DVD STACKS, LAUINGER LIBRARY— I have been delaying a column on the election for some time now. I wanted to see who the real players were going to be. But now, following Trump’s March on Rome — no, Cleveland — it seems appropriate to address how a racist authoritarian demagogue with contradictory opinions on almost everything could potentially become our president. What appeal does a degenerate who promotes fist fights at his rallies have? How could a misanthrope who suggests he could shoot a man in the middle of Manhattan win the nomination of a major political party? Where is the attraction to a libertine who suggests he would like to have sex with his daughter coming from?
There is a scene in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom” that explains the phenomenon quite nicely. The movie is based on the renowned revolutionary libertine the Marquis de Sade’s novel “120 Days of Sodom.” Sade, from whom we delightfully take the word “sadism,” wrote his pornographic masterpiece in his prison cell in the Bastille in 1785. The film caused one of the last major obscenity trials of the United States in 1994 for its extremely graphic content. In a victory for free speech and a loss for good taste, the judge decided that the film had, “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Consider this tale of development: Before the film found itself to be considered art it was considered so pornographic that, according to Wikipedia, it was. For decades, the film, which is now available on DVD in Lau, was only obtainable at gay sex shops. I myself have sought the film out in Lau to see if it could really be that Georgetown at one point spent money on Pasolini’s brilliant work of smut, and it is. I could not bear to make myself watch the film, the trailer was disgusting enough. I want everyone to know I did not see this movie; am only a pervert in a philosophical [not to mention grammatical] sense. It takes place in the Italian countryside in the last days of Mussolini’s regime. The movie depicts the goings on of a several Italian Apparatchiks who have taken refuge in a castle there along with about a dozen kidnapped youths they kidnapped for purposes of hedonistic abuse.
The film was just too damn gross for me to watch, but that is part of my point. From what I gathered, the ringleader, simply named Duke, engages in a series of grotesque and abominable degradations intended to make the youths suffer for his and his peer’s amusement. The atrocities include rape, beatings, humiliating “games,” mutilations and immolation. He and his cohort delight in the torturous social experiment. They are welcomed to do whatever they want with the kids. They are part of the regime after all, and out here in the countryside, they are want of any oversight by the public. Midway through the movie’s truly appalling depravity, the Duke gives a speech to his cohort wherein he belies the real nature and appeal of their crimes: “We fascists are the true anarchists!”
The Duke’s point, of course, is that the fascists – who have totalitarian authority over the Other, who claim to stand for the moral and social order, seemingly guided by a desire for oppression and repression – are in actuality the harbingers of complete freedom. A freedom that is so great that it is unmoored of any rules of morality, sexual decency, social anxiety or even legal prosecution. Fascism does not, as it would first appear, offer its adherents rigidity or complacency or structure, or even a greater role of society on the individual. In fact, it offers its negation, liberty, total and entropic. Pasolini’s film is so horrific that there are not even enough trigger warnings in the world that could make that film presentable to a modern, liberal, politically correct audience. And he made the film like that because it accurately shows the amoral distance that fascism allows its adherents to go to for their own enjoyment and pleasure. This is what Trump offers.
Pasolini’s premise is not confined to the phantasmagoria around the Italian Experiment. History too, offers us this lesson. Do we not all already know of the free market of rape created in the territories currently controlled by the Islamic State group? Have we not heard of the deplorable abuses at Abu Ghraib that violate the social and political order, but nonetheless were committed by its supposed protectors: American soldiers? Is it not easy to recall how Pope Benedict IX was able to commit rape and murder largely unabated while in the seat that set the moral rules of not raping and murdering? Have we not seen, in Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the mad anarchy of the economic order in the portrait Jordan Belfort’s Quaalude crusades and sexual transgressions? Can we not imagine the unspeakable acts that are committed on a daily basis by rulers of the world – fascists – without consequence? Kim Jung Un’s murder of an uncle, say? Or Charles Taylor’s son in Liberia? Or perhaps, in an obviously much less extreme example, even the Obama administration’s assassination of a U.S. citizen abroad without trial in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011? This is what a Trump presidency would look like.
Ask any Trump supporter why they are voting for him. As quoted in a video from Bloomberg News: “He says what nobody else can.” He doesn’t follow “political correctness.” Trump can do whatever he wants since he is “not bought by special interests.” “He says it like it is.” “I think he tells you the way he feels.” “He doesn’t care what people think.” “I like his roughness.” And, getting a little Freudian-especially considering the whole daughter-sex Electra complex shtick- “He says what everyone else thinks.” That’s true! Trump has brought our subconscious and hidden “prejudi” out into open air. All the racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, near-orgasmic fetishization of wealth, xenophobia, nationalism and bigotry that appeared latent within the Grand Old – and gratefully, dying out – Party became manifest that terrible Tuesday. The moment when it became clear that Mussolini was truly untouchable, that his fascism had reached its anarchist zenith, was when he had his political opponent Giacomo Matteotti assassinated, tried to cover it up, and no one, not the international community, not other political parties and certainly not his own faction, dared at all to challenge his opaque murder. Trump has made multiple remarks encouraging violence against protesters at his rallies, going so far as to openly admit that he would cover up their deed by paying the legal fees to get them out — a remark that Mussolini would not dare to make; Mussolini allowed the actual assassin to go to trial and subsequently jail. This past month, Donald Trump got his Matteotti Moment.