Sunday, May 18, the New York Times in refulgent mode signaling the glad tidings of liberal fascism: a plea for slight reduction in military appropriations, a daily dosage of Putin-bashing, and concern—“trigger warnings”—for the injured feelings of college students. None of these are per se interrelated, yet they help define the parameters of a Decaying Superpower whose sole position of global military, economic, ideological leadership is dissolving in the wake of internal rotting and a changing world-structure evolving into a multipolar power system, beginning with China, but taking in, still Russia, and now Brazil and emerging Third World industrializing nations, as well as Japan, EU acting as a bloc, etc.
Uncle Sam feels himself up against the wall, his emissary to the world (forget domestic society, hardly worth a glance when international prestige is at stake) growing itchy about mobilizing the military and intelligence communities, for positioning against China and Russia in a resurgent effort to get back and stay permanently on top. Obama, Air Force One, instead of red-white-and-blue jacket and top hat, will have to do, is pulling out all the stops, with the nation’s approval, and that of both major parties, toward military confrontation, banking on culture-war distractions at home to neutralize the Left and excite the Right to greater anger. As for global hegemony, there is no Left and Right, only bland consensus, the “Left” worthy of quotation marks for letting Obama preside over the trampling of human freedoms in every direction. Drone assassination carries the message of humanitarian generosity and concern, while massive surveillance echoes the Founding Fathers’ plea for freedom of thought. More room on Mount Rushmore?
California Chrome would be a distant fourth in the present horse race to totalitarianism. Take the military budget. In today’s NYT editorial, “the House Ducks on Defense,” (May 18), the complaint is made that wasteful projects—whether cost overruns or obsolete vehicles of death in the face of more potent weaponry—must give way, despite lobbyists and congressional proponents, to modernization of the military arsenal across the board. Not, ingrained war preparation is dangerous and pathological, only, get greater value for the money. Not just pathological, schizophrenic, because expenditures are discussed/celebrated wholly divorced from the critical examination of the geopolitical framework. In fact, they make the framework thinkable, then operational, then finally, in the hands of Obama, placed in a state of readiness—seen clearly in the Pacific-first strategy, now, with Ukraine, enlarged to include Russia as part of the unified priority.
The Times questions nonessentials, and is four-square in favor of the fundamentals: the unrestricted expansion of monopoly capitalism encased within a military structure and militaristic ethos. It of course is not alone. My Comment on the editorial, same date, follows:
The military has sucked America, with bipartisan approval, into its capacious maw and is fast destroying democracy, itself a shadow, if that, of its hypothetical self. America, aka National Security State aka Fortress America so impregnated with militarism that it is willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of its people to an aggressive war machine not only in response to local interests but also the imperatives of global hegemony.
Not “campaign donors” etc but a morally corrupted society drives the war budget, with drone assassination, multiple interventions, paramilitary operations worldwide for regime change, all for what?! Why this social insanity? Is it because we know deep-down of US decline both as unilateral global superpower AND political economy limping now because of a devouring selfishness, arrogance, and greed? Yes, to both.
And NYT–no, you don’t want to hear–is complicit, merely wanting more efficiency, more bang for the buck. Never a moral argument; only, Behemoth costs too much. Phase out some weapons systems, have base cuttings, No, the waste would “make weapons modernization impossible,” i.e. a still more LETHAL nuclear arsenal. Oh those “parochial interests,” when we far-sighted think-tank expert geostrategists Guardians of Freedom as responsible internationalists want only to “responsibly rebalance American military forces,” say, .5 trillion will do, not .6. Not spending, but the entire framework is flawed, yet NYT in full support.
Next we have Putin coveting the oil reserves in the territorial waters off Crimea, a power grab worthy of a chess master following, presumably, in the wake of Stalin, or, if you listen to Hillary, Hitler. Ukraine is simon-pure in the developing crisis. Yet it is difficult to buy the charge that Russia wants to reabsorb Ukraine and do to it what America and the EU had planned for Russia itself—not reabsorption so much as weakening and dismemberment. Ukraine has been brought into Cold War contestation, not because of Crimean oil but because of projecting NATO forces on the Russian border. As with NATO itself, the US is always the inspiring/energizing force in pushing for the containment policy, in this case, investment and trade penetration taking back seats to the sheer military-ideological urge to destroy what is still, in spite of capitalistic developments, an Alternative System. We have subsisted on anticommunism for so long that it is easy to perpetuate the hostility toward Russia as necessary for stoking American militarism (and thus obviating the need for democratic change at home). My Comment on William J. Broad’s NYT article, “In Taking Crimea, Putin Acquires a Sea of Fuel Reserves,” follows:
If the “Sea of Fuel Reserves” was so important–and obvious–the US should have taken that into account when it facilitated the COUP which toppled a democratically-elected government. Kiev may lament its underwater losses, and MIT-Jamestown experts may find matters deplorable, adding fuel (pardon the pun) to a US geostrategic confrontation with Russia that could lead to Global War, but that is what “blowback” is all about: namely, turn fascists loose in Western Ukraine (deniability on this count is absurd, given Svoboda, Right Sector, Bandera carryovers) and the prospect of NATO forces on Russia’s border–because of the coup–and you get Putin’s response.
A not unreasonable response, given Obama’s twin Russo-China strategy of encirclement, containment, isolation of both. Oil is the cherry on the sundae–it is doubtful Russia must have this source when its own internal riches are so great. Yes, NYT keep up the war-whoop, continue to demonize Putin, and, by not bearing down and scrutinizing the situation, actually abet the fascists and anti-Semites in the Kiev government, including looking the other way at the Odessa tragedy when demonstrators were burned to death in Trades Union House, those jumping from windows and surviving then chained to death by fascist thugs while the authorities looked on.
From a moral calculus, disregard of the enormity of that crime, for the sake of vilifying Putin, is outrageous.
Finally, where is the Left “when push comes to shove” (taking a favorite phrase of my dear friend Gabriel Kolko)? For in discussing the injured sensibilities of individuals, a theme emanating from radical feminist circles, but part of the larger sweep of political correctness, for which I have little sympathy, no doubt I shall be treading on the sensibilities of CP contributors/readers as well. The topic comes up in Jennifer Medina’s NYT article, “Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm,” (May 18), which discusses the move on campuses—UC, Santa Barbara, Oberlin, among others—to have course readings prefaced by trigger-warnings so as not to hurt the feelings of students exhibiting a range of concerns as to their identities and personal histories. “The Merchant of Venice,” alerting to anti-Semitism, “The Great Gatsby,” alerting to misogynistic violence, “Mrs. Dolloway,” alerting to suicide, and, of course, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” alerting to racism—you get the picture. My objection: culture wars have served to break the back of radicalism. Yes, call me “Old Left,” but I think structured exploitation, wealth concentration, impoverishment, war, torture, intervention, regime change, markets, markets, markets, and the treachery of banking practices, far OUTWEIGH in importance, the slights and hurtful references and insinuations to students.
The two are not mutually exclusive, but when the latter crowds out the former, taking the Left’s eyes off the systemic wrongs and injustices based on the political-economic-military controls of the levers of power, which create the foundations for—and cannot be explained outside of reference to—domination (cultural as well as every which way) leading to the psychological and physical violation of the person, all, from a radical standpoint, is undermined and diminished. Why the fragility—when every day people are being murdered in the name of democracy? My Comment to the Medina article, same date, follows:
Liberal McCarthyism on the march. “Sensitivity” is fallacious coddling. Shall we, from the examples, throw out Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald. I say “liberal,” because classic radicalism is being destroyed through cultural issues and the culture war. There is militarism, poverty, formation of an underclass, a structure of power degrading to democratic governance–and instead, we have to be distracted by what, injured personal feelings, when the entire society is rotting at its core.
“Sensitivity” is one more evidence of the destruction of academic freedom. As a radical, I experienced “sensitivity” by right-wing colleagues and administrators at Yale–too much involved in civil-rights and antiwar activities. Out you go. (Early 1960s). Now it’s a vulgarized Left, drowning in personalism and self-indulgence, which will hound out faculty. Freedom of thought should NEVER be a Left-Right issue. It’s too important for that.
Now, hurt sensibilities takes the place of authentic class protest as the means for purging universities. Ugliness from the Left is no better than ugliness from the Right. I’m ashamed of Oberlin, where my son took a music degree. More, I’m ashamed of Liberalism, which, in its name, with no protest, mounts drone assassination, global aggression, regime change, sabotage of the social safety net at home, while whimpering students complain their feelings are hurt. Meanwhile, tens of thousands die at our hands.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.