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The Politics of La Commedia

About half of the U.S. is offended and repulsed by the existence of Donald J. Trump while the remaining half welcome him as a Messiah. Passions and opinions rule here to a farcical degree that I find best represented by the Commedia dell’ Arte. We have our stock characters, including foolish old men and the More

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Commedia dell’arte Troupe on a Wagon in a Town Square by Jan Miel (1640)

About half of the U.S. is offended and repulsed by the existence of Donald J. Trump while the remaining half welcome him as a Messiah. Passions and opinions rule here to a farcical degree that I find best represented by the Commedia dell’ Arte. We have our stock characters, including foolish old men and the devious who serve them.

It has not been possible to lay any glove of our Constitutional Republic on former President Donald J. Trump, a savior to millions, a yahoo to millions. Facing 91 criminal indictments, he is presently using the courts to campaign for another presidential term. We are at the stage of our comic drama in which every character speaks the truth and knows the facts–all differently. “All 91 of those charges are baseless, churned up by a Deep State that weaponizes the law against Trump,” a MAGA tells me.

If we didn’t face existentially threatening consequences, we could all sit back and enjoy the performances. But are we so seriously threatened? Or could it be that in our palsied cultural attentiveness threats and joy go up and down like the Dow Jones?

On a different stage are tragic performances, dramatic revisions of what liberty is, boldly deleting J.S. Mills’ admonition regarding how far we pursue our own notion of freedom, that is “so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” At some point in our turning our social order into La Commedia the need to constrain and restrain passions and opinions became a feverish pursuit. Treating La Commedia’s jettisoning of free and open inquiry with a “cancel” therapy feeds our conspiracy appetites, especially regarding a nefarious Deep State, and obscures connections here between our opinions and our choices and our sense of personal freedom as a creation of both.

We’ve escaped into opinions that are sanctified as our very own personal choices. This means that in the age of illusions of personal autonomy and choice, our opinions cannot be questioned, especially by those who oppose them. Hoping to make minorities feel better or safer by policing language does nothing to cancel the illusions of personal autonomy grounded in a “free to choose” fiction. The way to detach our loyalty and privileging of our own opinions is to extend our notion of choice to the surround of constraints within which we and our choices must respond. Canceling language and confining it within the boundaries of what is politically correct, especially on our La Commedia stage where the question of which politics are worthy and which are not, is a comic script.

This is stunning, not the Swiftian ferocious Big-Little Endian warfare but this devolution of discourse that has led us here. The feeble hold we now have of achieving a common understanding of what’s real and what is true and what is transparently false befits the dead and dying, not surely any vibrant social, cultural, civil and democratic electoral order. We are a nation suffering the blindness and confusion of the old and dying.

Appropriately, as if we look to the dead to bury the dead, neither of our two aged presidential candidates seem likely to live through a four-year term. And why would the young not be groomed for office, not offered to us as 2024 Presidential candidates, if not because the future promised to the young is feared, for different reasons, by both political parties? The dying see death on the horizon, speak and act as comatose. For Republicans, thoughts of the future, of life after Trump, cannot be thought; for Democrats, the path from identity politics to socialism creates fear that freezes them. A living politics cannot be produced by the dead. It fits La Commedia, however.

What is falling apart is both thought and imagination. The senescent lose memory so that thought has no roots, the sentence begun loses sight of its ending. Attentions are waylaid by a ceaseless hailing on two dimensions, digital and real. Like the aging, we see the country,  falling apart, under attack. our imaginations riveted on the angry and divisive. Passions, both elevating and despicable, take center stage.

We face a presidential election in which only one candidate faces loss while the other will not. He will not accept loss and is supported by those who will ensure he will not have to.  We have fearful expectations. A January 6th  repeat but with greater militant efficiency most likely scattered throughout the western red states? A U.S. military command fully prepared for flash points of insurgency?

Whether Federal forces trouncing rebels against the Deep State of Federal rule leads to another New Morning in America or even greater anxiety, fear and hate now brewing is an opinion and passion matter. We are far beyond applying a dialectic of reason. Trump is better prepared for victory, telling us that he will move very swiftly to place any silos of opposition under his direct command or put in place elsewhere those who pledge themselves to him, of which there seem to be a growing number. If this were to happen, surely all of the gentrified, meritocratic, socialist-leaning, DE&I, and “Woke” factions would suffer a sickness unto death, while the MAGAs would exult as the minions of Julius Caesar did when he replaced the Roman Republic with himself.

But why would we expect that the collapse of any means to find common understanding and the disorder that collapse engenders would disappear? Why would a country that has lost its way of knowing itself in any prideful hopeful manner suddenly retrieve all that under the rule of an autocrat, one who lives only for himself, and is thus callous about others, society, country and the planet itself? Neither Julius Caesar nor the Roman Republic survived the Dark Woods of Rome itself.

We most likely won’t grow young again in a democratic spirit under an autocratic Trump. Nor will any number of insurrections level out the madness of social media or the power of tech and finance to shape our lives without our consent. We won’t all become gentrifying Woke vegans adapting syntax to 72 genders and requiring Critical Race Theory in every classroom. We’ll still parade viciousness on social media and totter in a pit of confusion as passions fire up and opinions wander further and further down the corridors of conspiracies and the zany mad confusion of La Commedia.

It may be that we’re at the fire on Fort Sumter stage when a State militia fired upon a Federal garrison. Or, from another view, Lincoln orchestrated that to place the onus of starting the war on the South. Southerners were seething with conviction that the presidency and Washington government were trampling on their personal and State sovereignty. The Senate investigation of the January 6th attack was countered with the view that the Feds orchestrated the January 6th insurrection. Perhaps Biden and his liberal, progressive, socialist supporters stand now where Lincoln and the entire Federal government and bureaucracy stood in 186l. April 12th.

But perhaps not, given that the threat of insurgent governmental overthrow rests in one man, Donald J. Trump, a bombastic, corrupt man The “mass party organization, dependent on widespread social violence carried out by organized paramilitary groups,” which describes a fascist threat, is a degree of organization and implementation foreign to a geriatric megalomaniac. (James Butler, “A Circular Motion,” London Review of Books, 8 February 2024) In short, there is no there when it comes to a Trump-triggered revolution. The dangers we face are not in a future that neither party has a plan for, but in a present in the control of the moribund demonstrating an array of rigid inanities.

For instance, we face an “alternative facts” psychosis in the face of knowing that any fact that has an alternative existence can’t be called a fact, at least not on the non-quantum level. We face contesting narratives that at once deflate their authority and credentials by identifying arguments and dialectic discourse itself as “narratives.” No one argues or makes a case. Everyone tells his or her story, narrating their personal take. This madness finds its way out on social media, an exemplum of La Commedia.

Perhaps for some, it is amusing when any case brought forth, no matter how bulletproof, can be dismissed, at your whim, as Deep State “weaponized”? Everyone can, at their own personal discretion, “round up the usual suspects.” Indictments against you are most likely woven conspiratorially, not discovered. Conspiracies, not truths, are exposed. The truth of anything is not mystically hidden but spun within the devious web of the Deep State, a cabal intent on enriching themselves, Woking” Americans (a brainwash?), and destroying “personal freedom.”

On this La Commedia stage, it may be easier to impeach Biden than Trump. Who the patriots are and who the villains are, who to lock up and who to elect cannot be measured. We’ve lost the ruler, or each has its own. Whether it’s Biden who is the Gironte, the old man so old he’s laughable, or it’s Trump, dyed pompadour and orange-tanned face, remains in the eye of the beholder.

One of the many stages of La Commedia is set here where we can stock our narratives with as many alternative facts as we can fictionalize. Trump, Capitano, performs on this stage, attended by his faithful Zanni, or clowns, a Giuliani upstaged by a George Santos, and all the Coviello, or boastful idiots that our world of La Commedia produces.

While the QAnon script, namely, that a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic child molesters are operating a global child sex trafficking ring that conspired against Donald Trump, is undoubtedly total La Commedia and on the level of “alternative facts,” and Trump as a Savior, there’s almost equal absurdity in the ways Democrats are “reaching out” to “Everyday Americans.” How that’s done is by pointing out, not that there was human trafficking in a pizza joint tied to Hillary, but, far more insidiously there’s a systemic racism an “Everyday American” may or may not be aware of. Lurking unknown to some may also be misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, a white supremacist neo-Nazism, a people of different color bigotry and a viral xenophobia that deplores diversity.

Perhaps the quickest path to splitting any social order is to split your opponent’s deeds from their own awareness. A subliminal psychopathy writes your ticket. You are not in charge of your opinions or choices. The passions that rule all our phobias are culturally systemic and out of an individual’s reach. By virtue of the La Commedia tactic the way to realize that Black Lives Matter, trans gendering is a right, and that the LGBTQ+ community has the same rights as Lake Wobegon is a decathexis of your psyche or your country’s.

The way passions are handled in the private sector where the passion for ever higher returns on investment rules is, on our La Commedia stage, tempered by a DEI mandate. The tactic here is to insert diversity, equity and inclusion into the “bottom line,” return on investment and profits to shareholders. All of this gets to a foundational issue of the transference of really knotty problems to TV journalism, cyberspace’s social media, and a politics that bends to lobbyists and the majority vote.

Diversity is what we find in Nature, right down to the quantum level but societal orders are built on a core of common values and acknowledged paths to truth. There’s a need to have congruence beyond incongruence, consensual validation beyond gridlock. When in Commedia dell’arte diversity is isolated as a good in itself without any proposition of how a functioning order can emerge, a unity that is tolerable to more Americans than not, it’s a branding meme without depth. Equity is included in this DEI mandate, signifying a return to the sequence of economic equity moving toward an equality of money and thus power. A ludic demand made to corporations that do not shape themselves as democratic or socialist. The demand for Inclusion is similarly tone deaf as it simply steamrolls over the competitive path to inclusion as the only path on the corporate ladder.

There is little mass appeal in any of this — if the masses here are massed in some places in the country. On one stage of spin and spectacle Democrats are pictured as dispossessing “Everyday Americans”, giving away their rights and their heritage, legislating against them in the name of minority rights. The liberality of Liberals is seen as limited to those who have failed to succeed within the American way of life, a nurturing of failure and not success, all done at taxpayer expense. More crucially upsetting to “Everyday Americans” is the socialist swerve in the Democratic Party, from the popularity of two Bernie Sanders campaigns to the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America to the “Eat the Rich” militancy of the new UAW.

The caveat here is on who bears the mantle of “Everyday American”? Hillary’s “Deplorables”? Trump’s MAGAs? It’s a Populist Politics decision and Trump wins here. Like Humpty Dumpty, he does the naming. He names the politics of Liberals as those of the “Coastal Elite.” The Everyday American is a MAGA. In the game of Populist Politics, Democrats, both as socialist leaning, moral libertines, and language police, are anti-Populist enough to make Donald J. Trump look like the savior of “Everyday Americans.” He’s a dead man walking show who has nevertheless bound to him a Republican party dead at its neo-liberal roots. But on our La Commedia stage, Biden wins the dead man walking contest, though as Dean Baker has clearly summarized Biden has done more for “Everyday Americans” than any Democrat since FDR. (“How Does a Person’s Lived Experience Tell them the Local Economy Is Good, but the National Economy is in the Tank?Counterpunch Dec 5, 2023) However, on a La Commedia stage nothing is clear, nothing “is what it is” but only what some charismatic figure says it is. That figure is not Biden, the Anti-Charismatic, but Trump, our Zanni.

So it goes in farce. On the stage of our La Commedia where madness may be what social media does to us or what we, in the waning stages of knowing and imagining who we are, do to it, what we can expect with some certainty is that we will lose interest in the present performance. Passion, and hopefully the reasoning and imagining of the young, will take us elsewhere.

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This content originally appeared on and was authored by Joseph Natoli.

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