The Savage Mind

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Manhattan's White House

Compared to today, 2012 was a romantic period in the brief course of human history. Four years into Obama’s government, things were relatively calm; after 9/11 and eight years of George W. Bush hovering in the White House, there was an effort to put the toothpaste back into the tube, at least.

It was in the summer of 2012 that I became aware of the Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for its angry, anti-gay protests at military funerals. More than a religious congregation, the Westboro church, led by pastor Fred Phelps, is a family-organized hate group that believes God will punish the United States for “the sin of homosexuality through events including soldiers’ deaths”. The scenes of the funerals of young soldiers, killed in foreign lands and buried by their shattered families while the hate group is shouting and insulting them, requesting the dead soldiers not be buried on American soil, is madness itself.

But when the Congress had to discuss for days–not to ban hate speech, but only to distance the protests from the military funerals by 300 feet– it doubled down on the insanity, and I needed to explain to the readers back home why this kind of offensive behavior was tolerated in America. Yes, of course, there is the first and other Constitutional Amendments that guarantee the freedom to protest and other unalienable rights, like freedom of expression. But my readers and I remain flabbergasted by the fact that there is no U.S. law or merely custom, that would guarantee an American soldier to be buried in peace.

Later in the year, I was disgusted with the same Westboro group when they announced that they intended to protest at the funerals of the 20 kids massacred at Sandy Hook elementary school. I was shocked by the inability of American society to protect parents burying their little ones after the same society was unable to protect those children from being shot at school. Luckily, the group abstained from the protest. Was it because someone forced them to on the old gang’s way, we don’t know. What we do know is that this society has few tools to stop such vile hatred.

Five years later, the U.S. got a new, very unpredictable right-wing president, elected by votes of protest against the elite political establishment. With Donald Trump in the White House, America got its own Brexit, the president determined to “clean the swamp” and deconstruct the existing political order, presumably to build-up another. The French philosopher and anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his definition of the savage mind, compares the bricoleur and engineer:

“Bricoleur” has its origin in the old French verb bricoleur, which originally referred to extraneous movements in ball games, billiards, hunting, shooting, and riding, but which today means a do-it-yourself building or repairing things with the tools and materials on hand, sputtering or tinkering as it were. In comparison to the true craftsman, whom Lévi-Strauss calls the Engineer, the Bricoleur is adept at many tasks and at putting pre-existing things together in new ways, adapting his project to a finite stock of materials and tools. The Engineer deals with projects in their entirety, conceiving and procuring all the necessary materials and tools to suit his project. The Bricoleur approximates “the savage mind” and the Engineer approximates the scientific mind. Lévi-Strauss says that the universe of the Bricoleur is closed, and he often is forced to make do with whatever is at hand, whereas the universe of the Engineer is open in that he is able to create new tools and materials.

By deconstructing and eroding only–without even attempting to reform the current, dysfunctional system–by not giving the society new tools and a project, Donald Trump is the Bricoleur of Claude Lévi-Strauss’  Savage Mind.

So when it comes to the horrendous Charlottesville events, Trump improvises and plays it simple. He is not a scientist, he is not even a politician. I love to remember that he is a simple brand manager lent to the delicate work of politics. As such, he promotes his own brand on every occasion, fishing for the votes and consensus on “both sides,” to use the term he did upon responding to the clashes between the white supremacist Nazi groups and the local population counter-protesting in Charlottesville. Promoting–and debasing moral virtue in promotion’s interest–is something he knows how to do because he has been trading and bluffing his whole life, selling and buying his monstrous towers. As a politician, Trump is not doing anything new: he is igniting the crowds, and when they jump into a Nazi salute, he turns his back, pretending not to see them. I remember the Italian reformed right-wing neo-fascist party doing the same when Gianfranco Fini first ran for the mayor of Rome in mid-nineties.

But is unleashing the most primitive instinct in a man, or allowing racism to blossom while pretending not see it, the same as supporting it? While Donald Trump is not the KKK or a Nazi leader, he does have a moral obligation not to ignite but unite the country he is supposed to be leading. In practice, Trump might not be aware of this obligation. The country is noticing it, and the 45th president is becoming more and more disconnected from the groups that supported him. There are reports describing a lonely and isolated president, and increasing voices signaling for impeachment. And while impeachment is a political and not legal process, Donald Trump will never give up a fight. He likes the emperor’s clothes, and he will stir the troubles keeping him afloat on the raft of presidential controversy; he’ll do anything not to be laughed out of the office.

But while Trump is doing something he always did, selling (this time his own country) for the benefit of his own family, his own ego, it will be hard to hold him accountable for the situation. Let’s stay on the example from the beginning of this story. At least Obama tried to stop the Westboro Baptist Church hatred as well as the free sales of the weapons that continue killing thousands of Americans every year. He only managed to distance the hate group 300 feet from the funerals and envisioned minimum restrictions on the supermarket sales of the murdering weapons. But he took a stand.

Trump does nothing of this kind. Even if he would try to do it, which he would never do, he would have to face the wall of constitutional amendments preventing American society from progressing. Do not get me wrong. I am unequivocally for freedom of expression, but I don’t support those people or systems that prevent the human race from evolving, learning. There should not be any freedom of expression that ignites killing and segregation, slavery, racism, fascism, Naziism and the mass murdering not only of the Jewish people, but Slavs, Romes, or black people and countless others. There should be a law against it like there is a law against extreme right movements across Europe. True, as the consequence of the social and economic crisis, right-wing movements are surging across the globe. Once again, it is because of the various degrees of dangerous nationalism that we are witnessing humanity blinding itself to reason. We’ve seen it before, we know what it is capable of accomplishing, and yet we still hesitate to stop it.

Now that the problems of this planet are entirely global, like climate change and the new distribution of labor for which our civilizations have not found a solution, we should be aware that nationalism of any kind and any place leads to destruction and oblivion. By not looking for the solution, but reproducing the 400-year-old model of a white supremacist society, Trump should be invited to resign. The reason this is not happening yet is that of the complex political issues that have not yet accumulated the social or political force necessary to achieve such a plan. There is an urgent need to think globally and act accordingly.

So when Paul Krugman claims that “Trump’s refusal to condemn the murderous white supremacists in Charlottesville finally confirms what has become increasingly obvious: The current president of the United States isn’t a real American,” he is wrong. America, the world, does not need an American president who would protect Americans and drone everybody else. Neither does the world need only a Chinese, Indian, Russian or Belarusian president for that matter, but a global one.

Remember the famous Obama’s phrase from the 2004 Democratic Convention speech:  “There’s not a black America and white America, a Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America!”  Even this ideal is no longer good enough. The world is bigger now, and it must unite against bigotry.

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