Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation. Within a few short decades, society ─ its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its key institutions ─ rearranges itself…Fifty years later, there is a new world, and people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived…We are currently living through such a time.”
– Peter Drucker
The presidency of Donald J. Trump was a sharp transformation of what had been up until then a naïve liberal democracy. What the country became sharply aware of was that elections were always rigged; news was always fake; separate powers couldn’t stop a president from exercising autocratic power; a market efficiency wasn’t bothered by this sharp transformation; Liberal and Leftist notions of rights, liberties, freedoms, and equal protection were undermining traditional American values; a platform of wide-ranging delusions of Trump in a heroic “Deep State” battle while Liberals run a child sex ring in the back room of a D.C. pizzeria entered the House of Representatives; and the Supreme Court could go along with all that. A scary number of Americans leaned heavily right politically, suddenly envying the security of illiberal regimes and ready to go full autocratic if that’s where Donald J. Trump wanted them to go.
The transformation is partially in process, partially done and no longer sharp but certainly has us wondering what the upstart to all this might be, whether there’s another sharp transformation facing us, other than the terminating one facing us: we’ve toxified the planet to an uninhabitable point. For us. Viruses and other lower order winners survive. But before that one, there is a political one that can be predicted. Imagine whether or not a second Trump or Trump clone presidency would be able to survive the crush of crises and catastrophe right now in the wings and all impervious to market efficiency. Faith in that has brought us to the point where five Americans have more wealth than 50% of all Americans.
Market solutions to the steady disastrous heating up of the planet will lose their charm. There is no way to reduce temperature rise without reducing profits. Illusions of turning our own extinction on the planet into a marketing frontier, “a new kind of carbon-based economic market which can be used to buy and sell the very thing we don’t have — time,” are illusions that will sharply vanish.
What seems clear is that the mounting devastations of market rule and its answers will be nurtured and not eroded by any continuance of not only Republican but Democratic control.
A continuance of a Trump transformation may turn out to be the shortest and quickest path to a real face off between Market Rule and Wealth Re-distribution, and between profit and planet survival. The sharp transformation ahead, what’s in the future for the country is not a heroic battle between whatever anti-liberal, anti-Constitutional democracy beast slouches into front position for Market Rule, and, countering it, so to speak, whatever is left of the Democratic Party when its politics of equality of societal representation for all manner of diversity based on Rights can neither protect those Rights as inalienable nor launch a war against Market Rule.
Both parties vanish, ineffective responses to the devastations and survival stupidities of Market Rule. This rule has a political stooge, the Republican Party, which has sold out its own ideology to a guy who can bring to the Republican Party the votes of victims of Neo-liberal ideology. You can’t have a political party based on the capricious lunacy of one man, but you apparently can have a lot of people attaching themselves to it. Of course, we have seen the like before historically. It never ends well.
Rather than holding on to “the common good” and aggressively enter a class struggle to reverse the Neo-liberal politics Reagan had set in motion, The Democratic Party “leaned in” to the Neo-liberal view that a globalized competition necessarily meant domestically slashing the safety net for the poor and at the same time showering corporations with exemptions, subsidies, and low taxes. Both parties agreed on the need to cut away the impediments to a winner take all global competitiveness. Those who were a drag on this, i.e., the economic Losers, had to be shucked and those who had proven they could win, i.e., the corporate leaders, coddled and championed.
The Democratic Party went along with this because they were drinking the same Kool aid as the Republicans in regard to what was best for pushing our “free enterprise” globally. This party of the people not profits assumed a hypocritical sort of triage on Market Rule casualties while avoiding interrupting the Neo-liberal playbook regarding workers’ rights and wages, and consumer and environmental protections.
Growing frustration with politics and politicians is not mass paranoia but for many a justified reaction to an awareness that neither party is pulling for the Losers in our Monopoly game of economics. One party is in lock step with the efficient Market Rule and the other has left the field entirely and set up the Game of Rights and in doing so has, in its own opinion, taken the high moral ground, the Humanitarian and Natural Law ground. We all have a humanitarian interest in this Game of Rights.
Except we don’t.
The Neo-liberal Wehrmacht has as much interest in a Liberal politics of representation, recognition and marginalized group rights as Hitler had in the Beatitudes. The Democratic Party attached itself to a “politics” that didn’t stop or slow down a plutarchic condition that Market Efficiency creates. The field it entered, however, is the field of passions on a variety of sociocultural issues that seem to expand every day. Fighting for this or that Right impassions both the advocate defense and the offended prosecution. The frustration of the populace has something to do with being left without a public defender party, and something to do with the confusion created when corporate predators can’t be stopped but keep predating, and something to do with the blossoming impassioned battles for Rights.
This last adds anger to frustration because the issues Democrats stake out from pre-born babies or fetuses, to racism, sexual preferences, and sex/gender identity, to who can have a gun? to whether we need God in government and the classroom or not, and so on do not generate universal sympathy and empathy. Instead, they have been issues that pull the economic hurt, lost or bankrupt toward impassioned attacks on such Rights extensions in the name of a diversity that for the America First! Americans is a problem, not a virtuous mission. What we’ve seen as a result are votes for the creators and causes of hurt, loss and bankruptcy. Tragically ironic.
“The bank supports gay pride, legislators wear kente cloth as they take a knee, but the poor and marginal will stay poor and marginal.” (Hari Kunzru, “Socialists on the Knife-Edge,” NYRB, August 18, 2022.)
What’s to be concluded:
The Democratic Party has left itself incapable of challenge to Market Rule and like the Whigs who fell apart over the slavery issue, the Dems can’t find the solidarity they need to do what has to be done. Manchin and Sinema aren’t the only legislators in the Democratic Party who lip syn all manner of rights as long as they don’t rile up corporate power.
What will divide out in the near future is the DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) who object to control of existential enterprises in private hands. They have education, health care, Big Pharma, the environment, energy, housing, and the whole military-industrial complex in mind. This is a direct attack on the privilege of Market Rule, one that places that rule under political control, that control, whether Federal, worker, collective or sectional public ownership, and theorizes a return to an electoral democracy uncorrupted by the lobbyists of corporate power. For example, profit can be taken out of the battle against global warming
At what point is this sharp transformation showing up?
For a half century statistics have shown us that we’re getting more oligarchic than democratic. Every socialist points out that any severe level of economic inequality undermines any profession of political equality. It’s not something Republicans point out nor, before Bernie, have we heard this from Democrats. When this sharp transformation is to happen depends on when the bullshit of market efficiency and the invisible hand of the market working things out to everyone’s benefit has hit the fan. It doesn’t seem possible until it becomes clear that “everyone” means the dividend recipients and investors and any “benefit” is all theirs.
The counter to the DSA is not a headless, mindless angry mob of Proud Boys but another variety of socialism that wants to temper our Market Rule into one that provides some economic equality, a kind of completion of FDR’s Bill of Economic Rights, January 1944. FDR listed rights to a job with a living wage, a decent home, adequate medical care, old age security, unemployment rights and the right to a good education. We don’t know how any of this was to be legislated in 1944 and with FDR’s death, we never got the chance. But it’s clear that our globalized financialized semio-capitalism creates a context far different than that of 1944. What also has changed drastically context wise is the fracturing of truth and reason into everyone’s opinion. Personal opinions don’t take to universal and absolute truths, any authority professing those, nor the idea that anything is impervious to personal rejection.
The assertion found in FDR’s economic rights bill, namely that “in our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident” does not fly from a Neo-liberal perspective as in any way a self-evident conferral of economic rights but rather as a socialist undermining and intrusion in market efficiency. It is that market efficiency that finances defenses against the new WWI version of the Central Powers, this time Russia, China and maybe North Korea, Turkey, and Iran and any of the new autocracies on the rise worldwide. Tout court, there’s hostility on the global horizon. Thus, market efficiency has a strong place in the American mass psyche as the source of our military might and a defense against regimes of order that deny personal freedom.
It seems that any choice between social democracy and democratic socialism faces a contradiction whereby “free enterprise” is sacred in the American cultural imaginary as a source of American exceptionalism, and at the same time is destructive of all those “truths taken to be self-evident” at the country’s beginning. Our market efficiency and cultural exceptionalism seems to have diminished the quality of life of 80% of the population while adopting an “Après Moi, le deluge” attitude to global warming.
On harder, less prophesizing grounds lies this issue of self-evident Rights, which the Democratic Party has adopted while avoiding the re-distributive and working class/wage earner solidarity mission. And the Rights ground, while being fertile ground for a Neo-liberal opposition, is as shaky as all assertions of “innate,” “inherit,” “basic,” “natural,” “fundamental” and so on. It all slides down the slippery slope leading to the home of The Absolute and The Universal. If what are undeniable human rights go up in flame, then so will the Democratic Party. Rights are to this party what slavery was to the Whigs.
In the absence of a determinate meaning lying within what always comes down to words, or a universally agreed upon external source of judgment, we are left with our own cultural context of understanding. Despite what the “Originalists” say there is no way the present can retrieve the context creating a past understanding. They can only “say” within the present’s context that they are citing that original meaning, or intention to mean. In short, what the Declaration of Independence shows us, most especially to women and descendants of slaves, is that a different context, say, our own in the U.S., shapes our understanding of, say, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” And clearly it wasn’t self-evident to monarchies and aristocracies of 1776 that one self-evident Truth is that all Men are created equal. What the Founders did was exercise the freedom to oppose any presumption, in this case monarchy’s, of absolute meaning.
We live within a surround, both worldly and imaginary, in which what is a “right” is re-positioned from soft and fuzzy meanings of “innate” and “inherent” to the trackable position of “efficiency,” that is, of the market. An absolute right, you might say, to compete, win and make all the profit you can. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any incentive to refute that “Right.” Republicans, however, have an incentive to refute what Democrats hold as Rights.
Is the Constitution of help here?
Enumerated rights “shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” as written in the 9th Amendment does not cement a Constitutional foundation for what rights are “retained by the people.” There are rights retained by financial institutions, by violent revolution advocates, by patriarchal, fundamentalist religion families, by Satanic ritualists, by Sovereign Citizens, survivalists and so on that may be retained by each but not self-evidently Rights that “The People” would retain and uphold. In short, they are vulnerable to a review within any context which identifies the nebulosity of “The People” as not retaining whatever right as self-evident. The opposite presumption of who “The People” are and what they retain as rights can be proposed, namely, that this is not a Right.
The assertion found in FDR’s economic rights bill, namely that “in our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident” can and does nevertheless face a questioning and beyond that a rejection of these particular “economic truths” and the presumption that they are accepted as “self-evident.” We are very aware now since the Dobbs decision that what is declared “self-evident,” “a fundamental right,” “civil rights as human rights” “human rights subscribing to natural law” can all be put under interrogation.
The view that Rights cannot be disputed as Rights, cannot be brought before a tribunal of judgment emerges from an Enlightenment mindset in which determinate foundations exist, words do not just reliably mean what they say they mean but are intrinsically tied to reality. Further, from a discoverable unified reality impeccable truths can be pulled. All this identifies a context in which we are in no longer.
We are rapidly heading toward a sharp transformation in which whatever Neo-liberal ideology remains with the Republican Party after the Trumpian wreckage is cleared, it will not allow them to answer for the plutarchic destruction that ideology has created. They will hang on their own petard.
In making a stand for the inherent and natural foundation of Rights that they put their politics behind, the Democratic Party has built a house of cards that will not stand. Not in the present Supreme Court certainly but deeper than that lies a cultural context in which no truth can be legitimated, especially one that claims to be impervious to personal opinion and what one personally chooses to accept as absolute and universal. This personal absolute and universal of course can’t fly but it does. Right now.
And so, our sharp transformation is to either social or democratic socialism. Whether the U.S. does as well as the Nordic countries in regard to social democracy depends first on getting passed the bad press flung by Neo-liberals at the economics of the Nordic countries. As for democratic socialism, we shall probably avoid the fate of Salvador Allende, Kissinger no longer in charge of “socialist removal.”