We shouldn’t be having to deal with this. The estimated climate catastrophe deadline is three years from now. Most of the country is regressing into a third world lifestyle as we sit on probably the biggest market and debt bubbles in history. The U.S. military empire is escalating its wars while preparing for a new one that clearly involves Russia. The Trump administration is slowly turning into a dictatorship, most recently with its practice of reading adoring letters from Trump fans at press briefings. At the same time, we have an opportunity to unite amid crisis and build a peaceful, egalitarian society that transcends the dying old systems-if we can overcome this absurd push to save those systems that’s appeared in the self-described political center.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Why Clintonism Failed
The most popular explanation I see thrown around for why many people continue to side with leaders or institutions that work against their interests is cognitive dissonance, the phenomenon of humans shutting out facts when they contradict their beliefs. This is a good enough diagnosis, but the term cognitive dissonance has another definition that applies to this situation: the phenomenon of our brains having to confront ambiguity.
And ambiguity is a good way to describe one’s experience in this era of collapse. The specter of a gradually changing landscape as the planet gets warmer has often been perceived as eerie, and the same applies to every other aspect of the current decline; as buildings and infrastructure deteriorate from economic dysfunction, cultural norms drift toward authoritarianism and unreason, and larger factors like world events and the climate destabilize, the effect is one of a slow and haunting transformation into dystopia.
Some respond to this decay by going into self-destructive fantasies. Others choose to face it head-on. And then there’s the truly most cognitively dissonant facet that simply ignores the encroaching hubris of society’s bad decisions, that views any suggestion to overhaul the system as absurd annoyances and ignores all signs that the system is failing. Such an outlook has always been present in arrogant and unsustainable empires like our own. But Clintonism is an appropriate term for it in this instance, as its namesake is the one who brought about its ultimate, disastrous consequences last year.
This isn’t a thesis against Clintonism, because it’s already dwindled to something too scarcely accepted for that to be necessary. For all of David Brock’s scheming, Clintonism is no longer able to gain much electoral power, and it’s no sure thing representative democracy will survive to 2020 anyway. But as we wait for things to become too overwhelmed by war, authoritarian spasms, and economic disaster for Clintonism’s remaining adherents to be able to focus on things like Bernie Sanders’ tax returns (which, it’s apparently necessary to say, he did release), let’s take another look at its story. Because that’s how we can learn not to repeat it.
As I said, there’s nothing special about the perpetrators of American collapse-they’re as self-focused and detached from reality as the elites of any failed historical empire. (They’re just in charge of by far the largest empire in human history). But it’s interesting to point to where they really started to lose touch, which in America’s case was around a half century ago.
Alarming power grabs had been going on for decades up to that point, mainly in the unparalleled expansion of U.S. military power after World War II. It was at a certain point, maybe not coincidentally a full generation after the power structure gave its partial concession with the New Deal, that the takeovers began to escalate-the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, the return of then outmoded practices like solitary confinement, and the neoliberal turn of the Democratic Party and politics in general all came during the seventies.
The elite’s decision to do these things supposedly involved many factors, but what it came down to, as we’re all suspecting, is the overconfidence one can get while leading a seemingly collapse-immune empire. The fact that fatal actions were being taken must also have been distracted from by how those actions varied within the two major parties, with Democrats having fallen into appeasing their narrow new base in the professional class and Republicans having become an almost openly hostile force towards the poor and people of color. The empire was declining, but at least its factions could satisfyingly spar with each other.
Underlying all of this was a sense of contempt and condescension for those being victimized by the new economic system. While bland efforts were made to claim serving the wealthy would benefit everyone, disdain for the poor and authoritarian allegiance to the rich was naturally one of the tactics the neoliberals used, such as with the demonization of “welfare queens.” This rhetoric, which was less openly embraced by the Democrats who helped Reagan pass his tax cuts and deregulations, stung the downtrodden in the nastiest way possible. This was illustrated in how by the late eighties, trust in government had gone from around 75% since its peak twenty years before to around thirty points lower than that. (It’s now around 20%.)
And no matter that this resentment was starting to manifest in darkly cathartic outlets like white supremacist groups, which notably grew in the corporatism-pummeled Rust Belt during the Reagan recession. Now it was time to look to the Clintons for assurance that a dynamic of late stage Rome-level inequality was only sensible. While Republicans grew further detached from reality in the early nineties with their new campaign against environmentalism, the left was made largely complicit with the progressing corporate coup. Liberals idolized Clinton as he expanded neoliberal trade, exploded mass incarceration, consolidated the media, deregulated Wall Street, and overall crushed anything resembling a sensible political presence. With a self-appointed center like that, it’s no wonder many were turning to backwoods militia groups and bizarre far right conspiracy theories around that time.
While this form of Clintonism was especially noxious, having created a facet of self-identified progressives that to this day vehemently deny or even excuse the corporatist and militarist actions of their leaders, the intense focus I’ve put on it throughout my writing career has been somewhat overkill. Something like it was to be expected when the empire started on a downward spiral, and it’s mainly been just the enabler of the even more radically destructive things the Republican right has done.
By the time the Bush administration (with the help of a crucial amount of House and Senate Democrats) had invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, begun to build a surveillance state, and further normalized authoritarianism under a tapestry of government lies and post-9/11 nationalism, people were for some reason feeling angrier than ever. More than a third of the country was below the poverty line, nearly one in a hundred Americans were incarcerated, and everyone was in some way feeling the effects of a historic imperial binge and a planet that had warmed by almost one degree Fahrenheit.
All as elites continued to beat down on and openly mock the concerns of this dynamic’s victims. This was demonstrated by countless statements from conservatives about poverty always being the fault of the poor, and post-2004 election dispatches from Clintonism’s architects about how those who’d been pummeled by recent Democratic policies should stop complaining and accept the “future-oriented” Clintonist ideology.
And no matter that the downtrodden were reacting to this by embracing wild conspiracy theories, looking to end times preachers, and accepting the Islamophobic and anti-immigrant turn that conservative politics had taken. Then was the time to expand on the ruling class’ propaganda machine by forming a coordinated neoliberal Democrat echo chamber. Then to respond to the crisis Clinton’s deregulations had created by propping up the neoliberal system with one trillion dollars. Then to pour Wall Street cash into the exciting 2008 iteration of a deteriorating social order that kept itself amused with partisan competitions.
When the fun was over, we had to finally confront the seismic fractures that had appeared below society’s facades, particularly the one that involved how we no longer had enough real capital to keep extracting the resources behind our industrial living arrangements. And only a few of us did. The rest preferred to focus on things like the president’s birth certificate, scapegoats for the president’s failures to bring change, and pretty much everything else related to the personality that most had just foolishly assumed represented a solution.
So the collapse carried right on. By 2014, the official poverty rate had become nearly half, with the big banks controlling more of the economy than ever and the administration’s tax cut extensions, corporatist health care reforms and neoliberal trade deals granting elites the largest upward wealth transfer in history. The oligarchs also had unprecedented control over law enforcement and public discourse, with corporate executives having been directly colluding with America’s intelligence agencies since 2005 and the CIA having been able to send psy op agents as of 2013. Yet in the last few years, many Silicon Valley and Wall Street billionaires have been preparing for some kind of doomsday event, with them building luxury survival bunkers, staking out rural land, and stocking up on essential materials.
And the populous shared their worries, though from a very different angle. The outpour of activity in reactionary groups, craving for the messages of far right pundits, and often unconstructive hatred for established institutions that’s happened throughout the 2010’s didn’t appear because demagogues were suddenly much more skilled. This is what happens when people, after being driven in large numbers to drugs and suicide by the destitution the system has put them in, are told by elites that they have nothing to complain about.
Those elites’ response to this all boiling over was predictable. Even the beltway media material that acknowledged the masses’ mood was presented in a glibly sterile fashion, like the cable news quip at one point that there was “deep-seated resentment.” Otherwise the consensus was that the masses were mislead into rebelling by overly pessimistic rhetoric, as was grumpily assessed by the Washington Post during the height of its attacks on the Sanders campaign. (This meme was reinforced by the like-minded establishment Republicans that joined team Hillary after Trump was nominated, who can be considered Clintonists as well in that they too favor the old political paradigm).
Conventional academia served as another outlet of comfort for establishment loyalists who were staring their hubris in the face. Such types liked to cite that neoliberal trade was supported by the “overwhelming majority of economists” (also taken from the Post) and that a study showed most Trump supporters weren’t technically lower class (yet economics, as the Trump Rust Belt victories ultimately proved, didn’t seem like such a small issue).
The other affirmations that nothing threatening was going on came from within the oligarchical palace itself, particularly the Clinton campaign. “Donald Trump Thinks America is a Third World Country,” read one of the bulletins on HillaryClinton.com in proud disagreement with the studies which show that for most Americans, third world is indeed the new normal. Then there was the slogan of “America is already great,” which was unlikely to persuade the mentioned majority.
It’s no surprise that the only way this affair could survive past spring 2016 was by having Clinton allies in the state Democratic parties and governments quietly suppress or flip Bernie Sanders votes in numerous primary contests. Nor that the Clinton camp’s fallback after WikiLeaks revealed just one small part of the heist they’d pulled to get the nomination was a shift towards elaborate and unhinged McCarthyite rhetoric. The political establishment’s year-long fixation on Russia, in addition to of course serving as a propaganda tool and a springboard for ousting the independently imperialist Putin, represents a nation that’s preferring to put the blame for its looming failures on an old and handy scapegoat. And as we’ll continue to see, the nation’s failures have caught up no matter where the blame is put.
When judgement day came, the Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan voters who were being falsely polled to want to win the election for Clinton found themselves in a situation where reason didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. In the past few decades, they’d seen their neighborhoods fall to pieces because of the economist-approved trade deals. They’d seen many in their area lose family members or come from overseas with crippling mental and physical illness because of the wars that Clinton supporters liked to ignore their leader’s role in. They-by which I mean not just those who voted but those who declined to vote-had seen things strain to a breaking point from the order that Clinton represented, and they saw that she and her allies had no intention of taking responsibility.
Stop complaining. Listen to the experts. None of your concerns mean anything. You need to get with the program and stay in line. This was what were hearing from Clintonism, and then there was the promise of at least some kind of change. What do you think could have happened next?
Do I share some of the blame for the story’s conclusion? Perhaps, since in mid-October last year, at the point where Trump’s victory seemed like an impossibility, I wrote a piece called Why Clintonism Will Fail. A detailed chronicle of my catastrophic expectations for the inevitable Hillary Clinton presidency, it turned into my most widely read article at the time and probably flipped a few votes against Clinton-despite its tepid conclusion that a Trump presidency would be worse.
Was I right in such an assessment? That’s the question people will seemingly be debating for as long as the 2016 election is brought up. In either case we’ve entered a new paradigm since then. While we aren’t so far in the post-apocalypse that was expected for a Trump presidency, a lot has changed when you add it up: some Muslims if not all Muslims are banned from traveling because if their religion; cameras and disfavored journalists are barred from White House press conferences, which have lately taken to letting in white supremacist reporters; immigration officials are now encouraged to take on unusually aggressive and cruel tactics in detaining the undocumented; several states are having the personal information of their voters examined by the administration for reasons not hard to guess; and there’s a general effort from Trump and his aides to strong arm their way to ever more power.
And while the times of successful uprising in response to these developments are fun while they last, we all know what’s coming next: at some point there will be a large terrorist attack on the U.S, or the sudden start of a war, or an economic crash (perhaps set off by the epic debt ceiling reckoning we seem to be headed for this fall), and the administration will use it to seize total authority while wildly destabilizing world events. The “shock doctrine” of exploiting dramatic occurrences for political gain has always been used by aspiring dictators, and the Trump team seems to be happily waiting for a chance to do so on a large scale. This must be one of the reasons Trump, for all his neoliberal zeal, wasn’t favored by most of the ruling class; with Clinton, the elites wouldn’t have to move into their bunkers so soon.
Speaking of whom, I think I’ve figured out why so many are still attacking Hillary: it’s because she was the nail in the coffin, the final factor in our declining empire’s path to fascism and collapse. Yes, the arrogance and elitism of the political establishment she hailed from is what got the plurality of the population to accept a nasty fight to the societal death.
But while she and the rest of the establishment need to take responsibility, so, in a sense, do the rest of us. They wouldn’t have been able to ruin things in the first place if more ordinary people had stayed engaged and active in civic life, instead of waiting for things to reach the current crisis point to start doing so. There will always be corrupt lame-os that try to take oligarchical control, and we can stop the Hillarys of the world from doing further damage by creating a culture that centrally encourages political action.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
A criticism of the let’s-point-out-late-night-comedy’s-hypocrisy genre which alternative media writers have occasionally embraced is that we’re not exposing hypocrisy where it matters. Why focus on the problems with how comedians talk about politics, as they’re so comparatively harmless? And why demand they provide such far-reaching and incisive material-they’re comedians, after all.
We do this because these talk show hosts, like any other given unfortunate facet of our time, are representatives of the larger dynamics that bring things ever closer to calamity. Want a fun-sounding avenue to vapidly distract yourself from the world’s crises? Want to act routinely amused by sleekly presented propaganda? Want an affirmation that the systems and cliques you’ve invested yourself in are good to stay with? Then turn on what one of my fellow critics in this area Loren Zoae calls the Celebrity Clowns.
No one should have assumed the political comedians wouldn’t become status quo mouthpieces after the major media was put in the ownership of a few large corporations. But the result has been too painful not to comment on. In what’s passed off as ironic and folksy observations about the world’s problems, modern late night “left-leaning” comedy presents politics through a lens that’s wholly distorted by the beltway views of the network bosses. The optics are a disconcerting vision of rich people in suits standing on a stage in front of millions, selling power-serving propaganda with the frame of satire and witticism.
I’ve cited enough examples in past articles about how the late night comedians serve the power structure; their smacking down of third parties, their aggressive pushing of the Russia narrative; their active efforts to bury the election fraud in last year’s primaries. I’d like to focus here on the template they provide for how we’re collectively dragging ourselves to collapse.
Which is to say by seeking out comfort at whatever cost. The trick the Celebrity Clowns use, like that of the ruling class’ other surrogates, is to make their followers feel righteous in sticking with the established system. To the uproarious applause of the studio audience and the praise of headlines, these performers “destroy” the designated villains while building up a sense of satisfaction among anyone who goes with the designated heroes. We’re made to feel good about ourselves as we nod to the denunciations of Russia, of Trump, of the unreasonable leftists who point out Trump wouldn’t even be a subject if we’d addressed our problems instead of trying to start a war with Russia.
Oh right, our problems. Like how virtually every aspect of daily life, from the computer I’m typing this on to the society I’m typing it about, has become overseen by a handful of corporations and billionaires. Like how the authorities that keep this arrangement enforced have become powerful on a dictatorial level in recent decades, having gained the ability to spy on every citizen, dominate both parties, steal any election, send psy op agents into any media outlet, and imprison or torture anybody who too directly opposes them. Like how as a result of this, we’re on the brink of World War Three among bigger catastrophes.
Also like how in spite of the confidence about the future the ruling class likes to profess, even our leaders and institutions know they can’t be relied upon. In recent years more and more of the super rich, including the man behind all those power-serving Washington Post headlines Jeff Bezos, have been preparing for the breakdown of society as we know it, eking out rural land on which to build luxury survival bunkers while stocking up on essential resources. Don’t let the smug proclamations of the Deep State’s surrogates fool you; even the elites know their system is close to failing.
So sure, the pundits I complain about rightly focus on the Trump administration’s destructive policies. But since they rarely, if ever, comment on the kinds of larger issues I mentioned, their effect is similar to that of the “four legs good, two legs bad” slogan from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Which is a story where the pig who’s enslaved the other animals on the farm deflects from his regime’s own oppression by rightly bringing up how the humans oppress animals-and gets the farm’s sheep to endlessly chant “four legs good, two legs bad.”
Then let’s find where to really look to for progressive leadership. Bernie Sanders? I love him of course, but he’s become too involved within the system to be a defining revolutionary authority. The alternative media writers? We’re freestyling this as much as you are. The best authority to trust is ultimately the authority of one’s own spirit, the urge that those in this movement inherently have to challenge injustice and try to make the world more compassionate. Listen to that, and the talking heads have no influence.
Thursday, July 13, 2017
We are all guilty of denying the realities that imperil our species’ future. We all resist considering that things are headed for what it reasonably looks like they are, that a free society and industrial civilization and even human existence have a real possibility of soon coming to an end. The ruling class feeds on this attitude. As the direct creators of the dynamics that are pulling us to collapse, the corporate and political elite have had to develop an extreme version of it-and naturally try to instill the same worldview on ordinary people. Through everything from climate change denial propaganda to the false unemployment numbers the government gives us, an American culture of false security and permanence is maintained.
The facet that voted in our current, ultra-reactionary government has in a lot of ways fallen the most victim to this cognitive dissonance. Yet its extreme embrace of the things that are driving us to collapse-its enthusiasm for rampant business deregulation, its eagerness to see the fossil fuel industry thrive, its yearning for a fractious racial and religious conflict-reflects a twisted kind of awareness to the crisis we’re facing. Trump won by taking advantage of the mood so many have that our society is in decay, making his supporters’ decisions a dark and self-destructive way of confronting their anxiety that things can’t last. No, those who want to see the world burn aren’t the most oblivious to what we’re facing. That would be the establishment liberals.
It’s an impressive thing to see. At a point where scientists have just said we have three years to prevent the kinds of climate changes that will raise sea levels ten feet by the end of the century, where the majority of the country is now living in third world conditions as the world economy edges on a crash bigger than 2008, where Russia and the U.S. are one falsely blamed attack away from war, there remains a facet that desperately wants to keep the institutions and practices behind these crises.
The dangerous thing about this worldview is that while it doesn’t necessarily reject belief in our problems, it rationalizes not addressing them. To the establishment liberal, climate change and poverty matter only when they don’t get in the way of this ideology’s top priority, which is helping the political brands, institutions and leaders that one has latched onto. When appearing “progressive,” serving the Democratic Party, and doing what Rachel Maddow says are the main things one has decided to aspire to politically, the political world becomes two dimensional, divided between righteous Democrats and everyone else.
This was an easy thing to subscribe to when America was dominated by two monolithic political parties. Then came the destabilization of the Middle East, the financial crisis, and the more day-to-day consequences of basing a society on these kinds of unquestioning allegiances to authority, and things got more complicated. Suddenly the old guard liberals had to explain why those who’d been battered for decades by their neoliberal policies should side with them over a new movement that actually offered solutions. And the fact that they’ve in most cases had to rely on their ability to rig the electoral process to keep the insurgents from now holding the presidency shows how successful they’ve been at this.
But make no mistake, we have entered volatile times in more ways than that. The old political paradigm may be quickly dying on the vine, but so is the past scenario where we could rely on governments, economic systems, and the biosphere itself to remain in place. With this in mind, the continued attempts from many to return politics to its sterile, pre-2016 state, to silence those who like to focus on the world’s problems instead of Russia and the evils of the Bernie Bros, make sense. Focusing on the inane is a good way to make the coming catastrophic changes feel like they aren’t a threat.
To which I’d say: wishing there isn’t a crisis is no reason to ignore the crisis. To remain tied in with the old institutions and cliques because it feels comfortable is at this point a willing destruction of our world. Thankfully when the inevitable happens and this situation can no longer be seen as stable in any light, society will have to focus on confronting its behavior rather than trying to save the systems that have nowhere to go but down.
Sunday, July 9, 2017
The human mind’s endless malleability is always taken into account by tyrants that want to go any further than petty bullying. Getting someone to want to be your servant is obviously more desirable than forcing them into it, so a litany of reasons are produced by elites for the hierarchy to stay in place. When you remember this aspect about how oligarchies are run, much of the population’s belief that things like endless war, mass state surveillance, and a rigged economic system are to be glorified makes more sense.
The ideological knots the elite has tied to justify the status quo come in many forms, stifling independent thought, as they’re of course also meant to do, within almost all political circles. So my emphasizing the establishment liberal aspect of this problem in the title is mainly a play to the anti-establishment crowd, whose interest is most excited these days by such critiques (perhaps because it’s most taboo to voice those critiques). And I’ll use the tyranny of the Democratic establishment as an example of the larger turn our culture has taken towards authoritarianism.
Namely, the old guard liberal groupthink, like the oligarchy’s other ideological tools, tells its adherents to reject their roles as human beings who make up a universal community of life. It says to ignore wars for profit and their genocidal consequences. It says to disregard the suffering of workers who’ve been sidelined by neoliberal trade, families of color who’ve been hurt by mass incarceration, and other victims of Democratic policies. It says to treat things like climate action and wealth redistribution as secondary or even unpragmatic goals. Its message is essentially that adhering to the clique is more important than any human or environmental realities.
This detachment is made possible by shielding ordinary people from the direct consequences of supporting the clique, so that one’s worldview can be filled in with neutralizing slogans or with nothing at all. It’s no challenge for someone that’s never seen for themselves the tragedy and slaughter that our current foreign policy model causes on a daily basis to say interventionism is just a word. It doesn’t feel wrong for someone that’s never had to experience the all-encompassing miseries of poverty to call a living wage and universal health care unpragmatic.
Better still, people don’t need to be convinced to support something if they’re unaware it’s even there. Most of the time I’ve seen pro-establishment liberals explain their support for a neoliberal and imperialist entity by simply denying it represents those things, and for understandable reasons; Democrats are the most likely group to trust news outlets like CNN and MSNBC, which naturally avoid covering such subjects. This gap in historical knowledge is no coincidence; DNC officials are revealed to have written “the best way to do that is to keep the people ignorant” in the context of hiding Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street ties.
I could go on for a hundred paragraphs about how the empathy instinct is crushed by elites, in this case summarily through the establishment liberal echo chamber started by Podesta, Maddow, and others ten years ago, and the program the CIA has had since 2013 of sending secret agents into media outlets. But that wouldn’t answer the question of why this has all come to be.
Human beings have become uncaring for each other and for the natural world because they see things through the distortions of privileged modern life, where the experience of the less fortunate is witnessed impersonally and the biosphere looks like something separate. They’ve not noticed these objectively very clear illusions because pundits, politicians and certain academics have learned to affirm this into a useful ideology of detachment and ignorance.
These authority figures have been able to do this because, ultimately, we’ve let them gain such a voice. The oligarchical takeovers of the last half century, as well as so many of history’s injustices, would have been avoided if more ordinary people had stayed engaged and active in shaping history’s course-instead of only doing so in times of crisis as they are now. It’s disingenuous to act like these problems are purely the fault of a handful of corrupt politicians and businessmen; a certain small facet of humanity will always have the urge to take oligarchical control, and it’s our job to continually stop them from doing so.
This isn’t to be self-righteous, as I, like most others, have only been very politically involved since the inauguration. But I hope you consider it, and use it as a motivator for teaching young people or anyone else to make politics and current events a central part of their daily existence. If we create a culture that values the world around us in such a way, something like this won’t be able to happen again.