Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
A reluctance by Liberals since the Reagan administration to target the wealth divide and the economics that creates it can be traced to its own investment in the maintenance of that order. Thus, the root problem of a transformation of a democratic republic into a controlling plutocratic order wearing the mask of a democratic republic continues to be eclipsed in the Liberal view by inequities and injustices. These either are the dark productions of this root problem or buried deeply in the worst devils of our human nature and seemingly beyond the recuperative powers of politics. We can say that in the view of our duopoly we are glorified by wealth and the greed that lubricates our desire for wealth and so, never tainted by it.
The dark productions of our own human nature, from an acknowledged xenophobia, misogyny, ethnic and LGBTQ bigotry, and racism are themselves deeply rooted in the American cultural imaginary, tainting that imaginary. This is a defilement of our “American exceptionalism” imaginary and thus drives us to a defense of the “latency” of the “bitter fruit” of that glorious imaginary, even though all of this “bitter fruit” is obvious, public and daily revealed to us, most astoundingly and disastrously by the president himself.
The Haves, Liberal or Neoliberal, want to attach the worst devils of our nature to the Have Nots, though like the taint of riches, racism crosses all classes. That darkness of racism within the American soul is not owned only by a struggling working class but as Ta-Nehisi Coates argues, pervades all of white America regardless of class. (“The First White President,” The Atlantic, Oct. 2017) Coates reminds us that it was not the financially crippled who voted for Trump but those that had a higher median income than Hillary’s supporters did. It was not then being on the wrong side of the wealth divide that brought voters to Trump, not a cry for a fair share of the pie but something else. Whites, Coates concludes, responded to the racist call of Trump, a clear clarion call they heeded.
“Few national liberal politicians,” Coates writes, “have shown any recognition that there is something systemic and particular in the relationship between black people and their country that might require specific policy solutions.” What these policy solutions might be separate from a political confrontation of and opposition to the exploitations of an unfettered capitalism have not arisen. What were the policy solutions Australians enacted on behalf of indigenous people who still have a life expectancy lower than the non-indigenous? What policies have solved the territorial, social and ethnic apartheid in Paris? And in her fight for justice in Myanmar did Aung San Suu Kyi attend to a policy solution for Rohingya persecution and now genocide?
The U.S.’s congenital defects of Native American extermination and black African slavery push it to the top of the list of societies deeply haunted by a past that has not dissolved because its legacy has been exploited repeatedly for political reasons. The instincts of the worst devils of our human nature have been pandered to so a politics of power can pursue the single obsession of such power: its own interests. In short, racism is the mean tool that a politics made mean by its economics employs to keep such economics in place. We need to condemn and prosecute the underlying structure that finds it useful to enlist votes by engendering hate.
Racism lingers on in the American mass psyche not because it is an endemic feature of human nature, despite our inherited fear of the strange Other, but because a politics emerging from economic and therefore power inequities has found it useful to keep it fired up. We are not having problems with the worst devils of our nature because they are inherent, insoluble devils. We — “we” not “I” — live within our own mediating constructions of both world and self and therefore these worst devils are our own creations. Our nature is as fixed and unmoving as Galileo’s opponents thought the heavens were, and so, not fixed at all. We are in motion, certainly not as rapidly as cybertech, which proposes its own robotic transformation of our human nature. The precarious change in planetary climate is also our own creation though physics beyond our own “worlding” is rapidly diminishing human agency. Our “worlding” has a perverse need to feed our worst devils, and that “worlding” is metanarrated by an exploitative globalized capitalism.
Fighting the issue of economic inequality and the injustices that follow by focusing on the symptoms rather than the causes of such seems supernally quixotic at best and infernally evil at the worst. If Democrats have become a party of a reformation of our nature, they have not succeeded in confronting the agency of our deformity, namely, the “cash nexus” they have silently and hypocritically kept functioning. The absence then in our politics of any such confrontation means that there is no opposition to racism and the dark calculus supporting it.
The fact that a booming economy and low unemployment of postwar American did not obliterate racism and segregation would indicate that attacking the abuses of capitalism would not have kept Trump from being elected. Racism would survive a socialist democratic turn in American politics but such a turn would undoubtedly have given every race and every minority increased visibility and leverage in the democratic process, occurring quite axiomatically from a wealth/power connection. Every racial and ethnic minority in the dividend recipient class has the kind of leverage to which American electoral politics responds. Why would not an increase in economic well-being increase the political leverage of every race and every minority? Money talks in a capitalist society regardless for whom it is talking and the more equitable the wealth distribution the more power and its talk is equitably distributed.
We remain, however, resistant to both any approach to an equitable distribution of wealth and to any change in our deeply rooted racism. And that resistance has its own dark psychologies.
I think our oft cited visiting Martian would observe that the wealthy are better at concealing their dark imaginaries, perhaps because they have the means to exclude and separate themselves from the “deplorables.” Because the wealth of the wealthy accrues from the production of those whose lives seem tacky, dysfunctional and messy, some gestures of generosity and warm reception must be made by the wealthy. The optics of exploitation is tricky business, one Trump does not care about but others, with curated and restrained pathologies, do.
The Have Nots are in a different situation. In those who are even worse off than they they see only people competing for their jobs, people indifferent to the American drive to appear at least middle class. The fear of being evicted from the country which illegal immigrants experience parallels the threat of being homeless, of being a Loser that a Win or Lose meme has instilled in an American mass psyche that once applauded “working class heroes.” There is no room for the latter to adopt the benefits of diversity and equal justice that would benefit all immigrants.
The Have Nots and the Have Less Each Day have no restraints on their hatred of those who threaten them. Profits are not affected if they openly express their animosities and prejudices. Their hatred is a free thing that affords them satisfaction, rather like conjugal sex to a poor couple who can afford no other pleasures. Hatred targets clearly and powerfully the malefactors and the malfeasance, the primal causes of misery. And it does so in a way that no Sermon on the Mount can do, most especially when the paths to a reliable, honest understanding are blocked by those who benefit from such hatred. Hatred has proven to be the most effective electoral tool for those, in both parties, who will not stand for the economics that created them to be exposed.
While Republicans have more openly used the dark arts to reach voters, Democrats have undermined any effective assault that could be made by an opposing party by simply detouring that party to issues that are economics-neutral, that elide the extraordinary wealth divide as readily as do Republicans. Bernie Sanders’ frontloading the wealth divide kicked the Democratic governance into high anxiety.
It seems clear that those who would have joined such an oppositional party mistook Donald Trump for the oppositional leader. They failed to see through mania and truly psychopathic narcissism so magnetized were they by his declarations condemning an administrative State joined against them and their well-being. It is difficult to say whether that true assessment of an American politics that has been serving only the top 20% of the population since Reagan will come to some effective recuperative response by Trump, or whether his mania will rule and his supporters will turn on him. At this moment, it appears that the Republican Party will transform itself into a servant of Trump’s pathology, a kind of Faustian bargain in which the entire Republican Party enters the private hell of a possessed soul.
The whole drama, however, has moved from any stage in which politics in the past has gone on. We are all now immersed in a shit storm of cyber communication, in a whirlwind of social media that has very quickly upended and buried all previous notions of “society.” If there is a “true assessment” of our present cultural condition it is like the grains of sand passing through the hour glass of the old soap opera, where the tweets of an idiot swirl alongside billions of others, where my facts contend with your facts, where truth is sold to the most popular narrative, where all is valued as we each choose personally to value. The dilemmas Liberals face are not theirs alone, race and riches remaining viral in a disease-like fashion in minds and politics.
And yet again, the entire dramatic plot here can be reduced to party tactics. Present Republican politics represents an economics that augments and protects the wealth of the few and diminishes at the same rate the well-being of the many. While the few gyre and gimble in the wabe, real fear of the rising anger and frustration of the diminished many must be accommodated by Republican politics. The proven effective way to reach those too fired up to reason is to feed that fire and kick up the level of all manner of irrationalities. The race card is played as a winning card for a political party who needs votes to win elections. Bush 41 played that card in the 1988 presidential election while Bush 43 took advantage of the 9/11 attacks to insert paranoia deeply in the American cultural imaginary. Now fear of anyone two shades darker than pale is a terrorist, a superpredator or a “welfare Queen.”
Immigrants are now enfolded in all three categories, to some extent because the Democrats give them more freebies and so become Democrats in gratitude, but primarily because Republicans need raw meat to throw at the barbarians at the gates of their prosperity. Black lives matter greatly in this enterprise as do immigrants. We can expand this echelon to anyone that “political correctness” seeks to protect, all easily becoming fuel to encourage ugly, primordial responses to a scrunching of many in the service of protecting and preserving the jouissance of the few.
The scrunching of the many has gone on steadily since Reagan while we now all witness very clearly the expansion of money made by having money. Bereft of the interpretive skills to reach any level of meaning leading to a common understanding, Americans, not compelled to be interested in politics as a life and death matter as Europeans in the 20th century were, easily replace rational, critical response with gut reactions, personal animosities and prejudices, Pavlovian knee jerk reactions. The majority of the American electorate has been prepared to adopt the low tactics of the Neoliberal push and while Republicans have done much to keep those tactics alive and fresh, the failures of American education to shape minds resistant to such appeals remains a monumental tragedy.
The invasion of a “social media” with the capacity to disseminate the outpourings of exploited and darkened minds has made any kind of recuperation through education almost unimaginable. It was admirable for Michelle Obama to counsel going high when they go low but the fact remains that going low continues to reward Republicans in winning over those many Republican politics continues to scrunch. A percentage of Americans sufficient to put Donald Trump in the White House are not able to respond on any level but a low one, the frequency Trump cleverly put himself on.
Somewhere dazed and confused within this drama are Liberals and Progressives and Leftists, each spending a great deal of time identifying themselves to each other. They want to go high but they also want the Dow Jones to go high. Republicans are not the only one making money by having money. So, there is concern to preserve the underlying capitalist structure that equals the Republican concern. At the same time, there is a need to not represent the same economics that Republicans do. This is a disturbing dilemma, not lost on those who scorn all politics, who decry the monopoly of our party duopoly. Not able to critique the absurdity of equal opportunity when unequal conditions prevail and not able to promote a dedication to preserving a level of equal outcome that does not lead to plutocracy, the Democratic Party takes on recuperating all that territory within human nature which Republicans make such good use of. Aware that in this professed Christian nation, the Beatitudes have not impact, Liberals rework and repackage them as political correctness, a kind of bureaucratizing of a love not hate or be suspicious of or fear your neighbor meme.
Because we clearly do not seem to be in a love thy neighbor as thyself environment but rather in a very xenophobic to racist one, there seems to be very little connecting political correctness to the reality we are in. And once again, there is a clearly visible hypocrisy in the Liberal championing of the poor, the meek, the last in line and so on when the gentrifying urge to bleach deplorable, analog lifestyles and neighborhoods out of existence crosses party lines.
If Democrats pivot to a politics that puts economic critique at the center and steps away from a fight to recuperate human nature, one tainted with hypocrisy, and one Republicans are winning because of exploiting not changing what is, they face a deep and abiding antipathy in the American mass psyche. to “Let’s all be poor together.” The illusions of the competitive arena we are all free to enter and have an equal chance of victory lie deep in that same psyche.
Good article. I was initially puzzled by the lack of reference to religion as an additional factor, but you got to that at the end. I believe religion has also been shamelessly used as a tool by those happy to keep a divide and conquer strategy to maintain their own positions of power. Our rights derived from the natural order devised by God are not dependent on the US being a Christian nation, as those desiring a”Christian caliphate” claim to maintain unquestioning observance to the so called American way of life. The freedom and independence to be or not be a Christian is what helps create a freedom of living globally. That freedom is perverted into a dependency of voting for the candidate hiding behind a cross, when in fact that vote takes away freedom. A second thought is that I believe that a rising tide raises all boats, but when some of the boats can rise faster than most if not all of the others, (no physics implied here) eventually too many of those boats go underwater. It is inevitable that unregulated capitalism will lead to feudalism. It just takes some time. What mystifies me is how those that will suffer continue to vote against their own best interest because the candidates cloak themselves in a wrap of patriotism, economic fantasies, and religion. We’re still in Plato’s cave.