Trump Ain’t A Lone Wolf
Modern Nation States & Their Forgotten Neighbours
By Amin Mansouri (Graduate Student of Political Science, University of British Columbia).
February 5, 2016 Picture: Michael Vadon/Flickr
In the sixties and seventies, while Emmanuel Levinas was developing his articulation of The Other, Roman Polanski in his “Apartment Trilogy” meticulously evinced neighbour-phobic zeitgeist of modern apartment dwellers and its horrific repercussions for our contemporary world. In this trilogy, neighbours- who were once exalted and extolled in Christianity and Judaism in numerous verses such as, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8, Lev. 19:18)- are transformed into fountainheads of fear, xenophobia, magic, nightmares, and anxiety. Instead of sending unconditional love to neighbours as total strangers and instead of acknowledging that others cause and deepen an epistemological rift onto our walls of self-centrism sequestering us from them, as Polanski shows, modern apartment dwellers have developed accumulative fear from their neighbours as total strangers whose darkness foments a frisson of fear and a flow of vexation. This individualism has been the subject of Levinas’ critical assessments. As Levinas argues, this modern proclivity to underrate the Other jeopardizes our ethical system of human valuation since it renders the Other as an epistemological inferior to the I’s kingdom of knowledge production. This proclivity has lead to an intractable crisis in our ethical life because we have lost our ethos as a place of our rest, living, dwelling, and habituation so we no longer can unconditionally send our love to our neighbours.
Modern Nation States and Their Neighbours
Neighbours, in the dominant discourse of the modern nation-state, are also identical with a legion of antediluvian racist and xenophobic stereotypes such as rapists, thieves, benighted rural-based people of color with no avail of urbane manners, fanatics, and bigots. What has become almost near impossible is maintaining unconditional love for our neighbours of other countries that, even in the most compassionate rhetoric about refugees and immigrants, should be subject to severe screening processes so as to admit risk-free refugees and immigrants unto our soils; there is no unconditional love anymore. This panoptical gaze upon the Other as a potential security threat has accustomed us to always casting a morbid look of suspicion upon neighbours of our borders. Cast in this light, Donald Trump’s ample racist and xenophobic rhetoric is no exception in our contemporary world but is a consistent continuation of our ethical problematic obsessions with our neighbours as threat posers who should be odiously loathed, not unconditionally loved and revered.
Trump’s proposal for building a wall on the southern border of the U.S with Mexico is nothing short of an extreme embodiment of the nation-state’s vision to fully absorb nations into states and increasingly contrive others and neighbours as enemies, as meticulously articulated by Carl Schmitt. This idea of a wall reveals our deep-seated anxiety about others. Trump’s plan to ban Muslims entering the U.S is also another example of this ubiquitous otherization of, this time, Muslim refugees and millions of Muslim-Americans who have been well integrated into the U.S. To put it in perspective, Trump’s grotesque rhetoric greatly resembles Polanski’s delineation of our modern phobia with those knocking our doors in supplication for our help, attention, and love, and thus represents the grotesque inability of modern nation-state dwellers to revamp their lost bonds to the Other. The flustered and unhinged Jeb Bush in the recent GOP debate, who has repeatedly stated Trump cannot be serious, is akin to many who accentuate Trump’s idiosyncratic oddity as a gesture of their denial of the fact that Trump, with no political correctness, has brought up sustainable and institutional racism and xenophobia that many have swept under a thick rug of denial and spun them with no intention to tackle, annihilate, and throw into the dustbin of history.
This dehumanizing otherization of our neighbours has nauseated and plagued our age and has left its mark upon many political scourges and plights of our time. From the Israeli West Bank’s wall annexing the dwindling Palestinian land to Israel, to millions of stranded refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece; and from growing calls to increase surveillance on ordinary Muslims, their hubs, mosques, and their private lives to the normalization of animosity towards ordinary Muslims, instead of love and respect, this inhumane otherization has divided and ruled us. Amid all intellectual ivory tower underestimations of Trump’s rhetoric, one should charily track Trump’s trajectory back to all contemporary self-centred prejudices banishing and ostracizing some segments of our modern neighbours. Trump is not just an out-of-ordinary hothead who exhausts and sabotages our contemporary political order; but, he is the extreme continuation of this political system which needs a radical and fundamental agitation. When nearly thirty percent of American voters support Trump’s plan to ban Muslims entering the U.S[iii], it accentuates the disturbing fact that Trump is no longer a lone wolf but is a symptom of a terminal disease whose roots yet need to be explored and acknowledged.
A Wind Howling in Our Ethos
Polanski, in The Tenant (1976) and Repulsion (1965) of his trilogy, fastidiously indicates that all grotesque and Kafkaesque trepidations and funks Trelkovsky and Ledoux had developed towards their neighbours were all based on prejudices and presumptions representing their own vulnerability and fragility and thus had little to do with their actual neighbours and who they really were. Destructive presumptions of these sorts not only strengthen the grid separating isolated and frightened individuals, but also instil the state of terror and dismay in terrified people like Trelkovsky, Ledoux and all of us. So much so that we ourselves turn to mentally diseased people who are unable to live the life we deserve. Amid all fear-mongers, apparatchiks of horror politics, and divide-and-rule politicians of Trump’s hue, all of us terrified people need to pause and ask this question: Does this state of fear reigning in our hearts and engraving its imprint upon our soul bring us more happiness, safety, and prosperity or misery, apprehension, and dreadful angst? Don’t we feel our ethos is no longer a place of our ethical habituation but is frayed and ragged with a damned howl of loneliness agitating it? Sure we do! Maybe these exquisite words by the prominent master of Persian Sufism, Abu al-Hassan al-Kharaqani, can be an intellectual counter to the dominant xenophobic and racist rhetoric, “anyone who comes to this house, give him food and do not ask about his faith. Because, as he merits a life next to the exalted God, no doubt he deserves a meal on my table”[iv]
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