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The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, Goya, 1799 Britain USA 

Moral obscenity at the LRB

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Every day we hear of folk who are simply terrified out of their wits by what Donald Trump may do and the terrible things he supposedly represents, amongst them violence and fascism.

The London Review of Books is a highbrow literary magazine whose staff and contributors might be assumed overwhelmingly to think President Trump is a menace to humanity. It might be imagined that such sensitively attuned souls are themselves, in stark contrast, blessed not just with an elevated aesthetic sense but also with the highest moral sensibilities commensurate with their exquisitely honed understanding of the nuances and complexities of the world.

As an illustration of this elevated thinking, the LRB has published on its blog a post that provides a sympathetic appraisal of fantasising about murdering Donald Trump.

The author, Adam Shatz, starts by relating a conversation with an unnamed American political scientist a few months before last November’s presidential election. If Trump were to be elected, said this man, it was very clear what would happen next. “He will have to be removed from power by the deep state, or be assassinated.”

After Trump was elected, this political scientist began talking about the deep state “in longing tones, hoping – not unlike Middle Easterners welcoming a military coup against a regime they disliked – that it might ‘do the job’. Where, he asked in emails, is Khaled Islambouli, who masterminded the assassination of Sadat, or Lee Harvey Oswald, when you needed him? This was dark humour, of course, but it wasn’t merely that.”

Leave aside the doubtless wholly unworthy thought that the “deep state” might very well have started this process with the downfall of General Mike Flynn. One might expect a person of superior moral sensibilities to recoil at such a murderous, if not fascistic attitude towards someone with whom this unnamed political scientist happened to disagree, no? No.

For Shatz goes on:

“Talk of violence, civil war and secession is in the air in the blue states today. Many, perhaps most of us who live in coastal cities have found ourselves having criminal thoughts and violent fantasies since 9 November. Some involve Trump and Steve Bannon; others involve white supremacists like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos; still others involve the fabled white working class that is supposed to have voted for Trump (the reality is more complicated than that, I know), which most of us have found it easier to hate than persuade. (I’m as guilty as the next person.) These feelings provide a measure of psychological release, but they are also difficult to manage. Living with bile and rage is not pleasant; it eats away at the soul, when the adrenaline subsides.”

“Not pleasant”, eh. Well, that’s one way of describing your desire to murder another human being. Not just one or two well-known enemies of humanity either, but tens of thousands of people in “the fabled white working class that is supposed to have voted for Trump”. Is it their whiteness that condemns them to die, do you think, or their voting preference? But it’s ok because Shatz knows “the reality is more complicated than that”.

But if you are getting worried that poor Shatz might be having his soul eaten away by his bile and rage, don’t worry – you’ll be relieved to know he concludes there’s no “inherent harm” in such fantasies of killing all those people which merely “express, above all, a sense not only of horror, but of impotence”.

You see, it’s ok to want to kill Trump and all those thousands of others who voted for him because the “unprecedented horror” they have wrought can’t be undone. So such fantasies are merely a triumph of the imagination. Nothing to do with the rest of your personality, it seems, at all.

Wanting to do murder, furthermore, actually enhances your moral sensibilities. You see, it makes you identify with all those Palestinians who slaughter Jews in Israel. Shatz opines: “Americans who think suicide bombs are shocking, or are evidence of cultural backwardness or a Muslim disposition towards violence, might do well to reflect on the fragile psychology of political violence, as we feel the fantasy, even the temptation of violence, rise up in ourselves.”

Anyone who thinks what Shatz has written is shocking might do well to reflect on the moral obscenity that now passes for educated thinking at the London Review of Books.

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