Published on http://www.counterpunch.org
“We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all the people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help form us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout all the world.”
― John Winthrop, 1630
Our now preferred alternative reality of cyberspace is fueling bullshit opinions faster than real world investigative journalism can counter or “illegitimate.” Legitimacy has been turned on its head, the world turned upside down. Lying is out of mode; liars have to first know the truth. Old, over, adios analog epistemology. No need to search for truth when bullshit works better. It has the bonus feature of just saying “I’m calling bullshit/fake news on that!” and every bit of fact and evidence go home. True, bullshit has been on the American stage since P.T. Barnum. But it’s now treated to cyber-messaging. Plus, bullshit put bullshit in the presidency.
When you lose your bullshit detector and have lost your path-to-truth compass, you are liable to spin off a mental fly wheel to the cockamamie. Weird men, gonzo politicians, and clowns, as Patrick Cockburn calls them (Counterpunch, July 18) calls them join with frenzied and hysterical conspiracy revelations.
In an upside-down world, we begin to see hatred and violence, erasure, and mockery as just and moral. Clearly, truth and moral compasses, like democracy and plumbing in India, have a debatable order of priority. We have now lost both, although whether we ever had a moral one in the eyes of Native Americans, the descendants of black African slaves and Eve’s daughters is also debatable.
Perhaps we’ve always told the truth as we know it. If truth then is in context, subject to time and place, we now don’t know truth from bullshit. I didn’t fabricate the context; it’s all around us. The surround. We see the horizon from here.
We see a rising nihilism in the country among all classes and ages; a cultural narcissism seems to have “re-purposed” fellowship; the “Winners” are going off to Mars with Elon Musk and along the way stop at a Jeff Bezos space station; we need to rewrite the Constitution fast; we need to build a wall; get the old and senile out of politics; protect our school children by getting guns off the street; arm school teachers asap; put Trump in jail; pardon insurrectionists; jail Pelosi; make Trump the next president; impeach Biden.; defund the police; save America from the fascist Antifa(cists); Black lives are in danger in America; White lives are scheduled for extinction; a fetus is a pre-born baby and has rights of citizenship; a mother and not the State has rights over her own body.
There’s much more you could add but this is a lot, as we now say. Our way of knowing has descended into a gut feelings, personal opinion driven way of knowing. This is not the Buddhist path to Enlightenment but rather a kind of knowing that cannot be denounced by the kind of knowing we’ve hung on to in the West since the Enlightenment. Wasn’t all good. The wheel was good for sure but hooking a fossil fuel burning internal combustion to it not so good as it has turned out. Other examples flood the mind.
Realizing that it was just us spinning ourselves narratives all along also hasn’t seem to spark critical scrutiny but rather spun every individual into his or her own self concocted story. Everyone is in an inviolable silo that cannot be stormed. Everyone is fearful, each of the other. Not any kind of fellowship of the common good at all.
On the heels of fear is a politics of hate and rage. Who and what causes our fear? We see on the heels of fear all manner of conspiracy stories, stories of origin, a line of Begats, a filming of dystopic doom. In the aftermath of 9/11, fear lashes out and simultaneously creates a politics of hatred. We are now living in the aftermath of the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol. The fear we have now is of fellow Americans, those in our own towns, neighbors on our own streets, maybe in our own homes. Hatred tags them.
Whether a full turn to an illiberal order quells the country’s dysphoria is a “known unknown. “George Washington University’s “Illiberalism Studies Program” nails down the origins, foundations and tenets of the illiberal turn. For credit. Academic curriculum to the rescue, as if a curriculum will absorb and tame this turn:
Adherents of illiberalism argue that, in the face of a liberalism that has “gone too far,” it is time to reassert the rights of the collective, or of an alleged silent majority, by restoring national sovereignty in various spheres: politically, by rejecting supranational and multilateral institutions in favor of the nation-state and preferring a strong leader with large powers over a parliamentary system; economically, through at least partial protectionism; culturally, by refusing multiculturalism and minority rights in favor of an essentialist definition of the nation, its members, and its genuine cultural attributes.
This primer of the illiberal order describes only what has emerged but not the frightening shifts on a deeper level of the American mass psyche creating those eruptions. Whether illiberal regimes transition to autocratic ones depends on the intensity of the fear, anxiety, and hatred on the boil in the collective cited.
An illiberal order arrives on the horizon when certain societal changes, proposals and directions are deemed threatening in ways that are deeply embedded in the Americana imaginary, by which I mean a frontier sense of personal freedom and a need to defend it at any cost, a moral sense that is both Biblically evangelical and quick to condemn heterodox views, and a defiant resistance to a difference and diversity that erodes and diminishes American traditions and values built on a unity, what Derrida called a White Mythology, that is no longer latent in our imaginary but exposed, at least to righteous accusation and angry denial.
This alone is a fearsome contentious matter, foundational. Detaching a white order from Constitutional democracy is akin to detaching Jesus from salvation. Akin not in significance certainly but akin in the furor of response.
The enforcements and self-defense (see, the Trump impeachment trials and the present January 6th Hearings) of liberal democracy itself, perpetrated by liberal/socialist Democrats, are now targeted. The Devil quotes scripture to suit his purposes while Democrats, Progressives and Socialists quote the laws of the democracy. There’s high moral value in opposing this. Liberal campaigns for universal human rights and individual liberties no longer align with or encourage both the attachment of religion to America as a “city of the hill” and a sense of nationalist unity and identity denied by a liberal drive toward difference and diversity.
An illiberal order emerging from these wellsprings of discontent is supported by an imperative to defend the country against a moral destruction that a Liberal control of Congress and the Presidency seeks and fosters.
These are strong charges and a strong motivation to find order outside democratic institutions. The present democratic order thus far seems unable to defend against these threats or find any way to answer them that can be heard as answers.
A morally, politically, and economically illiberal order is presently in play. Is a socialist order on the horizon?
It’s all God’s will, zero sum competition, faith in market efficiency, and privileged identity would have first to disappear from the American mass psyche. The fervor of economic equality would have to rival the fervor of “Save America!” A causal chain would have to be forged linking global warming to hyper-capitalist profit priorities, linking the erosion of middle-class democracy and the creation of a homeless horde of Americans to the same priorities, linking a need to crush all manner of difference except that of winning and losing, linking the rise and fall of a stochastic, throw the dice market to these same priorities, linking the winners not to individual merit but to kleptocracy.
After all this basic 101 linking, the proposals of a socialist leaning government would need to be seen as recuperative, both a political and economic path to serving the common good. In short, a way out of bullshit.
On the other side of the horizon, we see those who wave the banners of “Save America!” in heartfelt belief that what we need to be saved from is precisely what socialism represents. Thus, the chances of seeing socialism on the American horizon are about equal to taking guns out of America or seeing racism as a structural component of our “free market” economics.
If you imagine that the country is like a patient lying on an operating table and one surgeon wants to staunch the bleeding, and another sees the bleeding as purgative and healthy, you have then a picture of American party divide.
The one not permitted to attend is the one who wants to root out the cause and replace it. This socialist order of things has a chance of bringing down the heat presently making us an illiberal society and it may be our best chance to avoid autocracy. But at this moment, illiberalism is attacking with impunity our electoral democracy and most certainly effectively targeting “socialism” as what America must be saved from.
Bernie Sanders had hordes of followers not because he used the word “socialist” but because he put his finger on what was undermining a liberal democratic order. Trump went after that order itself, mocking, disrespecting, and indicting it in ways that appealed because such numbers in the country were primed for that indictment. The political order wasn’t an order of equitable fairness. It was what a plutocratic order that had used and was using illiberal economics to keep it alive. Took a long time for “disaffection” to build and when it did it looked the wrong way for relief. World turned upside down.
The socialist order of things gets into the weeds of what we fear will become government bureaucratic total control. Cold war memories implanted, fears of communism nurtured, socialism winds up collateral damage. Keeping socialism comatose in America, alongside labor unions and political and economics education, is a strategy, very adept and professional on a Jeff Bezos Amazon level.
Alongside that fear we have Walmart, for example, which did a better job of relief than the Federal government during Hurricane Katrina. When a political order is deliberately at its foundation set up to impede itself by balancing its powers, it can hardly achieve the success of a corporate order whose charter has no such suicidal directives. Within a culture that prefers a personalized order of everything, bespoke politics on demand at digital speed, these are huge failures endemic in government. Faces and videos, social media presence and pop culture celebrity recognition have vacated dialogue and debate. A drama of instant “crushing” commands the stage. Allegations of too much government never die, even though un-regulated market play has taken control of both parties forming government since Reagan.
Faith in some divinely efficient capitalism is not restricted to Republicans but is to various degrees alive and well among Democrats. At best, what they question is some now and then aberrant corruption of this inherent efficiency of unregulated markets and thus resulting practices that must be pursued by the SEC or the Department of Justice. None of this is vastly different from positions efficiency market conservative Republicans hold. This timidity by our party duopoly in the face of a financial sector that has J.P. Morgan WWI power is hardly enough to take the appeal out of the illiberal and certainly not enough to hold back the tide of an autocratic order. A second term Trump presidency promises to be an impatient jump from the illiberal to the autocratic.
So, in regard to coming elections, Democrats are in a praying mode, as if they were going into battle knowing their weaponry won’t work. They fear, with good reason, the angry, insurrectional rioting of the “Save America” clubs. They foresee a Republican Congress impeaching and prosecuting Biden, or successfully using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office for dementia. The media is already setting that play up.
Democrats could run Green New Deal candidates offering socialist solutions to plutocracy and global warming but even those proponents would recognize that one fear, that the planet will become too hot for you personally to inhabit, and another, that concentrated wealth will make your personal life worse, won’t win a popular vote. They are far removed from interest within the American mass psyche. Rising gas prices are a fear; wildfires and rising waters apparently aren’t. Only 1% of American right now feel the planet heating up to disastrous consequences is a priority matter.
Much of what Biden hoped for here has turned to dust. Enough Republican control in the near future to stop environment legislation would mean that some of us are quoting Louis XVI about not being around for the flood; RSVP: sorry, won’t be here to attend. Some of us have reserved seats on the Mars Zephyr. Everyone else is angry at the gas pump.
Republicans both fear they will lose Trump’s supporters and also that Trump and his supporters will annihilate the Republican Party. They might also wisely fear the gallows might be set up for them as it was for Vice President Pence, as loyal a follower of Trump as Smithers was to Mr. Burns in The Simpsons.
Within an illiberal order, whatever legislature and executive come into being they must be seen as championing the fight against that cabal of evil, The Deep State, and striving to “Save America” and Keep Making America Great Again. This Vichy-like government must throw some red meat to this crowd. It has to show them that defending a moral order does not include gay marriages, trans gendering, abortion, gun control, open borders, separation of church and state, critical race theory, minority rights or the idea of Constitutional rights, and all governmental regulations enforced by liberal snowflakes and Big Government socialists. In short, a bullshit grounded moral sense must be fed.
If all the preparation to invalidate future elections, restrict voting rights and gerrymander, and, most perniciously, cast doubt on the legitimacy of our elections, is realized then both Democrats and Republicans will be facing the results of the politics of rage.
The election of a Democratic Party president promises to be enough to set into a rage the same faction that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. It also promises to create a disorder that any Trump or Trump-like candidate on the Right will not. Democrats will not storm the Capitol, guns in hand, righteous defenders of the moral order. Rallies for Women’s Rights, LGBTQ rights, gun control, global warming regulations, asylum seekers, Black Lives Matter, the rights of the poor and marginalized, erasure and vegan rights and more will not disappear but increase as an illiberal regime cuts off all rights now that Democrats, in lieu of centering economic critique, have been campaigning behind, including equal protection, human and civil right, civil liberties, and political freedoms.
But such dissidence will be conducted by those who hurt and will hurt more within such a regime. That does not include those Democrats and Republicans — who will not be hurt financially. Their houses will not be foreclosed on.
All along, Democrats too deeply partaking of kleptocracy have campaigned for matters not as pressing as those that have created our kleptocracy. Democrats have indulged, at the very least, an economics that was always headed for kleptocracy. It was axiomatic.
Democrats and Republicans enjoying stock dividends and returns on investments cannot foresee that a Trump-like leadership will mettle with that. Any order that can be tied to economic ruin, whether liberal or illiberal are equally vulnerable to revolt.
That ruin, however, must be felt in the pocketbook of voters. Right now, the fact that five people have as much wealth as 50% of all Americans remains an absent thing –comatose — in the American mass psyche. It’s suppressed in the Republican psyche. There it simply means the 50% should start a business. Liberal handouts sap American initiative to compete and win. Wealth divide, an axiomatic product of our financialized Wild West capitalism, is, like global warming, not a priority in the American mass psyche. Everyone is in a self-made start-up box he or she will soon be able to sell to a transnational mogul. The kleptocratic order is just a club each of us can one day join. The hedge fund will let us all in.
A disturbing conclusion might be that both liberals and conservatives will sit down like lambs with the lion because they’ve witnessed that Trump was no danger to their stock portfolios.
Is there a greater fear of the annihilation of a Constitutional liberal democracy or of a reduction in stock portfolio value?
Putin doesn’t interfere with mogul creation, as long as a mogul doesn’t politically threaten him. The more money they make, the bigger his share. Can our American moguls live with that? I think you are mistaken if you think Joe Manchin who is a market rule first and non-profit issues that are profit-neutral a distant second is the only Democrat who has those priorities. No fossil fuel dependent State sees clean energy stocks paying any time soon what fossil fuel stocks pay. Thus, global warming is put on the threat to today’s profit column.
Both Democrats and Conservatives know where the return on investment is and they act accordingly, one in your face and the other crying, as they say, all the way to the bank. It’s been a short-term return on investment since Gordon Gecko. The long game is analog. Global warming is a long game.
This is Poli-Econ 101.
Although we abide within the mythos that the play of the market must be complemented by only this one kind of political regime — ours — oligarchs in autocratic countries, not simply Russia, thrive within Capitalist economics. Wall Street looters experienced in the finesse of looting swarmed the collapsed Soviet and gave tutorials on mogul creation, first taking their end and leaving the Soviets to find their way. That way led to Putin, competition — the backbone of American enterprise — among moguls left him standing. We are led to think that his bravado left him thinking he’s as good and better a looting mogul as anyone on Wall Street. We surely brought him into the world as we have Donald J. Trump. We exported the kleptocratic order. Everyday Americans are unaware of this; Everyday Everyone Else in the world isn’t so blessed with such protective unawareness.
Bernie Sanders was always too big a threat to the “free market” for not only Republicans but Democrats also. Ditto your “Everyday American.” We haven’t gone far from the days when Eugene Debs was a threat to J.P. Morgan’s America. Debs was a socialist and he didn’t get the treatment that so far Trump has eluded. They put Debs in prison for making an “insubordinate” speech. Debs protested the U.S. involvement in WWI. He didn’t seek the overthrow of the government or incite to insurrection. But he was a socialist, not a Mar-a-Lago celebrity.
“In 1918 Debs was convicted of giving a speech at Canton, Ohio, that “caused and incited and attempted to cause and incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States and with intent so to do [he] delivered, to an assembly of people, a public speech.”
It’s difficult to see Trump on the horizon wearing prison orange; far easier in our growing illiberal order to see a kind of America that Russians now live with under Putin. 83% of Russians love Putin.