As a US-born Hong Konger, I’ve found it difficult to peel my eyes away from the debacle of Trump’s refusal to concede. Butler’s op-ed describes my feelings exactly:
When we went to the polls, we were not voting for Joe Biden/Kamala Harris (centrists who disavowed the most progressive health and financial plans of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) as much as we were voting for the possibility of voting at all, voting for the present and future institution of electoral democracy.
Feels weird to say it out loud, doesn’t it?
Those of us outside of carceral institutions lived with a sense of enduring electoral laws as part of a constitutional framework that gave coordinates to our sense of politics. Many of those who had not suffered disenfranchisement before were not even aware of how their lives rested on a basic trust in the legal framework. But the idea of law as something that secures our rights and guides our action has been transformed into a field of litigation. There is no legal norm that cannot be litigated under Trump. A law is not there to be honored or followed, but as a potential site of litigation. Litigation becomes the ultimate field of law’s power, and all other kinds of law, even constitutional rights, are now reduced to negotiable items within that field. […]
We are still frightened to have seen the fragility of the laws that ground and orient us as a democracy. But what has always been distinctive of the Trump regime is that the executive power of the government has consistently attacked the laws of the country at the same [time] that he claims to represent law and order. The only way that contradiction makes sense is if law and order are exclusively embodied by him. A peculiarly contemporary form of media-driven narcissism thus morphs into a lethal form of tyranny. The one who represents the legal regime assumes that he is the law, the one who makes and breaks the law as he pleases, and as a result he becomes a powerful criminal in the name of the law.
No wonder Trump admires Xi Jinping.
Trump has been neither a Hitler nor a Nero, but he has been a very bad artist who has been rewarded by his supporters for his wretched performances. His appeal to nearly half of the country has depended upon cultivating a practice that licenses an exhilarated form of sadism freed from any shackles of moral shame or ethical obligation. This practice has not fully accomplished its perverse liberation. Not only has more than half of the country responded with revulsion or rejection, but the shameless spectacle has all along depended on a lurid picture of the left: moralistic, punitive and judgmental, repressive and ready to deprive the general populace of every ordinary pleasure and freedom. In that way, shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.
That, there, there is the essence of Trumpism. It really is a kind of perverse liberation theology. This video shows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such “freedom.”