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Empire of the Senseless


For the sake of argument, let’s assume the following to be true: Barack Obama is not a stooge, a cipher, an empty suit, or a puppet. He is not incompetent, indecisive, or deranged. He is, in fact, intelligent, purposeful, and rational. Let us further assume that Obama is sincere in his actions, if not always his rhetoric, and that his actions, from the persecution of whistleblowers to the assassination of American citizens, are premeditated, planned, intentional and taken without ambivalence.

What do we make of this? On the surface, it means that Obama is as culpable as he is capable. His icy certitude has always been his most grating affectation. Yet there is no one to hold him accountable for his crimes against the Constitution, high and low, not even the Visigoths of the House.  Despite the daily hysterics fulminating from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, Obama is the choice of the elites, the man they want at the helm at this fraught moment for global capitalism. It’s his competence that makes him so dangerous.

Obama is the executive manager of what the British punk band the Mekons called the “Empire of the Senseless”. By this, I don’t mean an empire that is inchoate, but a government that doesn’t sense, that doesn’t feel, that is immune to the conditions and desires of the governed. America has degenerated into a sham state, a republic of the observed and monitored, where government operations are opaque and menacing. A pervasive dread seems to envelope the nation.

So, in the face of this reality, we confront, once more, Lenin’s piercing question: what is to be done? This is not a metaphysical exercise any more, but an existential and practical one of the most extreme urgency. How do we respond to an ossified state that serves abstract interests yet remains chillingly indifferent to human suffering? Moreover, where do we turn when the institutions that once served as forces of social change are now largely kaput.

The politics of lesser evilism remains a crippling idée fixe for most of the Left, despite the carnage strewn across the landscape by the politicians they have enabled over the last two decades: from the Clintons to John Kerry and Obama. The Democratic Party itself has become a parody of a political enterprise, a corporate-financed ghost ship for the gullible, the deluded and the parasitical. For all practical purposes the party has been superceded as a functional entity by pseudo-interest groups like MoveOn and their new house organ, MSNBC, which provide daily distractions from and rationalizations for each new Obama transgression.

To a great measure, the responsibility for the fatal ease with which Obama has been able to implement his draconian policies, from domestic spying to drone strikes, must be borne by the timid response of the political left, who have serially denied what they knew to be Obama’s true agenda, an agenda of neoliberal austerity at home and imperial aggression abroad—an agenda that was incubating from the moment the young senator hand-picked Joseph Lieberman to be his ideological mentor in the US Senate.

Predictably, the more they indulge Obama, the more he tends to ignore, if not psychologically resent, their existence. For most of us, the economy is still crashing. A recent analysis by UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics, revealed that 95 percent of the economic gains since the recession began have been captured by the top one percent. This was not an accidental outcome. Obama’s economic plan was geared to generate precisely this result. But no one wants to talk about it on the Left.

Witness the president’s rare conclave with the Congressional Black Caucus. With black poverty and unemployment rates at startling highs, Obama swatted away meek queries about the savage toll his economic policies have inflicted on urban America and pressed the delegation to publicly cheerlead for his scheme to shower Syria with cruise missiles. The CBC members sat mutely, soaking in Obama’s humiliating lecture, while black America remains under a state of economic siege.

This brazen act was soon followed by Obama’s announcement that he had picked Jeffrey Zients to head the National Economic Council. Who is Zients you ask? Well, he was a top executive at Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, plotting takeovers, mass firings, raids on pensions and de-unionization of factories. He did so well at this grim job that his net worth now tops $100 million. One might view this appointment as an act of casual sadism, rubbing salt in the wounds of progressives. But the Left is so moribund, so deeply immured in a political coma that the insult didn’t even prompt the slightest protest, not even a vestigial yelp for old time’s sake.

Liberals seem to have finally come to terms with their own vacuity.

What about the rest of us? What do we do? Here we must turn to the heroic revelations of Edward Snowden, which denuded the government’s aspirations toward a kind of roving omniscience, probing and recording the most intimate beliefs and intentions of its citizens. After the initial tingles of paranoia fade, we might be able to view this as a perversely liberating condition. What a relief! We no longer have to hide our discontent, our efforts to make sense of the senseless. We are free to become the sovereigns of our own actions without fear of disclosure.

And so we remain, nearly all of us, left and right, clinging stubbornly to the tiny freedoms that remain: to object, to denounce and to resist, until a real oppositional force emerges. Or SEAL Team Six shows up at the back door.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of NatureGrand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at:




Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at:

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