Saturday, July 06, 2019

From the CPE Working Group on Empire: Ruminations 87-- Reflections on President Trump's July 4th Speech and the Convergence of the Rhetorics of Empire


The 4th of July is the day celebrated for the declaration of the intention of the 13 united colonies of their independence from the Crown of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as its Parliament. The event always tends to bring out everyone with an axe to grind--all of which then tend to be plunged into the heads of actual or perceived enemies.  It is a moment when leading groups restate their positions and seek advantage in the never ending process of controlling orthodox official narrative of "reality" and of managing the masses in the pursuit of influence and the harvesting of votes (an industry that remains one of the bright spots of the American economy). Indeed, the United States ruling classes, on its over privileged and arrogantly detached political left and right wings, has tended to indulge in many such moments lately)

The Coalition for Peace & Ethics Working Group on Empire suspects that all of this is both necessary and beside the point at this historical moment.  What CPE-WGE finds remarkable is the way in which the rhetorics around important historical markers (in the case of the U.S. for example the 4th of July)  have begun to converge around two key elements.  
The first is the increasing acceptance of a core leader model of governance; in the United States situated around the person of the U.S. President (and thus the intensity of the battles over the body and fate of Mr Trump), and in China around the development of a core leader ideology around the person of President Xi from which radiates collective leadership, which is then replicated down the chain of the organization of state and party apparatus. 

The second, is the way in which the leadership core of both exhibit similar discursive trends in the construction of new models of self reflection, and on that basis of projection of national self understanding outward. In both cases one sees the development of a model in which the core draws on the deep wells of historical tradition, culture and learning to project those insights as the incarnation of a model that can be be projected onto the new era (inward) and exported to the model of empire (outward through America First and Belt and Road Initiatives).

The CE-WGE has spent considerable time considering the development of those rhetorical tropes (and the exploration of the ideology of "new era" empire it reveals) from the Chinese side of empire (e.g., CPE EmpireSeries).  For this post CPE-WGE explores a similar development from the U.S. side of empire.  To that end it provides below a critical analysis of the speech delivered by Mr. Trump at the official 4th of July festivities held at Washington, D.C.  It follows below. For the orthodox discussion of the speech within the U.S. from partisan perspectives see, e.g., here and here). What emerges is an interesting parallel in the way that empire is reconstructed from within a context of globalization.

The transcript that follows is taken from  "Speech: Donald Trump Delivers a Fourth of July Speech at the Lincoln Memorial - July 4, 2019" with thanks to Factbase.  CPE-WGE discussion in bolded red.

The opening segment starts conventionally enough.  Though the opening recognition starts with an acknowledgement of senior members of the government organs, it may be  worth noting the emphasis, this time, on the military--both through its participation, and as the particular object of the celebrations this year.  Indeed, the celebrations, in that respect are noted to be  a special salute to America, foreshadowing something unconventional that may follow. The focus, especially will be on the military.  But not just the conventional "thank you dor your service" incantation popular with presidents since the 1990s,  but rather with an effort to center the military of the heart of the construction and preservation of the Republic. The U.S. in the new era, as will be developed through the speech, is the product of a militant faith in its own gospel, one which requires patient maintenance, as well as protection from the forces outside that might undo the great American experiment.  It is only in the shadow of that armed vigilance that the genius of the American people can flower.

The address starts here.  And the start is quite curious.  For those with an ear for Hollywood--a center of the control and expression of cultural narrative in the United States--the tone is set immediately with "we are part of one the greatest story ever told."
As Hollywood would have it, there was another--the story of the life, work, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the heralding of a new era, marked by a new covenant between God (as Christians would come to embrace that term) and humanity. Those with any memory of movie making a generation old--and the priestly keepers of the Hollywood cultural flame, would immediately understand the reference, and its politics.  That politics involves both a connection with a divine past and its projection through the body of the Republic into its "new era." And indeed, the description of the American version of the "greatest story ever told" parallels in quite strong ways the story of the earthly ministry of Jesus, whose spirit might well be incarnated in the American people. That saga has a politics as well--of thirteen colonial states (and thus the reference to the Nike controversy about the racism of its so-called Betsy Ross flag shoe) whose journey to independence produced a political theology that represented a new covenant between a state and its people. And it was a declaration made under severe military threat as the Americans sought to overcome their position as a British subaltern and remove the shackles of colonialism (note the way that the language appropriates what in the 20th and 21st centuries was thought to "belong" to newly decolonized people outside of North America and Europe).  These are all fighting words within the inter-factional warfare that commenced with the election of Mr. Trump in 2016. 

Like the Chinese who have deeply woven their history of semi-colonialism into the heart of their cultural expression of political theory, so Mr. Trump attempts to do the same with a story farther removed by time. In the process he attempts two things. First to draw a connection between faith and action in the service of "higher values" encrusted onto our political theory which must be protected by force of arms.  And second, to draw a direct connection from that revolutionary "spirit" to the constitution of the contemporary American patriot. In both cases, the notion of a great power enchained, whose outward expression must be read in light of that history, is offered as a foundation of political theory and legitimacy--then and now.

Here Mr. Trump provides the evidence of that spirit form the founding generation to the present.  He seeks to connect the conventional episodes of greatness to this spirit.  And in the process he privileges a narrative of greatness that is to some extent a full throated rejected of the revisionist narrative that had been developing form the 1990s among the intellectual and cultural production classes--underwritten by a business class imbued with the spirit of risk mitigation and compliance. These are fighting words within the factional war in the United States.

 For some reason, Americans really like catalogue songs.  And it has become conventional among political speakers to include a long section that identifies specific individuals and events as significant exemplars of the great insights they appear to be putting forward,  That is the poetry of contemporary speech making.  The politics, of course, is in who is privileged with acknowledgement, and who is veiled in the silence of nonrecognition.  It works the way that the knowledge production is managed by the "community" of scholars charged with the protection of its basic line and orthodox approach.
But it also works like Leporello's catalogue aria to Dona Elvira in Don Giovanni.  This is as true for the catalogue speeches of President Obama as it is for Mr. Trump--though their objects were quite different.But of course this is not merely opera buffa.  Lists are central to the Western mentality, and to the way the West orders, arranges, and relates to objects.  It applies an implied taxonomy that itself expresses a structured system of values which is operationalized through the construction of lists.  All lusts have a purpose, all choose data and reject others, all apply an analytics based on the principles through which data is recognized and valued, and all then produce a judgment based on the algorithm that invests the list with an ordering power in cultural, political, economic, and societal terms. That is way politicians and the intelligentsia can't resist lists.  And lists are used effectively here (as they will be used by the opposition in rebuttal).

What does the righteous American spirit look like?  What does it produce?  It is in answer that the fairly long catalogue area continues for a good portion of the speech.  And in the process, it serves to give shape to the values and the context in which America became "first." And that is an important connection--America first because of the faith in its values that are govern expression by its politics that serves to produce a space in which the best of human nature--its quest for human welfare as well as its militant protector of its values--can emerge,  not for itself but as a gospel of good tidings. And in a twist on the well known story in Luke of the Annunciation, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee" Luke 1:35. It is in those good tidings that America First can be projected outward as a form of gospel to be shared with the word, but internalized by each nation ready to be saved.   Each looking to that "just and virtuous republic" for its own salvation. This is not just a military but a religious conception of the Republic, deeply imbued with references that have been lost on the generations that have long ceased embedding the Old and New Testaments onto their lived realities. .   

And what is the character of that "righteous American spirit" which infuses and gives form to America militans (more on this below and note the traditional iconography and its identity to the key elements of the speech). 
The spirit of America is a creed; one that sins but seeks to repent and find its true meaning (referencing Martin Luther King). The speech is full of references to the core American values that give it form---and which serve as a rough analogue to the twelve core socialist values now embedded within Chinese political-ethical culture. These include heroism in the form of self sacrifice, creativity and genius, a willingness to push boundaries, fearless resolve, selfless generosity, the willingness to take care of each other, independence of masters,

And thus the list here reveals both the value choices and the narrative that is at the new era thinking of Trump core.  It is one that infused faith with martial potential. Youth are urged to follow in the marital footsteps of their ancestors.  Faith communities produce their saints and martyrs, and the American Ecclesia militans, the faithful who struggle as soldiers against sin and the Devil. That gathers together the catalogue into a recognizable form. It expresses the American version of the fundamental contradiction of this stage in the development of the nation and its people, and shows the path forward to the resolution of that contradiction.  In this case the contradiction is easy to state--the need to  rekindle the essence of America militans for which the catalogue of saints and martyrs serves as an example. These serve as well to make the U.S. a light unto the world. 
 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16).
That marital quality in the service of the great ideals of the nation are the object of the next list.
And that spirit is necessary precisely because the ideal that the United States represents has always been surrounded by those who would destroy it. The preservation of all that is good inside requires the projection of a power to defend it here and elsewhere. Here we begin a Second catalogue--of the centuries of aggression of the enemies that encircle the "light of the world" and would have it extinguished. And this too catalogues the principles that define the spirit of America. This is evident even to the harshest critics of the current expression of that vision (e.g., here for the poster above)

Notice the range of dangers.  And, of course, that view has been deeply embedded in our political popular culture since the last century.  Politicians all along the political spectrum have made careers of the wars they wage against enemies foreign and domestic--each according to their tastes and the requisites of their political ideologies. The United States has lived through the dangers of pirates and threats abroad, and have waged wage on poverty, racism, sexism, heterpartricarchy (some of these these are not to the tastes of the current administration to be sure but compatible with the tenor of the speech in an ironic way) as well as drugs, gangs, and migrants.  Our wars--both against internal and external threats--are endless.  And that gives proof to the righteousness of the enterprise, as well as to its fragility.  But the notion of "Fortress America" resonates well with the march of Chinese discursive tropes, one which also see the heartland at the great empire surrounded and threatened.  For China the response must be both military and economic.  For the United States, it is grounded in military and the cultural mechanics of witnessing the gospel to the heathen. 

It is in that sense that what is good for America acquires its globalized form--not because it is American but because the Americans express a version of the universal principles to live by and thus serve as the light. (Image source here))

A righteous Empire stands in the way of "empires across the oceans" who try "to carve up the world for themselves." The righteousness does not come from the opposition to empire, but to forms of empire that carve the world for themselves. But what if one carves up the world for a higher purpose--a purpose for which one is merely a manifestation or an instrument.  American First, in this sense can be understood temporally--the first witness; the first apostle, and perhaps even the Apostle that know holds the keys to the kingdom of the only empire worth the effort.  
"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  (Matthew 16:18-19)


And it is against these threats --and against the threats to the city on the hill, to the "first" of many, to the "American internationale" the Amerintern--that the American genius, described above, the  has shown itself a superior force.  Thus the effect of this layering catalogue of triumph in the face of threat.  By this point in the speech one has a layered multi-catalogue that itself serves as the representation of the American spirit in apocalyptic and deeply religious terms, one that require the sword of righteousness as well as the garlands of peace and triumph. The catalogue then begins a long litany of triumph over adversity that highlights the endeavors of each of the branches of the military.  These are then interwoven with the actions of the military and its Continental Congress during the wars of independence and the forging of the compacts--the covenant of union that now endures (the Articles of Confederation being a treat for historians and pedants)--that serve as the memorialization of the righteous American spirit.

This is then recast in the language of a cloak of invincibility woven from the yarn of righteousness that produces a superior warrior, and by extension, the greatest witness of the gospel of the United States. That, again, makes America first but neither last nor only. First in time, and the core of the leadership of a system that is morally superior and materially rewarded but whose burden is both to witness,and to defend against the forces that threaten.

This is now a catalogue with a clear character--a catalogue of righteous fury.  Here we move from New testament to Old Testament references.  We move from Agape (1 John 4:8) to Wrath, or in the language of Afro-Cuban religions, from Oshun to Ochossí. "Exodus 15:7 (against the Egyptians (A telling parallel) "In the abundance of your majesty you have overthrown those who rise up against you. You sent forth your wrath; it consumed them like stubble."

That last statement nicely encapsulates the founding ideology of the America First Initiative in the new era of development. We all made of the same stuff as our heroes; but our heroes, like the saints and martyrs, incarnate the best of us. That incarnation is of something greater, though, of something beyond the power of individuals, or their collectives, to control.  That natural higher law then shapes the nation and provides the principles on which it may authentically liberate itself, and in so doing provide the form for the liberation of the world. The American empire is an expression of a higher order, one whose mandate of heaven is contingent on its reflection of received truth.  And it is here that the foundation of the U.S. and Chinese impulses to empire in the new era converge. ,   

The animating ideologies of two great emerging empires become clearer.  And in the clarity emerges as well the arc of convergence within quite distinct imperial context.  Both are Middle Kingdoms.  And both derive their founding ideologies from Children if Israel; one living millennia ago in the Kingdom of Judea, the other in the Empire of the Germans and the English. One  is 中國 and the other is 中国. Both see themselves as the central embodiment of great moral organizing ideals whose societal expression is both deeply rooted in historical context but which sees in such context a movement forward toward the universalization of truth, each in their own way. And both see themselves surrounded by enemies and threatened by forces that would destroy their respective visions.  The notions of encirclement run deep in the leadership core of both emerging visions of empire. yet, from a certain distance, it becomes difficult to distinguish them except for the details; and the way in which each expresses its vanguard leadership over the communities of the earth. 

For the United States, those notions are bound up in the performance of ancient witnessing in new era garb. In that context there was no better closing for the speech of the leadership core than that of the anthem of the American Empire in the new era--the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Notice the profound meaning of each of the words alone, and their effect together.  Battle (conflict, defense)--hymn (a paean to a higher power whose mandate is reflected on Earth by those who invoke the Higher Power through hymn)--Republic (the communal incarnation and reflection of that higher power). Not our truth, HIS truth.

Song by Julia Ward Howe
Mine eyes hath seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.


No comments: