Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

How We Will Come to Appreciate Donald Trump

Sometimes the sense of external oppression acts as a challenge and arouses intellectual energy and excites courage. – John Dewey

The United States will experience a significant economic boom over the next year that will take economists by surprise. It will not be legible to economists, brokers, or political scientists; although they will all certainly try, in hindsight, at “economic” explanations. Moreover, it will happen irrespective of any policy Trump (or Congress or Fed) attempts.

This surge will have nothing to do with rationality and policy, and everything to do with feelings and politics. Already underway, arising out of the contagious affective resonance unleashed by Trump’s surprise victory, visible in the variety of bodily responses since November 8, it will boost both productivity and consumption and propel the economy to a period of expansion not seen in years. Here is why.

Psychologists have long advised (or warned) that to enamor someone (or be enamored) a sure technique includes exhilarating activities, like riding a roller coaster, going to a haunted house, driving fast on a curvy road, watching a horror film, bungee jumping–anything that sends adrenaline through the body. If these excitations are followed by moments of peacefulness, perhaps together with amorous suggestions, the result will be joy, one associated with the present companion.

Hannah Arendt remarked that pleasure is but the absence of pain. Today’s affect theorists similarly hold that joy is the release of affective/bodily intensity, any intensity, positive or negative. One can experience joy (runner’s high) when the pain-numbing hormones circulate through the body in a sustained effort, when the body relaxes at the end of a short sprint, or when pain is gone at the end of a physical punishment applied by another. But more than that, the joy at the end of sustained excitation also comes with a certain dose of energy, an excitation that resonates in the body, regardless of its origin. We are currently experiencing a post-election bodily resonance, and it will be regenerated again and again.

An early sociologist, Georg Simmel, observed that conflict is positive not negative, a presence not an absence, a form of sociability that gives energy and dynamism to a group. Moreover, a marked dyad of opinions is more likely to lead to conflict than a contrast of three or more, and conflict eventually leads to some sort of resolution or evolution of the problem.

While visiting a ‘utopian’ community (in upstate New York) of his day, William James noted that for the first two days he was awe-struck at the harmony and peace within it. But by the fifth, he could not wait to get away. He explained that conflicts, differences not only of opinion but of ways of being, give meaning to one’s choices. Differences makes us aware that we have choices in the first place, that we could be satisfied with those we make.

Politics, for Arendt, means making the world together, by questioning our divergent understandings and creating new ones. Conflict and contestation are not only inevitable but essential. Trump’s win made everyone, not just politicos and news junkies, aware of the presence of deep and sustained value conflicts that would have been played down (or white-washed) in the event of a Clinton win. Difference and contestation are now in the open.

More importantly, Trump’s win has made us aware of the stakes and the scope of these conflicts. Overnight, it made politics very relevant to nearly everyone, even on a global scale. To say that it energized and politicized the nation would be a serious understatement. Some people see their lifestyle threatened, others their identities, and yet others literally fear for their safety. Regardless of how “alarmist” or measured one appraises those reactions, it is clear that bodies and minds are agitated and energized. And that they are aware of politics beyond elections.

Excited bodies suddenly see their actions as more meaningful, their decisions more consequential. Workplace productivity will rise as workers and managers feel their own agency, or as they simply fear for the future. The so-called Hawthorne effect refers to the rise in productivity in a factory when workers know that they are being observed or testing a new process. In these experiments, no matter what changes were made to the production process, worker productivity increased, even when the changes were merely reversals of earlier “improvements.” Elton Mayo, author of the study, proposed that an explanation of the effect cannot be a rational motivation, but rather, an affective response accompanying workers’ awareness of their own agency–that what they do matters.

The night of November 18 brought us an example of both increased agency and productivity among the cast of Hamilton, who gave a special, moving message to VP-elect, Mike Pence. We saw the unexpected welcome of those critical words by Pence himself. Already the day after the election we witnessed the surge of the DOW, yet to be explained by pundits or economist.

Just a few days ago, another example of politicized bodies and awakened agency was made public: the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) letters circulated and signed by faculty and administration at American colleges and universities. As of November 22, over 250 university presidents signed DACA statements pledging they would not cooperate in the identification of undocumented students. Military veterans will “assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia” and “deploy” in support of protestors at the Standing Rock Reservation. A group of poets in Milwaukee, WI, is producing a book of “resistance poetry” whose sale will benefit the local ACLU. When the professors, the veterans, and the poets are engaged, something is afoot.

In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam may have misdiagnosed the decline in civic participation over the latter decades of the twentieth century. But whatever we think of his analysis, the growing sense of agency and arousal of social groups since November 8, is already bringing a resurgence of civic engagement that will have benefits beyond the economy, and that will perhaps outlast the economic boom. People are quickly learning that they can act politically beyond elections, in ways perhaps more effective than voting. See, for example, Rage Donate.

Now, such a sustained excitation would eventually dissipate or bring productivity back down, but that is not what will happen. In Trump’s America, in which we already live, periods of excitation will be coupled with moments of relief as we see that “it’s not that bad” or “Bush did that and we lived,” and as Trump himself backpedals on his most controversial issues, like climate change or immigration–as he has already started to.

More importantly, as long-running conflicts–race prejudice and race resentment, sexism and misogyny, nativism and xenophobia, the plight of displaced workers–finally get sustained, serious attention, they will inject periodic doses of excitement and relief. Those sicknesses, now plainly visible, will demand treatment, and as long as we retain free speech and other minimal rights, and so long as we remain awake to the fact that elected politicians will not or cannot address them alone, healing will begin in the body politic. Witness the intensities and pleasures at protests throughout the country, the energy of which is seeping into protesters’ daily lives as they return to their routines.

Awakened, politicized bodies bearing a renewed sense of agency and consequence will be more productive. The joy at the release of their intensities will make them more generous with money. The combination of productivity and consumption will resound throughout the country, throughout the economy. And it will boom.

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