America at a Crossroads?
Is America at a crossroads? It certainly seems that way. The relative success of Trump and Sanders, who couldn’t be farther apart philosophically and politically, attests to a general restlessness that is certainly not unique to the United States. But America still holds some surprises, it seems.
What Trump and Sanders represent is the polarisation of time, in terms of reactionary and progressive time, past and future time. That’s even inscribed in their respective slogans: Trump’s “Make America Great Again” meets Sander’s “A Future to Believe In”. Those two slogans point in different directions of time, while Hillary positions herself as the “realist” (whatever that means), somewhere in between Trump and Sanders, the past and the future. In other words, “realist” means the status quo. But Trump is the candidate of hindsight, Sanders the candidate of foresight.
Trump is the champion of the power of competitive egoism. Sanders the champion of cooperative communalism. Trump truly believes that competitive egoism (or the “pursuit of the self-interest”, rational or otherwise) is what made America great, so that all that is needed is to unleash the legislated restraints of the power of competitive egoism. Sanders, on the other hand, believes that it is precisely the unrestricted power of competitive egoism that has weakened America — the Great Unraveling of the bonds of fraternity. Gun culture, urban jungle, war of all against all are, massive inequality in those terms, the pernicious fruits of a social philosophy of competitive egoism.
All these different dimensions of the issue are simply summarised in the terms “capitalism” and “socialism”. But in more precise terms, the choice between Trump and Sanders (Hillary being somwhere in between) is a choice between Plutocracy and Democracy.
Gun culture in America arises from the philosophy of competitive egoism, which is enshrined in the mythos of the frontier and the Wild West. But the frontier has shifted from space after the “closing of the frontier” to time — futurity. America still has the sense that it exists on the verge of the frontier, which must be tamed, but the frontier is now futurity rather than than Wild West. Futurity is uncertainty, unpredictability, the unknown as once was the untamed spaces of the wilderness. Where once the wilderness was full of existential threats (wild animals, Indians, gunslingers and outlaws), futurity is now the edge of the wilderness, full of existential threats (asteroids, alien invasions, immigrants, zombie apocalypses, terminators, socialists, etc). Just as in antiquity, on the maps of the known world, just beyond the edge of the known world, was inscribed the words “Here be monsters”. Futurity is seen as the zone of lawlessness. Time future is the new frontier.
There’s a certain irony in the correspondence between Mao’s principle that “power is won through the barrel of a gun” and the gun culture. In a regime of competitive egoism, the future is always unsafe, always threatening, something that must be defended against. But that’s just another way of saying “lack of faith”. The “leap of faith” is the confidence that the future is not unlawful, but unfolds according to a lawfulness of its own.
Competitive egoism necessarily sees potential threats and enemies and competitors everywhere, and where it doesn’t find them it creates them.