Living Up to the Times

by Yassel A. Padrón Kunakbaeva

These days, one learns every morning in social media about the latest outrageous words or actions by the politicians. It’s like the boundaries have been blurred between what used to be sensationalist press and real politics. There comes a time when one gets used to the crazy and stupid antics of Trump and Bolsonaro, to the trivial exchanges, and also to the excesses of the Cuban press and its ideologues. But the worst thing is that one sees how that boundless spectacle of human stupidity which parades around social media doesn’t foreshadow the end of humanity’s old problems: hunger, war, dehumanization, oppression. On the contrary, abuse of power seems to become the norm.

Donald Trump appears as the undisputed hero of the new era. He has brought about the rise to power of farcical spectacle, insolence and a constant yet honest brand of lying. Trump says to his followers: ‘I’m deceiving you, and you know it, and you like it.’ The huge mass of American conservative voters goes out and votes for him, as if to celebrate his lack of authenticity; deep down, they’re enjoying a form of feeling superior, that in which you renounce the feigning of superior values, and firmly declare that you don’t need them, because you already are better than the Mexicans, the blacks, the liberals and the communists.

Trump embodies the spirit of a time which dangerously approaches the reactionary abyss.

It’s no coincidence, therefore, that he would recently threaten to sign a decree aimed at limiting freedom of expression in social media. With his big bag full of fake news and post-truths, the imperial clown has rehashed an old dynamic of fascist movements: taking maximum advantage of the freedom of expression in bourgeois republics in crisis, so that later, once the fanatic base has been consolidated, they may crush the rights of the minorities. One important difference, however, would be that old fascisms at least pretended to maintain an appearance of seriousness, something which has been discarded in the postmodern version.

It’s true that party extremism has also begotten something like Decree 370 in Cuba. But one would expect that the leader of the free world not follow in the steps of a ‘dictatorship’ and proclaim a Decree 370 for the US. In fact, differences aside, both decrees are preposterous. In Trump’s case, it’s defended by someone who says he wants to protect freedom of expression, and immediately afterwards states that he would shut down Twitter if he could. In the Cuban case, it has two subsections which deny any revolutionary sense, but it doesn’t dare either to be truly Stalinist and dictatorial: it threatens those who violate orderliness with a fine.

What does it mean that in both Washington and Havana the drafters of decrees are supplanting comedians in their jobs? And what does it mean that jokes today accompany, or rather herald, the horrors? Among other things, it means that as a civilization we are in decadence, and that the stellar ideologues in the Cuban government have sadly learned to live up to the times. So, point for Hegel.

I’m not the first one to say it, but I’ll say it again: Cuban politics has degenerated on both sides to the level of a feud between reggaeton singers. Instead of arguments, we have the radical cheekiness of Otaola, or the idiocy of the articles by Lagarde, who doles out the label of mercenary as if it were bread by the rationing card.

The Trump effect is already in Cuba, with indigenous background and bad habits.

This reality puts all of us with an understanding of politics based on higher ideals in a tight spot, because it brings us to a question that haunts many in the world today: How can we be effective against someone like Trump? How do you fight against mediocrity and insolence when they are institutionalized? What can you do when people prefer baseness? How should we react when they view highly intellectual or moral discourses as false, bourgeois or alien?

The worst thing about these decadent discourses which are exalted today is that they connect with a part of the culture that remains rather present at the level of folklore and of people’s common sense. We’re still not as far as we’d like from the medieval villager, who enjoyed public executions and hurled rotten fruit at the prisoner in the rack. We’re still that in great measure. Social media have not made people worse, they’ve actually only brought to the surface the mediocrity which was already there.

Nevertheless, it’s a grave mistake to assume the position of the outraged, of the one who believes that old times were better, and wants to restore the political discourse to its old and respectable course. That’s the position of many conservatives, liberals and also socialists, who are today impotent when trying to face the phenomena of the Trump era. My recommendation: first realize that the old discursive models were always rather illusory; they were always functional only for a learned stratum of society, while leaving out the majority.

People are mediocre in great measure because they are the result of a system, the same system which granted usufruct of the word and of culture to a part of society. Therefore, that old republican, illustrated and liberal politics that some dream of cannot be the solution to the problem because it’s part of the problem. That old world begot this one. Expelling the idiots to the margins once again, leaving them without a voice, is an antidemocratic illusion, which has also become impossible to carry out in practice. What’s needed is popular education, a process which would allow people to overcome their vices and their worst impulses by themselves.

In this new time, one feels sorry for liberals.

When they try to ridicule Trump, to get him out of the game, they only manage to make their own image suffer, and they barely understand why. Trump may lose the election in November, but the phenomenon he stands for is only beginning, and it will repeat. The old republican and liberal arcadia that some pine for is crumbling down due to its own contradictions. The main one is because it was built on the foundations of capitalism, and as those foundations erode, it becomes impossible to sustain what was built on them.

This crisis of liberalism also has an impact on the Cuban problem. Firstly, it messes up the discourse according to which the Cuban system is a primitive ‘regime’, in which liberals have the historical mission of being its undertakers. It would be absurd to think that, at a time when the world is not heading in that direction, a by-the-book liberal democracy should triumph in Cuba. There are people –poor fellows– who dream of Spanish-style or Chile-style transitions. One only wonders what fuels their delusions.

The problem we have in Cuba is not the same that they have in the US, of course. In our island, the liberal order that Batista brought to a crisis not only failed to be restored, it was swept away. In that sense, we were ahead of our time. The problem is that, in the desire to move too fast, and because of bad influences, we discarded too many things from the old world and gave shape to our own kinds of horrors. Today we are in the painful process of realizing that some realities and ideas from the old world were not that negative or that easily surmountable: for example, the market, democracy and freedom of expression.

The bad thing is that, in the midst of this process of ours, when we should we refounding the principles of our socialist system and seeking the socialist way to manage the market, democracy and freedom of expression, the general decadence of civilization drags us along and pushes us too towards mediocrity. In times of revolution, many mistakes were made, and today those mistakes live and writhe as culture within each song of the worst reggaeton. The danger is that, in this universal decline of liberal ideals, socialist ideals should also be swept along, so that we’re no longer able to recognize the revolution in ourselves, and are left at the mercy of the more reactionary side of our society.

Socialism or barbarism.

The Cuban Trump lurks in the obtuse defenses of ETECSA made by Cubasí, in the public lynchings of the NTV for the amusement of the village, in the gangster behavior of cyber-fighters of the lowest ilk, in PostCuba, in the claptrap Granma publishes about the problem with meat in the US. Facing it is as complex as facing the other Trump. It’s easy to end up as a utopian, an ‘intellectual’, someone out of touch with what’s practical.

But Trump and his avatars must be resisted wherever they are. It can’t be done from a position of outraged morality, or from Platonic romanticism. Clownish stunts and baseness are not defeated that way. They are vanquished with the determined practice of authenticity. Nobody laughs at someone who is authentic, who does not pretend to be what they aren’t. It’s difficult, but it’s the only way.

Translated from the original

Contact the author at: yasselpadron1@riseup.net