Empowering Ineffectual Outrage with the Strategically Outrageous
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Feb 2017
Beyond Reactive Protest, Demonstration and Resistance
From a strategic perspective, the current situation calls for careful attention to the relation between “outrage” and the “outrageous”. Most obviously, the comments and actions of Donald Trump are widely considered “outrageous”. They have evoked “outrage” on the part of those opposed to their implications — most recently in the post-inaugural 2017 Women’s March (List of 2017 Women’s March locations). On the other hand it could be said that Trump succeeded by expressing the “outrage” of those who believe that their concerns had been systematically neglected by decades of elitist policy-making — a neglect which could be readily recognized as “outrageous”, especially to the extent that it has been denied.
From a wider perspective, this pattern can be recognized in other contexts — and prior to the successful election Trump. This is partly evident in the rise of populist movements in other countries, expressing “outrage” at decision-making from which they have not benefitted to the degree they feel to be appropriate. Again such neglect of their concerns can be considered “outrageous”. A distinctive take has been evident in the articulation by the Occupy Movement, specifically concerned at the inequity between the “1%” and the “99%”. The “outrage” articulated by this movement was remarkably framed by Stéphane Hessel (Time for Outrage! 2010).
Less evident, but implied, are the highly problematic conditions of the underprivileged in many developing countries. Their neglect could indeed be considered both an “outrage” and “outrageous”. The consequence has been partly evident in Islamic radicalisation and the strategic use of suicide bombing — deemed “outrageous” and incomprehensible. The military efforts to eradicate both have been directly associated with the movement of a large number of asylum seekers to the countries most associated with those military efforts and the manufacture of the weaponry needed. This movement has evoked “outrage” by increasing numbers of citizens in those same countries, whether or not they benefit economically from the arms industries.
There is therefore a curious parallel to be recognized between the “outrageous” initiatives favoured by populist movements (as exemplified by Trump supporters) and those of jihadist terrorists. Clearly there is considerable irony in the efforts of the former to eradicate the latter — to whatever the degree to which the reverse can also be held to obtain. Rendering understanding more difficult are the historical instances of revolutionary movements through which people have sought freedom from perceived oppression — and been typically framed as “terrorists” in the process.
The concern here is whether widespread expression of “outrage”, through “demonstrations” and movements of “protest”, is strategically inadequate to the situation — even when it encourages what is framed as “resistance”. This inadequacy can be explored in relation to the protest movements and marches at the time of the decision to intervene in Iraq in 2003. It can also be explored in relation to the limited achievements of the Occupy Movement and other concerns evoking “outrage”. Rather than the Time for Outrage! of Stéphane Hessel, is it now a Time for the Outrageous ?
Clearly such initiatives are most valuable in expressing “outrage” but have little of strategic value to offer thereafter — recalling the limited capacity of progressive movements to elicit widespread political support. This weakness is evident at the present time in which it is “Not-Trump” which is framed as the strategy eliciting consensus, but without any real consensus on “Post-Trump” possibilities. The “Post-Trump” vacuum may well be filled by other inanities evoking even greater “outrage”.
The focus here is on whether Donald Trump has succeeded to date through being “outrageous” — as might be asked of the surprising success of radical Islamic movements (whether Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or ISIL). The Occupy Movement could then be accused of “not being outrageous enough” — as with the massive “movement of resistance” in opposition to the policies which Trump has articulated, or the populist reaction to cultural destabilisation by asylum seekers. Whether unwittingly or not, it is possible that Trump makes skillful use of his provocative statements as distractants, perhaps best compared with use of decoy flares as counter-measures by aircraft seeking to reduce vulnerability to missile strikes.
Commentators have assiduously followed the heat of the “flares” — in a fruitless effort to bring him down. Through being ever more more “outrageous” Trump off-footed his critics and opponents. The question is how to recover the strategic initiative.
Rather than responding to the outrageous with ineffectual outrage — as is the current tendency — the question here is can the outrageous be met more effectively with the outrageous, as previously suggested (Responding outrageously to the outrageous, 2017). A proposal to move the UN could be one possibility (Build the Wall — Move the UN HQ? United Nations principles are not consistent with “America First”, 2017) . Others merit careful consideration in order to take engagement onto more advantageous ground.
Whilst any suggestion to move the UN HQ is in many respects “outrageous”, it should not be forgotten that the current period is one of outrage — whether as articulated by Donald Trump, by those who oppose him. Thus for Time Magazine: The Old Washington adage of “Watch what we do, not what we say” is hard to apply to someone as serially outrageous as Donald Trump (6 February 2017).
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