A Political Lap Dance Club—with Duchamp’s Urinal as its Emblem

Running a Club Where the Lust for Insurrection is Incited but not Consummated

Fintan O’Toole, The Trump Inheritance:

The great gamble of the Republican Party was that this coalition of respectability and riot could hold together, that the rage could be absorbed, exploited, and institutionalized. The GOP became a political lap-dance club: the lust for insurrection would be incited but not consummated. Implicit in this deal was a belief that the party and its professional politicians could still control entry into the arena of legitimate politics. Trump destroyed that smug self-assurance—though it might be more accurate to say that the antigovernment crowd used Trump to destroy the illusion on its behalf. …

The great crowd that chose Trump as its king is a restless and dynamic force. In the Tea Party years, it latched onto the rather unlikely cause of fiscal conservatism and the rights of billionaires. But ultimately it didn’t really care about balanced budgets, and perhaps not very much about health care—issues that evaporated midway through Trump’s presidency without any loss of enthusiasm among his supporters. It also turned out not to care all that much about the actual building of Trump’s wall or “draining the swamp.” Trump could fail to do the first and make a mockery of the second by flagrant corruption and self-dealing without diminishing the zeal of his fanbase. This is because the mob’s core demand is more fundamental. It wants the power to say who is real and who is not. …

It is not wrong to call the allegations of a rigged election … the “big lie” of Trumpism.

But it’s a lie that was already there. It is, in artistic terms, a readymade, a found object. It is, perhaps aptly, Trump’s version of the urinal that Marcel Duchamp renamed Fountain. He just put an existing notion of fraudulence on a pedestal and gave it a title: the Steal. But the object itself is both old and mass-produced. It is made by fusing the idea of an entitlement to privilege—which is being stolen from white Americans by traitors, Blacks, immigrants, and socialists—with the absolute distinction between real and unreal Americans. The concern is not, at heart, that there are bogus votes, but that there are bogus voters, that much of the US is inhabited by people who are, politically speaking, counterfeit citizens. Unlike us, they do not belong; they cannot be among the “we” who get to choose the king.