The Dark Politics of Not Speaking About Substantive Issues

“How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”

— Senator Ted Cruz, CNBC debate, October 28, 2015

What we talk about when we talk about politics has both a politics to it and a subliminal dimension representing an American mass psyche within which what we don’t say nevertheless gives a driving emotional life to what we think. The open, rational inquiry of substantive issues we look for are, therefore, waylaid both by the play of politics and by subliminal affect, neither open nor rational. A dark politics at work. Exploring what is going on, for instance, in the nascent 2016 Presidential race becomes something like a therapy session, one that intertwines candidates, time and place, the electorate and the imaginary recesses we live in, not personally but collectively.

What then is the horizon upon which our politics are now being played out? The Right is ideologically anti-Obama but the intensity here overspills ideology. The Left is absent, but for a few voices, who are now fighting for a bold revolutionary role in the American mass psyche. That spot within that mass psyche has already been co-opted by Liberals whose identity crisis has split them into two personas, neither of which, Liberal or Progressive, goes beyond a triage approach to capitalism. But the underlying dynamics involve an unanticipated attachment to a recuperation of a visionary equanimity of politics and the loss experienced within the American mass psyche when this hope vanished. Our 2016 Presidential campaign plays out on the horizon of Obama’s messianic promise and its failure.

Obama’s election in 2008 was an unexpected confounding of the full interplay of factors, both conscious and subliminal, that have shaped the American political stage since Reagan. They are back and in full display in this 2016 election. “I can go beyond partisanship” was Obama’s belief, naïve and doomed to failure, but what he transcended was the dark, tumultuous state of politics in America, and the largest percentage of Americans voting for a Democrat since Johnson in 1964 transcended with him. They shared his dream vision, as unaware as he was regarding his own position on “substantive” issues. Obama then somehow, quite magically, reoriented the American cultural imaginary toward a “new morning,” as, ironically, Reagan had in 1980.

The fall from those imaginary heights has depressed his followers and incited a hostility in others that far exceeds what causes are presented. A momentary national pride and enthusiasm collapsed into a bitter hatred for the man who had inspired a false hope. The better angels of our nature brought the first black man to the presidency, that too has turned, perversely, and inexplicably, in our mass psyche toward racism that grounds all opposition to President Obama. The rage against political correctness that Trump displays finds great support among those who seek a return to the open expression of their racism. In the depth of our mass unconscious, love that cannot fulfill its promise, or a promise of understanding and cooperation replacing bitter divisiveness that cannot be achieved, leave us in a darker place than we were before.

Certainly, we do not speak of substantive issues because Big Media monetizes politics, and because Public Media brings those issues to a state where the Flat Earth Society debates the American Astronomical Society and leaves it up to the viewer to come to a Personal Decision. But we also do not speak of substantive political issues because that requires a control over irrational forces that now eludes us. What we talk about and the way we talk is difficult to unravel, as if the whole country had fallen down a Wonderland rabbit hole. You need to interpret the way a psychopathologist does.

Bernie is a Socialist, Dr. Ben Carson speaks softly, Trump is “Just What the Country Needs,” and Hillary “Will Do Anything to Win. You can refer to Donald Trump for capsule comments on others in this 2016 Presidential race. Or, you can listen to either Big Media or Public Media to get the same horserace “lowdown.” You could also go online and find out that Bernie Sanders wants us all equally queued on a bread line or he will lead us to the political revolution we need in this country.

You can find online that it’s a good thing for Ben Carson to say he doesn’t know anything about politics and doesn’t want to know anything, or it might be just as bad to have a president who denies there’s a knowledge and experience base to politics as there is to have a brain surgeon who denies the same in regard to medicine.

Hero vs. buffoon talk regarding Trump is all over cyberspace, although buffoons behind Trump as Emperor Hero are a crowd among which only one boy points out that he really is a buffoon. The pro/contra cyberspace Hillary is a much more heated event although “Everyday Americans” whom Hillary addresses will not retaliate for being so addressed until the national election campaign.

Bernie Sanders agrees with Pope Francis that “unbridled capitalism is the dung of the devil” but it is easier for Americans to disown the Pope than bridle capitalism.

If it’s possible not to be warned away from Ben Carson by statements he has made nixing Muslims from the presidency, or linking Nazis, gun control and the Holocaust, and equating Obamacare to slavery,” we should want to know more about his “platform.” But we cannot detach ourselves from his smile and soft voice, at least not long enough to question whether, for instance, getting tax completion down to 15 minutes is an answer. There is transference similar to analyst and analysand in our relationship with Dr. Ben Carson, who I, quite irrationally, see as Cuba Gooding, Jr. playing Carson in the TV drama, Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story.

Donald Trump is a presidential candidate of the Id, the dark, hidden recesses of the human psyche, the abyss that civilization agrees to leave alone. But because this is where we are when we talk about politics and respond to that talk, Trump’s voice is our voice. The foulness so many applaud in Trump, from sexism and bigotry to bloated narcissism and self-aggrandizing ambition, is already in an American culture that has made a hero of wealth and power and blind advocates of the same of many. The way out may be government but the seeds to totally undermine that Liberal political strategy were planted deeply in the mass psyche at the same time as labor began to fail and the interests of capital expand.

Republicans, in their fevered haste to take down Obama, shrink the role of the Federal Government, and let corporate interests write the legislation that serves corporate interests, have imploded. What remains are those who refuse to compromise on conservative principle and those who are afraid to compromise lest it appear they have no conservative principles. Thus, a catatonic condition within politics emerges. We literally cannot talk about substantive issues because we have frozen the medium of politics itself. Or, therapeutically speaking, we ourselves are frozen within our own pathological condition.

Rescue, psychically revealed, then must come from the outside. Enter Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, the self-promoting narcissists history shows us are always waiting in the wings when an order of things breaks down. Such egos in power positions may easily swell to megalomania, as seems already the case with Trump who so clearly lives in a deluded sense of omnipotence that he does not attempt to hide the baseness of his thoughts. Fiorina’s record as CEO at Hewlett Packard already gives us some indication as to how she acts in a position of power. What we see there is the capriciousness of indomitable will and the sociopath’s incapacity to form workable human interrelationships.

The American cultural imaginary is now in such a pathological state that an emissary from the Id, such as Trump, is appealing. Appealing also is an emissary from an “unbridled capitalism which is the dung of the devil,” such as Fiorina, or an emissary of a smiling, soft spoken, sweetness and light which is no more than yet another manifestation of a Messiah search, which we seem to see in Dr. Ben Carson, and who doesn’t have to work that image because it is already archetypally installed in our mass psyche. We are within our American mass psyche vulnerable to all three of these outsiders because we ourselves are outside what we once were and what we hoped to be. The rationality of consciousness has been usurped by the dark irrationalities of our subliminal fears, antipathies, and confusion. But most affecting is our sense of loss. America is haunted by a vision of its own collapse. Our politics brings this to life. We are observing symptoms, not candidates.

We have been pushed since the advent of Reagan to join in our deepest state of being the thoughts and feelings that espouse and preserve Market Rule. What this means is that those candidates who, like Bernie Sanders, seek to upset this network of power, must, in a general election, first somehow get out from under almost a half century of abuse thrown at those who question Market Rule. While Republican candidates for the presidency have in the last election as well as this one been self-destructing by virtue of either embarrassing ignorance, frightening extremism or corporate ownership, any candidate coming anywhere close to the third rail of a critique of Market Rule faces not a personal destruction but a destruction unleashed by the immense potency of the mass, collective American unconscious.

Although it seems to Hillary’s supporters that she can unmask and reveal an un-triangulated position on substantive issues, conditions on the subliminal ground of the American mass psyche say no. But it is not the kind of “NO!” that a socialist would receive because Hillary’s Liberalism has no more than a triage response to the dung of unfettered capitalism. Any issue that comes close to undermining Market Rule is an issue that Neoliberals have warned Liberals to see as “NO!” issue. Safe for Liberals are the cultural issues in which that Rule has scant interest. The Third Way, triangulating politics tiptoes all around the third rail and never dares to touch it.

But it has been touched. The serious class divide issue has hit the headlines. The American cultural imaginary has now been penetrated with wealth gap statistics and the dire state of the bottom 90% of the population. There is now every indication that misdirected anger and frustration are increasingly being directed at the resulting inequities of Market Rule. Hillary , however, may put Liberals back on a Third Way politics, a politics that rather than dismantling our reckless finanacialized capitalism will lean into it, as Hillary leans into her corporate supporters. Hillary’s promise to “get things done” is not the Obama promises to get things done by arbitrating a dissolution of partisanship. You might say that while Obama is a romantic idealist in regard to an American mass psyche he cannot fathom, Hillary is a practical realist who has looked into that abyss and will apply a bricoleur politics. She will work with what is already here and ready to hand, which means an entrenched Market Rule.

A Hillary presidency, especially if it extends to two terms, is as likely to undermine a Leftist reorganization of capitalism, as a Republican presidency would most certainly add fuel to the fires of class discontent. In short, another Liberal in the White House would likely preserve a Market Rule status quo, with some bearable alterations, and at the same time co-opt the burgeoning Leftist critique of someone like Elizabeth Warren. A Republican presidency, highly unlikely given the field of candidates, is, from a market point of view, far more risky to profit than a Democratic presidency at this moment. There is no doubt that fires are now burning on the American mass psyche terrain and that concessions will have to be made, concessions that a Congressional schizophrenia triggered by the rabid House Freedom Caucus are incapable of making.

We see then that we can have no talk of substantive issues when what is truly substantive has not a firm base in reality but rather a firm base in the ripe pathology of a mass psyche, barely masked, as any visit to our “social media” will show.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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