I found myself unexpectedly heartened by American election returns, at least in one respect. For they have shown, once again, that the American people feel an abiding, angry – if deeply inchoate – dissatisfaction with the nation’s unjust, corrupt and dysfunctional political system. They know that something is profoundly wrong with the system, and so they keep voting one faction out and putting the other faction in, hoping to see some kind of change.
History gives this proof: in almost every national election for the past two decades, we have seen a change in control of either one or both houses of Congress or the White House. This has happened in 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, and now again in 2010. The pattern is very clear. And it is not because Americans “prefer divided government,” as the dim chewers of Beltway cud like to tell us; it’s because they can’t get anyone in the system to address their concerns.
Yet with every turnover in factional control, we see a rush of earnest, serious analysis telling us how the results represent a vast sea change in America’s politics, culture, society, soul, etc. But somehow, two years later, these momentously meaningful tidal waves ripple into nothing on the empty shore. And again, that’s because they don’t actually signify anything beyond the by-now perennial unease and dissatisfaction.
What is less heartening, of course, is the fact that the American electorate never quite grasps the obvious, glaring, brutal fact that neither of these factions is ever going to change the system one iota if they can help it; they are the system, they are its servants, its enablers, its enactors. Then again, we are dealing with, to borrow Gore Vidal’s deathless phrase, the United States of Amnesia, where history doesn’t exist (except in the form of feverishly distorted self-righteous myths about America’s eternal super-duper specialness), and every election is a tabula rasa . The only flickering historical awareness that seems to exist in the American electorate is a vague sense that the gang they voted in two years ago hasn’t changed anything; better try the other gang again … forgetting this is the same gang they threw out the time four years ago, for the same reason.
So the cycle goes on and on, and the rot and dysfunction grows deeper, and ever more intractable. The people’s concerns are not only not addressed; they are not even articulated by anyone in the lucrative, sinister game of King of the Hill played by the two factions, both of which are pledged, body and soul, to elite rule, corporate rapine and militarist empire. And certainly, neither the corporate media nor the educational system will do anything to help inculcate a deeper sense of history (“History is bunk,” said that quintessential American, Henry Ford; you can’t make no money from it, so what’s the point?), or provide any wider, deeper context for articulating – and confronting – the causes of the electorate’s dissatisfaction. Instead, these institutions keep replicating and refreshing those same myths of specialness (in either “conservative” or “progressive” form), adding layer after layer of thought-obliterating noise to the Great American Echo Chamber that encloses, and imprisons, the entire society.
Mmm, maybe it’s not so heartening after all. Especially given the fact that both factions are – literally, legally, formally, undeniably – packs of war criminals, pledged to the continuation of a rapacious empire of military domination that is killing innocent people, fomenting hatred and extremism, and destabilizing the world. The myth of specialness prevents most people from seeing the truth of what their bipartisan political establishment is doing to the world – or even to themselves, how it has stripped them of their liberties, corroded their society, destroyed their communities and degraded their quality of life, while diminishing the lives and futures of their own children and grandchildren. Most Americans apparently cannot break out of the narrow cognitive structure that has been imposed on their understanding of reality: i.e., that America is inherently, ineradicably good, that whatever mistakes it might make here or there (usually when one’s own preferred faction is out of office, of course), this essential goodness remains inviolate, forever untainted by any genuine evil.
And so bipartisan perpetrators of enormous evils – mass murder, aggressive war, torture, brutality, ruination, atrocity and injustice on a gargantuan scale – are not only never held accountable, but are instead celebrated, honored, and rewarded with great wealth and privilege. It is no wonder that dissatisfaction reigns in the body politic. The people sense that something is badly wrong; but no one in the system will tell them that it is the system itself that is wrong. Instead, we get these circuses and shams, these diversions and delusions that pass for election campaigns, throwing up a blizzard of false issues and partisan posturing, sound and fury signifying nothing … then when it’s all over, it’s back to business as usual for our bipartisan courtiers, feasting on the bloody swill of empire.
Still, the nagging spark of dissatisfaction can often be the beginning of wisdom, eventually forcing us to look beyond the confines of our cognitive overlays and unchallenged understandings. The merry-go-round of factional turnovers, in election after election, shows that this fertile element of dissatisfaction is rampant, and chronic, in the American people. They have not yet, not quite, accepted the system of rapacious empire and elite domination as the natural order, the settled status quo. They want something to change, they want things to be different somehow – but, like people everywhere, they don’t want to turn the mirror on themselves, and see the reality of the noxious system they are perpetuating with their yo-yoing between two utterly corrupt and depraved factions of money-grubbers and power-seekers.
But as long as the dissatisfaction remains, there is still some hope that it will drive more and more people to see beyond the cloud of myth, to hear truths outside the echo chamber, and to begin the long, arduous, quite possibly impossible but morally imperative work of breaking the stranglehold of these murderous fools and forging a genuine alternative to the system.
CHRIS FLOYD is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.