Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

From the Better Late Than Never Department

Salon is a bit late to the party, but I’m glad to see more political writers beginning to record what should have been understood from the outset: Capitalist “democracy” is the product of a system of mirages, illusions and deceptions, and the interests of ordinary people are represented under it, if at all, only as limited exceptions occasionally and temporarily forced upon the ruling elite through aggressive and assiduous agitation on the part of public advocates. How many times has Howard Zinn tried to tell us this? How often has Noam Chomsky sought to make this clear?

U.S. flag with people in lieu of stars

What is a nation? Is it the imaginary lines on the ground,
the flag, or the people?
[ Image Source ]

When commentaries such as this talk of how both “left and right” fail to act in the public interest, however, they disserve their readers by perpetuating a stale myth that the left is actually an active participant in government, falling into the conditioned delusion that “liberal” Democrats are leftists. It is doubtless useful to the ruling elite to perpetuate such an illusory dichotomy: As long as people think there are really distinct factions, they can easily be led or pushed into one or the other of the purely nominal factions that actually exist, thereby squandering for partisan campaigns — in quest of transitory triumphs for one or the other wing of the neoliberal duopoly — the energy that might otherwise go into a real left that recognizes and loathes the elite for what it is.

This article and others like it bemoan the “loss” of representation by those outside the elite, contrasting it woefully with an idyll of the 1950s in which the American middle class was prosperous and rising and a vision of the 1960s and ’70s in which America’s marginalized minorities began to attain significant concessions with their demands for social equality, and leaving the reader to infer that everything began to collapse only with the advent of Ronald Reagan in 1980. But such social mobility and realignment was never the rule; it was a brief exception predicated upon the power of the trade unions introduced, with much conflict and no little violence, in the early decades of the twentieth century; proximately, it was occasioned by the end of a depression and a world war, the emergence of unprecedented wealth, the insistence of veterans of that long conflict upon seeing a fraction of that wealth devolve upon the workers who made it possible, and, finally, by the refusal of the most oppressed to continue meekly to bear the burdens of misery and injustice laid upon them.

But we live in a society whose corporations are not merely permitted but legally adjured to make as large a profit for their shareholders as possible, and barred from considering the moral implications of their decisions. Like the genie out of the bottle, they will therefore — by our command, or rather by the command of the elite that decides our destinies, in our name, without deigning to consult us — behave amorally, taking as much gain as they can by whatever means are most expeditious. It is therefore unsurprising that many of them have a history of functional psychopathy: They have overthrown governments, destituted whole nations caught in their talons of debt, and poisoned and desolated towns unlucky enough to be their neighbors. They have also mastered, as no government ever has, the art of public relations (formerly known as propaganda); their influence, thanks to lessons they’ve learned from applied psychology, is as invisible as it is ubiquitous.

As long as corporations have existed under this charter, the resurgence of the elite has been inevitable; eventually, the tide of democratic reforms that the agitations of the 1960s compelled turned — or rather, it was turned, through a thousand million avenues of manufactured cultural influence. Sufficient concessions were granted to redeem the illusion of a fair system making needed adjustments, and then the protesters were led into the corporate economy and co-opted; then came the Big Chill, when the struggle was pronounced won, and a new day of justice at hand.

But that day never arrived. The threat to their order diverted, the elite slowed, then stopped, then finally reversed the momentum of reform, enlisting allies by manufacturing a backlash among the slightly privileged near the bottom of the terraced pyramid of wealth. What we now see is not a sudden decline from a former state of grace: It is merely a return to a state of “normalcy”: a kleptoplutocracy in which the powerful loot the nation of its wealth and let the rest of us suffer the consequences.

Originally published as a review of a salon.com article on the corporate counterrevolution.

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