The National Mantlepiece


Picture with me a vast luxurious hunting lodge, high-ceilinged, massive oak beams, bear and other trophy rugs, an inner sanctum of America’s ruling groups, formally known as “Interpenetration,” but more affectionately, to its members, “Co-Partnership,” to signify the bastion of joint-suzerainty of business and government, an integrated system, lately making room for the military as a part of the government, but in reality gaining increased autonomy as the agency  synthesizing a more potent mode of organization: Advanced mnopoly capitalism and the State.  And in this impressive room stands a stone fireplace occupying much of the two-storey North wall, on top of which, the mantlepiece displays the plaques of achievement exhibited to reinforce the Members’ sense of honor and duty to the nation that has treated them with such deference, and among themselves, as stalwart citizens of wealth and property, that which provides the engine of innovation and progress.

Sorry, this edifice exists only in my mind, thought up this morning when reading an editorial and background item in the New York Times (May 20), about the derivatives market and the failure, STILL, to bring it under control—although as fiction goes, this has more truth than the reality which the White House, Congress, and the media zealously try to hide: an oligarchic-despotic framework dressed in the garb of democracy.  Consider just on derivatives, a $700T (yes, “T” for trillion) derivatives market, opaque, yet perhaps not as much as Obama’s War Councils, in which just five banks, each worthy of respect enough so that their CEOs should constitute the honor guard at the Super Bowl, control over 90% of all derivatives contracts.

Yes, you guessed right: JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley.  They are the chief tenants and mortgage holders of my imaginary corporate retreat, but they are not snobs, even if their guests are primarily hedge fund operators and asset managers, for they freely, joyfully fraternize with industrialists (especially defense contractors) like GE and Boeing, construction companies, preferably Halliburton, and on occasion, admit the likes of the private contractors who supply mercenaries—all of these in addition to the special guests drawn from all sectors of the military brass and, the crème de la crème, the CIA and JSOC, quintessential units of the towering National Security State under Obama’s guiding hand.

Please come with me as we review the plaques signifying achievements in the Obama Era of Liberalized Fascism.  Pride of place goes to the Merit of Constitutional Fulfillment, a plaque larger than the others because the achievements have been so great.  Listed among other things is the itemization of the expansion of Executive Power, the plaque dwelling on how our beloved POTUS has surpassed Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II—no mean trick—in the commission of war crimes, the enlargement of the military establishment, the use of the Espionage Act both to reinforce opaqueness of government and enforce domestic conformity, and, negatively, pretend obstructionism, while working for deregulation and, internationally, so-called market freedom.  With that record of accomplishment, one would think that no further plaques would be necessary.

But, after all, in my mythical Temple of Big Business joined at the hip to the State, one expects commendations for the remaking of America itself, which only this partnership could bring about, notably, perhaps the widest disparities of wealth and power in American history, the upper stratum gaining a far greater share of national income than previously (a new social arithmetic of billionaire-ism) accompanied, not coincidentally—and really deserving a separate plaque–, the steady disassembling of the social safety net.  After all, cleaning the Lodge should be cost-effective: no unionization, a low minimum wage, the expected deference from inferiors.

I fear that one such cleaning operation is now in progress, so I’ll only mention in passing other plaques of distinction, testifying to Obama’s virtues: one for Guantanamo, awarded by Judges at The Hague and, in special session, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee; another, for the greatly expanded use of the armed drone for targeted assassination, assassination the proudly accepted improvement in modern warfare; and on capitalism’s side, the outsourcing of manufacturing operations as the adroit means of improving profit margins, while bestowing the blessings of America on our Third World neighbors and friends.  The “satanic mills” of 19th century England have now been replicated by the philanthropy of 21st century America.

There is still room on the mantlepiece to celebrate more mergers, further monopolization, more billionaires, and, not to be forgotten, global military and paramilitary operations for promoting American hegemony.

Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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