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Vol. 15, No. 5, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
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isolation and losing in



Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. He is the author of more than 50 books including The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth and Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism. Many of his essays, including The Spectacle of Illiteracy, appear on his website at His interview with Bill Moyers is must viewing.

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YOUR COMMENTSDonald Trump has called Mexicans who illegally entered the country rapists and drug dealers, defamed Fox News host Megyn Kelly by referring to her menstrual cycle, and questioned the heroism and bravery of former-prisoner of war Senator John McCain. In what can only be described as unimaginable, Trump urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's computer, and attacked the Muslim parents of Capt. Humayan Khan, who was killed in 2004 by a suicide bomber while he was trying to save the lives of the men in his unit. In addition, during a campaign rally in North Carolina, Trump suggested that "Second Amendment people" would take care of Hillary Clinton for picking Supreme Court judges who favour stricter gun laws. The Clinton campaign and many others saw this as a veiled endorsement of an assassination attempt. These stunts were just the latest examples of his chillingly successful media strategy, which is based not on changing public consciousness but on titillating and infantilizing it within a flood of shocks, sensations and simplistic views. It is a strategy that only succeeds due to the deep cultural and political effects of a savage form of casino capitalism in our society — effects that include widespread atomization and depoliticization.

Trump's racist, xenophobic, and ultra-nationalist appeals find a welcoming place in a society in which individuals are isolated due to a range of economic and political conditions, including the forces of precarity, poverty, mass inequality, uncertainty, disposability and the dark shadows of authoritarianism. Within this new historical era, finance capital rules, producing extremes of wealth for the 1 per cent, promoting cuts to government services, and defunding investments in public goods such as public and higher education in order to offset tax reductions for the ultra-rich and big corporations.

Under such conditions, mass fear is normalized as violence increasingly becomes the default logic for handling social problems. In an age where everything is for sale, ethical accountability is rendered a liability and the vocabulary of empathy is viewed as a weakness, reinforced by the view that individual happiness and its endless search for instant gratification is more important than supporting the public good and embracing an obligation to care for others. Americans are now pitted against each as casino capitalism puts a premium on competitive cage-like relations that degrade collaboration and the public spheres that support it.

Within this market driven ideology, an emphasis on competition in every sphere of life promotes a winner-take-all ethos that finds its ultimate expression in the assertion that fairness has no place in a society dominated by winners and losers. As William Davies points out, competition in a market driven social order allows a small group of winners to emerge while at the same time sorting out and condemning the vast majority of institutions, organizations, and individuals "to the status of losers."

As made clear in the much publicized language of Donald Trump, both as a reality TV host of "The Apprentice" and as presidential candidate, calling someone a "loser" has little to do with losing in the more general sense of the term. On the contrary, in a culture that trades in cruelty and divorces politics from matters of ethics and social responsibility, "loser" is now elevated to a pejorative insult that humiliates and justifies not only symbolic violence, but also as Trump has made clear in many of his rallies real acts of violence waged against his critics, such as members of the Black Lives Matter Movement. As Greg Elmer and Paula Todd observe, "to lose is possible, but to be a 'loser' is the ultimate humiliation that justifies taking extreme, even immoral measures."

Atomization, anxiety, and loneliness are fuelled increasingly by a fervour for unbridled individualism that exhibits a pathological disdain for community, public values, and the public good. As democratic pressures are weakened, authoritarian societies resort to fear so as to ward off any room for ideals, visions, and hope, made all the more difficult by the ethically tranquilizing presence of a celebrity and commodity culture that works to depoliticize people and legitimize a near sociopathic lack of interests in others. The realm of the political and the social imagination wither as shared responsibilities and obligations give way to an individualized society that elevates selfishness, avarice, and militaristic modes of competition to its highest organizing principles.

Overcoming the atomization inherent under casino capitalism means making clear how it destroys every vestige of solidarity and co-operation. Neo-liberal precarity, austerity and the militarization of society inflict violence not just on the body but on the psyche as well. America can do better. Democracy is in part about a society in which caring for the other matters, creating the public spheres in which empathy and justice inform each other, and imagining a political system in which economic justice is central to unleashing a politics in which hope becomes more than an empty slogan.





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