by Norman Ball for The Saker Blog
“First, after days and days of intensive negotiations, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov finally reached a deal on a cease-fire in Syria which had the potential to at least “freeze” the situation on the ground…Then the USAF, along with a few others, bombed a Syrian Army unit…Needless to say, following such a brazen provocation the cease-fire was dead.
The Russians expressed their total disgust and outrage at this attack and openly began saying that the Americans were “недоговороспособны”. What that word means is literally “not-agreement-capable” or unable to make and then abide by an agreement. While polite, this expression is also extremely strong as it implies not so much a deliberate deception as the lack of the very ability to make a deal and abide by it.” –from ‘Why the Recent Developments in Syria Show That the Obama Administration Is in a State of Confused Agony’, The Saker, September 23, 2016
At first blush, one is tempted to attribute “not-agreement-capability” to profound dysfunction or organizational disarray within the sprawling US Government. A confluence of human error. Perhaps the State Department doesn’t know what the Pentagon is doing. Compartmentalization run amok? Autonomous fiefdoms gone rogue?
After all Lavrov and Kerry sat for hours, man to man, their capable staffs buzzing about, and banged out a mutually acceptable agreement. Suspecting the Obama administration of intentional deception credits the about-face too much. No, the disconnect is too gaping. The strategic advantage, nonexistent.
Unless American agreement capability has been lifted from the purview of human agency altogether? Our titular leaders are glorified water carriers. The rulers behind the rulers want to pore over every detail first. Perhaps when Kerry returns home, the meeting outcome was fed into some disembodied, superseding algorithm and the returned answer was an emphatic ‘no’.
Fast forward to the current thorn in the system’s side, Donald Trump. Sitting alone with Putin, the American President seems to be trying to get away with or from something. Of course this ‘clandestine summit’ opens him up to the usual ‘Putin’s stooge’ accusations. Just a high-placed spy reporting back to his foreign handler. We are reminded repeatedly of Putin’s prior KGB affiliation.
Trump returns to the US with announced plans for a second summit in Washington. Suddenly it’s as though someone pressed the red button on a giant computer console. Smoke billows from all corners at once. Cannot compute. Another hard-stop. From all government and media organs the answer, with eerie simultaneity, is the same. Impossible. The idea is dropped. Nothing more is heard.
America’s leaders have relinquished their instinctual prerogatives. Instead they are reporting back like stenographers. But to whom or what?
Absorbing the Reality
It’s not just foreign policy and diplomacy. A discernible human imprimatur has been vacated from America’s political parties in recent years too. Human passions no longer gurgle up and congeal into codified party platforms. America is being run more and more like an autistic top-down machine.
As we shall see, the two-party system is a stalking horse for corporatism which is a stalking horse for inverted totalitarianism. In a million subtle ways, people are being asked to stay out of the way, to be seen and not heard.
In an ideal world, a society’s political system should be a responsive and dynamic reflection of the aspirations of its people. Political scientists attempt to plot the tumult across a bloodless spectrum. If its two major political parties are any judge, America’s political landscape today is a dead letter. Someone or something has its thumb on the scale. The people rattle on about things. But to small effect.
Corporatism has seized America’s two parties with no indication that it will ever let go. As though covering for the void, corporate media fills the air with frenetic sound and fury. A new crisis hatches every day beneath the overarching anti-Trump theme.
Trump’s unsuitability is Saddam Hussein’s Weapon’s of Mass Destruction (WMDs) come home. The Straussian myth-makers have settled, for this iteration, on a domestic foe. Centralized control has never been more consummate. Yet everything, we are told, is spinning out of control.
Trump is drawing huge crowds at rallies around the country. Thousands wait hours to see him. The political stillness (that thrives paradoxically on manufactured soup-du-jour crisis) is being invaded by an up-swell of unmistakable human complexion. Just when the System had banished human input forever. Now they’re back in an ugly populist form. This poses a grave threat to the frictionless hum of unimpeded commerce.
Until Americans truly absorb and understand the implications of the chart (above), their political discourse will remain conceptually mired in Managed Democracy’s kabuki of red-blue mirage-making. There is no organized Left in America. There is no organized Center. This can’t be repeated enough.
The political spectrum has been invaded and ‘de-politicized’ (certainly dehumanized) by corporate interests lacking any real interest in a populist portfolio. The polis has been swapped for an expanded corporate boardroom.
The balance of this essay will explore:
- how America ‘got to’ this chart
- what holds this ideologically lop-sided distribution firmly in place
- how Trumpism might represent a disruption of this corporatist configuration
- what ‘tautologies’ can be gleaned in terms of expected party behaviors
When Salvatore Babones of Truthout observes that in recent years, “America – or at least American politics – has swung violently to the right” he is injecting a subtle but crucial distinction into the debate. First of all, ‘American politics’ has had little choice but to move where the two major America parties have taken it.
A more compelling question, which we’ll get to, is what moved the parties themselves? Finally, there’s nothing to suggest the American people are pleased with what amounts to an intentionally engineered and anti-democratic misalignment so clearly at odds with their aspirations.
Without question, a significant number of Americans (certainly those not ‘turned’ from their own interests by false consciousness and antithetical manufactured consent) would support a centrist or even leftist party if there was such a thing. After all, why should Americans be any less ideologically diffuse than other populations? Yet American politics steadfastly refuses to serve them.
A common refrain is that the American people are naturally conservative center-right. This might be true. All we know for sure is that the US Chamber of Commerce-dominated Mainstream Media keeps telling the American people what the American people are perhaps in the hopes they accept that imposed definition as their own.
If only the levers of manufactured consent would grind to a halt, there’s no telling what uncued epiphanies might usher forth from the people themselves. As it is, in the age of immersive media the popular will (if there is such a pre-mediated wellspring anymore) courses along like an untapped underground stream.
Suffice to say Babones’ right-shift observation is hardly an obscure opinion (see chart below):
The nature of top-down (authoritarian) impositions is that the appropriate social energies must be manufactured since there are no organic eruptions initiating a desire for them. Walter Lippmann had a polite term for this: guided democracy.
Even if a third party could negotiate the formidable barriers to entry, it would barely register a sound in a media landscape charged with validating and mirroring, via Fox and MSNBC, the party duopoly.
The tele-spittle-war does its best to keep up the appearance of a fully engaged two-pronged ideological struggle. All that remains is the residue of prior content and facile rhetorical flourishes aimed at evoking a bygone era when material political differences truly hung in the balance. Frankly, political responsiveness in America, such as it is, would benefit from an embargo of the terms Right and Left until more ‘people-centric’ content was allowed to re-authenticate the debate.
Another by-product of the current confusion comes from Blue Donkey-Red Elephant being so profoundly installed that no criticism can be lodged against one party without reflexive accusations being hurled at other side. In a strange way, this dead-on-arrival reflexivity insulates the entire frame from valid critique. All criticism becomes prima facie partisan, ridden with self-interest and thus not deserving of serious examination.
Instead the red/blue, Donkey-to-the-Left-Elephant-
The oligarchy realized long ago that a toothless dialectical configuration dissipates populist energies. Toothless how? To the extent mass energy can exhaust itself horizontally in a fairy-tale struggle based on ideological virtue-signalling, an assault by the Bottom on the Top is forever forestalled. Shifting the entire ill-suited parade to the Right offers core corporatist values a double layer of misdirection. How neat. How tidy. How pointless. How dystopian.
The people are endlessly conscripted into what amount to internecine corporate struggles, a proverbial Groundhog Day of the Eternally Wrong Battle. Those who never ‘find themselves improperly arrayed’ are precisely those who’ve ingested near-fatal amounts of false consciousness.
America’s choked with sentimental left-leaning denialists who still cling to the Democratic Party the way a lion cub circles its dead mother before coming to terms with her demise. These folks need a stomach-pumping, a brain transplant or perhaps an exorcism. Before these expensive remedies though, a brick through Rachel Maddow’s televised mug should be attempted first.
Take Obamacare for example. Despite all the obligatory language aimed at winning voter compliance, it was developed with private insurance companies uppermost in mind. That many of them subsequently abandoned the program as a result of undue complexity doesn’t erase the fact that business was the intended customer. In all these corporate battles, the people become more akin to Heidegger’s standing reserve: something to be extracted from and deceived in order to ‘line up the votes’ as opposed to being forthrightly served. This is more than a subtle distinction.
For the moment, a spellbound stadium population is held fast by the comfort of two. Predictable enemies are like old friends. Me good, you bad. An entity with one foe can be relied upon not to let its gaze wander. Opposing mugs and tee-shirts sell like hotcakes. The NFL team-frame is a powerfully reinforcing binary template.
Whereas coalition politics smacks of European enfeeblement and excessive nuance. No one wants complexity seeping into the water like fluoride where it can jeopardize the impulsive risk-taking so typical of American forward-ho-ness.
Then there’s the credulity of the American viewing audience, as seemingly bottomless as divide-and-conquer crowd management is insidiously effective. Media content has body-snatched autonomous cognition. People think they’re thinking but they’re only listening and repeating. Stockholm Syndrome and habitually confined-space dynamics play key roles too. People, like slow-boiling frogs, seem capable of acclimating to a two-inch ledge while convincing themselves they’re still fighting for boundless prairie.
When the White Southern aristocracy bestowed the front of the bus to the poor white redneck, the latter guarded his Brahmin-like allotment with all the fervor of Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Focused like a laser beam on the red line spray-painted between rows 8 and 9, Bubba failed to notice a sniggering Beauregard T. Pufard III speeding by in his window-tinted Lincoln-Continental.
Better to Kick Your Elephant Than Cure My Donkey
For those not glued to TV, little can obscure the fact that the Democratic Party suffers from an illness far graver than anything that ails its elephant twin. Already cognitively-neutered ‘liberal’ Democrats are coming out of their seats at this ‘partisan insinuation’.
However that’s sort of the point.
A corollary to the spectrum chart’s ‘myth of equidistance’ is that no party can possibly be more dysfunctional, more hypocritical or more inauthentic than the other. Furthermore, only a point-scoring enemy combatant would have the audacity to allege such a sacrilege.
Unfortunately, this diagnosis is apt when we consider the comparatively vaster distance the Donkey had to travel from its traditional New Deal/Great Society perch in order to sidle up beside the Republican Party and essentially divide the corporate market (see chart below). Such migratory paths are not traversable without boatloads of soul-selling happening first. Profound cognitive dissonance induces nausea and confusion. Prodded too much, it strikes with an outsized anger. Trump Derangement Syndrome is famous for eliciting this response.
In the Valley of Death: A Tactical/Evolutionary Roadmap
So how did the party of FDR become a sycophantic shadow of the GOP? There is both a tactical/evolutionary and a conceptual explanation.
For the first, this 25-minute Ralph Nader interview is well worth the reader’s time. There’s no one better qualified to chronicle the fifty-year capitulation of the Democratic Party than one of the era’s chief protagonists. Nader after all invented the consumer, environmental and workers’ safety movements, essentially progressive American politics in the modern age.
Honest people can differ as to the wisdom of the progressive era. The point of this essay is to catalog definitively its demise. A summary timeline follows:
1965 – Nader writes ‘Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile’. The ensuing Senate hearings lead to the formation of the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Seat belts become mandatory in 49 of the 50 states.
1969-74 – Calling Republican President Nixon both, “our last liberal President” and the “last President afraid of liberals”, Nader duly credits him with the lion’s share of progressive legislation such as the Air Quality Act (1967) and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970). How ironic.
1971 – Alarmed by a series of largely uncontested progressive legislative victories, Lewis Powell (soon to be a Nixon Supreme Court appointee) drafts his eponymous 34-page Memorandum to the US Chamber of Commerce. In it, he urges American business to form a lobbying and think-tank complex aimed at pushing back on the Left. This is the equivalent of waking a sleeping giant:
“The American economic system is under broad attack…Business must learn the lesson…that political power is necessary, that such power must be assiduously cultivated and that when necessary it must be used aggressively and with determination–without embarrassment and reluctance.”
1973 – Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation is formed. Ultimately, the Reagan Administration will adopt two-thirds of the Foundation’s 1981 policy recommendations.
1974 – The Powell Memorandum galvanizes the business community in short order; so quickly in fact that Nader concedes: “There hasn’t been a single major piece of legislation advancing the health, safety and economic rights of the American people since 1974.”
1978 – The Consumer Protection Act is defeated due to an unprecedented assault by corporate lobbing interests. Nader calls this the ‘high-water mark of the consumer movement’.
1978 – California freshman congressman Democrat Tony Coelho outspends his Republican opponent 2:1. Democratic Party big-wigs take keen notice.
1980 – Coehlo becomes chairman and chief fundraiser for The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or ‘D-triple-C’, the youngest since LBJ. Notes the Washington Times:
“Republicans erred in thinking businesses would support their free-market ideology. Mr. Coelho understood that what businesses really want from government is protection, tax breaks, loopholes and contracts.”
Enter two-fisted corporatism and the retail politics money chase.
1980s – Generally, the Reagan Era. A number of key liberal Senators are buried in the Reagan Landslide. One facet of Reaganomics involves appointing pro-business agency heads who oppose the spirit of the underlying regulations. This proves to be an effective strategy.
1993-present – Clintonism, often called Third Way politics, consolidated the corporatist gains achieved by Powell, Coehlo and Reagan. Indeed the Democratic Party is still a captive of Clintonism. How do we know this? Hillary Clinton was the party’s 2016 Presidential nominee and her name was floated just this week for the 2020 ticket.
Clintonism deserves expanded attention for it stone-cold cynicism and evil genius. Indeed Bill Clinton may be the Mephistopheles of this play. While Justice Powell may have hatched Satan’s spawn, the devastating duration of Clinton’s namesake movement –25 years and counting– certainly puts the former President in contention for chief body-snatcher.
Clinton realized that if he succeeded in shifting the Democratic Party to the right, he could compete on an equal footing for corporate dollars while continuing to enjoy the political support of the Left and Center. How so? Because the Democratic Party could be assured of winning the lesser-of-two-evils calculus every time, provided they peppered their rhetoric with feel-good leftist bromides. Laborite Tony Blair pursued the same Third Way politics in the UK. Where, after all, was the Left going to go?
The term ‘third way’ (Dick Morris called it triangulation) was meant to imply an authentic dialectical ‘best-of-the-best’ synthesis of traditional liberalism with self-aware business-friendliness. Critics however saw through it as little more than a cynical, “coddling of big money (except guns and tobacco), winning at any cost, flip-flopping and prevaricating”.
The plight of American liberalism over the last fifty years can be summarized thus: the progressive-liberal movement was remarkably short-lived (1964-74), the bulk of it was accomplished by a widely demonized Republican President (Nixon in 1969-74), Reaganomics dismantled much of it through deregulation while Clintonism finished the job by shutting the door to organized center-left resistance and promoting a full-on corporatist agenda. NAFTA anyone?
We close this circle with an astounding punchline from Ralph Nader: There hasn’t been a major piece of legislation advancing the American people’s interests for 44 years!
In the Valley of Death: A Conceptual Framework
Interestingly, a year after Unsafe at Any Speed, Bill Clinton mentor and Georgetown University Professor Carrol Quigley pointed the way to our future in his 1966 book, Tragedy and Hope:
“The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies… is a foolish idea. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can throw the rascals out at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. Then it should be possible to replace it, every four years if necessary, by the other party which will be none of these things but will still pursue, with new vigor, approximately the same basic policies.”
Over the ensuing half-century the American Democratic and Republican parties have achieved an even tighter conformance propelled by a monism that hides behind a putative party duopoly. Because yes, America is moving along an eschatological conveyor to a monist unity where, in time, even the Potemkin twin-villages will fall away.
In his book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, Sheldon Wolin refers to this monistic drive as totalism. Forget elaborate geopolitical analysis for a minute, and yes even Genie Oil and Gas. The reason Syria, Iran and North Korea are under assault is that they violate the totalizing ethos of the central banking regime. All the rest is secondary and tertiary newspaper fodder.
Dissent is an abomination to the monistic worldview. In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, it is imperative to the self-image of the regime that Goldstein wring ‘willing consent’ from Winston Smith. Big Brother must be legitimate even in his own eyes. It’s the same reason despots run uncontested on ballots and then bask in their lop-sided ‘victories’.
The ‘inversion’ in Wolin’s brand of totalitarianism derives from the fact that preeminent economic interests have harnessed the power of the State. Whereas in the classical form, Mussolini enlisted and subordinated economic interests to further the totalizing power of the State.
In Wolin’s configuration, “inverted totalitarianism perpetuates politics all the time but a politics that is not political…a politics without politics.” Political language –Left, Right, Conservative, Liberal– becomes a provisional exercise in crowd-pleasing. Moreover political discussion and analysis are deployed mainly to disguise the underlying corporatist motives lurking behind all public actions.
In the inverted (some might say perfected) form, there is no precise locus of political power, no charismatic leader, to be toppled, thus ‘ending the nightmare’. Rather the power is diffused and distributed within and throughout a featureless administrative state complicit with thousands of interlocking corporate interests. Wolin expands the complex here to include: “…governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers hav[ing] been seamlessly integrated into the system.” The serpent has no head. It has morphed into an ubiquitous atmosphere.
We find too in inverted totalitarianism the totalizing Spirit of Antichrist, hell-bent on a mission of complete earthly hegemony against which no human force can prevail. Not only is the Beast “not-agreement-capable”, it is agreement-impervious and wholly committed to an inhuman and eschatologically-ordained terminus where people are held in complete contempt.
A Pending Case Study
America is about to be conceptually ‘head-turned’ again with Trump’s negotiated trade deal, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), poised for debate in the Senate. Already, the counter-intuitive ramparts are being prepared.
Organized Labor is lining up with its age-old partner-in-corruption, the Democratic Party. Because the Donkey is loath to give Trump a victory on something as ‘close to its heart’ as American workers (that would be mighty embarrassing, wouldn’t it?), Organized Labor must do the same. This promises to be a cognitively dissonant whopper of a skirmish.
WND’s Curtis Ellis describes this alliance’s deep roots:
“There’s always been an unholy alliance between corporatism and the left. Since the birth of the progressive movement, big corporations have used the instrument of big government regulation to cement their market position and strangle small businesses, upstarts and insurgents who threatened their dominance.”
He probably meant the unholy alliance existing between corporatism and the Democratic Party. Indeed the evidence of Trump’s economic populism is on full display in the USMCA. The Democrats must be beside themselves.
Regional Vehicle Content (RVC) for all types of vehicles sold in North American is increasing from NAFTA’s 60% to 75% for most vehicle types, 40% of an automobile and 45% of a light truck must be produced using an average labor wage of $16/hour.
While admittedly not in the same league, this baseline wage-setting recalls Henry Ford’s transformative $5/day program. Overnight, Ford’s employees received in some case 150-200% wage bumps. The company’s dominant market share made his competitors match it or die.
Ford’s enlightened capitalist invented American discretionary income which went on to invent the middle class. Should this wage floor manage to stick and reverberate through Mexican society, the implications for that nation will be immense. North American wage parity will do much to ‘arbitrage away’ illegal immigration.
Predictably, this baseline wage is being picked at by Organized Labor because it isn’t indexed to inflation, Mexican compliance will hard to enforce, etc. Hear the grumbling already –and this from a party that managed to live with NAFTA for 25 years (for which Wall Street. a Democratic patron, is eternally grateful):
“House Democrats are particularly concerned about a provision that would require at least 30 percent of the labor used to build each car in Mexico to be completed by workers earning at least $16 an hour. That amount will rise to 40 percent by 2023 but the $16 wage is not indexed to inflation, meaning the increase will be diluted over time as prices rise.”
The Agreement’s Article 32.10 restricts the ability of all three countries to unilaterally negotiate free trade agreements with “non-market economies” (ahem, China). This transforms North America into a job-protecting trade bloc further increasing the continent’s market power.
The point is USMCA is an agreement the Democrats are politically (i.e. nominally) obliged to support, if only political obligations still mattered. Alas, Wall Street is the preeminent champion of borderless ‘free trade’ (read: globalism). Wall Street makes a fortune moving Main Street jobs offshore.
It will be fascinating to watch the Managed Democracy media apparatus grind against the evil Trump’s heroic efforts to reindustrialize America at a livable wage. Decades of anti-NAFTA crocodile tears will no longer be enough.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room. No, not that elephant. The other one. A true enemy of the Totalitarian Machine is measured by the outrage he evokes in all the proper suspects. On this point, President Trump passes with flying colors.
Multinational corporations are the foot soldiers of inverted totalitarianism set loose on the world. Their field commander is the US Chamber of Commerce, the single most powerful and feared lobbying group in Washington. Much can be said about Trump’s garrulous coarseness, his ego-driven bloviations. This is low-hanging fruit for the propaganda onslaught. Much can be said too of his slim prospects for success. Few can argue he’s an infuriating, yet all-too-human, force.
The Donkey’s stultified spokespeople have taken to calling him a fascist and a Nazi. When all else fails, Nazify the opposition. Trump’s ability to engage and excite the middle of America is frightening to all the right people, which is to say all the wrong people.
Trump spearheads a populist insurgency and the most exogenous proposition since at least JFK. This places him off the rote chart of American Political Spec-thumb.
Please, there are no panaceas and the hour for America in its current permutation is late. Nonetheless the sense among at least half the nation is that they have in Trump a President who is discernibly grappling against forces anathema to their interests. This alone is a sea-level change after decades of hermetic elitism. Agreement capability, if it is to be resumed, is an outward emanation that must begin at home.