack of empathy towards the defender”. Within a humiliation-centric discourse, sentiments of sameness and togetherness are intertwined with narcissistic injury, turning perceptions of loss and defeat into shared prejudice that is directed against those who are seen as not belonging to the “true” people.

The latest article of impeachment charges Trump with having acted “in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law”. Following the ancient Greeks, the underlying idea can be taken further. By “betray[ing] his trust as president” as flagrantly as he did, Trump should be counted as an anarchist: ie, as having been no real officeholder at all. The January 6th committee is now investigating a string of recent media reports that detailed how Trump “repeatedly attempted to destroy presidential records, which could constitute additional serious violations” of the law. Meanwhile, New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman, recently reported that staffers regularly found wads of printed paper clogging a toilet in the White House. Trump weaponized mistruths during his presidency – riddled his presidency with false and misleading statements. One of the most dangerous lies of Trump’s involved the most serious threat to his presidency: his downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump’s 2016 campaign was anarchy – it longed for a distant past outside of the current system. Trump argued repeatedly that the current American political system had to be destroyed because it had been corrupted by weak and ineffective politicians. He asked Americans to return to a simpler time when the federal government wasn’t so big, regulations weren’t so tough, and capitalists and capitalism were free. So doing, he promised, would restore American greatness. During his presidency, Trump wants promoted anarchists as being responsible for the nation’s sorry state. “Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists,” he declared. Those anarchists have, he said, joined with “violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa and others” to bring mayhem to the United States. In the guise of promoting what he calls “law and order,” Trump instead promotes violence, chaos and anarchy. Many of Trump’s critics have suggested that with his disregard for the norms and institutions of American politics, he’s the real anarchist.

From nineteenth-century newspaper publishers to the participants in the “battle of Seattle” and the recent Greek uprising, anarchists have been inspired by the ideal of a free society of free individuals – a world without hierarchy or domination. By overemphasizing individual mobility, we ignore important social determinants of success like family inheritance, social connections, and structural discrimination. Emma Goldman, the great American anarchist, defined it in 1910 as “the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law.” Anarchists believe that all forms of government – be it a liberal democracy or a socialist state – are based on violence and coercion. To sum it up: government equals tyranny. Today anarchist has just become a synonym for violence and chaos and the absence of order. It’s a product, if you like, of a kind of a capitalist mindset, especially when it comes to the destruction of property.

Oscar Wilde, a libertarian anarchist, is widely associated with the following bon mot: “The problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings. ”Young people in particular used to be attracted to the anarchist priorities of creativity and spontaneity – the importance of living the “new society” here and now rather than postponing it indefinitely until “after the Revolution.” Trump’s victim politics is a complete fraud, an old trick used by economic elite to keep working-class Americans fighting each other rather than focusing on processes to counter the plutocrats who are ripping them off. Victim politics is cultivated for a reason – to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality. Populism is the new victimhood – now propelled by the digital revolution and the threatened insecurity. Trump promoted himself as the outsider while Biden is under the influence of globalist interests and “deep state radicals”. The goal is to distract attention from the widening imbalance of wealth and power between the vast majority and a tiny minority at the top who are accumulating just about all.

The essential difference between populism and democracy is that democracy entails more than majority rule. Alexis de Tocqueville’s warning of the “tyranny of the majority” remains relevant today. The protection of political freedoms and minority rights is an essential test of democracy. Populist leaders not only attack the institutions of global capital, they also disregard the checks and balances of institutional democracy. This creates a dichotomy between “the people” and the (largely unspecified) “ruling elites”, despite the reality that populist leaders themselves are clearly part of the latter. No matter. Their ability to channel anger and frustration at the status quo, and to promise easy solutions, seemingly grants them immunity from being attacked for their own exploitation of the system. We need to understand how politicians, propped up by the rich, use our anger to manipulate us.

Ref: Melissa Lane (08/02/2021) New Statesman Why Donald Trump was the Ultimate Anarchist

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