Sticking It to the (Class) Enemy
Poor Tea Partiers, assigned the blame for all that has gone and is going wrong in liberal America. What of liberal America itself? Blameless, besieged by intransigent nutcakes, or rather, indistinguishable from those identified with Reaction, holding up the latter for ridicule in order to certify a mythic Centrism for the nation as a whole and pretend to humanitarian credentials, themselves vitiated by hiding behind the term while conducting interventions and hegemonic movements in the best tradition of power-politics?
If the Tea Party is the Far Right, I propose a new political typology, with most of the rest of the country, Republicans and Democrats alike, members of the Mocha Party, i.e., an enriched brew more insidious for its seeming sophistication—from tricolor hats, now to business suits and warm-up jackets, but with the same commitment to militarism, corporatism, an underlying paranoia directed to what has already been thrown over the ideological cliff, socialism, universal health care, full employment, equalitarianism as the national ideal, as though somehow the realization of any or all of these would destroy America. And unfortunately, that may be right, for American capitalism has wholly filled out and corrupted the ideological universe in which we, as Americans, live, the air we breathe, the goals we choose—or for that matter, Obama’s favorite boastful cliché to silence all criticism (though to opposite effect): that’s who we are as Americans. Who we are, from the vaporization of human beings through the targeted assassination of drone warfare to the willing submission as a people to the bludgeoning of civil liberties through massive surveillance into our personal lives.
Liberal America has been and remains a fig leaf to cover international predation under the banner of market freedom, and the structural impoverishment and imposed sense of inferiority of one-third of the nation, in both cases, silently accepted as though sanctioned by divine law. We have become spectators at our own funeral, a winding procession the hearses piled up, patiently waiting their cue to move out through the White House gates past the foreclosed properties, gated communities, splendiferous banks, deteriorating infrastructure, a mishmash of wealth and poverty held together by the bonds of hatred for all things which bring into question our own superior moral virtue. Psychologists might say, this is at bottom self-hatred, projected onto an enemy, but we know better, our military strength the means of overcoming doubt, the certification of power, grandeur, exceptionalism—so why abandon the moral high ground, however gained, which has worked so well for the risks of peace, social justice, respect for the international community, which can only lead to the diminution of America’s global standing?
Mocha Partiers, occupying the seven-tenths of the political-ideological spectrum, the remainder divided (15% each) between Tea Partiers, thirsting for further recruits, and the Left, desperately seeking to carve out autonomous space, weakened from within through vacillation, and from without, by the presumed attraction of a Democratic party corrupt from head to toe and skillful in dressing betrayed promises into a liberal/progressive fetishism coasting on practiced deception and portraying the Right as outside what has become the mainstream. W.E.B. DuBois spoke of the Talented Tenth. Radicals are our generation’s Talented Fifteenth, facing like Sisyphus an uphill struggle, not only to organize effectively but also gain purchase ideologically in a social system where obfuscation rules and clarity of vision is dismissed as traitorous conduct or prosecuted as communistic. The undertakers are busy at work.
Surveillance has a bipartisan history (itself confirming the Mocha span on the spectrum), but intensified greatly under Obama, whose respect for civil liberties extends only so far as not allowing for the use of armed drones to assassinate Americans in this country (overseas, another story). Guantanamo spans the parties. Whistleblowers in disrepute spans the parties, although here Bush II and his predecessors are novices when it comes to Espionage Act prosecutions, compared to Obama. Executive power, ditto. Enlarging the role of the CIA, particularly its operational capacity and mission—ditto. Obama is Bush III, with the role of Cheney multiplied tenfold. Nuclear modernization (improved lethality) continues apace. The transfer of battleships, submarines, and aircraft carriers with their battle groups –all as part of the geostrategic rebalancing of US military forces–to the Pacific theater, not merely ditto, but the departure from previous administrations. Military bases, long-range aircraft nuclear-capable, alliance treaties and joint maneuvers, verily the Democrats preempt the field of foreign-policy superpatriotism. Strangely, one hears little of Tea Party foreign policy, as though it is difficult to surpass Obama’s interventionism.
Class struggle evaporates in the assurance of global hegemony, and yet, as American power recedes in the real world of multiple power-centers, one would have thought the magic spell of Exceptionalism would become diminished and people would come to recognize the essential irrationality of their lives as a first step toward fundamental social change. Not a chance! The more difficult the management of US hegemony, the more assertive America becomes, both at home and abroad, to keep itself on top. And finally, much of the remainder of the world has had enough. Putin checks the bombing of Syria. Britain has second thoughts about the Middle East. The president of Brazil cancels a state visit to the United States. Even Iran appears to be winning over world opinion against the US embargo policy and “all-options-on-the-table” threats of attack. With fewer cards to play, Obama is still less to be trusted.
Where will it all end? Mocha Partiers will soon probably absorb their Tea Party excrescence into a viable right-wing expression, aka, authoritarianism, and thereby push radicalism, if not to the breaking point, than at least into increased symbolic acts which the State can easily control. Capitalism, in the process, will become all-penetrative, filling consciousness with subservience and displacing the very concept of class to the junk heap of history: the citizen qua soldier of industry. Pavlovian, acting on cue, to vote, consume, if necessary, fight, in the name of Washington, Lincoln, and the Holy Dollar. The assault on class is heightened as its relevance declines—rather than the opposite—because authoritarianism feeds on weakness, crushing those below, and then despising them to cover over the arbitrary acts of cruelty. Do I exaggerate? The charade of ideological difference currently being played out in Washington limits participation to Tea-Mocha Partiers, not a radical to be found nor a legislative context and its supporters having anything to do with the social welfare.
With each supposed battle in Congress, the structure and contours of a social safety net shrink further, leaving citizenship an empty promise insofar as democratic governance ought to confer an obligation on government to provide, as a minimum, for FDR’s freedom from want and fear, and, because the society has such greater resources to marshal than in the New Deal, a level of decency of housing, employment, and rock-bottom respect for the privacy and integrity of the individual, than certainly obtains at present. Measured by its objective potentiality, American society is a dismal failure. No one in the inclusive 85% mentions the military, except to expand and cheer it on. That omission unites Democrats, Republicans, and Tea Party activists, members of the latter, whom, all in common, wear ideological blinders so as not to criticize military spending and the growing internal class differentiation in wealth and power, at home, or, overseas, the looming confrontation with China, the restrictive (on Asia) provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the global necklace of military bases—economy in government, translating as lowering corporate taxes while extracting benefits from out of the hide of those who can least afford it.
Sticking it to the (class) enemy simply means, then, mobilizing the repressive societal mechanisms—the “it” in the formulation—to the working class and below, as the internal structural-cultural-ideological steamroller to ensure their political neutralization and economic condition of impoverishment, of vital importance because the bottom strata must be regarded as the enemy (as in class enemy) if society is to function properly under capitalism, more specifically, American capitalism, which must not permit its hierarchical structure (a pyramidal system of power) or political culture (approval of wealth inequality, and internalization of failure, for those who do not attain it) to meet with opposition within or outside of the political process. As America moves into its phase of political-economic decline on the global stage, its hegemonic formula of external expansion-internal regimentation becomes more meaningful for the bipartisan political leadership—and to which the American people will become increasingly habituated.
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. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch in the fall of 2013.