This article was written on 28 Nov 2016, and is filled under Actualities.

Political Slogans


If this slogan claims to state a fact about the world, it is quite obviously false. If it offers a metaphysical principle, it is even falser: love and hate are dialectical concepts—the concept, and indeed the reality, of each depends on the other. If it expresses a political principle, it is naive and dangerous to the extreme, and, while capturing a certain truth, participates in a revisionism of the history of protest and activism. But it is most untrue, and most dangerous, as the expression of a secularized theology: perhaps it is theologically true in a subtle and difficult sense, but this sense, whatever it is, cannot be immediately translated into the real world. Perhaps we mortals can or must follow the way of Christ, but we are not gods, and if we imagine that we ever, in our unreformed ordinary human-all-too-human nature, love without hating, we are dangerously self-deluded.

But, of course, slogans are rhetoric, advertising; their truth-value is irrelevant. Yet it is precisely at this level that this slogan is most misguided. For it is, in effect, elevating trump into a master-signifier; taking him at his word, taking him for the only word. If love trumps hate, then trump trumps love and hate… trump trumps everything. The trump card that trump deals out will be different with every hand. Now hate, now love… Now war-mongering, now peace-mongering… A trump card and a wild card at once… Trump is not a gambler, but he owned casinos. If you read “The Art of Deal,” you’ll realize this is what he’s about: in the end, the gambler always loses; the house always wins.

Neoliberal Clinton looks at the world and sees a system of order that must be preserved through managerial-administrative rationality. Businessman trump looks at the world and sees a casino: a gilded hell where ordinary people, chained to the machines by their own desires, play out their fantasies. And the house keeps winning, winning, winning…



Deplorable are those who are able to be deplored; as predicate, “deplorable” says nothing about the subject save that it is able to be deplored. But to deplore is to bemoan, bewail, deprecate—which is achieved, not least of all, by saying bad things. Thus “deplorable” belongs to a peculiar class of words that predicate nothing save the possibility of predication; or, more precisely, the fact that a certain class of predication is appropriate. But, and this is key: it resolutely refuses to commit itself to saying what these predicates would be; it refuses to commit itself to actually saying anything at all.

Thus there is something cute, playful about it, at least when it is applied (almost catachrestically) not to things or circumstances but to people. One can imagine an ingénue in a classic Hollywood film shouting at a cold man she secretly loves: “You’re deplorable.”

But it is also ideological through and through: for it expresses the desire of ideology to expose everyone and everything to the possibility of being judged without having to commit itself to making any specific judgment whatsoever. For ideology, one might say, is that which wishes to judge everything without allowing itself to be judged for having passed judgment.

When Hilary Clinton called Trump supporters—half of them, at least—a “a basket of deplorables”—calling them out as those who have nothing in common apart from being exposed to a judgment that hides from all judgment—she committed a catastrophic mistake. It would be hyperbolic to say this word lost the election, but at least it revealed the fragility of her claim to represent and speak for the people. For with this one word, she identified herself with the abstract universality of a system whose terrible power consists in judging from a position beyond judgment. Thus she allowed Trump, with every deplorable, witless, ridiculous thing he said, to speak for all those who find themselves perpetually condemned and shamed by a public regime of truth that, for lack of will or capacity, they cannot inhabit.



For all those who have ever found themselves trying to enter a place where they didn’t quite belong, these words have an embarrassing familiarity. How many times have we blurted out “I’m with him,” “I’m with her,” as if to defend against the suspicion we thought we saw form on the officious brows of ushers, maître d’ hotels, and doormen? And no doubt a certain pride, even noblesse oblige is also felt on the other side of the with: the wealthy, connected, privileged, famous, beautiful, immaculate, well-dressed are those who can open doors. To be with them means something…

“With” is indeed an odd little word; it can convey a relation of equality and symmetry. It might even claim to be the most democratic of prepositions. Yet this symmetry only holds if the terms are already equal; if there is any pre-existing hierarchy, then the symmetry tends to break. The terms can no longer be reversed without giving rise to awkwardness or even nonsense. Hence, at the level of pragmatics, the proper use of “with” demands a subtle sense for nuances of inequality and priority.

For this reason, if “with” is the most democratic preposition, it is also the preposition in which democracy, as the claim of radical equality, betrays itself. Indeed it is only when collapsed into a noun (“colleague,” “comrade”), or as an abstractly hypostasized “Being-with” (the Mitsein of Heidegger), that the “with” signifies equality; the moment it is discretely deployed in speech or writing—the moment that an order is imposed and this thing follows that thing—then the postulation of equality is broken, and gives way—however subtly, imperceptibly—to leading and following. Collegiality, comradeship, collaboration decline easily into so many relations of command and obedience, dominance and submission.

To say one is “with someone” is a way of saying one is in a relation, and indeed a committed, exclusive relation, without committing oneself to saying the least thing about what kind of relation it is. One commits to being somehow committed and nothing more. Not surprisingly, this phrase is often used as a deflection, when others seek unwanted intimacy or implore us to reveal more about ourselves than we wish. This noncommittal commitment, unwilling to commit itself to anything in particular, is an adept defense against every specific commitment. But it is ultimately quite defenseless against the pure commitment of fascism; commitment to commitment as an end in itself.

The simplest relationship is a commitment to shared time. “Here we are now” is already political speech in a strong sense, since it calls the “we,” the political subject par excellence, into the common time of the present. But when you say you are with someone, or even with some him or her, nothing remains of this shared subject and time but the minimum commitment needed to deflect other possibilities. The we becomes an I and a someone: just enough to hold another unwanted we at bay. The past, present, and future becomes a vague sometime that may actually be never; not now, not ever…

The bad faith of this slogan, as absurd as it is insipid, is to summon and deflect the political in one and the same gesture. It is barely a slogan at all, but verbal prophylaxis, a charm or incantation that seeks to hold danger at bay. “If that old guy with the orange skin and bad hair starts bothering you, just say: ‘I’m with her'” Or, worse yet, it is a tepid, equivocal invitation for the American people to show up as an anonymous atomized “plus one” at the festival of the dynastic succession of power.

Of course, one must be wary of a politics of public assemblies, of the dream of a people fully present to itself; even youthful spirit can begin to smell… Mass politics quickly turns into mass entertainment. But when slogans there must be, let them be chosen well.


Anthony Curtis Adler 

Featured image by Flickr user Phil Roeder. Labeled for noncommercial reuse.

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