It’s a truism of Trumpocrats: America is dying. Buckling under the yoke of the Obama administration and Hillary’s email empire, the nation is collapsing from monstrous debt, mobs of illegal immigrants, and the Prophet Mohammed. Counterrevolution is in the air; get your guns locked, loaded, and prepared.
While some of the angst is genuine–U.S. trade imbalances have increased in tandem with with the bonuses of Wall Street executives deemed too big to jail, for example, and millions of working class laborers have been displaced by technogloablism–Trumpian rhetoric is intentionally reductionist and racially divisive, meant to distract audiences from more deliberative diagnoses of what ails American and galvanize nostalgia for a past that never existed. Who may help us silence the alarms about our shredded star-spangled sweaters?
How about an Irishman? Guinness sold 2.4 million barrels of beer in the U.S. in 2014, so grab a pint and bear with me. I give you Bram Stoker, the Dublin-born author of Dracula, a quintessentially American vampiric narrative. To wit, the blood streaked creatures inspired by Stoker’s novel, or Hollywood adaptations of it, that crawl the streets of nearly all U.S. towns each Halloween, blending bloodlust with costuming kitsch. Stoker’s novel, on the other hand, extracts falsehood from discourses of death, which, for the gothic author, involves the substitution of an inauthentic metaphysical struggle for a natural state of being. Stoker’s portrayal of Lucy Westerna’s demise provides an exemplar:
The thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions…Finally, it lay still. The terrible task was over…There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequaled sweetness and purity. True that there were, as we had seen them in life, the traces of care and pain and waste, but these were all dear to us, for they marked her truth to what we knew (Stoker, Dracula, 1997 edition).
In the preceding passage, Stoker distinguishes between the truth of humanity and the deception of vampirism, marked by a totalizing, albeit extremely seductive, athanatos (ἀθάνατος) that truncates the individuation of the self from relations of vital resonance, literally lacking in élan vital, leaving the individual languishing through successive post-primordial moments. Relieved from the burden of contemplating mortality or temporality, the self is unable to conceptualize the potentiality of its own being, which, following Heideggerian inquiries into dasein, coalesces within the indeterminacy of a futuristic orientation. As Heidegger states:
Resoluteness, transparent to itself, understands that the indefiniteness of its potentiality-of-being is always determined only in a resolution with regard to the actual situation. It knows about the indefiniteness that prevails in a being that exists. But this knowledge must itself arise from an authentic disclosure if it is to correspond to authentic resoluteness. Although it always becomes certain in resolution, the indefiniteness of one’s own potentiality-of-being always reveals itself completely only in being-toward-death (Heidegger, Being and Time, 1996).
If, therefore, resoluteness becomes primordial through the possibilization of the uncanniness of death, then the anticipation of death can revalue being, allowing it to be reconsidered from the vantage point of its ownmost finitude. Mobilized toward authenticity, anticipatory resolution resounds the call for conscience concealed by athanatosian power, freeing the self to articulate an identity that is always already differentiating from the world in which it is is enmeshed and, more intimately, the self itself, slinking and steamrolling from one event to the next.
Trump’s followers are suffering from cognitive dissonance, accordingly, because of their paradoxical assertion that America is showing symptoms of mortal decay (from which it must be revived), yet cannot empirically pass away. Viewed less as a nation than an enduring empire, the United States is said to be both the greatest civilization in history and the last, best hope for mankind. In bumper stickereese, make America great again. Military-industrial dominance notwithstanding, however, such claims of imperial exceptionalism remain athanatosian, in the vampiric sense, in their attempt to deport the actualization of death’s immanence from the immortal borders of Pax Americana’s milky white realm of thinkability. Consequently, disclosures stemming from an authentic being-toward-death are rendered unintelligible, barring a free and open auscultation of democracy’s potential from being fostered by people wishing to expand the American political imaginary. What predominates, instead, is an inauthentic triumphalism parading as ontological certainty, which sucks the lifeforce out of any identity that animates the urgency of establishing new material conditions for our society.