Why We Shouldn't Read Žižek's Pro-Trump Script Before Bedtime

08/11/2016 12:46

Late last week, famous philosopher Slavoj Žižek gave an interview in which he publicly appeared to give a hedged endorsement of Donald Trump. Both Clinton and Trump, he claims, represent kinds of political evil but, he feels, analysis should not be made in terms of selecting the lesser of the two.

Hillary Clinton, he says, is exemplary of a much subtler kind of corruption than Trump, and therefore of greater political danger to the electorate, whereas Trump's agenda is at least transparent. Furthermore, Žižek continues, if Trump is elected president, then he will represent such a drastic paradigm shift in the way global politics is conducted that it may precipitate a political revolution in the longer term, despite the near-term losses involved with electing an apparently under-qualified wildcard.

In the aftermath of Žižek's interview, Olivia Goldhill has argued that Žižek is guilty of philosophising in a vacuum, cut off from public discourse and thus his argument fails to connect with the real-world consequences of either a Trump or Clinton win.

She laments that this type of discourse is not only hurting the reputation of academic philosophy as an enterprise capable of having any practical application, but also that it indicates a step away from a bygone era in which philosophy bolstered our political discourse with the tools of rationality.

There is much Goldhill and I agree upon on this topic and so, in that spirit, I offer a further worry that does seem to highlight possible real-world consequences of accepting Žižek's argument.

Firstly, one might question the premise that Trump's corruption is transparent or authentic in a consequentially preferable way to Clinton's. However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that Žižek argues, as some Trump supporters do, that we're all at least aware of the kind of corruption we're dealing with in Trump's case, whereas we don't even know the size of the problem with Clinton (not necessarily a view I share).

Even if we accept that, it seems that Žižek's argument is more drastically flawed in the sense that Trump will have been a trigger for future breakages of political stereotype whether or not he's elected president and regardless of whether Clinton represents a subtler form of political corruption. It seems to me that Trump will be a precedent for future US political revolution by virtue of getting voted the Republican presidential candidate alone. So, even if you vote for Clinton, you can forecast the possible revolution with all the certainty that Žižek's can.

Furthermore, Žižek'z argument seems to assume that, because Clinton's corruption is an unknown quantity, it must be of greater danger to the electorate than Trump's transparent corruption, which need not be the case. That is, if I have a bazooka on the table, and a bag containing a mystery item, it need not be the case that the unknown quantity represents the biggest threat to your safety. And, in light of yesterday's reports that the FBI investigations will not persist on the subject of Clinton's emails, it seems that her mystery bag is filled with a lot less than Žižek might worry.

Hence, and I concede that it's an imperfect method, but it seems that we're still forced to analyse our decision to vote for Clinton or Trump in terms of which candidate represents the lesser evil, based on what we do know. And, on balance, Trump remains notably less qualified than Clinton, and seems to have demonstrably less understanding of any given political issue (that is, if Trump's own comments are indicative of his actual knowledge-level), and also a potential nuclear hazard if any of his own stated views should be taken seriously.

After all, in a previous presentation with the Left Forum in May, Zizek himself had the following to say on Trump:

I think Trump is disgusting. With Trump, I become a racist. Like, is this really one of us? Is he civilized? No problem with blacks, Jews, Arabs -- but I have a problem not being racist towards Trump.

Given that it seems implausible that he is willing to argue in favour of voting for Trump in spite of his above statements, I worry that Žižek has, just hours prior to the election, knowingly written a bad leftist script for endorsing Trump, to which many might capitulate on the grounds that it sounds like a genuinely nuanced lefty argument. After all, individualism and separatism from the herd - in this case, staunch opposition to Trump - are both strongly held leftist values.

He should know better than to risk creating an unjustified swing demographic before what's perhaps the most consequential presidential election in modern history, and pushing the pendulum towards - even by his own argument - a greater known danger than Clinton represents.