My interest in populism began in observing the frenzied response to the Obama presidency. A moment of a political optimism, aspiration and sense of demographic invincibility was met with the conspiracy and the radical anti-communism of the Tea Party.
While representing a thoroughly retrograde politics the Tea Party spoke to what Chantal Mouffe designates as “the political”. Mouffe claims that identity and the political depend upon antagonism and delineating between one’s group and an enemy. Embodying this political logic, while also being lavishly funded by the Koch Brothers, this antagonistic fraction of the public, tapping into libidinal anxieties and ethno-nationalism, proved remarkably effective outside of government. Where Obama offered bipartisanship and a willingness to cut treasured social democratic programs, the Tea Party stuck to the language of existential struggle.
Media such as Fox News and right-wing talk radio that have been central to movement conservatism were eager adopt the language of rebellion and insurrection. Glenn Beck’s chalkboard expositions and tearful paranoid style vaulted him to the head of the movement. In the best traditions of conservative hucksterism Beck preached survivalist salvation realised through purchasing his exclusive line of end-times commodities. The line between media entrepreneur and politician became non-existent.
Its in the conservative media and political milieu that Trump could emerge as a candidate of pure antagonism, conspiracy and narcissism. Where Fox News and the Koch Brothers have sought to manage the political for their economic an political interests, Trump is unbridled lashing out at fellow Republicans and even Fox. The Tea Party’s pretence of libertarian principles are gone and we are left ethno-nationalism and the desire to strike out at those that thwart American greatness. Internet broadcaster Alex Jones is the key media figure of this moment engendering psychosis in his followers through Pizzagate and false-flag conspiracies.
My work has relied upon a Lacanian-Marxist framework in understanding populism as a libidinal politics. The enemy of populism is an overdetermined contradictory figure that speaks to the innumerable nightmares and fantasies of conservative pathologies. In article for the International Journal of Zizek Studies I write that Tea Party’s anti-communist conspiracy is what is necessary for them to preserve the notion of American free-market virtue. In the International Journal of Culture Studies I write of Glenn Beck as a figure whose tortured jeremiads are premised upon the fraternity of frontier toilers and survivalists.
My ongoing research is concerned with the alt-right and Trump’s politics of jouissance.