The [Real] Enemy of the [Nostalgic] State

I happened across the news today on a channel whose name escapes me now. I was on the stationary bike today, and because the gym now is a convenient extension of mass media consumption, I had no choice: I could only stare at my sweat for so long.

For a good while, the headline was on Otto Warmbier, the American student who allegedly contracted botulism while serving 15 months hard labor in North Korea, who died today after being returned to the States in a coma. It is an absolute tragedy; the family is grieving the loss of their son amidst the inconsolable anguish that comes with the need for answers, justice, compensation, and healing–and also revenge. The headline, however, was not focused on the family’s grief and condition, but rather on 45’s comments on the tragedy.

As I was taking in a multitude of distractions and unenthusiastic and uninspiring pontification, my mind turned to the tragedies of the Philandro Castile saga, Nabra Hassanen, and Helen Harrion. These are the names which were readily summoned because they’re the ones I’ve engaged most recently, and what I pondered was the contrast between 45’s [lack of] interest in the aforementioned tragedies and that of our dear brother Otto Warmbier. (Let it be said, this is not a comparison of tragedies, as though one is more important or has more cash/social/ethical value than the other.)

Much of social media (in my case, Twitter) has been buzzing with the disparity between 45’s duplicity and apparent preferential treatment for some tragedies over others, and it hit me as I was on le bike stationarie: 45 is subtly advancing his “Make America Great Again” narrative by consistently showing remorse for American losses that occur at the hands of other nation-states. The narrative of this brand of nostalgia politics is that the real threat to the Union is external; the real threat is “them” on an international level. 45 has no need to engage the union within because his followers do that for him because they believe in him because he is fighting for their America.

This brand of nostalgia points to one of the basic priorities of the nation-state, and that is its own survival. And it is compelling; it’s a cause worth grinding it out for. 45 need only believe it–and continue to do so. His tenacity and endurance only confirm for his constituents that he really believes what he says and that it must be a worthy cause. In order to understand how to engage this kind of discourse, the run-of-the-mill pointing out inconsistencies won’t be enough–he doesn’t have to make sense. He doesn’t need people of color in his photo ops. He can keep his nonsense to 140 characters all day long. He knows that; his people know that; now it’s just a matter of taking the hits until the bell sounds to end the round–in 2020. Because that’s what’s bound to happen: if it isn’t recognized, acknowledged, and strategized for, 2020 will roll around and the question will be, “How did he make it four years? Surely he can’t go another four, right?”

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