Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
“Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.”
— David Brooks, “I Miss Barack Obama,” The New York Times, Feb. 9, 2016
Barack’s values? Perhaps post-partisanship at their most utopian, then slipping into a go at bi-partisanship collapsed into a Clintonian-like triangulation he has either not the skills of Bill Clinton to pull it off or the real desire to do so.
For a very long period, President Obama did not read “the reality of the situation he was in.” In a way, his values remained for too long independent of “the reality of the situation” he was in.
That reality has not changed in this 2016 Presidential season.
You could see its beginnings in the growing mythos of Reaganism rising in the wake of defeat in Viet-nam, Watergate’s exposure of the dark and dirty underbelly of government, and a “silent majority/Christian Coalition’s” angry retaliation against the anarchism of a Counterculture’s mockery of the Corporate-State. The preceding reality of the New Deal, which had brought into being a powerful middle class and proposed “An Economic Bill of Rights”, vanished from the American Mass Psyche quicker than a Snapchat message.
The word “Liberal” has been on the run in our present reality, as we know it. Calling yourself an “Independent” has been a safe fall back. Calling yourself a “Democratic Socialist” has also been a way of escaping the notoriety of “Liberal.” For the young and poor, the young who now lack any assurance of a sustainable economic future, both an assault on “the reality of the situation” and no link to the word “Liberal” is a plan. And Bernie Sanders represents that.
So what is the present “reality of the situation” from Bernie’s perspective, the one fashioned by what David Brooks calls a “blinded” perspective?
An out of control game that financialized capitalism plays has sent the middle class to the bottom and the bottom to the Abyss. Within that reality, there has never been any incentive for a plutocracy supported by a Neoliberal ideology to make concessions to the government’s interests in workers, the environment, or consumer protection. There is grassroots fervor to elect a president who would use all the power of his office to upend the plutocracy our middle class democracy has become and revive an economic/class mobility that had brought the middle class into existence.
Bernie Sanders is avowing this reality: “For many, the American Dream has become a nightmare.”
No one who shares this view of our reality situation is uncertain whom and what is causing his or her pain. There is no virtue or sanity in remaining independent when a plutocratic reality destroying people and planet needs to be upended.
Certitude of perception generates decisiveness here.
If the entire country judged this reality as I have so far described as the reality of our situation, we would not now be facing what this presidential election promises, namely, bitter and prolonged battles between Hillary and Sanders, every Republican primary candidate against every other, and a final photo finish ending between Democrat and Republican.
We see things in a mediated fashion, reality included, and what the mediating lens may be is not subject to objective analysis. Neither is there some external point of reference or authority by which we can calibrate the level of mediation distortion. You have to take your opponent’s word for it. And you do not. You claim perfect vision. Bernie’s view of our reality situation has no inherent reality authorizing credentials and therefore a totally opposite mediation is free to counter it.
And it does. A Neoliberal lens of observation sees the invisible hand of the market undeterred by any political force creating an ever expanding economic growth that benefits those who are productive and not dependent. The poverty that clings to us is a result of a governmental interference in Market Rule. Rather than constrain our growth because of environmental destruction we should enhance both economic and technological growth that will ultimately, as it has in the past, dominate and not bend to Nature. “The world you desire can be won,” Ayn Rand writes in Atlas Shrugged. “It exists… it is real. It is possible. It’s yours.” David Brooks, in a contrast of American capitalism and continental European capitalism writes: “There has always been a broad consensus that a continent-size nation like ours had to be diverse and de-centralized, with a vibrant charitable sector and a great variety of spending patterns and lifestyles.” (“Livin’ The Danish Dream,” The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2016)
The only nightmare seen through this lens is Bernie Sanders and socialism. (What Sanders calls “Democratic socialism,” not the Diggers variety but apparently more like social democracy — like Denmark — what both Hillary and the Neoliberals see as a nightmare).
None who share this Neoliberal view of our reality situation is uncertain as to who and what is causing their pain: out of control government and not out of control financialized capitalism, a government dependent Moocher class and not a casino economics that has shuffled wealth to the top, illegal immigrants either taking American jobs or living on welfare, not capital’s knocking labor out of any contention for living wages and benefits. There is no virtue or sanity in remaining independent when American values of “individualism, achievement and flexibility” are threatened by “dirigisme, order and economic equality.” (Brooks, “Livin’).
Certitude of perception generates decisiveness here.
Almost all Republican candidates for the Presidency possess a self-authorizing ideological certitude equal to Bernie Sanders’. Once again, if there were a universally accepted arbiter of judgment regarding which mediation truly represents our reality situation, we would not be facing what promises to be a reaping of the whirlwind in this presidential campaign. Neither party can removed the mediating lens of the other or their own and see an independent reality. It is this core dilemma that forces those not filled with certitude as to what is going on in our present reality situation to the outside of politics, to the outside of all ideologies, to the outside of all determinations.
What comes into being then is a dedicated faction adhering to the politics of no politics. In essence, the failure of a society to adopt a consensual lens of perception but instead live in deeply divided realities generates an aporia, a pathlessness responding to what seems to be a schizoid splitting of reality. Independence here is a defense mechanism forced into being by an angst ridden state of deep ontological confusion.
Donald Trump is then not only a defense against such confusion but an offense.
It may be that his reality filtering mechanism is not Neoliberal ideology but his own ego but that egoism symbolizes an assertiveness claimed by every overwhelmed ego that now, through Trump, is no longer overwhelmed.
Independence here takes on a new value. On one level, Trump is independent of what moderate Republicans believe. That independence is close to a grassroots contingent who in their frustration with politics supports a candidate who disdainfully professes their own mocking anger and contempt.
On another level, so deep that the politically disgusted are brought into this 2016 Presidential campaign, he represents a transcending of a confused state of being-in-the world resulting from a failure of a society to maintain a lens that keeps reality from splitting beyond that society’s need for order and coherence. Trump is neither pathless nor concerned about the schizoid nature of American politics nor affected by the schizoid nature of the American mass psyche. He is independent of all that.
That presence in the whirlwind of a post-truth era is magnetizing. It disperses the confusion of undecidability. Trump is outside all that. He has, in short, displaced any argument as to what “the reality of the situation” may be with the reality of his own ego.
The Republican Party may conclude that a President Trump would be a much bigger problem to the Neoliberal agenda than someone they could rule in the many ways wealth is power in a plutocracy. Trump is clearly a wild card here. As is Ted Crews who seems not to be the admirable, compassionate, social minded — and mythical — capitalist Brooks admires but rather the “Show ME the money!” type capitalist, a type of capitalist whose already unlikeable image may be the coup de grace to the Republican construction of a “compassionate” image for themselves.
This “bottom line” thinking, however, misses the real disaster that a Trump presidency would represent.
If my interpretation is correct, the American mass psyche is in what Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, in referring to a friend, calls “fragile.” Our mass psyche is not only fragile because a Wild West capitalism is pitching itself off a cliff as a few market “players” compete in a game of risk taking. That psyche is fragile because Americans in that Wild West game only as victims and dupes are betting on Trump to make them winners, as he is.
They are doomed to disappointment because on a mass psyche level, Trump’s independence from engaging what Americans cannot engage in any angst-less way is not real. It is as much a spin as what the cacophony of politics seems always to be offering. His crash is one that is inevitable as he is, as all solipsists are, totally disengaged from “the reality of the situation.” This is a reality experienced by some 80% of the population, but not deciphered and understood.
At what point does the lens by which we filter the world crash?
I want to say that the harsh objective, material and historical conditions of “the reality of the situation” eventually shatter all lenses that distort or conceal those conditions. But these conditions, while having real world effect, are subject to interpretation. And there’s the rub, for in a plutocracy, wealth spins all conditions threatening to itself away from itself.
One buys the words that most seductively and viscerally explain why a minimum wage salary in the `60s kept, in Elizabeth Warren’s words, a family “afloat” but now two people working many jobs fail to do that. Illegal immigrants have taken your job, or taxation and regulation of businesses by Big Government has made it impossible for businesses to provide good salaries and good benefits. One’s health costs are high because of Obamacare. Everything public, from roads to schools, are in bad shape because tax money is being given to the “Moochers.” And so on.
We are, however, heading toward a recognition that our “vibrant charitable sector and a great variety of spending patterns and lifestyles” is the reality of someone in the top 20%. It literally pays for those doing well to read reality in this way. Unfortunately, many fail to mind a Native American caution: “He speaks the truth. . . as he knows it.”
The remaining 80% are reading the situation as Bernie Sanders does, or not reading it at all and simply looking for the “outside” of all this. And so Trump.
President Bernie will not be President Bernie unless some part of his “revolution” sweeps in with him, perhaps materializing in the midterm election in 2018 but too late to put him into the presidendcy. As president, he would be isolated and in the same spot President Obama has been in since day one of his presidency. There is a good probability that real world conditions — global warming, increased poverty, Wall Street looting and a greater recession — on the near horizon may move mainstream America closer to President Bernie. And then we can expect some economic and social relief may ease the ontological angst. The “reality of the situation” may then be something upon which we can reach a consensus.
Only Philip K. Dick could make this narrative plausible.
However, if you consider Trump’s defeat and its impact on those whose representative “outside man” could not get in, the reality of the situation may disintegrate to a dangerous level. You must also consider the possibility of a race for the presidency between Hillary and Jeb, same old same old contesting with same old same old, as an efficient accelerant in a combustible situation.
This would not be like sans culottes in angry revolt.
It would be more like asylum patients running amok.