Forgive my not dancing in the streets

8 Nov

It’s official. The latest of America’s grotesque parodies of democracy has delivered its verdict. Three Strikes Joe, who championed the war on Iraq with its million slain1 and its descent into chaos and terror amid the asset grabs of wholesale privatisation,2 will in January become the forty-sixth commander of the US Empire.

Never mind voter fraud issues raised by Team Trump – baseless, we’re assured, by media I can barely trust with the football scores.3 Never mind the manufacture of opinion, vital to squaring class rule with the trappings of democracy, by media whose business model puts them in thrall to market forces.4 To these aspects of the circus now winding down we can add that the cost of running for the top job currently stands – How Much Does it Cost to Become US President? – at $2-3 billion.5

Meditate on that fact. It says all we need to know about ‘bipartisan’ commitment to the end, though there be growing division over means,6 of preserving Wall Street dominance of the planet and all its resources.

So excuse me while I don’t kiss the sky. Here’s Caitlin Johnstone (yes, again!) this morning:

The hysterical exaggerations of the threat Trump posed weren’t destructive because unfair to Trump, but because they created the false impression that those who came before and those who will come after are not equally depraved.

There’s no chance of Trump challenging the election with any efficacy unless (A) he badly wants to remain president and (B) sufficiently large power structures want him to do so.7 Neither is true. He’s out. Those who spent four years being wrong about Trump draining the swamp are now laboring under the delusion he’d be willing and able to stop the entire swamp from stealing an election from him. He isn’t.

“I voted against fascism.”

No you voted against what you saw as a more dangerous fascism. To pretend that a lifelong murderous authoritarian like Biden is fascism-free is to deceive yourself into future complacency.

And here’s me in August 2016, with Hillary Clinton still the bookies’ favourite for POTUS No. 45:

HRC may not even be the lesser evil. And if she is, it’s by so narrow a margin as to make it a non consideration in electoral choice. Don’t assume I back Trump. He’s unleashed humanity’s basest instincts, as right wing populists do. But what would I do if I were an American? I’d throw heart and soul into exposing a phoney democracy that promises more of the same: imperialist wars and a trail of chaos across the globe …

I never went so far as to declare Trump the lesser evil, though a weak case might have been made for that. On the one hand Clinton was pushing for no-fly zones in Syria of the kind which had helped reduce Libya to chaos, terror and slavery – and now promised to place two nuclear powers in head on confrontation. On the other, Trump had repeatedly expressed a wish to work with Putin against Isis.

I say “a weak case” for two reasons. I doubted – see my 2017 post, Why Trump Rolled Over on Russia – that Trump in office would have either the political capital or the political skills to take on a deep state committed to containing Russia for reasons I’ve set out often – most recently here. Two, other aspects of Trump’s rhetoric suggested that, were he to defy the odds and carry through any such rapprochement, it would be at the cost of – indeed, motivated by – worsening relations with Beijing.

(On both counts – cave-in on Russia, continuation of Obama’s ‘pivot to China’ – we were right, though for all his excesses DRT did not do as HRC had vowed to do. There was no attempt, not even with the doctrine of US Exceptionalism finding terrifying corollary in that of Full Spectrum Dominance, to impose no-fly zones on Syria. No replay – to a chorus of media paeons to that euphemism for Wall Street known as ‘the international community’ – of Cuba ’62.)

In one of my many exchanges as November 2016 approached, an American friend appealed to my sense of taste and decorum. Trump, she insisted, is just so embarrassing! This person, warm hearted and highly intelligent, was voicing the same superficiality, the same blithe indifference to global realpolitik – mirroring, though with less excuse, the tunnel vision of Trump supporters – that the liberal intelligentsia brings habitually to bear on such issues.

Embarrassing! But of course. We don’t do embarrassing in the Oval Office …

And now? Now these giddy liberals are dancing, metaphorically at least, in the streets. There’s a zillion ways I could say why I won’t be out there with them. Here I’ll settle for a list of questions set out on November 4, one day after Big Tuesday, in the Black Agenda Report:

  • Will either candidate really have the ability to restore the millions of jobs lost during the current economic crisis?
  • Will illegal subversion of Venezuela and Nicaragua stop, and blockade of Cuba end?
  • Will the prison-industrial complex that is housing tens of thousands of the Black and Brown economically redundant be closed?
  • Will the charges be dropped against Edward Snowden and the extradition demand for Julian Assange end?
  • Will Gaza continue to be the largest open-air prison on the planet?8
  • Will the U.S. reverse its decision to deploy new intermediate-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads targeting Russia in Europe and China in the Asia-Pacific?9

  • Will the Saudi and Obama-originated war on Yemen end?
  • Will the U.S. settler-colonial state really defund the police and the military?

* * *

  1. One million Iraqi dead is a conservative estimate and does not include the half million under-5 deaths from Bill Clinton’s sanctions; deaths his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, described as a “price worth paying”.
  2. The privatisation of post invasion Iraq was overseen by Paul Bremer, on whom the Bush administration conferred powers of literally life and death. As with privatisation in Chile, Poland, South Africa and other states beholden to Washington, hence to Wall Street, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine (2007) is excellent. I have little interest in Klein’s wider views but her mix of meticulous documentation with a lucidly gripping narrative makes this an invaluable source. On only one matter has history shown her wrong on Iraq. She writes of the victors steering clear of oil, since asset grabs there would be too blatant. But evidence available even as Shock Doctrine went to print shows oil to have indeed been an offer Wall Street could not refuse.
  3. “Media I can barely trust”? I do not say individual journalists are conscious liars. A few are. Most, I suspect, aren’t. But journalists, fewer and fewer of whom actually get out and investigate, are no less credulous than the next guy. Worse, journos who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. And proprietors? Be they Citizen Kane style kingmakers like Murdoch and Rothermere, or Trusts like Guardian Media Group, footnote 4 applies.
  4. Noam Chomsky: “media are big businesses selling privileged audiences to other big businesses. Now the question is, what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?”
  5. Update June 2021. I unintentionally misled readers with the implication that running for president requires $2-3bn in sponsorship. That figure, I later realised, refers to the overall cost of conducting the US presidential election. The difference is too large to leave unamended, but too small to negate my wider point that in the USA, even more than in the West at large, democracy is a charade. One reason for saying so was given in a post on the media in the wake of poor showing by Britain’s Labour Party in June 2021: I can think of no more cogent argument for insisting that Western democracy is ninety-five percent bogus than that (a) democracy implies consent, (b) consent is meaningless if not informed, and (c) informed consent implies truly independent media. That last we do not have when they are “large corporations selling privileged audiences to other large corporations”. To which we can add that when an election costs billions, mostly spent on airtime, the large corporations buying those privileged audiences are the two front-running camps.
  6. In a recent post, needlessly fogged up by my lifelong vice of trying to say too many different things, I cited an 8,000 worder by Dimitrus Konstantakopoulos. This former Syriza leading light points to a serious rift within the imperialist camp, not just in the USA but across the global north, between neocon and neoliberal. (A divide reflected loosely at best in that between Democrats and Republicans.) It is in this context that the Biden-Trump play off should be seen.
  7. The much touted fantasy of Trump Refusing To Go is a textbook case of lust, probably hard wired into our species, for comic book villains. We can get seriously high on the righteous indignation of it all, and on a vision of the Good Guys storming in, Navy Seal style, to evict the Bad Guy. (Our narrative managers play on this addiction to childish morality tales – Assad, Assange, Mugabe, Putin et al.) The truth, as Caitlin says, is that Trump lacks the power base for any such thing. Any usefulness he may once have had for US imperialism’s neocon wing is spent. He has no viable plan – which would have outweighed any amount of embarrassment – for stopping China’s rise.
  8. This from the centrist Al-Monitor, November 6: “If Netanyahu were eligible to vote in the USA he would have voted for Trump. On the other hand, Netanyahu [may have] squeezed all he can from this US president and might prefer a first Biden term to a second Trump one. “A second-term president is dangerous,” a senior Israeli source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Especially when that president is Trump who is unpredictable to begin with.”
  9. This from CounterPunch, November 6: “The Obama regime’s deplorable trade and military “pivot to China” – along with its sanctions against high-ranking Russians and Russian energy, financial and defense firms, and the Trump regime’s provocations, sanctions and insults aimed at both countries – have born fruit: There is talk of a military alliance between China and Russia. Both countries deny such is in the offing, but that it is even discussed reveals how effectively U.S. foreign policy has created and united enemies … China and Russia cannot ignore the advantage of teaming up in the face of U.S. hostility.”

18 Replies to “Forgive my not dancing in the streets

  1. The observations outlined here are also worth some deeper consideration.

    The available public record of Biden and those behind him makes grim reading. From the indentured servitude of the student loans – ring fenced against bankruptcy laws, along with the scam of Obamacare and the cast iron Biden commitment against Universal Health Care; through to having the back of Wall Street/Goldman Sachs in socialising losses/privatising gains, the endless wars for power, control and resources, the Crime Bill, NAFTA, kids in cages and so on.

    Yet again we have those who claim to be “progressive” or on the ” left” giving a free pass to the same policies, behaviours and actions which, when enacted by anyone else – from Nixon through to Trump – are “evil”, “bad”, “fascist” etc.

    Dragged out into the light of honest and rational scrutiny and boiled down to its essentials what this amounts to is nothing less than screwing over your own population and bringing terror, mass murder and destruction to other countries across the globe being fine and “cool” if your name is Bill, Hillary, Barack, Joe and Kamela.

    Well pass me the sick bag because this is nothing other than gang warfare. Its certainly got bugger all to do with improving the situation and making things better.

    Searching for the differences between the faux choices on offer here comes down to two factors: Firstly, in terms of the the same policies, behaviours and actions – regardless of which gang is allowed in the driving seat – Trump’s major failing is that he’s incompetent at it. Which is why the endless war creation scam has been stalled for four years.

    Secondly, and arguably worse from the point of view of those running the Empire, Trump is up front, open and straight about it all. His “crime” is not being a hypocrite about what the US Empire is about.

    Not that it makes a great deal of difference when faced with the blank, hostile non-response of a self-identifying Liberal-left which refuses point blank to deal with such harsh realities. Favouring instead the simplistic platitudes of street slogans – demonising and cancelling anyone who disagrees . Reduced to creating lists of anyone not in the “right” gang –

    An approach which is a two edged sword and likely to come back and bite those taking such an approach in the arse when business as usual is resumed (under the leadership of the right (on) gang, naturally) as those at the receiving end of the Empires malignancy under a Biden/Harris Presidency, home and abroad, would have solid grounds for picking up that baton and taking the same line with those who put being in the right gang above doing the business.

    Any strand of “left” or “progressive” thinking which can only analyse in such simple dichotomies of black and white has about as much practical efficacy as the Duchy of Grand Fenwick in Leonard Wibberley’s novel ‘The Mouse that Roared.’

    As another keen observer and writer, Pratchett (channeling Marley’s ‘mental slavery’ meme), noted in ‘Interesting Times;’ you don’t need a whip when so many carry their own internal whip with them- which is far worse.

    • We should stop calling US citizens who are slightly to the left of the extreme right of the Republican Party as being “Liberal-Left”. “There is no popular ‘left’ in the USA – only fringe elements like Chomsky and the slightly less ‘fringe’ elements such as Ilhan Omar who are basically pretty isolated. Further, there is no logical political connection between the words ‘Liberal’ and ‘left’. Until ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ cease to be in effect swear words in general US discourse, there will be no effective political ‘left’ in the US – saying so just causes confusion and obfuscation.

      • Correct. Unfortunately what thee and me think doesn’t stop a lot of people self identifying themselves as such – and not just on one side of the Atlantic.

        It used to be observed that the Mayflower was the largest wooden hulled ship in history on the grounds that it had to be to carry all their ‘Founding Father’ ancestors who many Americans claimed sailed on it. Seems something similar is operating here.

        • You’re risking a large controversy with the fundamentalist Christians there. Noah of course had the largest wooden hulled ship in history. I mean he had to have – look at the size of some of those dinosaurs. 🙂

  2. Phil: I admire and envy the astonishing breadth of your knowledge and insight and the searing sweep of your critical gaze. You see much of the world as it almost certainly is – corrupt, unjust, wicked, driven by the corrosive self-interest of entrenched élites and the megalomania of fallen men (mostly men). You explode delusions and rip apart the lies that are the currency of most political discourse. You expose the dark interiors of hifalutin propaganda and the smooth talk of monsters. Your rage and determination are heroic. It’s all stunning, genuinely outstanding stuff.

    Most of us cannot exist on such a fiery plane of revelation; it is too much to manage, too much to bear, too much to salvage some glimpse of hope or even illusion.
    Amidst all its glories and achievements, the world of human society, especially of politics, is an entangled and dangerous place – owned and occupied largely by a deficient species with little vision and less compassion; led by usually narrow, deficient often macho men. It has always been so; there is little hope that it will change, other than intermittently and weakly.

    Some of us live on a plane where these truths are too hard to live with; where, for example, embarrassment – that you ridicule – is a deeply uncomfortable emotion, mixed as it may be with guilt or shame, or arising from threats to a fragile sense of stability. I feel that complex pattern of sharp emotions when I visit slaving forts in West Africa or when a Thai friend expresses admiration for my country. My embarrassment is a symptom of suffering. Relief from embarrassment is a liberation.

    Joe Biden returns us to public discourse that is familiar to us, that purports to express and pursue the shallow rituals and decencies of international politics; that embraces the language at least of civilized existence. It masks likely horrors and abuses, but the adoption of the language offers some hope of the possibility that it represents genuine aspirations and might result in some decent outcomes. I will vote for that any day if the only alternative is the language of disorder and division and behaviour that nourishes them. I will rejoice at the return, however flawed and unreliable it might be; a flash of light is preferable to darkness.

    And that is the problem for those of us who do not have the pulsing radical blood and steely sinews that you evince: we might imagine a different way, desire it with all our being, but we cannot survive on that plane of outrage and passion; it is too lonely and dispiriting and hard. The Guardian may be a soft, unreliable, duplicitous organ, but like Joe Biden, it is better (for me) than most of the others on offer (not all); it provides some comfort and reassurance, some bulwark against despair, which might be the destination if we dwell on things as they truly are, for there is probably no remedy for things as they truly are. We are a deficient species for which even the threat of imminent obliteration cannot drive us to mend our ways.

    I do not want to stop thinking, or to deny the reality of the deeper truth, or to dwell in an illusion, but there are places I cannot go and stay if I am to preserve my sanity and my will to live.

    • Hi Bruce – good to hear from you. I’m genuinely flattered by your first paragraph. Naturally I disagree with what follows but I’ve no need to repeat my arguments, nor you yours. I’ll pick out just one thing. Yes, embarrassment is an unpleasant experience. But here we’re speaking of an intelligent person proposing, in all seriousness, that Trump’s buffoonery outweighs the millions slain by administrations of both conservative and ‘liberal’ stripe. Also, in the context I raised the issue, of a Hillary – “we came, we saw, he died, ha ha” – Clinton revelling in her taste not only for more of the same but for brinksmanship of the thermonuclear kind.

      Best wishes, Phil

  3. Trump, she insisted, is just so embarrassing! This person, warm hearted and highly intelligent, was voicing the same superficiality, the same blithe indifference to global realpolitik – mirroring, though with less excuse, the tunnel vision of Trump supporters – that the liberal intelligentsia brings habitually to bear on such issues.

    This hits the nail on the head. The United States intelligentsia are all about pretension- the pretence that Jim Crow was nothing to do with them, that, had they not been pushed aside, the ‘Indians’ would have been well treated and valued, their lands paid for and so on, that Vietnam and the centuries long torture of Latin America, the sponsorship of Apartheid in South Africa and Israel, the inspiring of the Nuremberg laws and the Nazi project, etc ad nauseam, were all imposed upon the civilised, Henry James reading ruling class, the Ivy League graduates.

    Imposed by whom? The poor, the ‘white trash’ the populists, the mob, the unenlightened people.

    It’s all lies. Trump was a very average, entirely typical member of the class which has always ruled the United States and has been ruling the world for half a century. And the reason that ‘enlightened’ Americans hate him is that he is exemplifies their real nature. Just as Joe Biden, Strom Thurmond’s old mate, does.

    So don’t blame “populists” Philip, that is what American intellectuals do, and always have done, but is wasn’t the ‘people’ who invented witch hunting-it was the Ministers; it wasn’t the poor whites in the South who invented Jim Crow but the Plantation owners, desperate to avoid the consequences of the unity of poor people across racial divides. Oh, and it wasn’t the people who invented ballot box stuffing and election rigging (why would they?) it was the bosses afraid of the many. The same coves who cheated Sanders in successive Primary campaigns and made no attempt to hide it.

    • Excellent as ever. Your point about Jim Crow has its parallel in the need, of Belfast shipyard and linen mill owners, to play the orange card whenever Protestant and Catholic workers showed signs of finding common cause.

      (And as I think you know, Scottish Presbyterianism’s answer to the American South’s white trash – the dispossessed of Highland Clearances – were invited to Ireland to take up lands cleared of Catholics, and by that fact sow the seeds of bitter division.)

      That said, the populist leaders – and there are striking similarities between Donald Trump and Ian Paisley – cannot escape calumny.

  4. Philip I do not accept that Paisley and Trump are ‘populists.’
    I use the term not in the sense that Cold War intellectuals have been doing but in reference to actual political movements such as the People’s Party in the United States. By sheer coincidence there is an article in the latest NY Review of Books about the massacre of Wilmington North Carolina in 1898. The author (David Blight: An American Pogrom) makes the point-in the free few paragraphs until it goes behind a paywall- that of all the massacres of blacks in C19th USA this one was the worse. It was specifically aimed at putting an end to black voting and succeeded in reducing the number of voters on the North Carolina rolls from 126,00 in 1898 to 6000 in 1902.
    Put this in perspective: North Carolina was one of the few states with Peoples Party Governor and Senators, as a result of an alliance between Republicans (Blacks) and the Peoples Party. Both in Federal and State matters the Populists were radical, redistributive and anti-imperialist. The Democrats, led inter alia by FDR’s mentor Josephson, the editor of Wilmington’s paper which was spreading racist propaganda and promoting the massacre, were conservative, anti-working class and wedded to US imperialist adventures . Anyway, the Democrats won, North Carolina was reintegrated into the Solid South and the People’s Party was smashed on the rock of racism.
    It seems a bit unfair to call Trump a populist, in fact he is a conservative racist in the Democratic party tradition- for a populist indistinguishable from Biden.
    Then, of course, there were the Russian Populists, who were radicals too. And there is the English tradition, exemplified by the likes of William Cobbett, of populism- the tradition of the Many fighting the Few.

    • I do not accept that Paisley and Trump are ‘populists.’

      OK bevin. That’s simple then. We’re using that term differently. Since I’ve no strong attachment to it as descriptor for either man, and since the matter is in any case quite marginal to the thrust of my piece, let’s just park it there.

  5. Fair enough.
    My concern with the misuse of the term Populist by elitists promoting the idea that democracy needs to be controlled by the wiser heads of the wealthy and powerful is, perhaps, obsessive. But it is not mistaken, as the fate of Jeremy Corbyn demonstrates.

    • Words are just that. Sometimes we wade through needless treacle simply because our understanding of a term differs. Take the word ‘materialism’ …

      Once I understand your use, and you mine, it’s easy to move forward. I’m happy to set aside my use of ‘populist’ and use some other term for the reckless egocentricities of Trump. (My comparison of him with the bigoted but in his own way principled Paisley is unfair on the latter.)

  6. “Never mind voter fraud issues raised by Team Trump – baseless, we’re assured, by media I can barely trust with the football scores.”

    It’s funny to think we are assured that this election is free of fraud by the same media which, with equal vehemence, assured us that the election which gave us Trump was fixed by the Russians.

    • Ain’t it just! Me, I’ve no idea whether there’s any merit to Team Trump’s claims. I’m more interested in the unquestioning assumption that there can’t possibly be …

      • I’ve just read this from the Guardian last year. Though very much informed by Guardian Russophobia it unwittingly shows how maybe – just maybe – Team Trump have a point.

        Pepe Escobar wrote yesterday on election interference systems – Hammer and Scorecard – devised for pursuit of empire agendas overseas but usable in the US. Pepe is always worth a read, if excitable of tone. Referring to Murdoch’s switch of allegiances – akin to that from Major to Blair in the UK – he notes:

        The Fox News/ New York Post angle is enticing. Why are they suddenly supporting Biden? … Murdoch made it very clear, via the laptop from hell caper, that he has all sorts of kompromat on the Bidens. So they will do whatever he wants. Murdoch does not need Trump anymore.

        Nor, in theory, does the GOP. Former CIA insiders assure of serious backroom shenanigans going on between GOP honchos and the Biden-Harris gang. Trade-offs bypassing Trump – which [whom?] most of the GOP hates with a vengeance. The most important man in Washington will be GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

        To which a BTL comment adds: “no one gets to be presidential possible elect unless there’s plenty of dirt against him /her should they get out of line”.

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