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By JUDITH BUTLER*

Why Donald Trump Refused to Admit Defeat

Little importance can be attributed to the fact that Donald Trump proved unable to meet with Joe Biden, transmit the office and recognize that he lost the election. But what if the refusal to accept defeat is associated with the trajectory of destruction that we can call Trump's exit route? Why is it so hard to lose?

This question has, in these times, at least two meanings. Many of us have lost someone to Covid-19 or fear death, whether it be our own or someone else's. We are all living in an environment of illness and death, whether or not we have a name for that particular atmosphere. They are literally in the air. Even so, the way to name and understand such losses is not clear. And Trump's resistance to expressing any form of grief stems from the macho refusal to mourn, to which he contributes, and which is associated with nationalist pride and even white supremacy.

Trumpists tend not to publicly mourn deaths resulting from the pandemic. They have rejected numbers that they claim are exaggerated ("fake news!”) and systematically confronted the risk of death, with its agglomerations and unmasked looting of public spaces, which reached a peak, more recently, in its spectacle of savagery in the Capitol, dressed in animal costumes.

Trump has never acknowledged the losses America has suffered, and he is neither willing nor able to offer his condolences. In the moments when he made reference to them, they weren't so serious, the curve was flattening, the pandemic would be short, it wasn't his fault, it was China's fault. What people needed, he claimed, was to go back to work, as they were “dying” at home – just meaning, by that, that they were going crazy because of the confinement at home.

Trump's inability to recognize his electoral defeat is related not only to his inability to recognize and mourn the losses that the pandemic has inflicted on the population, but also to his destructive itinerary. Openly acknowledging his electoral defeat would be to assert himself as a loser, and he's just not the type of guy to lose. And if he lost it was because someone took something that was rightfully his.

There is, however, one more issue. The white supremacists who have invaded the Capitol are also convinced that not just elections, but their country, have been stolen; that they are being “replaced” by black communities, by Jews. Their racism fights against the idea that they should abandon their conception of privilege and white supremacy.

To do so, they travel to the past and become Confederate soldiers, assume fantasy roles in video games, with superhuman powers, dress up as animals and publicly display their firearms, reliving the “Old West” and its indigenous genocide. . They consider themselves “the people” and “the nation”, which explains their shock when they are arrested for the crimes they committed.

What do you mean an invasion, a sedition, a conspiracy? They were just getting “their home” back. How could that be a crime, since the president himself asked them to carry out such acts? Those who tried to find, kill, or kidnap elected officials clearly had violent plans, very well documented on their various internet sites, and ignored by complacent police officers. And the attack on the police, even the crushing death of one of their own, Rosanne Boyland, went unnoticed in the heat of the lethal uproar.

It may even be that Trump's final killing spree, which has claimed the lives of 13 people since federal executions resumed in July 2020, is another example of the readiness to kill that marks these final days. Wherever there is a widespread refusal to acknowledge the loss of life, killing certainly becomes easier. These lives are not fully considered as such, and their loss is not truly regarded as significant. In that sense, Trump's last days, including the Capitol assault, are a violent retort to the movement Black Lives Matter.

Around the world, millions took to the streets to indignantly oppose the impunity of murderous police officers, forming a movement that exposed historic and systemic racism and opposed the ease with which police and prisons destroy black lives. This movement remains a global threat to white supremacy, and the backlash has been violent and hateful.

Supremacists do not want to lose their supremacy, even though they have already lost it and will continue to lose it as racial justice movements gain their goals. Trump's defeat is as unthinkable as their own, and that is unquestionably one of the ties that binds them to their delusional conviction of a stolen election.

Prior to the Capitol storming, it was certainly troubling, but also comical, that Trump would maniacally seek to deny his defeats by every means possible. But this effort makes sense if we consider it as a generalized inability to recognize the loss. A recognition that, according to Freud, constitutes the work of mourning. In order for mourning to take place, however, there must be a way to mark the loss, to communicate and record it. In this sense, mourning requires communication and, at least, the possibility of public consent.

The formula goes something like this: I cannot live in a world in which the thing I value is lost, or I cannot be the person who has lost what I value. Therefore, I will destroy this world that confronts me with what I have lost, or I will abandon such a world through fantasy. This form of denial prefers to destroy reality, or hallucinate another more desirable one, than register the verdict of defeat that reality imposes.

The result is a form of destructive rage that doesn't even bother to provide a moral alibi. The problem is clear in the wave of death sentences, state-sanctioned killings, but also in the gesture of ignoring the death toll of Covid-19, especially those that show us that communities of color are most adversely affected, including indigenous populations, hardest hit. It makes cruel sense that Trump would sign a deal, in his last days in power, to destroy sacred territories in Arizona and accelerate copper production at the same time that the failure of public policies leads to an increase in the number of deaths in these communities.

White supremacy has found itself an empty space in American politics. Trumpism will outlive Trump, continuing to take new forms. White supremacy is a political fantasy, but it is also a historical reality. It can be understood, in part, as the refusal to veil the loss of supremacy that the movement in defense of black lives and ideals of racial justice legitimately demands.

The time has come for the racists to mourn this loss, but there are doubts that they really will. They know that what they imagine to be their natural right can be taken, is being taken, and the fight they are waging is historic. They will live out their fantasy until historical reality stops them. Let's hope Biden's response is not to step up the police state for this purpose. That would be cruelly ironic.

*Judith Butler is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. She authored, among other books by Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence (Authentic).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published in the newspaper The Guardian.

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