Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal,”
– Donald J. Trump, tweet
“The mood of the country has been more poisonous that this; at the time of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970, and again in the run-up to the Iraq War. Worse, yes; but it has never been crazier.”
– David Bromwich, London Review of Books, 24 October 2019
I. The Combatants
The President of the United States urges Republicans to get tougher and fight an illegitimate impeachment. It seems we may soon have to choose which side we are on in our deep cultural divide. The President’s long game may be to take the whole issue to the Supreme Count where another Gore/Bush decision will come down. Much will fester during this wait.
But if a civil war were to come if Trump wins or if Trump loses the election or a Supreme Court battle, this war wouldn’t have a casus belli anything like ending slavery. Never Trump and Forever Trump are very sad casus belli, although they would feed the ego of Trump. Given that, it would still be a humiliating and disgusting episode in American history, were that to come.
What brand of Republican would be fighting what brand of Democrat? Or would it be the Trumpians rebelling against the tyranny of the Never Trumpians? Perhaps it would be a religious war: those fighting on the side of abortion and LGBTQ rights lining up against those who have made Jesus their personal savior?
Reasons, not forthcoming, aside we can yet see the battle lines joined on a level of passions. Liberals retain the old tax and spend/baby killing on demand profile, taking from working Americans and giving to lazy shirkers and on the way killing babies. The profile grows darker: gay marriage, gender choice, LGBTQ rights, amnesty to illegal aliens, open borders, confiscation of guns, cars, cattle, Jesus, Robert E. Lee and white privilege.
The “extreme Left” and Progressives have a thinner profile: Communists.
Republicans have not been labelled so colorfully by Democrats because both share a deep respect for the continuous growth of profit. The differences regarding what to do with the consequences of a rapacious economic system have not been sufficient for Democrats to paint a damning portrait of Republicans. That’s been the case until Bernie Sanders, a class warrior not silenced by those who have made this label synonymous with traitor, terrorist, Communist.
The splinter Trump faction now both tormenting and keeping the Republican Party alive is colorfully stereotyped by Liberals and Progressives. Donald J. Trump led them to this profile simply by being elected the 45th President of the United States. What sort of voter would vote for a man who during the campaign aroused anger and hate, racism, bigotry and misogyny, who had 25 women accusing him of sexual misconduct, who refused to pay hundred of workers, who nastily ridiculed his opponents?
The profile then of the Trumpian placed both ignorance and stupidity at the top of the list, followed by racist, bigoted, misogynist and homophobic. In brief, if you voted for Trump, you were a troglodyte with a gun.
For these two stereotypified factions to clash, American culture would have to stop pulsating like a nerve end on opioids. Because we interface in cyberspace to a greater extent every day and that alternate reality makes second by second change its métier, we cannot expect a passionate clash now will remain in our digitalized memory banks.
Although there is no clarity to what might be the casus belli of a coming civil war, there is clarity to the history taking us to where we are now.
It deserves to be summarized if we are to position ourselves reliably in our 2020 election decisions.
II. The Journey to Where We Are Now
The Dow Jones didn’t cross the 1000 mark until 1972. Savings accounts paid 8% and so no one was pushed into the stock market. The market climbed when Reagan replaced a reliable income based on wages with speculative investment, which spurred the growth of the financial sector.
Working for wages and savings accounts with reputable returns were replaced by investing in a stochastic market and pipe dreams of a bottom 40% starting a business. Profiteers of Viet-nam with loads of money to invest in the tax friendly environment that Reagan created replaced the now diminished “working class hero,” the lunch pail, GI Joe who with the help of the G.I. Bill, the unionizing victories of John L. Lewis and Walter Reuter, among many others, shaped a middle class.
Economic theory set up market rule as the horse driving the cart of egalitarian democracy. It drove that cart right into plutarchy. Labor failed to set up its own political party and suffered the consequences, until by the time Bill Clinton was in office the assaults on workers and wages meant very little in a Democratic Party focused on leaning into neoliberal economics and soon into multicultural and identity politics. At a time when wages hadn’t gone beyond 1973 levels, Democrats were concentrating on bathroom rights.
By 2004, the effects of market rule, of making interest and dividends from investment a fulfillment of the American dream as money compounded into ever increasing amounts of money, siloed from any injurious taxation, some 80% of the population were hurting but also befuddled, rather like someone in a dark closet being hit but blind to who the hitter might be.
Obama’s “Yes, We Can!” met the emotional needs of this suffering class, which like the big skies of Montana do not pay the grocery bills. It was as passionate an attachment to voters as Trump was to achieve 12 years later, the passions though being diametrically opposed. Obama was at first not aware of the conditions on the ground, of the battle he was in but when awareness arrived, he leaned into the Clintonian affinities with neoliberalism. He put all his eggs into health care, a consequence of something and not the root cause, a symptom of an economic travesty he failed to recognize.
When it became crystal clear after the Great Depression of 2017 that a runaway financial sector had played a long grift on the whole country but paid no price, both Dubya and Obama assuring that no felon would be indicted, the price to be paid was forwarded to the present in the shape of this 40% who want that whole whatever it was that wrecked their lives to be taken apart.
The failure over the course of eight years of a Democratic presidency to focus directly and totally on market rule’s demolishing of a middle class that buffered the country from a fall into plutarchy made the country vulnerable to an autocratic takeover. It should be no surprise that the American version of an autocratic demagogue would be some sort of spin, spectacle and glitz celebrity, perhaps a Reality TV celebrity, a clown in orange wig and makeup, the American version of an autocrat. We go hyperreal as naturally as tides follow the moon.
Some 80% of the population has been in various stages of demolishment since Reagan and they have solid reasons for messing with the Democratic/Republican order of things, something that Trump does to his followers’ cheers.
Sixteen years of Clinton and Obama did nothing to end this travesty: Five Americans have as much wealth…. It’s an astonishing failure. Wages sank beneath inflation as corporate decisions not to raise them faced no challenge by diminished unions or Republican legislatures. Clinton and Obama adopted the same view of unions as did the Republicans: they were run by gangsters and impeded economic growth.
Our politics pretends to be pitching from two different directions but it’s not.
It’s been a profits first, Market Rule one party system since Reagan. Until Bernie Sanders came on the scene, there has been no attack on unbridled capitalism that was launched by Democrats, who have a New Deal behind them while the Republicans have Reagan’s Voodoo economics.
The DNC undermined Bernie’s chances to win the 2016 Democratic Primary because his platform touched a third rail that they share with Republicans. Bernie dared to attack capitalism. Elizabeth Warren has more cleverly planned her attack now, admitting she is a “capitalist to the bone,” by which she means a foundational capitalism and not the politically uncontrollable Devourer Demogorgon that it has become.
III. Where We Are Now
We should, by now have reached the point in the road in which we try to avoid the worst in us being encouraged or elected into office. We should be able to recognize when we’re being incited to riot, to hate, to drown out other voices, to be ready to do “whatever is necessary” as if there was ever a justifying end.
Passions are not reasons, but actually devoid of reason. And, as passions do, they have a short fuse life span. Volatile emotional responses must be rekindled, stoked and fired up, sometimes with a tweet in the early morning hours. Buttons must be pushed and re-pushed in a society that effervesces at nano speed.
Donald J. Trump has obliged this need, although it’s clear that he’s digging what he calls the Losers into a hole they can only get out of if they don’t respond to all the buttons of irrational response.
And we must admit that some productions of our reptilian brain, of the darker devils of our humanity, the twisted tree of our nature from homophobia and racism to misogyny and every variety of ethnic and religious prejudice have deep roots. Neither Marx nor Adam Smith have cured the disease at these roots; neither the Bible or the Koran, Sophocles or Shakespeare, prosperity gospel preacher, Paula White or Lao Tzu, Jeff Bezos or Pierre Joseph-Proudhon. A political or economic solution to the worst in us is itself a kind of hubris.
We have been deterred and detoured from reaching that point in the road where we recognize how democracy has moved to plutocracy, and how the White House is now occupied by a man who broadcasts his vileness on Twitter.
Detoured from reason, perhaps, because our Market Rule pushes the same buttons while ridiculing and extracting efforts to educate, to inform and critically think, politics is not going to follow the path of rational dialogue, but those advertising, marketing and branding practices that pitch low to reach the many.
Confused and confounded, perhaps, because we spend so much time in a cyberspace alternate reality in which all our blindness and stupidities, all our thoughtlessness and baseless opinions find a welcoming home. Errant minds can easily find there other misguided, errant wanderers in a digital world, a confused, tangled world, curated in soundproof silos.
It’s a space new, except to those who have been born within it and the “off-line”world, and so how it affects our politics is something we are in the process of learning. Our elections. Yes. The President’s hold on his followers. Yes. The rise of neo-fascist/white supremacist groups. Yes. The failure of 4th and 8th graders to pass reading comprehension tests. Yes.
My assumption in this last tragedy is that social media, texting and tweeting and posting photos are productive if the goal is to reduce the cognitive faculties of a mass of people scheduled for extinction axiomatically by techno-semio capitalism. In this scenario, the Smartphone is a handheld soma tablet.
We would not be urged to just read the transcript of Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky in order to conclude with the President that it was a “perfect” call if the American public were able to find meaning in words resistant to spin and alternative meanings. Or, more precisely, we are at a place where words mean as Humpty Dumpty said they mean: “What any speaker says they mean.” Speakers in position of power, as our friend Humpty presumes himself to me, want words to bend to their will.
But all is not spun and manufactured in spite of the fact that we live in a morass of mindless opinions.
In our present looming shadow of war among ourselves, there are legitimate grievances, anger and worn out patience, a lingering sense of having been cheated that has been in search of some relief since Reagan activated a collapse of a middle class and headed us toward a new Middle Ages. So many have been in search of a personality who could make them feel good about themselves again. I say personality and not ideas because America personalizes, it doesn’t theorize.
Donald J. Trump filled that role of watchable personality but remember passions not reasons led a forever unknown number of the 40% of the population to him. A red hat with a slogan does not necessarily mean racist or even “un-woke.” It doesn’t mean Burke style conservative or Friedman style neoliberal or Clinton style globalist. We have warring camps of not ideas but red baseball hats and rainbow flags.
Another unknown portion of the Republican Party has reasons to stay with Trump, dollars and cents reasons. One has to allow that very many Democratic portfolio holders who shout “Never Trump” will in the privacy of the voting booth vote for dollars and cents reasons.
The portfolio dividend class, which spans both parties, will have thought deeply about what, say, a President Elizabeth Warren will do to their stock portfolio.
Perhaps, their perception that this man, President Trump, is a very low form of life and that another four years of him will put the country where the climate is, that is, on an irreparable road to ruin, propel them to vote for a woman who has a plan to reverse what Ronald Reagan did in two terms as president, i.e., fashion a Winner/Loser culture, serfs and peasants/aristos and moguls and schedule the middle class for extinction. As the saying goes, I wouldn’t hold my breath for this.
There is only one way most likely that would bring the portfolio class of Trump supporters over to Warren’s side: a promise not to mess with their wealth amassing arrangements.
Warren won’t do this and neither would Bernie. For all the rest, notably Biden and Buttigieg, they have to signal that, except for a few tweaks, the sort of “free enterprise” that has made five individuals more prosperous than 50% of the entire population will be preserved. That order of things, which suits a top 1% and the next 20% meritocratic/professional class that serves them, can go on relatively undisturbed.
Mayor Pete, after all, is a perfect product of this chosen meritocratic means to preserve our egalitarian democracy. Sarcasm aside, it’s a terrible means given the fact that our societal level playing field is about as level as it was in France before their revolution. For every American born into the bottom quintile who rises up the meritocratic ladder and avoids imprisonment, there are multitudes who compost right in the lowly digs where they started.
It doesn’t matter if in the next quarter century, the middle class changes from white dominant to race-plural if reading levels of African Americans and Hispanics remain the same. And judging by the direction education is taking under DeVoss, but more significantly, the way in which investors see education as a new marketing frontier, a race-plural middle class will not climb the meritocratic ladder as Mayor Pete has.
The circumstances that enabled his rise cannot become a template and neither can a product of such arrange the change that is needed.
Middle Class Joe Biden is also for the portfolio class a tempting alternative to Trump.
If Biden were a race horse, you could pedigree him this way: Biden out of Obama out of the Clinton’s out of Third Way out of neoliberal economics. Third Way is what an FDR kind of Democratic Party collapsed into once they decided a Democratic had to lean into the Republican political party and give capitalism its head, no pulling on the reins, otherwise the whole foundation of globalized supremacy would collapse.
Biden would be in a dead heat to out trump Trump in the key rust belt states, but if he did win, the country would wake up to find they were in the same place they were before Trump came along. And that means some new version of Trump, like Nero succeeded Caligula, is in the wings.
One problem with one or the other of these middle of the road candidates is that they won’t do much to allay the fears, hatreds, bitterness, confusions and a revolutionary’s sense of being cheated, over and over again.
A Democratic president at this time would be like a shot fired at Fort Sumter. Amend that: Elizabeth Warren would be that. The others would be Roman candles.
No moderate Democrat can moderate the furor resulting from a Trump loss, especially if he rallies his followers behind “Fraud at the Poll!”
The immediate relief a President Warren would give all the Rust Belt states is by taking away their employee and union medical benefits and asking them to queue up at the nearest Social Security Office where a Federal Government they have learned to love and trust will call their number in several hours. If they are aware of this on election day, Trump will get his second term.
Thus far, none of the Democratic candidates have a “gone viral” on YouTube celebrity status, a requirement now for our hyperreal politics as hyperreal entertainment. None now seem likely to out bluster and bullshit Trump in any debate.
Unfortunately, the candidate who has the presence and especially the gravelly, many roads travelled voice — Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown — to win over the rust belt demographic, and also charismatically school Trump in any debate, is not running. The crime here is that the DNC made no all out effort to induce him to run.
A party pitching its tent in choosing a candidate who represents every form of diversity of the population is as interested in a 66 year old white, heterosexual male candidate as they were interested in a socialist candidate in 2016.
Unfortunately, the states needed for an Electoral College win – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – may not be as attracted to a diversity candidate as the Democratic Party is. They also continue to be not overly interested in candidates who base their politics on the working class and their fall from honored or even reputable status in the U.S. It’s their identity Brown focuses on.
The only reason why we’re talking about Biden and not Sherrod Brown early on is name recognition. And that can be traced to a portfolio class’s uninterest in supporting a labor candidate. Buttigieg, who had less name recognition than Brown, seems to have no trouble pulling in funding from the financial sector, which in itself should be a warning.
IV. Over and Over Again Impeachment
Regardless of the obtuse and lackluster Democratic field, the portfolio Republicans may chance a bet on any Democrat but Warren simply because they know another four years of Donald will most certainly mean another House impeachment.
For the preservation of our balance of powers democracy, it doesn’t matter if Mitch McConnell dismisses the Articles as soon as they are brought up. What matters is getting the House’s reasons for impeachment on the record. This President was impeached but not convicted. The House doesn’t have to wait for the election. They could bring another round of impeachment charges, all those in the Mueller report as well as all those out of Trump’s own mouth.
Once Trump is not convicted in the Senate, he will not only take a victory lap, he’ll push ahead with even more flagrant abuses of executive authority. Because he is only familiar with his own understanding of anything, he remains capable of abuses that more historically savvy and informed autocrats, some as equally vile but not as ego swollen, of the past would hesitate to commit. Trump shows no signs of hesitancy; Twitter reversals are made as boldly as Twitter declarations.
How many times can Republicans dismiss all the Articles of Impeachment the House of Representative sends to them before their moral nerve is touched, when the occasion for a moral review materializes?
Actually, if there were a moral sense floating around in the Republican Party, dollars and lobbyists would guide its expression.
“Moral hazard,” for instance, is not faced when a legislator shills for a transparently mad, bad and dangerous to know president. Nor does it kick in when you survey the Trump Twitter Archive which eventually will fill a Trump Library as a terrible lesson never to be forgotten, a visit to a Holocaust library.
It’s ironic that those who have been crushed beneath “supply-side/Laffer Curve” economics look to a rich, unscrupulous capitalist as their savior. Ironic, yet again, that those who vote based on their moral obligations adhere to Trump’s “grab them by their pussy” beatitude. But irony doesn’t ring when the Reptilian brain is directing traffic.
Most of the country that David Brooks toured to gauge where The People were at regarding impeachment didn’t seem much interested. If Trump wins a second term, they will most likely remain uninterested, more interested in climate change, especially if fire, drought, flood and wind has ruined their homestead. (The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2019_
Where Donald J. Trump will take the portfolio class, the throng in red hats, the gentrifiers, the Coastals and everyone in “fly over” America in his second term will probably be where a gone wild autocrat unchecked by a Congress or by a “fake news” press or by his own intelligence community or by any of his acting cabinet appointees or by his trophy wife or by Ivanka and Jared takes him and them.
Adam Schiff may find himself under arrest; Pelosi cellmates with Hillary; Bernie and Warren held on treason charges; Bezos’s holdings shut down; The New York Times building a victim of eminent domain; the Congress abolished. And so on.
As long as the market grows and preserves the wealth of the top 20% and as long as second term President Trump entertains his followers with new targets to hate, most Americans can continue to be uninterested in the crimes committed against themselves and their country.
Winning control of the Senate and retaining control of the House is more vital in the 2020 election than who becomes president.
In that way, the inevitable abuses of power that President Trump commits in that second term will not go without impeachment and conviction.
If the second Civil War begins then one could conclude that Trump’s followers’ anger has segued into war, that passions had a sustaining force that thought could not interrupt.