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The Scooby Doo Contingency: The left’s present post-Trump election ‘whodunnit’ craze

Russia did it. Putin is the secret boogeyman. It’s fake news. It’s Podesta’s innocent error. It’s a Nigerian prince (sigh). It’s Comey and Wikileaks. It’s sexism. It’s Bernie’s irreverent populism. It’s the electoral college and those damned ‘founding fathers’. It’s the poor turn out of African-Americans. As American politics (especially the Left) psychoanalyzes itself on the couch of post-Trump ‘trauma’, it’s getting easier and easier for the ‘establishment’ to shirk responsibility and avoid asking the harder questions.

One way this is being done is by mislabeling these moments as ‘traumatic’…a kind of PTSD (Post-Trump Stress Disorder)…and thus insisting that something was done to them, that they are in fact victims, that everything would be alright were it not for a few interfering variables (like the ones mentioned above). This discourse amounts to the politically sedative effects of quarantining disappointment or rationalizing a stunning loss as ‘outside oppression’. In this way, the status quo not only co-opts the narrative of those it has excluded, it diverts attention from where it is most needed now.

I think this is not traumatic or (Russian) oppression in the usual sense. I think this is a collective haunting. A haunting could be traumatic, but it differs from trauma in that it calls for a different kind of attention – one of listening and acknowledging the agencies we are taught to overlook. A haunting emerges when something unresolved stirs, when cracks appear in the structure, when “home becomes unfamiliar”, when things that were in one’s blind spot drift into view, when the disappeared insist that something needs to be done, when what has been hidden or repressed stresses the ‘surface of things’. When the past reminds us it is still very present. The temptation is to wish away the haunting voices, or put ribbons on them – instead of sitting with the trouble and spectres they raise. Right now, it seems the tactic of choice by the ‘Left consensus’ is to set up monstrous figures, to paint Trump as an authoritarian despot-in-the-making. Harry Reid recently suggested that the purported Russian cyberattacks are “as big a deal as Watergate or 9/11”, whipping up old ‘Commie’ paranoia.

In short, the enemy of the ‘Left’ seems to be its fixation with puffed-up enemies – anything to avoid engaging the questions around how people are living, how neoliberal policies are working out, or the very real effects of power relations in a spectrum of suffering. I might hazard a guess and suggest that right now feels like a good time to question the politics of empire, to talk about the institutional traditions of policing that hide rumours of old slave management regimes, to re-encounter the ideologies of ableism that insist that meaningful work can only be conceived in terms of jobs, to meet the suffering of those once known as ‘the middle-class’, and to revisit the many algorithms by which the ‘world’s last super-power’ has run itself for years.

While it might be conceivable (or even true) that Russia orchestrated cyber-attacks on America, it seems a moot point to make if the person that was attacked deliberately placed herself in a position of cyber-vulnerability in the first place. There’s no moral high ground here. The US government’s NSA has done more than this, and would do it if the context allowed for it and advances its own interests. Further still, while there are ethically murky areas about how one should conduct one’s business in a tech-opaque age where ‘privacy’ itself is undergoing significant reformulations (thus revealing the way the ‘collective’ always haunts the ‘individual’), there is something to be said about a scenario where a foreign power’s ‘attack’ strategy is to expose another country’s inner workings. If the hidden truths of the ‘establishment’ undermine public confidence in them, then the ‘attack’ – whether or not instigated by someone ‘outside’ – is or was in fact an in-house problem.

The status quo’s particular ways of seeing hinders them from actually siding with the dispossessed, or feeling the contours of social injustice, or talking about the needs of the American people. Loss is not always negative. Sometimes it could very well be an opportunity to rethink victory, or at least fashion a different kind of victory that is deserving of that appellation.

 

Post-note:

[This was a quick Facebook post that I adapted as an essay, since it seems to be resonating for some. I slapped on the title ‘Scooby Doo Contingency’ not merely because that sounds funny, but because the one thing that characterizes all episodes of that classic cartoon is a fixation with finding the monster, the person who hides underneath the ghostly mask. You know, the usual ‘whodunnit’ dynamic. This fixation with ‘who did what’ and exteriorization of blame seems to be the go-to-strategy of the liberal class in the aftermath of Trump’s electoral victory. It’s much easier than turning the spotlight on oneself and listening harder than one is used to. So that’s what the Scooby Doo title is about, if you didn’t get that already].

4 Comments
  • Uli Nagel on December 17, 2016

    Hello, I always so appreciate your perspective. Much of what you say is really true – of course the US does and would exercise the same kind of meddling. At the same time, you aren’t really being precise, and I find this is what happens among a lot of us right now. For example, it wasn’t Hillary who was hacked but the DNC, so it has nothing to do with her private e-mail server (if I understand you right and that is what you imply?) Second: exposing the inner workings can be particularly targeted to make some look horrible while others, who are not even on the same scale of despicable, are not being dragged into the lime-light. And maybe most important: a lot on ‘the Left’ are talking about exactly the points you are saying are important: Our Revolution, Van Jones’ Love Army, Obama’s post-election movement, thousands of activists etc… A real lot of people. Not the media. I guess my main point is that this is what we, the intellectually oriented, progressively minded folks do: we turn on each other, given a chance. It’s the flip-side of the blaming outer forces you are describing.

    • Bayo Akomolafe on December 17, 2016

      This is true, Uli. I may have glazed over more than a bit when I wrote the part about cyber-vulnerability. I really intended this as a Facebook post, and so may not have had the patience to let nuance develop. So I thank you for pointing this out. I think the more forceful aspects of this piece are still intact notwithstanding: that members of Hillary’s campaign did make themselves vulnerable to hacking (especially Podesta), and that Hillary’s insistence on using a home server to conduct state business does render her protest against Russian interference a bit hypocritical. And yes, preying on others and forcing some kind of transparency does make some look bad, regardless of content. We are all willing to assume that anything ‘leaked’ must be bad in the first place. So there’s that. I agree. This piece wasn’t designed to absolve Russia (or whoever did the ‘dirty dastardly act’); I wrote it to point out that raising the issue of cyber-security as a cover for avoiding the rich project of listening to one’s constituents is unproductive and insincere. If I had the space, I might have juxtaposed the media silence around the DNC’s sidelining of Bernie Sander’s candidacy with the present uproar over Hillary’s mistreatment. The consequence of all this is that very beautiful progressive projects are lost in the spectacle of reactionary politics. If we stood still for a moment, and listened, we might find that there was more to Hillary’s loss than hacking, racism and sexism – just as there was more to Brexit than xenophobia. Also, I don’t think this article is exemplary of progressives turning on themselves. Turning on oneself means attacking each other or passing around blame for failure. I think what I am inviting here is a turning TO each other – facing the ghosts that haunt us, and learning to be still in the face of monumental loss.

  • Gary Horvitz on December 18, 2016

    Bayo, It’s so good to read your comments because you invariably touch important territory, especially calling our condition a haunting. But I have to align with Uli in at least one sense. To dismiss the attention Putin is getting as a resurrection of anti-Commie paranoia doesn’t quite parse the issue. Putin Did It is shorthand for everything from hacking the DNC, delivering stolen emails to Wikileaks, disseminating fake news, possible collusion with the Trump campaign or its surrogates all the way to actual hacking of election software. I agree it’s an all too convenient boogie man to blame Putin for everything and Uli is correct that lots of people on the actual Left are focusing on deeper issues not to mention a whole swath that knows neoliberal Business as Usual is definitely OVER, which is reflected in the battle for chairmanship of the DNC ( and on which Obama himself is woefully short of vision), but unless and until we really know just how superficial appearances really are and unless we understand that Putin Did It as a proxy for an even further reach into the possibility of FBI complicity, we will never really know how far the corruption goes. So yeah, it’s (potentially) bigger than Watergate. I am not deterred from wishing to pursue the Putin thread until we see the whole cloth, a Christmas present that could put an end to Christmas itself. Not that I expect to ever get it.

  • Lynne on May 14, 2017

    Bayo, thank you for being an Initiate in our midst — a great sacrifice.

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