Trump, Scorsese, and the Frankfurt School’s Theory of Racket Society

Martin Jay in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

“THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL Knew Trump was Coming” announced an essay by Alex Ross in The New Yorker on December 5, 2016. Much, in fact, has been made of late of the prescience of the Frankfurt School in anticipating the rise of populist nationalism in general and Donald Trump in particular. By and large, the focus has been on their critiques of the culture industry, the authoritarian personality, the techniques of right-wing agitators, and antisemitism. Another aspect of their legacy has, however, been largely ignored, which supplements their insights into the psychological and cultural sources of the problem, and deepens their analysis of the demagogic techniques of the agitator. I’m referring here to their oft-neglected analysis of what they called a “racket society” to explain the unexpected rise of fascism.

Its current relevance can be fully appreciated if we take a detour through Martin Scorsese’s widely acclaimed 2019 film The Irishman, which chronicles the career of mob hit man Frank Sheeran, among whose most notable victims — or so he claimed to his biographer Charles Brandt in I Heard You Paint Houses — was Teamster Union president Jimmy Hoffa. Whether or not the movie convincingly solves the mystery of Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975, it brilliantly succeeds in painting a vivid picture of a violent, amoral world in which power relations are transactional and the threat of betrayal haunts even the most seemingly loyal friendships.

More here.