Flouting The Establishment

February 18, 2020 Category: Domestic Politics

EPILOGUE:

Another word on demagogy is in order.  Frustration and confusion are the optimal conditions in which dogmatism–and thus propaganda–flourishes.  Hence agit-prop tends to gain currency when people are insecure and/or disoriented.  The existentially moribund are especially susceptible to the wiles of a savvy demagogue.

Such people are groping around in the dark–often in a state of desperation–for something to latch onto.  Provide them with something sturdy, and they will grasp it and–having committed themselves, and asserted themselves–not let go.  Anyone who has experienced the disconcerting state of existential vertigo will welcome any source of stability.  So it makes perfect sense that demagogues prey on existential beleaguerment–which is to say: seething resentment and/or protracted apprehension.  If a figurehead can offer a way to effectively channel angst while ameliorating trepidation, he will surely hold sway over the rank and file.

I surveyed the incidence of this phenomenon in my essay on “The History Of Exalted Figures”; where I showed that charismatic figures curry favor with the common-man in ways that are entirely predictable; and almost always perfidious.  They pass off subjugation as a form of emancipation (typically by claiming: “Trust me; it’s for your own good.”)  To put it bluntly: Neurosis renders one a useful idiot.

Those who are lost at sea are–generally speaking–easy to manipulate.  To reiterate: Those who are insecure and/or disoriented are looking for something solid to hold onto.  The first person to offer such something solid-seeming is most likely to win their favor.  This is especially so when fear / anger (two sides of the same coin) govern public sentiment.

And so it goes that a compelling narrative (read: well-crafted propaganda) works like a charm on those for whom critical thinking is a lost art.  Anyone experiencing protracted bouts of existential despondency is especially vulnerable to the formidable powers of suggestion wielded by a highly charismatic leader.

A prerequisite for genuine democracy is a well-informed citizenry (which is to say: an electorate that is more apt to base choices on principle than on flights of fancy).  Alas.  The United States is a far cry from a deliberative democracy.  With the lack of civic engagement and the skein of voter-suppression, the U.S. doesn’t even qualify as a participatory democracy.  It is more accurately described as a plutocracy with quasi-democratic pretensions.

It is, of course, no secret that perspicacity is extremely rare in the American agora.  The vast majority of voters–mercurial and obsequious–do not base their decisions on anything resembling meticulous deliberation.  Rather, they are beholden to vague impressions, emotive outbursts that are ripe for manipulation.

And so it goes: Across the U.S., the electorate is held captive to mis-information campaigns.  Day in and day out, America’s rank and file are snookered by the trappings of effective branding strategies–gimmicks designed to lure them into a charade that benefits the well-positioned few at everyone else’s expense.  In other words, most American voters–being as they are a mentally lethargic herd–are dupes.  The popular sentiment is invariably at the mercy of whatever hype-generation scheme dominates the meme-o-sphere.

Such systematic manipulation is largely a matter of perception-engineering, which is primarily orchestrated by corporate media outlets that serve the interests of those in power.  (As usual, those in power use that power to maintain that power; which is done by persuading everyone else into going along with the program.)  In a social milieu where fatuity trumps perspicacity, this boondoggle is easy to pull off.  For rudimentary–let alone fastidious–critical analysis is inimical to a polity that is governed by fatuity, inauthenticity, and shallow thinking.  Much of American culture–in keeping with the social media zeitgeist–even goes so far as to GLAMORIZE such things.  This explains why we find ourselves contending with public discourse characterized by pettiness and superficiality.

Consequently, many will be easily hoodwinked into believing a entirely specious narrative that is nevertheless compelling to the untutored ear.  That’s how so many Americans are routinely persuaded to vote against their own interests…all the while under the impression that, in doing so, they are being valiant super-patriots standing up for (a comically obtuse conception of) “the American way”.  Even as they engage in paroxysms of flag-waving, they shoot themselves in the foot.

A brief recap.  Trump won in 2016 not because he offered the best ideas (or really meant it when he occasionally paid lip-service to estimable policies).  After all, most voters do not make decisions based on a meticulous process of critical deliberation; and so rarely base their vote on the adduced merit of candidates’ proposals.  (Policy analysis is anathema in an era of market-tested platitudes.)  Rather, Trump won because his hyper-jingoistic sales-pitch resonated with most of America’s disaffected working class.  (In other words, BRAND Trump won more than PERSON Trump.)  A bumbling buffoon with prodigious star-power ended up serving as an avatar for people’s anger / frustration because he pushed all the right buttons.  He SEEMED to be a great way to rebuke “business as usual”…even as he was an amplification of all the dysfunction he stridently derided.

The one who most effectively woos disaffected swing-voter prevails.  And so it came to pass that Trump was the victor in a race that is won not by merit but by hype-generation.  To reiterate: In 2016, a vote for Trump was–more than anything else–a giant “fuck you” to the despised “Establishment”.  This was the case even though he was, in reality, PART OF the very socio-economic elite his fans–understandably–held in contempt.

The remarkable sway that Trump held over the wayward voter would have been–and in 2020, still would be–completely neutralized if he were up against someone who ACTUALLY WAS anti-Establishment.  (REAL populism trumps fake populism for those seeking a populist message.)  By the same token, Trump is assured another victory if he is–once again–pitted against an Establishment alternative who augers only a slightly more palatable version of business-as-usual.

More to the point: Clinton didn’t lose in 2016 because she was a woman; she lost because she’s a horrible person–a corporatist who was patronizing and–let’s not kid ourselves–cloyingly phony.  Her loyalties lay in the boardroom of Goldman Saks, not in the humble homes of the struggling working class–no matter how much hot-sauce she purportedly carried in her designer pocketbook.

And, lest we forget, a surefire way to TURN OFF a crucial segment of the electorate (wayward swing-voters in America’s hinterland) is to be obdurately “woke”–engaging in virtue-signaling shenanigans when it comes to identity politics and other boneheaded ideas culled from the p.c. catechism.

Bewilderingly, there are some who still contend that Hillary was defeated in 2016 because of “sexism”.  Such people are deliberately missing the point.  In spite of all the evidence that this obsequious consigliere of Goldman Sachs lost due to her glaring phoniness, a slew of awful policy positions, and the fact that she was a complete sell-out to the Establishment, sycophants in the corporate wing of the Democratic Party–especially those bewitched by “identity politics”–persist in their delusion about her VAGINA being the problem (with respect to those who were off-put by her).

Such wanton heedlessness is enough to take one’s breath away.

Had we waved a magic wand and physically transformed Hillary “Kissinger is my friend” Clinton into a dashing young man, she would not have gained a single vote from swing voters.  For her electoral deficit lay not with sexists; it lay with all those who found her character flaws intolerable.  This is made plain by the fact that so many life-long, highly-dedicated feminists–the author of this essay included–were so repulsed by her.  If anything, her being a woman was a BOON for those of us dreaming of a Progressive in the Oval Office.  Many were reticent to support her IN SPITE of the fact that she was female.

One can be certain that Clinton’s gender had absolutely nothing to do with her manifest delinquencies.  The fact is: Anyone who was sexist enough to not support a woman for public office (that is: FOR BEING a woman) was never going to vote for a non-Republican anyway.  The high priestess of corporate Democrats did not lose because of misogyny; she lost because of her opprobrious nature.  It wasn’t about here genitalia; it was about her scoffing at those fighting against corporate power and the military-industrial complex…even as she castigated anyone who was fighting for universal public healthcare and Palestinian rights.  Her POSITIONS made Progressives cringe.  And her flagrant establishmentarianism made swing-voters recoil.

The numbers show those who were “none of the above” broke overwhelmingly for Trump; which means that Trump’s victory was more due to enmity toward Hillary than affinity for Donald; and that if there had been a viable alternative to a buffoonish Reality TV star, then that alternative would have been elected.  In other words, just as with 2020, a potted plant would have triumphed over Trump.  Hillary’s failure was that she had less appeal than a potted plant (which, after all, would not have castigated proponents of BDS for being “anti-Semitic” while claiming to carry around hot-sauce so as to pander to African Americans).

In sum: Had Hillary been more Progressive (and more genuine), she would almost certainly have prevailed over the bumbling nincompoop that she was running against.

Fast-forward to 2020.  The overly conciliatory Sanders was no match for the DNC’s machinations.  Nor was he any match for the Establishment’s perfidious lackeys, who were hell-bent on undermining Progressivism–and thus democracy–at every turn.

Interesting fact: Never-Trump Republicans are cheering on corporate Democrats (e.g. Biden).  Why?  Because they despise Progressives (e.g. Sanders), and know that the corporate core of the Democratic party is simply Republican-lite.  This should tell us everything we need to know about the Overton Window…and how party politics breaks down.

Corporatist Democrats depend on Progressives continuing to cower on the fringes of the agora, apologizing for their rectitude each step of the way (so as not to incur the wrath of Establishment impresarios).  The fact that a free-market fundamentalist (a former CNBC drone named Michelle Caruso-Cabrera) is challenging Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the next primary tells us everything we need to know.  (Yes: One can be a free-market fundamentalist and be a “Democrat”.)  It’s bewildering how far right-wing one can be and still be in the Democratic party.  (But then again, in a country where companies like Goldman Sachs and Halliburton are still allowed to exist, anything’s possible.)

In 2020, the world contended with a highly-contagious biological pathogen (SARS corona-virus-2, cause of “CoViD-[20]19”).  Even before that, it was dealing with another kind of pandemic: the memetic pathogen known as idiocy.  It’s worth noting that, in the long term, corporatism is more deleterious to the commonweal than even the most severe of acute respiratory syndromes; for it has consequences that plague society long after a pestilence has been subdued.

Lately, elections have been plebiscites on this or that FIGURE (whichever one happened to represent the incumbent power structures; first Hillary, then Trump).  In many ways, 2020 is 2016 redux (a matter of begrudgingly selecting the less repulsive of two unpalatable options).  Whereby 2016 was Hillary vs. not-Hillary (a vote for Trump was a repudiation of the Establishment), 2020 is Trump vs. not-Trump (after the Obama and the DNC once more ousted the dreaded Bernie Sanders, a vote for Biden became the only viable way to oust Trump).  In other words, few vote based on the merit of policy positions.  Choices are primarily about who to repudiate.  So brand endorsement is the name of the game.

Just as was the case in 2016, outside of his core constituency, Trump garners support BY DEFAULT–that is: by swing-voters (esp. rural, working-class people) being repelled by the absurdities of p.c.-run-amok (read: condescending claptrap that regular people find repellent).  In this sense, the election will–once again–be a referendum on “woke” ding-bats caviling about breaches of etiquette, claiming to be “offended” by frivolous transgressions, and castigating any bystander who fails to sufficiently hew to the latest pieties.  We are reminded every decree by the impresarios of p.c. culture is extremely off-putting to level-headed people who are looking for actual virtue, not for virtue-signaling.

The lesson in 2020 is the same as it was four years earlier: p.c.-mongers shoot an otherwise noble cause in the foot by peddling their derisive nonsense instead of offering real solutions to real problems.

As it happened, the universe has a sense of irony.  The pandemic was a DEAFENING reminder of why the U.S.–or ANY country–needs universal healthcare (that is: universal access to quality, dependable medical services).  Alas, due to the terrible messaging of corporate media outlets (including MSNBC, CNN, and the New York Times), most people remain oblivious to the merits of a robust, publicly-funded healthcare system.  So at a time when it was most obvious that Bernie Sanders offered the (objectively) best policies; the credulous masses were herded–once again–into the arms of the the Establishment’s anointed plenipotentiary.

Amidst the outbreak, lessons could be learned.  Predictably, countries with the best healthcare systems (Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, etc.) handled the corona-virus outbreak the best; and the reasons for this are obvious to anyone who is paying attention.  (Italy’s faltered for other reasons–notably: an elderly population of smokers caught off-guard.)

Alas, the Democratic party is an establishmentarian party, and so continues to be dedicated to the maintenance of incumbent power structures (that is: beholden to corporate interests).  As with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden offers nothing more than business-as-usual.  Both are corporate lackeys who pay lip service to quasi-Progressive ideals.  Both are entirely about keeping up appearances without pushing for substantial structural reform.  Biden, we might recall, unabashedly supports the military industrial complex and health insurance companies (while deriding proposals for universal public healthcare).  The only prospects Biden offers is more of the same.

 

POSTSCRIPT:

Requiem For A Quixotic Endeavor

It is a lamentable truth that the United States has a very powerful right-wing party.  It’s called the Democratic party.  The only other major party is a proto-fascist cult (which currently enjoys even more power).  In a political arena where campaigns are hype-generation competitions (fueled by corporate cash), such exigencies do not bode well for the prospects of structural reform. 

Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla put it well: “Elections can be moments in which power inverts–times when large swathes of the population, heretofore invisible, are cast into voting blocs that politicians take seriously.  To ask voters to pledge their vote before being won over takes away this bargaining power–and, in turn, radically changes the electoral game.  It is the candidates’ job to win voters over, not voters’ to submit to a choice between two evils.  So if you feel like shaming someone into voting for a candidate who actively disregards their demands, consider who [and what] you’re really asking; and what’s really at stake: Of all the unwanted jobs shouldered by marginalized communities, this should not be one of them.”

To give in to the “lesser of two evils” ultimatum is to empower those who benefit most from that ultimatum.  This is Machiavellian-ism 101: Those in power will do whatever they are able to get away with.  Concession is used as further leverage for a perpetuation of the status quo.  Due to the gigantic power asymmetries, this isn’t about consensus, mutual cooperation, and (judicious) compromise; it is about those in a disadvantageous position ceding power to those with the most power, so that they can further consolidate that power. 

Those in the privileged position–be they Republicans or corporate Democrats–FEIGN compromise with Progressives.  Their conciliatory gestures is nothing more than posturing.  Any purported “concessions” are a RUSE–employed to maintain the incumbent power structures under the pretense of “doing what we can”.  Such “compromise” on the part of those holding all the cards is a FEINT; used to placate anyone who challenges them.  Meanwhile, voters are expected to marshall their voting power ONLY for damage-mitigation.  (Support whoever will do the least harm…out of the choices put forth by the Establishment.)  Anything else is a “wasted” vote.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Participants are reduced to a cadre of intellectually-castrated sycophants, who are content to croon about how “Progressive” they are even as they fail to promote any policies that are ACTUALLY Progressive.

It is up to the electorate to refuse to play this game–to say: “Enough’s enough.”  Only then will the perpetuation of this charade be brought to a halt.

When legislation is sold to the highest bidder, democracy itself becomes an illusion.  As long as policy is bought and paid for by moneyed interests, little will be done to abet the commonweal.  And as long as the government serves only those with financial power, things will continue in the same manner: an orgy of deferred quid pro quos for corporate lackeys–having served their paymasters–enjoying lucrative gigs promptly after leaving office.  Careerism and public service are mutually exclusive.  Insofar as a politician stands to personally benefit financially for supporting certain legislation, the U.S. will continue as a de facto plutocracy.

This is not so much an obituary for Progressive ideals as it is an elegy for the prospects of the Democratic Party as a dependable vessel for Progressivism.  For too long, American Progressives have thought it reasonable to work with those who were nothing but contemptuous of everything they stood for…who mocked them and scoffed at them…who did everything possible to marginalize them.

Memo to Progressives: The Democratic machine DOESN’T LIKE YOU.  In fact, it despises you.  Why?  Because it is a corporatist party to its core.  Its ramshackle “tent” is only (begrudgingly) accommodating to a Progressive caucus because the party’s mendacious leaders know that Progressives will feel obliged to go along with dubious agendas…simply to have a seat at the table.

In the current scheme, Progressives have nowhere else to go (as the only alternative is even farther to the right).  The corporate impresarios of the DNC, DLC, and DCCC are fully aware of this.  Hence the Democratic party ends up being Progressives’ go-to party BY DEFAULT…only to be blithely dismissed in the rare event they are admitted into the fold.  So long as Progressives keep capitulating to corporate Democrats, corporate Democrats will continue to be corporatists.  It’s very simple: “We don’t need to acquiesce to Progressive demands, because–at the end of the day–they’re going to vote for us anyway.”  Why?  “Just to keep the Republicans at bay.”

The Democratic Party is a place where Progressive aspirations go to die.

Enough’s enough.  It’s time that the U.S. finally–at long last–has a genuinely Progressive political party: a place that Progressives can call home.  Whether it’s called the CSP (Civil Society Party) or perhaps even the SDP (Social Democracy Party) or something else is beside the point.  For now, snazzy labels are the least of our concerns.  What the country desperately needs is an alternative to business-as-usual–that is: an alternative to parties that continue to be (inextricably) governed by corporate interests.

The moment is primed for another major political party in the United States.  Progressives should take heart; for this is a pivotal juncture–a chance for the nation’s Progressives to mobilize.  The time is ripe to create a political mechanism for galvanizing and empowering Progressives so that they will never again be forced to operate within a revanchist political machine that has no respect for them.

In a tournament governed by horse-trading in back rooms, those without the horses will not fare well.  By always putting principle over pragmatism, Progressives end up being poorly-positioned in the merciless gauntlet of endless dark money and odious power-brokers.  The solution is not remain in this predicament; it’s to refuse to play by the dubious rules that have been assigned by those who stand to benefit from the incumbent order.

As Progressives, we are hoping to triumph in a game that is rigged against us.  This is a fool’s errand.  Paying lip service is good for optics; but it only serves to FETTER Progress.

Make no mistake: optics matter.  It’s why, when looking for an iconic figure for the civil rights movement, the ACLU went with Rosa Parks instead of the pregnant teenager, Claudette Colvin.  It’s why Reagan’s “It’s morning in America” shtick worked so well, even as the sun was setting on democratic policies.  And it’s why people actually thought Rudy Giuliani was anything but a blithering idiot for a brief moment after September 11, 2001.

Perception is everything in politics.  Hence: The victor is not who has the most credibility; it’s who leaves the best impression.  It is no secret that American elections are more about brands than policies.  Rarely do voters make decisions based on what candidates will ACTUALLY DO.

Optics are especially important when it comes to American swing voters, who are mercurial and fickle.  Most base their choices on IMAGE.  Politics is perception; which is why appearances matter more than substance.  The average voter is swayed by captivating stories rather than thinking about policy (in any meticulous / serious way).  In other words, most voters are highly subject to SENTIMENT sans cognition.

Trump, like Supreme or Oprah or Goop, is just a brand.  And like ANY branding scheme, it is a manufactured aura that determines how well it fairs in an interminably fickle marketplace–a marketplace in which superficiality reigns (while merit is largely beside the point).  The illusion of participatory democracy is sustained even as participatory mechanisms are dismantled.  This amounts to political theater; wherein the APPEARANCE of deliberative democracy is upheld even as it is rendered inert.  The polis is not a civically-engaged Demos; it is little more than a constantly amused AUDIENCE.  Hence the point is not to SERVE the citizenry; it is to PLACATE the citizenry.

Meanwhile, shorn of their support from the Left, corporate Democrats can migrate to the place where they truly belong: in cahoots with their brethren in the G.O.P.  Let the Democratic party disintegrate.  And with a truly Progressive party, there will be no more need for a Green party or a Working Families party or a party for democratic socialists.  There would be no more need for a black caucus or Latino caucus…or, for that matter, ANY caucus that feels the need to exist simply to uphold civil rights for this or that marginalized community.  We have learned over and over again, mere caucusing is not enough in an environment where gargantuan party machines have all the leverage.

As things now stand, the Democratic party is a place for those who are not racist or homophobic or misogynistic, yet are nevertheless fiscally conservative and kow-tow to corporate interests at every turn.  It is no surprise, then, that party managers routinely neglect to put forth bold policies that would ACTUALLY help the people they purport to represent.  If you want no substantive change yet enjoy tweaking things at the fringes, and you sometimes like to pay lip-service to Progressive ideals, then the Democratic party is a marvelous fit.  But is that where our highest aspirations should end?  When the mildly liberal Barack Obama is considered magnificently Progressive, we might suspect that something is amiss.

There must be a political party that is dedicated to healthcare as a public service; to a Green New Deal; to publicly-funded elections; to the elimination of the revolving door between public office and lucrative corporate gigs; to dismantling the obscenely bloated military-industrial complex; to truly progressive taxation; to reigning in of the financial services industry; and to implementing DEMAND-side economic policy–which means robust investment in basic public infrastructure and in vital social services.  There must be a party dedicated to upholding human rights around the world–from Palestine and Kurdistan to Xin-jiang and Tibet.  It would give voice to these positions, forcing the corporate (a.k.a. “mainstream”) media to pay attention in a way that the Democratic party never would.

No more pandering to corporate interests, to religious fundamentalists, to the gun lobby, to Agri-business, to Wall Street, or to those who want to privatize everything under the sun.  It’s high time we bring an end to money in politics; and stymie the more flagrant dysfunctions of unbridled capitalism.  After all, the systemic dysfunction we endure comes primarily from conflicts-of-interest–a racket that is enabled by a consecrated system of legalized graft.  The country desperately needs a party that is categorically immune to this on-going political sham.

The CSP will unabashedly promote Progressive ideals.  It will champion Progressive causes irrespective of how politically inconvenient that might be.  It will unwaveringly support Progressive candidates, and ONLY Progressive candidates, regardless of how much push-back it gets.  It will do so consistently and effectively; and without apologizing.  It will be dauntless rather than craven.  It will not shy away from insolence.  It will not cower and dissemble in the face of corporate power.

The CSP won’t railroad people like Al Franken out of Congress.  It won’t deride the likes of Zephyr Teachout, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Kshama Sawant, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, Jessica Cisneros, Cori Bush, Mckayla Wilkes, Shahid Buttar, Marie Newman, Jamaal Bowman, and Bernie Sanders…while singing the praises of Henry Kissinger.  It will be more aligned with Progressive advisors like Nina Turner, Briahna Joy Gray, Nazita LaJevardi, and David Sirota; or Progressive commentators like Jimmy Dore, Kyle Kulinsky, Krystal Ball, and Cenk Uygur.  In other words: It will be a party for GENUINE PROGRESSIVES.

It won’t castigate those who eschew AIPAC and participate in BDS.  It won’t staff cabinets with lackeys from the boardroom of Goldman Sachs.  Instead, it will harken back to 20th-century Progressives like, say, Iowa’s Henry Wallace.  It will honor the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and Noam Chomsky…and Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges.  It will operate in the tradition of, say, Angela Davis and Ralph Nader rather than engage in the “triangulation” of Bill Clinton.

The (rare) victory of Progressive Illinois congresswoman, Marie Newman in March 2020 was–unfortunately–an anomaly.  She won not BECAUSE OF the Democratic machine, but IN SPITE OF it.  That fact alone speaks volumes.  In a truly Progressive party, she would be the norm, not the occasional felicitous aberration.

A truly Progressive party would not be off-putting to wayward swing-voters in America’s hinterland in the way that the Democratic party so often is.  It would not chastise the non-urbane for not being politically correct; or turn its nose up at the working class for being insufficiently “woke”…or make the white working class feel guilty for not having been born into the right demographic.  The credibility of any given figure will be determined exclusively by their policy positions.

Progressives don’t need a party that will be congenial and deferential; they need a party that will be irascible and indomitable.  Propriety is no surrogate for probity.  Progressives need a party that will go to bat for them; and play hardball.  But a party truly dedicated to the commonweal will not just go to bat for its supporters; it will go to bat for the rank and file: for everyone who is not a plutocrat.

Are there formidable barriers-to-entry for a third party?  Of course.  It is well-known that even the stupendously popular Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t achieve the feat with the Bull Moose party.  But that was over a century ago.  It’s the 21st century now; and the possibilities are limited solely by the magnitude of our determination.  As the older generation passes on, a new generation is rising.  We can only be thwarted by the dearth of our own resolve.

The American political system is broken, but it doesn’t need to be.  In 2024, the presidential election needs to have a viable THIRD choice: a non-right-wing alternative that is impossible for the Establishment to ignore.  Then, and ONLY then, will Progressives hold sway in the halls of power.  2020 was not a death-knell; it was a wake-up call.

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