Trumpism and the Dialectic of Neoliberal Reason
by David Lebow, Harvard University
Guided by the thesis that fascism was the outcome of a dialectic of instrumental reason, I argue that Trumpism is the result of a dialectic of neoliberal reason. The 2008 crisis revealed that widely distributed consumption could no longer be sustained through escalating debt, as it had been since neoliberalizing reforms in the 1970s. Economic crisis has been interpreted through a culture market in which pseudo-individual consumers choose what hyperreal public they prefer and participate in pseudo-activity through social media. Retreat into insular hyperrealities and hostility to dissonant alternatives reinforce each other in an escalating logic generating partisan incivility and fake news. The de-democratization of the state through subservience to private interests and political dysfunction has combined with the consumer’s uncompromising mentality as a dissatisfied customer to channel politicization into populism. It aggregates negatively through shared dissatisfaction, driving escalating antagonism between technocratic responsibility and populist responsiveness. These escalating economic, cultural, and political contradictions heighten negative “freedom from” restraints while subverting positive “freedom to” relate meaningfully to the world. This intensifies anxieties and receptivity to authoritarianism as a self-defeating escape from neoliberal freedom. Trumpism exploits precarity, corrupts democratic norms, and licenses misdirected aggression. This neoliberal authoritarianism is inverted fascism. Trump’s presidency is more effect than cause.