Yesterday, Donald Trump christened his ragtag coalition of Alt-Right negative attention seekers, social club racists, evangelical Islamophobes, social-construct fundamentalists, and greedy robber baron wannabes the theatrically dramatic term “Les Deplorables,” projecting the title on a screen behind him with an image from “Les Misérables” photoshopped so that the French revolutionaries are holding Trump signs. He even played the song “Can You Hear The People Sing.”
It’s ironic political appropriation, and it is perhaps a subconscious clue to Trump’s Id — since the play is incredibly dark — though it is an odd choice because Trump supporters do not ideologically match the play’s 1830s revolutionary, Parisian protagonists.
It’s an iconic image, but only because Les Misérables is iconic. Trump’s use is visual plagiarism, and adapted for insultingly totalitarian purposes. He is branding his crowd as an angry mob, and whispering in their ears violent delusions of political fear.
Underneath the revolutionary imagery, Trump suggested that if Hillary Clinton wanted a dose of gun control so badly she should disarm her Secret Service agents and see what happens. Many figures throughout the media naturally regarded this as another veiled threat of harm to his political opposition, the first being Trump’s infamous insinuation that Second Amendment people specifically could stop Hillary Clinton from adding another liberal judge to the Supreme Court last month.
The controversy is just more evidence that Trump is an impulsive faux-populist manipulating an increasingly anarchist Republican Party base that has realized the GOP has betrayed them to monied special interests for decades. Trump knows these people are still getting the economic shaft and are furious about it, and he has convinced them not to blame the uber-greedy 1% like himself, but the ethnically and religiously different. So Les Deplorables are running with his ideas of epically unnecessary tax cuts for the superrich and irresponsibly laissez-faire economic policies—the problems that are actually keeping white, uneducated poor people poor—because he will allegedly deport a lot of Mexicans, ban Islam, and arrest more black people. It is a racist admission that if one is poor at least he or she is white.
When America’s economic iconoclasts claim, “You can’t have capitalism without racism,” this is what they mean, though it doesn’t seem very iconoclastic as much as realistic. Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is an ongoing example of a rich robber baron trying to annex the public government like a business acquisition for self-gain and executive profit: building the brand of Donald Trump. And he’s doing it with committed racial division. Conservatives have uncritically cried “racially-divisive-wolf” at President Obama for so long that they can no longer identify actual racial divisiveness.
Unfortunately, Trump’s divisiveness makes for profitable media, and with media tycoons Roger Ailes and Stephen Bannon involved, a President Trump would no doubt be our most propagandized president in history. What an uncomfortable moment for America’s democracy.
I wrote a piece last week imagining Trump’s probably inevitable post-election (win or lose) business endeavor: Trump News Network, or some similar venture. He’s currently licensing his content in an unceasing stream to the other news networks for free, intelligently taking advantage of their audience networks while building his own, and now that he has commandeered the national Republican Party as an core bloc he might as well start economizing his media-politics himself. Or at least give alleged sexual predator Roger Ailes something to do with his conservative-scheming free time. It’s all much too capitalistic to really justify adopting the principled grandeur of Les Misérables‘ revolutionaries.
If only Les Deplorables had principles. What do they stand for? They wear hats revering a fictionally romantic America that never existed outside their racially exclusive imaginations. They identify as conservative, but support Trump’s promises to ramp up military spending even as he untangles America’s alliances back to 1914. It is a good idea to extricate America from obsolete, international relationships, but Trump intends to do it recklessly with hyper-exceptionalism (how is it in America’s national interest or security to ruin Euro-American solidarity on the international political stage??). Trump won the Republican primary by talking vaguely, uneducatedly, and a lot. And switching allegiances at the slightest scent of personal gain (like when he switched political parties five times before picking the Republican Party to commercialize Obama Birther conspiracies) or hint of political backlash (like when he backtracked from suggesting women who get abortions should be punished). And insulting everyone and everything. He may be artistically pioneering a new performance art movement: political surrealism.
Trump certainly founded a new political party at the very least, one of disaffected whites easily manipulated into believing racial and religious minorities are the reason they’re not rich. The marriage of hyper-nationalism to nativism has historical precedence in the textbook pages concerning fascism, but who cares about history anymore?
In anticipation of the future history of America, Donald Trump’s campaign is largely a conservative reaction to the macro reality that America is trending toward an impressively multicultural, democratic liberalism. It reinforces the conservative paranoia that social equality is a zero sum game in which white Christians stand to lose rights when America finally recognizes and represents its diversity. Trump supporters can’t stop it, though they believe Trump when he says he can—alone (does anyone else hear the suspiciously conspicuous dictator warning bells ringing?). There is no practical way to accomplish the deportation of millions of people without widespread fear, violence, and police-state intrusion, but that hasn’t registered in the minds of Les Deplorables. They are supporting a strongman for trickle-down racial privileges in exchange for intentionally oblivious loyalty.
Les Deplorables are not fighting for a free America. Their morally and ideologically compromised politics call for an oppressive dystopia the student revolutionaries of Les Misérables would barricade Paris against.
And how fitting that Republicans’ contemporary disdain for anything French-related (on account of the Iraq War affair) is one of the last remaining facets of traditional American politics for Donald Trump to upset. Our Statue of Liberty poetically demands an existential moral code in our nation’s relationship to immigration and freedom, but it is a Francophone expectation of America’s greatness that a Donald Trump presidency would never want to meet. It is much too politically-correct to remain uncensored by Trump’s authoritative-Right politics. Trump is a brilliant branding artist, and he’s got his loyal crowd. Les Deplorables are welcoming economic and political fraud for a high place in Trump’s racist, Alt-Right social hierarchy.
The Left must fight this, and not repeat Election 2000, when the collective Left split its majority between Al Gore and Ralph Nader because Al Gore wasn’t liberal enough. Al Gore certainly would have been more liberal than George W. Bush.
The Left cannot afford to repeat the same team-killing tendency toward political absolutism this election: Hillary Clinton could use Jill Stein’s ex-Bernie voters. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party will get much more of what it wants with a President Clinton than a President Trump. Liberals can even democratically reform the Democratic Party from the inside. They of course have no chance gaining democratic concessions from Donald Trump.
Get it together, Left. It’s Les Misérables versus Les Deplorables. Vive le libéralisme.
Feature image via Twitter user keln7