WHEN Trump supporters view the Access Hollywood video, they see and hear something completely different from what anti-Trump people see and hear in it. But this is only the edge of the chasm. For Trump and his followers, words and images do not have a necessary relation to the Real. For them, words and images are endlessly malleable and therefore fundamentally untrustworthy. Their relation to the Real is always already negotiable.
When the video first appeared, Trump said, “This does not reflect who I am.” Melania said, “It does not represent the man I know.” Neither they nor any of the Trump surrogates questioned the literal veracity of the video. They admit it shows Trump doing and saying those things. But that does not make it probative. It is just one more picture, no more consequential than any other. You have your images (and words), and we have ours.
Where does this fundamental challenge to representation itself come from? It comes from two very different responses to the communications environment that we’ve all come to inhabit over the past twenty years.
Trump fans hate “the media,” because what’s left of that entity still acts as if there is some underlying relation between symbolic systems and the Real. They compare claims and statements and images and try to determine their relative truth value. Trump supporters see this as inherently biased against them, and they are right.
They have their own channels of communication, distinct from what Sarah Palin used to call “The Lamestream Media.” Three of the architects of this right-wing alt-media apparatus—Roger Ailes, Stephen K. Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway—are currently running the Trump campaign.
This campaign can be seen as the most recent twist in the culture of “disruptive innovation,” and their ultimate target is the old model of critical questioning and debate that has been the basis of representative democracy in America for 240 years.
Whether they win this election or not, their campaign to disrupt this model, and replace it with a new authoritarian order of uncritical solipsistic certainty will continue for some time to come.
David Levi Strauss
Sunday, October 9, 2016, 2:00 am
LINK to all David Levi Strauss Power 2016 Dispatches
[Photography: David Levi Strauss. Republican Party National Political Convention. Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland, Ohio. July 2016.]