Incognito, Obama, and the Dynamics of Bullying


Richie and Barack, our beloved personification of America, embody the creed of hegemony so dear to the nation’s heart and central to its character. Incognito ridicules and hazes Jonathan Martin, fellow offensive lineman on the Miami Dolphins, Obama, his own form of hazing and ridicule, assassinates, via armed drone warfare, those perceived to be America’s enemies, only, in fact, resulting in widespread collateral damage (Pentagonese, for murdered civilians) which includes women, children, adult males deemed combatants because found in a designated territory. Unrelated developments? Without the Incognitos of this world, stretching far beyond the NFL locker-rooms, who by their conduct and values legitimate violence, and the still larger number of Americans, fully complicit, turning away, there could not be the impersonal killings, personally authorized by Obama, his team wholly approving, and eliciting silence from a public bent on perpetual hegemony, that becomes normalized under the tenets of the National Security State.

Win, win big, win by any means, the NFL is America, and America, the NFL. Virtue resides in the Big Hit, harm inflicted on others, humiliating, as testimony to one’s own power, all who stand in the way of self-defined rights of leadership, acting with impunity, the assertion of a domineering ego. Emerson put the interconnectedness, here, aggression on the field, militarism in the world, this way: the ocean is a large drop, a drop is a small ocean; its counterpart in US geopolitical thinking, the global framework is a large football field, a football field is a small global framework. Brute force, intimidation of bystanders, never apologizing, these are the dynamics of bullying, the habituation to violence in the microcosm promoting its execution in the macrocosm. Acquiescence, of victim and onlooker alike, is expected—in a political culture, insensitive to the needs of humanity, that values toughness above all (masking an emptiness of conscience and feeling), with respect for the individual deemed softness, a weakness to be overcome.

In the last week, enough has come out about Incognito (and teammates and fellow NFL players, in their response)—see, e.g., the New York Times’s articles by Branch and Belson, 11-4-13, Rhoden, 11-5-13, and Macur, 11-10-13, all excellent, to see a pattern of authoritarianism at work based on deliberate cruelty, now, Jonathan Martin, but nameless rookies (he already in his second year) passing through the ringer, one of whose purposes being to give free reign to the cult of aggression, thence translated onto the field as the will to maim if not mangle the enemy du jour. The fans love it, giving them bragging rights to last through the week, rallying as a Gemeinschaft, not different in principle from the feelings of community solidarity aroused through intervention, drone attacks, placing and enforcing embargoes, talking tough to the Russians and Chinese, the extension of bullying, for which Obama has shown himself to be adept, from the locker-room to the world stage, from hazing the individual to militarily imposing America’s will on market-entry, capital flows, political-economic-ideological formations deemed meeting US standards, hegemony on the 30-yard line to hegemony over several continents (if not also, outer space).

For our purposes, we can leave Incognito to Fox News and ESPN; my interest, rather, is Obama, poster boy #1 on the world scene for legitimated violence, bullying in the name of liberalism and humanitarian intervention, and therefore somehow pronounced kosher because of associations still held by the labels by which he surrounds himself. Just as the NFL will never see a house-cleaning on bullying and worse, neither will Obama, on assassination, regime change, paramilitary operations, fraudulent health care, favoritism to major banks, the list longer than a 45-yard field goal, with massive domestic surveillance and foreign eavesdropping the goal posts at either end. Just on the latest, over the last several days; the negotiations with Iran (which I have already written about in a previous CP article), but now, one step further along. Manifestly, Obama and Kerry are loath to give up their strategy of strangulation through economic boycotts, attempts at diplomatic isolation, and general all-around muscle flexing in the region.

The idea of an interim agreement of course allows the opposition forces to gather, a technique Obama has used time and again when what he actually sought was a conservative position from the start, using opposition as the rationale for a “pragmatic” solution. Health insurance, bank regulation, indeed, when running down the list, from climate change to gun control, the forward position was not even stated in the first place—practically nothing has been. As for Iran, the bullying ceases if at all one drop at a time, the US leading the charge whatever the G5+1 collectively wish. I would like to be surprised otherwise, but based on past performance one learns to expect little from Kerry and Obama, especially in this case, with Netanyahu and Lieberman looking over their shoulder and still implying unilateral action if the US, by their light, makes an unacceptable bargain.

My New York Times Comments on, first, the editorial, “Iran Nuclear talks—Unfinished but Alive,” (Nov. 12), and second, Roger Cohen’s article, “A Doable Iran Deal,” (Nov. 12), follow:


“The opponents of a deal are energized and determined.” Yes, but they ARE the US and its allies, who in fact are “united and smart”–but on what I conceive to be the wrong side. The US and Israel fear Iran, with or without the nuclear enrichment issue, itself a pretext for drastically reducing Iran’s power in the region. Iran under Rouhani poses a greater threat than his predecessor–for the last thing wanted is an Iran more democratic in spirit and substance.

With Iran demonized, the US and Israel can perpetuate a regional status quo of perpetual conflict, thereby allowing the former an unobstructed sphere of influence, the latter, a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians. Also, to US and Israeli liking, the Generals will remain free to exercise military control over Egypt and Syria can continue its mutual bloodletting, leaving that nation weakened and hurting.

Iran with Rouhani is the spoiler, a counterweight to the region’s reversion to pre-Arab Spring ways presently occurring. Among other things, a more democratic Iran undermines the Arab-phobia used to justify US counterterrorism. It is incumbent for the US, Israel its willing partner, to keep regional tensions alive as the linchpin for legitimating massive domestic surveillance (itself presumptive evidence of a totalitarian swing) and eavesdropping abroad, both of which are being pursued as a straightout global power play whether or not Iran even had a nuclear program. We are playing with fire.


Well-crafted analysis: “seizing the moment” makes excellent sense. What Cohen may underestimate is the degree to which the US and Israel do NOT want a solution under any conditions. Geopolitical strategy here is founded on a scapegoat–Iran.

An increasingly democratized Iran under Rouhani and Zarif changes the Middle East power configuration, having the effect of applying pressure on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and, I should think, the Egyptian military, to moderate their respective yet contradictory policies, transcending the Shiite/Sunni conflict, toward popular aspirations in the region. Even Syria would be affected, the successful negotiation on Iran becoming precedent for Syrian reconciliation.

Instead, the US, with its sanctions regime, has sought to cripple Iran (with or without the nuclear issue), as the precondition for America’s undisputed claim to creating a Middle East sphere of influence in order to counter Russia in the region AND have a backdoor means (the front-door being Obama’s Pacific-first strategy) of containing China. Israel, riding US coattails, would have a free hand, via reducing Iran’s power, to pursue its punitive Palestinian policy.

Even were an interim agreement reached, the US and Israel are determined to humiliate Iran in any way possible, to destroy its chances for final settlement. An independent Iran throws a wrench into the far-too-bold aspiration for hegemony of each, Israel, the region, the US, the Far East in general.

Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane EconomyThe Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State.  He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism.  E-mail: pollackn@msu.edu.

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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