Troll Politics, Advocate, 14/01/2017

It’s not exactly news to call Donald Trump America’s most prominent troll. But it’s not just an insult. Trolling is often discussed (and dismissed) as the immature snarking of self-entitled jackasses. And it is.

But it’s also become a politically powerful weapon – the discourse of mocking, dismissal, and the marginalization of critique and conscience. It turns every piece of sincere communication against itself. The crystallization of nihilistic postmodernism.

Troll discourse is the most powerful political speech weapon of our time. And if progressive forces don’t master it and learn to destroy it, anti-racist and anti-fascist politics will be crushed in the West.

If progressive activists can grow their own trolling skills – both on
social media and in real life – to Shkreli's and Milo's levels, those
movements will have a chance of surviving the Trump years. If not,
we'll be ripped to shreds.
So how does troll discourse work? It’s essentially the subversion of political language. Look at the most recent example.

For the last month, the progressive mainstream Western press has led major discussions of “fake news.”

The term originally refers to the websites and Facebook groups that concoct lies and hoaxes – usually about left-wing political figures and the Hillary Clinton campaign. These hoaxes are so purposefully inflammatory that they’ll drive a huge number of clickthroughs (and the attendant ad revenues).

It’s a little blunt, but basically accurate. Since the US election, there’s been a flurry of panicked articles floating around the progressive and liberal online literati denouncing fake news and trying to figure out how to stem it.

Now look what Donald Trump did in his press conference last week. During the presidential campaign, CNN was widely seen as kowtowing to the Trump campaign for the sake of ratings. But the network also employs many Trump-skeptical journalists.

When faced with critical questions about his Russian connections from CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump refused to answer them. He instead denounced the whole network. But look at the language – “You’re fake news!

He smeared any reporting of Trump’s personal and business connections with Vladimir Putin and the Russian billionaire nationalist community as the irresponsible spreading of fake news.

Yeah, well you're a fake President.
A term that’s been defined in popular discourse as Trump-critical is now used by Trump himself to denounce any criticism of him and his government. Classic trolling – take a term whose popular meaning is most often used against you and use it against your enemies, claiming it’s for the same reasons.

In just the same way, chief trolls like Milo Yiannopolous and protege Martin Shkreli are brilliant practitioners of trolling. They’ve taken the narrative concepts from people and groups who’ve historically suffered from systematic institutional marginalization, and let wealthy white men of various levels of jockishness and dorkitude claim to be victims of systematic discrimination.

Because someone who makes video games they don’t like broke up with a stalkerish asshole. Or a Trump-critical journalist who works for a typically “women’s” magazine objected to harassing, stalking behaviour to get a millionaire hedge fund trader banned from a social media platform.

Shrkeli’s defenders have called his removal from Twitter his victimization at the hands of SJW fascists and an attack on his free speech rights.

Verbal and graphic harassment in a public forum has been defended as an untouchable act of free speech. When Shkreli was to appear as a guest of honour at the UC Davis stop of Milo’s Dangerous Faggot Tour, protests of the two grew so intense and violent that the appearance was cancelled.

Millions of people take this notion seriously. We have a lot of work to do.
And people called the cancellation of a high-budget campus tour stop an attack on Milo and Martin’s free speech.

All the concept that progressive activists develop to articulate their claims, their programs, and their rights are co-opted by reactionary enemies within months, weeks, possibly even days. Not just intent, but linguistic meaning itself has been politically destabilized.

Unless progressively-minded activists and organizers confront this form of reactionary subversion, we will be crushed. Progressives need to master the subversive and moving language that reactionaries already use with expert skill – This is the most difficult political battle of my generation, and we need to perfect our weapons.

I’ll be posting this on my Facebook author page, and tagging all my activist friends – I hope we can have the first of some productive discussions to turn the tide against reaction and in favour of real freedom.

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