Death by 1000 Pricks: Moving Past the GOP Debates

depressing discourse cropped

Art: Danielle Hodges

Before we get any further: I did not watch the Republican debates tonight. Like most Americans, I just caught the important moments through the outraged Facebook posts of my friends and CNN’s “Everything you need to know about the Republican Debate in 90 seconds.” In a media landscape dominated by soundbites, I got everything I needed. As a Galtungian, I know where this fits.

“It is more merciful if you go ahead and finish the job rather than death by 1000 pricks.”

– Ben Carson. “Everything You Need to Know About the #GOP Debate in 90 Seconds”

The thought pieces surrounding the current electoral discourse have all held a similar tack these past couple of weeks. “Is Trump a real threat?” “Are the current frontrunners going to hold come next November?” “Will this lunacy last?” I too fell into talking about Trump in my last blog post. These questions are missing the point. Those on the more progressive side of the political spectrum have primarily limited their analysis to the rise in Islamophobia as a result of the discourse of the Republican field, to the individuals espousing these positions, to the ignorance of certain American citizens. People are talking past each other. Why?

The reason the critiques of the violent GOP discourse don’t go anywhere is because of three reasons: 1. Intellectual laziness by those who should know better- primarily by citing “ignorance” as the reason for violent statements (cultural violence). 2. The Chosenness, Glory, Trauma, and Dualism, Manichaeism, Armageddon mindset, and 3. Realist discourse and goal orientation of the academics and media that are supposed to help people understand what is happening.

The first point has been on my mind a lot recently. From a solution-indicative conflict transformation perspective, the blame on “ignorance” is a real failure. Rather than taking the current moment as an opportunity for insight and understanding, progressives are blaming the Islamophobic narrative on the idea that, “well, if they knew better they wouldn’t say these things.” This leads into a deep, dark hole that gets us nowhere. Trump, as he reaffirms consistently, is not a dumb man. I don’t think the rest of the candidates are either. To be in an elite position requires a certain level of knowledge and understanding, access, and connectedness, even if that simply equates to ‘knowing how to play the game.’ Let’s return to the real point that hurts to acknowledge- this debate would not have played out in this way if voters had responded differently to the first extreme comments. The Republican debates are tapping into a deep current of American thought and utilizing the energy of the last throes of a dying empire to make their presidential runs. What exactly are those?

Dualism, Manichaeism, Armageddon. Chosenness, Glory, Trauma. DMA-CGT– one of Prof. Johan Galtung’s contributions to the field of understanding deep culture and analyzing how these cultural scripts play out in foreign policy. DMA is the practical application that stems from the mental configuration of CGT. Let’s start from the top. Dualism: The idea that the world is divided into two. Either/or, there is no category in-between. Manichaeism- a theological understanding of the world where Good and Evil are locked in an eternal struggle, fighting for supremacy. Armageddon: One day, the two forces in the world, good and evil, will stage the ultimate and final struggle. As President Obama put it in his speech on intervention in Syria: “Our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes defend this nation and defend the ideals we stand for. Timeless ideals that will endure long past those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the earth.” DMA is a way of organizing thought and action (read: foreign policy) to realize this final Armageddon, to ‘vanquish evil.’ This is a recipe for violence and the connection to realist foreign policy thinking is quite clear in these terms. Now on to CGT, the collective psychology that leads to the DMA symptoms. Chosenness: The United States sees itself as a nation that is chosen to lead the rest of the world. This is a result of the theological underpinnings of the Christian nation. Glory: As an imperial power, the United States has long enjoyed the satisfaction of military victories over those deemed to be evil- from Stalin to Saddam, Gaddafi and now Assad. There is a much longer history to this topic, but I will spare that for the sake of brevity. Trauma: In the current moment, trauma is divided into two parts 1. Trauma from insecurity at home- 9/11 primarily, and violence in the form of mass shootings 2. Military defeat abroad. This trauma has been translated into the ill-fated War on Terrorism with no end in sight. Viewed in these terms, the GOP Debate takes on a much different tenor. Rather than simply being a bunch of misinformed individuals making up lies, it is a reflection of a social sickness that has been long in the making. It’s a sickness because, well, people here and abroad are dying from it. The difference is that now, the magic is gone.

The aspects of deep culture mentioned above are legitimized in the public discourse in the form of realism. Realism is a way of understanding international relations where the states are the main actors, who ‘rationally’ act in their ‘self-interest.’ In the case of the United States, the assumption by the mainstream media and prominent think tanks is that the United States’ self-interest is to maintain a position of hegemony, dominance, and power-projection over the rest of the world community. For this blog post, the intricacies of this type of thought can be distilled down to the idea of what I will call the Collective We. The Collective We is used often by the media and foreign policy commentators. “We are achieving our objectives in Syria.” “We need to close our borders to be safe from them.” The tragedy of this pronoun is that it lumps all U.S. citizens together in an imagined world of collective interest and collective action. We is a code word for elites. Therefore, much of the push-back from the progressive community is resistance to this use of a collective pronoun. This is clear in statements like, “America is not a Christian nation.” “Not all Muslims are terrorists.” “We (a different we) can do better.” The public has been shoehorned into a discourse outside of its own making, and some sectors are trying to reestablish an identity based in nonviolence and dignity. When this issue is tackled more head-on and this narrative is called out for what it is- violent nonsense- the door will be opened for peaceful solutions to the conflicts that cause people to feel unsafe.

I would like to end this blog with the following- take a step back, understand where this is coming from, and solve the underlying conflicts. Character assassinations of the GOP candidates will not do the job. Calling people stupid is a waste of time. Continuing to talk in terms of the collective we doesn’t do justice to the actual diversity in not only the United States, but also the rest of the world where these debates have real and violent impacts. What you see is the real-time enactment of a very old and well-established deep culture. It is easy to callout the GOP candidates for being hateful. It is hard to acknowledge that deep down, an alarming number of voters are thinking in the same way. As per Ben Carson’s quote- it is more merciful to be candid about the current discourse and lay it to rest, or risk being one of the thousand pricks.