THE NARRATIVE AND AESTHETIC PROBLEMS OF UTOPIA: RECONSIDERING ITS LACK OF APPEAL

Last week I had the great pleasure of participating in the seminar “El miedo y la esperanza: utopías y distopías en las artes y la cultura de masas” (Fear and hope: Utopias and Dystopias in the Arts and Mass Culture, https://escolaeuropeadhumanitats.com/es/trobades/el-miedo-y-la-esperanza-utopias-y-distopias-en-las-artes-y-la-cultura-de-masas/) within the Escola d’Humanitats run by the magazine La maleta de Portbou. I must thank Prof. Antonio Monegal for his invitation. It is not habitual in my hectic profession to be asked to debate ideas with others and after the seminar was over I felt immensely satisfied to have benefited from a great conversation lasting for six hours –what a luxury! I must note, incidentally, that the seminar was originally programmed for March 2020 in Tarragona, but had to be delayed because of Covid-19. The meeting last week was moved to Barcelona but I must say that it became a hybrid event, with three of us participating from home and the rest in the La Caixa venue of Palau Macaya. The dystopia we are living in right now made it impossible for me to see my colleagues’ faces, except for those online, as all were using facemasks. I don’t how this will look in the future documentary film that is to come out of our meeting, particularly when this is seen once the pandemic is over, hopefully at the end of this dystopian year of 2021.
I tend to forget that Spanish academia favours an encyclopaedic approach in contrast to the argumentative discourse preferred by Anglo-American academia. Thus, whereas my own contribution –a discussion of Iain M. Bank’s utopia the Culture– was focused on a single author and a novel series, my colleagues’ contributions gathered together a great variety of titles, with possibly Iván Pastor’s panorama of current comics being the most wide-ranging. This worked well since it allowed for abundant discussion among all of us also in a wide-ranging fashion which was, after all, the object of the seminar. The participants, I must note, were not only academics but also practising artists and writers (some also academics). I found it very refreshing to meet them, and I also felt awed, as I tend to feel a little silly discussing authors in front of other literary authors… (I refer here to Laura Fernández and José Ovejero).
I must note that my contribution was the only one exclusively focused on utopia, even though the seminar was supposed to deal with both utopia and dystopia. This is not at all a criticism of my colleagues’ excellent talks but a way of stressing a major problem: the utopia/dystopia ratio works overwhelmingly in favour of the latter. At one point Prof. Monegal mentioned that IMDB mentions about 150 productions connected with utopia, but about 1500 related to dystopia; one to ten, then. The torrent of titles that came under discussion was, therefore, necessarily dystopian because this is what interests audiences –or, at least, what they are being offered by artists of all kinds. In fact, an issue that was raised is to what extent the insistence on the dystopian text is a capitalist ruse to keep all of us under control. A society that has no illusions about its future will not demand any changes and will most likely adapt to whatever little is offered in the way of social advances. At some point in the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s the very idea of a positive, brighter future was lost and without it there is very little that utopia can do to be appealing. Dystopia, in contrast, confirms again and again (or sells) the generalized impression that any utopia is necessarily misleading.
In my own contribution I insisted on a question that seems to me of great importance, namely, that utopia is never as easy to narrate as dystopia. Take, for instance, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games. At the end of the story an epilogue hints that the formerly dictatorial civilization of Panem has been rebuilt as a democratic nation, under the leadership of the former rebels. It would have been very interesting to narrate Katniss Everdeen’s participation in that rebirth but Collins chose instead to involve Katniss in a plot twist that totally deprives her of any power she might have and that strands her in a domestic situation most of us judge to be just barely happy. Collins, of course, could have proceeded and narrate the building of a new utopia in a reformed Panem but instead she has published a rather dull novel about how tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow came to be: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Indeed, most of Collins’ readers expected her to go further back into the history of Panem and narrate how the United States became that dystopian monstrosity, which says plenty about the sad mood in the American nation. It is my personal opinion that we do not need more stories about the fall into dystopia that may ring prophetic, but new stories about how to build utopia beginning with current dystopia. They can be still full of incident and strife, and be exciting in its proclamation of a new beginning. I would agree, however, that narrating stories about utopia once this is in place might not be that thrilling. As Iain Banks once explained, persons who live in a utopia can also experiment disappointment or conflict but whatever crisis you choose to narrate it would be just too similar to what you might find in the typical middle-class novel in which the social background is inexistent. This is why he preferred to narrate the clash between the utopian Culture and those less advanced civilizations that resisted its intervention.
Apart from the problem of its narrative limitations, utopia seems to have another significant problem of an aesthetic kind. This was made evident by Fito Conesa’s observations about a series of rather kitsch utopian images which turned out to be propaganda for the Jehova’s Witnesses. What he suggested is that any ideally pastoral image of happy people in a lovely environment makes us cringe rather than feel elated and I would attribute this cringeworthy effect to the steady undermining of beauty as an artistic category and of the sentimental in the current structure of feeling. Beauty, of course, is not gone as an aesthetic category but it is not something we actively seek in connection to the utopian future –we may admire the beauty of certain individuals or natural landscapes, but beauty is not at all connected with social living. When it is, as happens in the orbital for the very rich of the film Elysium, beauty is offered as a marker of privilege, not as a communal aspiration. In contrast, the ugly landscape of dystopia seems ubiquitous and even socially inescapable, a constant feature of the future because it is already a dominant feature of the present all over Earth. If a beautiful human-made, communal landscape appears in fiction, then you can be sure that it hides something behind, usually of a sinister nature (think of the film The Island).
Utopia, in short, is not cool either narratively speaking or in its aesthetics, whereas dystopia has managed to be cool both as a tale and in looks. How can this double handicap of utopia be counteracted? To be honest, I don’t know, being neither a narrator nor an artist. One thing I can say, though: capitalism is infinitely flexible and it will certainly accommodate any utopia that is attractive to a significant number of people. If one day someone makes a truly good adaptation of a Culture novel by Iain Banks and the image of its utopia works well, that might start a new fashion. If it were in my power, I would go further and establish a well-endowed competition for utopian stories (though I would make it a condition that they are not separatist with, for instance, women-only civilizations or blacks-only civilizations, on the utopian principle that the elimination of prejudice should be paramount). Leaving aside the nightmare that Covid-19 currently is, I’m tired of that sinking feeling that dystopia produces, whether it comes from the daily reading of the news or the fantasies of depressing storytelling (ten seasons of The Waking Dead? Why?!).
One of the participants in the seminar, artist and academic María Ruido, complained that what most disgusted her is the habitual treatment of basic human rights as a utopia, in the sense of something unfeasible. She worries, most rightly, that the Covid-19 crisis will further undermine any social protest and will even push back the achievements of the last decades as regards workers’ rights and women’s rights. María and I stressed that the utopias behind these rights –Communism, feminism– have not been fully developed but should be given some room in any utopia to be. I believe that feminism is currently the only functional utopia in the sense that all women, even the non-feminists, are motivated by the idea that our future must necessarily be better until it is truly good. The many strong female characters in fiction and the many bold women in real life model their lifestyles on this utopian aspiration (whereas men wander lost in the now decadent patriarchal dystopia). In contrast, what has become almost taboo is any discussion of work and by this María and I meant something quite similar: not just the appalling lack of quality of most occupations but also the enormous amount of time that work takes.
Between 1820 and 1920 the average working hours went from 76 a week to 42, but in the last 100 years nothing has been done to reduce our weekly toil from 40 to 30 or less. We are told again and again that this would bring chaos, with more unemployment, lower pay rates, etc. but it just seems impossible to believe that productivity remains the same as in 1920. Something needs to be done and change demanded. The utopia spoused by 1970s radical feminism as regards the family had to do with this, precisely: the domestic model defended was a household in which each member worked no more than four hours a day, so that there was sufficient time to raise children and enjoy leisure of a constructive, active kind. Instead, we work very long hours, with more instability than ever and with hardly any chance of truly reconciling work with private life. Any attempt to reverse this trend is immediately branded communist agitation and dismissed as an afront to common sense. Thus capitalism thrives and utopia dies, while we consume as if there is no tomorrow the dystopian tales that capitalism itself sells to us.
Let’s create, then, utopia anew, for the sake of the future, with uplifting tales and pleasure in beauty.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

BORN-DIGITAL TEXTS AND ITS USES IN THE FOREIGN-LANGUAGE CLASSROOM: AFTER A SYMPOSIUM

Last week I attended the symposium organized by Saskia Kersten (U. Hertfordshire) and Christian Ludwig (Frei U. Berlin) called “Born-Digital Texts and its Uses in the Foreign-Language Classroom”, on which this post focuses. I first got in touch with Prof. Ludwig a while ago, when I replied to his cfp for the volume he has edited with Elizabeth Shipley, Mapping the Imaginative II (Universitätsverlag Winter, 2020). I have contributed to this volume the essay “Producing E-books on Fantasy and Science Fiction with University Students: Classroom Projects”, which describes the process by which I have edited the first five volumes out of eight that I have published so far with students in the BA and MA English Studies degrees for which I work (see https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/books). The ninth e-book, on which I am now working, was the subject of my presentation. Funnily, I didn’t know that these e-books are born-digital texts until I read the cfp for the symposium. Although there is not a total agreement on the definition of this concept, in principle a born-digital text is any type of text that is first created and circulates in a digital format, such as an e-book. The disagreements have to do with whether the born-digital texts can be made available in a non-digital form (an e-book can be printed as a book). However, once you know the concept, the idea is easy to grasp: many born-digital texts, from photos to hashtags, will remain digital and will not be transferred to any analogical medium; even though some might, the label is still useful.
The general question asked in the symposium was how we should adapt the foreign-language classroom to make the most of the familiarity of our students with the diverse digital media. This is not, of course, a new question. It was first asked back in the 1990s when internet access was first made commercially available, and when other digital tools such as e-mail were introduced. The difference is that for some years now our students have been coming from the cohorts born after this time. There has been much talk about how those born from the mid-1990s onward are digital natives and it is indisputable that their lives are organized around digital platforms in ways that those of previous generations are not. Of course, as a symposium participant reminded me, we should not divide digital users along generational lines, but even though we can find many of these users in older generations, it seems obvious to me that any child or young person with no access to their generation’s heavily digitalized environment runs a risk of becoming a social pariah. A participant mentioned how the lack of access to social media of less privileged children may become a problem in their future, when prospective employers check their networks and draw a blank. This is possibly already a problem for many of us –I’m sure that my empty accounts in Facebook and Instagram, my minimalist use of Twitter, and my absence from Linked In are inexplicable to many digital frequent users.
My approach to using digital media in the English Literature classroom remains sceptical, even though I am at the same time a staunch defender of that strategy. Of course, having taught online for the last two semesters I cannot say that the digital tools should have a minimal impact on the Literature classroom but, as I did in the symposium, I want to defend what I called the principle of reciprocity. By this I mean that I am very much concerned that many of the strategies described in the symposium and elsewhere are based on an academic surrender before the push of the social media and on the sad acceptance that some skills are being lost for good because students find them boring. That is to say, we, teachers that work with language from the primary school to university, seem to be giving up on the importance of two immensely important skills, reading and writing, in which we have a solid training; I mean of substantial texts, and not what young learners come across in the social media and, generally, online. I would agree that one can learn a foreign language on the basis of limited texts, and that not all learners should be expected to produce lengthy essays. However, as much as audiovisual media, from Netflix series to YouTube gamers’ life play streaming, can help learners, their knowledge in this case of English is going to be limited without some intensive reading and without the ability to write beyond the 280 characters on Twitter. By this principle of reciprocity, then, I mean that I am willing to incorporate digital media to my classroom as long as students are willing to read and write at the demanding level that higher education and academic life requires.
I understand that my position is totally conditioned by the fact that I don’t teach English language but English Literature, and I certainly see the point of adapting language teaching in primary and secondary school to other types of students than mine. The main point of the symposium, in a way, was to establish that learning English from print books, as it has been done so far is limiting –and here I mean both books written specifically to teach English but also fiction in English. I have no doubt whatsoever that the kind of exercise consisting of writing imaginary letters of complaint to a travel agency (which my 16-year-old niece showed me recently) has little reason to be in the current EFL classroom in comparison to producing a few minutes of narrated video to post on YouTube. Yet, perhaps a main problem is that attractive reading and writing has never been well integrated in English teaching, and little has been made of what students are actually reading. My colleagues and I have been told that in some secondary schools Literature has been introduced in English classes in which students have an advanced command of English, but I have little idea (rather, none) of how that is being done. If it were up to me, I would have secondary school students produce booktubing videos in English, based on short fiction, or novels. Even long sagas, for, let’s recall that YA fiction is usually published in trilogies or series, and consumed precisely by young readers sitting in high school classrooms.
Although I am explaining myself here very poorly, what I am trying to say is that what most worries me about the use of born-digital texts in the classroom inspired by social media, platforms like YouTube, gaming and so on is the lowering of educational standards. In my case, the e-books I have been producing with my students actually make higher demands on them since in my kind of project-oriented learning their written exercises are not simple classroom exercises but writing that needs to be ready for publication. As the participants in the symposium argued, there is indeed a barrier between the classroom and the outside online world in the sense that teachers and students are encouraged to integrate all digital media in learning but not to produce texts for it. One of the participants noted with undisguised bitterness that her university would not allow her to upload born-digital texts produced by her students, invoking matters of privacy and of authorship. Another noted that, indeed, authorship could be a problem but in my own university this has been solved by having students sign their permission to have their work uploaded onto our digital repository. With this I mean that there seems to be an important contradiction between having students bring to the classroom strategies of digital production and communication that they use in their private lives only to tell them that what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom. I find this very limiting. My approach has been, instead, that if we are to invite students to produce born-digital texts, then there must be a place for these to be visible; otherwise, the skills learned appear to be just part of assessment instead of part of an actual experience in communication at the level of actual real life.
In this sense, an interesting matter is how limited the production of videos for YouTube is in higher education (at least as far as my experience goes). I recently wrote an essay on Pat Frank’s SF novel Alas, Babylon (1959) and I came across many videos produced by American high school children commenting on it, as this novel is apparently a set text in many schools. Good for them! In contrast, YouTube does not seem to attract much attention in higher education. I have tried several times to convince my colleagues to start a YouTube channel but nobody has the know-how, my university does not provide training and, since it is not a priority, I keep delaying the project. I naively assumed that all institutions of higher education had advanced YouTube channels but I must say that the panorama is quite pitiful. I’m sure that many university teachers keep their own channels but I see no systematic effort on the side of the universities to turn YouTube into a far more effective educational tool. By this I do not simply mean as a platform for teachers to deliver lectures and upload teaching materials but as a platform for students to contribute to generally available online knowledge, in a foreign language or in their own. I have not given up on the idea of opening a channel for my Department and I certainly have many ideas for it, but I just don’t know enough about this medium, my younger colleagues are too busy having three jobs at the same time to help me, and we couldn’t find among our 400 students any with experience as a booktuber, LifePlay gamer or similar. So much for digital natives!!! Again, my ambitions for the future YouTube channel is not that it might make learning easier or more fun, quite the opposite: I’d like to have students learn skills that can be applied to improving standards. Excuse me but it seems to me that fine as current booktubing is to circulate opinion and encourage reading, it is missing quality academic criticism and I fail to understand why this is not being provided by universities. If you follow me, then, I would not have students imitate anyone but do a new job, which is right now vacant. Too ambitious, I know, but someone should do it.
This leads me to another concern that was voiced in the symposium: who should be responsible for the teachers’ training in digital media? My impression is that all the participants were making an effort to apply their own knowledge to their teaching but that this knowledge had been acquired independently from their institutions. This always happens: the institution of learning, whether this is a primary school or a university, suddenly decides to introduce a new tool, but it is always up to the teachers to train themselves in it. This has recently happened with Teams in my university, chosen overnight to be our main platform for online teaching, but possibly starts with e-mail back in the 1990s. The problem is, then, not only that we should be making the most of digital platforms that in many cases we just don’t know how to use (see my comments on YouTube) but also that these platforms’ popularity changes enormously in time. Using Facebook as a teaching resource may have seemed a good idea just a few years ago, but it is now hopelessly old-fashioned. And by the time a teacher learns to use Tik-Tok, this will have been replaced by some other platform not even born today. From this perspective old-fashioned, non-digital materials appear to have a certain advantage.
Finally, I’ll mention another matter that worries me: using born-digital texts can be time-consuming and not at all ‘cost-effective’. My MA students have been producing narrated PowerPoints for our virtual classroom, and one of them decided to produce instead a video. It took him 15 hours to produce a 15-minute video. His efforts and the results were generally admired, but not more than some of the PowerPoints, which means that he invested in his born-digital text too much. There must be, then, a balance between the time invested and the learning results. Producing, for instance, videos for YouTube only makes sense as a tool to teach/learn language if the skills needed for that have been already acquired or take limited time to be acquired. And the other way round: the more proficient a teacher is in the process of producing born-digital texts with students, the lighter the task of producing them is (as I know from my already longish experience of editing e-books).
So, in short: the foreign-language classroom can be and should be at some levels a place for the production of born-digital texts but this process should contribute to enhancing the educational experience (not to trivializing it). It also needs to strike a balance between the time invested in mastering the digital skills and the time devoted to learning the language, which in the end is the main target. I would also insist that the activities need to be carried out in a spirit of reciprocity, with teachers learning from students’ experiences in the digital media and students’ willing to learn from teachers indispensable skills in reading and writing substantial texts.
Thanks Saskia and Christian for the great symposium!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

DONALD TRUMP: PATRIARCHAL VILLAINY AT WORK

A year ago I published a monographic volume called Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in the British Novel: From Hitler to Voldemort in which I aimed at showing how real-life and fictional villains embody patriarchy’s promise of power to complicit men. Some fulfil that promise to a degree so hyperbolic that they need to be eliminated, hence the need for heroes. Most ambitious patriarchal men, however, understand that there are legal and ethical limits to their power. They struggle anyway to take their empowerment as far as possible, risking a downfall but protecting themselves effectively whether they are called Mark Zuckerberg or Vladimir Putin. In other cases, such as that of Hitler or Voldemort, the massive sense of entitlement overwhelms all caution, resulting in a series of missteps that lead to an eventual downfall. I believe this is what we have seen this past week with Donald Trump’s enticement of his followers to take the Capitol and prevent Joe Biden from being formally proclaimed as the next US President. Trump has gone too far in his villainy, heroically stopped by the Senate and Congress, but although he seems to have reached the end of his political career (if the impeachment proceeds he will be banned from holding any kind of public office), the future looks uncertain. Most tyrannies end with the death of the tyrant, but we still need to see how democracy copes with a living would-be tyrant.
The assault on democracy of last January 6 has been brewing since the very day Republican Trump won the Presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016, if not earlier. As I have written here diverse times, I blame American women for Trump’s win: many more men than women voted for Hillary Clinton, and that says all we need to know about the failure of feminism in the United States. I do not particularly sympathize with Senator Clinton but given the choice between her and the patriarchal monster Donald Trump, I would not have hesitated to vote for her. The question, then, is why American women allowed Trump to be elected, both the liberal women who did not bother to vote at all, and the conservative women who voted for this pussy-grabbing narcissist. How the man who was mostly considered a joke by 80% Americans in 2015 could become the US President in 2016 is a gendered matter indeed. In view of how he has degraded the American Presidency to limits unthinkable before his election, I believe many US voters owe a deep apology to Senator Clinton. I do not know what kind of President she would have been but one thing is certain: a much better one than the resident monster at the White House.
The one thing I most clearly remember about the 2016 election was President Obama saying in an informal TV intervention, addressing Trump himself, something along the lines of “the difference between you and me is that I will be remembered as an American President but you won’t, you’re not qualified”, implying that he would never be elected. There was in this remark both total lucidity (Trump indeed was not qualified) and a bit of arrogance, which possibly has incapacitated the Democratic Party from fighting Trump more adequately. Just as I blame the Democratic women for not having mobilized all American women in favour of Hillary Clinton, I blame the Democratic men for not having been more effective in counteracting Trump’s worst traits as a patriarchal man. Joe Biden’s calm, sedate personality (from what I see) seems to be what is needed now, but throughout the four years of this nightmare I have been wondering, much peeved and annoyed, why former President Obama was not opposing Trump more forcefully. I understand that an implicit rule of American politics prevents former Presidents from criticising their successors but I believe that Obama has gone too far in obeying that rule. I very much doubt that Trump will show so much leniency towards Biden, particularly if he still thinks of a hypothetical 2024 re-election but even if that goal is out of bounds for whatever legal reasons. In most democracies there is an opposition leader keeping the Prime Minister on their toes, and I believe that this figure is sorely missing in US politics. The President has, in short, too much power.
Surprised as I have been by the barrage of disrespect with which President Trump has been treated by late night show hosts and a variety of political critics, I have been even more surprised by the tolerance shown towards his behaviour. Yes, Trump was impeached, but this is a man whose personal demeanour is simply outrageous. He has shattered all the limits, from being known as a sexual abuser to making constant diplomatic gaffes in his dealings with the likes of Putin or Kim Jong-Un. Any other democratic leader in the world would have been ousted by far less, and new elections called to replace him. And that’s another weakness, I think, of the American democracy: its inefficient electoral system. I am not siding at all with Trump’s claim that the system is fraudulent (funny how he never raised the issue when he was himself elected) but noting that it is too inflexible. Supposing the impeachment had progressed or the 25th Amendment invoked, this would still have left Americans in the hands of Mike Pence, who, as Vice-President, has seconded each of Trump’s steps. That he chose to stay in Capitol and certify Biden’s win does not exonerate him from his responsibility in maintaining President Trump in power for four horrendous years. There should be a mechanism to call for new elections in case the US President behaves, as Trump has done, despicably. I will possibly eat my words if/when Joe Biden resigns and VP Kamala Harris becomes the first woman President of the USA, but it still seems to be anomalous that Americans are stuck with their choices for four years no matter what might happen.
Another issue I wish to raise is that of the Grand Old Party’s complicity with Trump. The GOP or Republican Party elected him their candidate, whereas, please recall this for future reference, Hitler ran for Prime Minister supported by his own Nazi Party. Donald Trump seemed initially the kind of fringe figure that would try to enter US politics using his own platform (in the style of Kanye West’s Birthday Party and the other third parties that backed independent candidates in the recent election). What is astonishing and disgusting is that the same Republican Party that backed Abraham Lincoln could back Donald Trump. I have not forgotten about Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, but in comparison to Trump they appear to be now excellent Presidents. It was even funny to read Bush’s press statement complaining that the USA are not a banana republic as the current incumbent at the White House believes, but also tragic. While democratic leaders all over the world worried how Trump’s behaviour would inspire other right-wing populists, the right-wing populists in power mocked the ineptitude of their American colleague. The Republican Party, and particularly Trump sycophants such as Ted Cruz or the extremely dangerous Josh Hawley, are to blame for the brutal attack against democracy perpetrated by the Capitol rabble as much as Trump himself.
This leads me to the concept of ‘the people’ and Trump’s argument that the closing down of his violence-mongering Twitter account is an attack against the right wing. The social media are not directly responsible for the possibly unsolvable political polarization of our times in all democracies because they were not created with that purpose. However, they are guilty of remaining passive as the fanatical political divide grew. Within democracy, there is room for the expression of diverging political views, but those views that threaten democracy itself, whether they are communist or fascist, need to be firmly rejected. Trump and his followers are using the classic Nazi argument in protecting extreme right-wing positions as a legitimate political stance but one thing is the democratic right and quite another the undemocratic extreme right. In that sense, all popular revolts that aim at invading Parliaments are undemocratic, hence intolerable and punishable by law. One thing is taking the Bastille to start a revolution against absolutist monarchy, and quite another taking the Capitol to deny the legitimate election of a new US President. The vandals assaulting the Capitol last Wednesday are not an expression of the American people, but its enemy, and so is Trump.
About the man himself, I’ll just say that the scariest thing about him is that there could be someone even worse, by which I mean more intelligent. The biographical volumes Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success (a.k.a The Truth about Trump) by Michael D’Antonio (2015) and Too Much and Never Enough (2020) by Mary Trump (Donald’s niece and a reputed clinical psychologist) describe in all detail the sociopathic personality of this immature, self-loving man. Yet, as happens in Hitler’s case, there is a major risk in stressing the singularity of an individual man whose rise is actually symptomatic of the society to which he appeals. Hitler rose with the complicity of the German upper classes at a time of profound economic crisis when the social anger of the disenfranchised masses had to be diverted away from Communism and given an outlet. Hitler was willing and able to play the role of German hero, to make Germany great again, and eventually escaped the control of his enablers, sinking the nation into chaos. Still, had he been unwilling and unable, I’m sure that some other messianic figure would have played the role, with the same or even worse consequences if that is conceivable. In Trump’s case the GOP was responding to eight years of Obama’s presidency, which exposed the deep racism of American society, and to a deep social fracture caused by the rampages of US capitalism amongst the less privileged segments of the white population. Trump was there to channel their grievances, despite being himself (supposedly) a key businessman, but, I insist, it could have been someone else, as shown by the number of ambitious men in the GOP biding his time as he falls. In short, you may send Trump to jail for life but what the USA needs is a much deeper structural change that prevents someone even worse from rising. For if he rises, the next assault against the Capitol will be carried out by fully armed militias that will not hesitate to execute the people’s representatives. Just think how much worse last week’s invasion could have been, perhaps the beginning of a second Civil War, in the hands of a more capable man.
Patriarchal villainy works, precisely in this way: it maintains a structure of power that is occupied by successive patriarchal men. The men themselves do not matter very much, and it is hopefully a sign of American patriarchy’s decadence that it has been unable to single out a more intelligent man than the clownish Trump. What matters is the structure and how it connects with privilege, and the sense of entitlement of the already privileged. In this case, please note that whereas Hitler came from the impoverished middle classes, Trump comes from American business aristocracy (though I insist that everything indicates he is not as rich as he claims). In that sense, democracy is just a slight deviation from the patriarchal norm stating that those with power rule but it is certainly preferable to any other system, if only because now and then it allows for genuine change. Of course, although I am calling the system ‘patriarchy’, we should not believe this is just an association of men–as we can see, there are now men and women on both sides of the democratic divide; the horrid thing is that the undemocratic women have been freed by feminism to express their undemocratic ideologies. For each Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez there is a ‘Trump in heels’, as State Senator Amanda Chase has described herself, though they are not democratic political equivalents: the former protects civil rights guaranteed by democracy, the latter does not.
I want to finish by appealing to the democratic right wing. I do not agree with your constant attempts to curb down personal freedom and to enable big business to rule our lives but democracy cannot be sustained without your firm defence. It is up to the Republican Party to regain lost honour and stop Trump and all other aspiring tyrants by impeaching him so that he can never hold office again, and it is likewise imperative to make sure that no other person like him will ever represent the GOP. The right wing should not oppose the democratic left wing but fight the undemocratic extreme right wing (as much as the undemocratic extreme left wing, of course). The Washington Post has been carrying since 2017 as its grim slogan ‘Democracy dies in darkness’, borrowed from journalist Bob Woodward, and this has almost happened in the nation that supposedly stands for the defence of democracy all over the world. Pearl Harbour and 9/11 were days that will live in infamy, but at least in those cases the enemy was external. 6 January 2021 will also live in infamy, but this time the enemy is American and wants democracy to end. This is how patriarchal villainy operates and it is something that all honourable conservative politicians should acknowledge to protect fragile democracy from any aspiring patriarchal villain.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/