Legacy Building = Deceit + Chicanery

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The Obama record: copious liberal (i.e., negation of progressive) manure-shoveling, combined with a public policy of muscular capitalist development via an unrestrained private economy of monopolism and favorable business/financial regulation and a militaristic international posture of war, intervention, regime change facilitating market expansion and hegemonic security. Not an enviable record, except to an ascending constituency representing core political-ideological proto-fascism defining the increasingly predominant American mentality: the swelling of fear as an outgrowth of massive surveillance at home, counterrevolution abroad, both dressed up as a Manichean global conflict (wholly neglecting the US role in fostering Islamic jihadism) in which counterterrorism slips over neatly into the Cold War construct of anticommunism in order to legitimize the steadily escalating confrontation with Russia and China, itself inaugurating a New Cold War possibly more dangerous than the first.

Reaction (e.g., Bush) is a known factor, while liberalism is equally pernicious because the results are the same, creating a capitalist polity of widely disparate wealth-and-power distribution that immobilizes (while perpetuating) the poor, splits working people along racial and ethnic lines, and solidifies the ranks of upper social groups (providing for inordinate control over political life and policy determination). To a greater extent than previously in peacetime, this translates as a social structure and political economy of systemic inequality promoting by necessity, to keep its growth rate and internal features intact, a sustained pattern of global aggrandizement which, reciprocally meshed with the domestic foundations of business growth, becomes the paradigm of universalized, unilateral dominance in determining an acceptable (to the US) world order. Here Obama is sufficiently proficient to advance the cause, although a neophyte when it comes to geopolitical thinking and planning, assisted by an ironclad heritage tracing back to the late 19th century of the Open Door to establish political-ideological boundaries within which trade expansion underwritten by military power is de rigueur, something he always took as a given and lacked the political imagination to contest. Further assistance has come of course from an authoritative cadre of militarists, State and Treasury “experts,” think-tank regulars, university professors acting as servants of power, together all complicitous in shaping the Grand Design, timeservers in the corporatist organization of American society including its imperialist thrust.

Obama wears ideological blinders, enabling him to put a liberal spin on policy trends verging on power-lust seemingly for its own sake, yet the disguise for a still more deadly amalgam of policy in which power is code for the totalitarian regularization of political-social relations sanctioning a militarized capitalism, itself grounded in ethnocentric/xenophobic values of hierarchy, hatred of dissent, stimulation of patriotism, in sum, command above, docility below. Entering his final year as president, he claims leadership on several fronts, each of which has been turned upside down, leading to a legacy perfectly aligned with that of his predecessors, confirming the unity of both parties on the essentials of capitalism. Government agencies plod on with little to no protection to the public; DOJ is feckless when it comes to police brutality, white-collar crime, antitrust prosecution; the Pentagon is the instrument of aggression, papered over by State and Treasury, one busily negotiating military alliances and trade partnerships (to the same end), the other enlisting, along with State, the services of the IMF and World Bank to protect American investment overseas, the stabilization of credit and currency on a global basis, and the internal arrangements of the targeted “host” countries affecting tariffs, austerity, and the extraction of natural resources; the list continues indefinitely as the normalization of hegemony, no questions asked, no answers—except for pressures and force—freely given.

Obama is therefore simply doing his job as custodian of the supposedly natural order, a cipher awaiting replacement by the next political enabler of advanced capitalism. But if that were all, it would hardly be worth discussion. From cipher to actor, whether conscious or unconscious in assuming the role, we see in foreign policy a mandatory taking of reins, exigencies of capitalism demanding nothing less. Paradoxically, the US finds itself threatened, not by communism as a world historical force (the supreme diagnosis of the unfolding Cold War, from George Kennan to Curtis Le May, in descending orders of sophistication), but by rising capitalist powers, newly minted Russia and China in that respect, as well as the EU acting as a financial-commercial bloc, and Japan, with its feudalistic corporatism. This decentralization of global capitalism is now the ultimate enemy of the US from the standpoint of its exercise of world power, with terrorism, oddly enough, a welcome intrusion because bringing about intracapitalist unity in fighting this threat—a temporary respite, arresting internecine competition while diverting the attention of the masses, particularly in America, from geopolitical tensions engendered by economic rivalry.

I am not here diagramming a Marxist scenario of Nirvana, the collapse of capitalism as a world system, merely instead, what I take to be the US caught in its own destructive framework as the other global powers, because similarly inclined, rather than transcending capitalism altogether for socialism, experience their own capitalist difficulties of underconsumption, falling rates of profit, the need for social control of the masses to smother discontent, thus a tightly organized society locked into struggling performance and further conflict. If anything, Marx missed the boat on the systemic evolutionary progression of human betterment, underestimating just how resourceful capitalism can be, fortified by militarism, the (false) promises of consumerism, and a command structure habituating the masses to a state of acquiescence. In this light, terrorism keeps the people in line, even to the extent of distrusting each other, and then methodically dispatched until a new scapegoat can be suitably demonized and vanquished. This becomes, as the condition of capitalist survival, a never-ending process of scapegoating, accompanied by an equally never-ending process of war and intervention, lest, still keeping capitalist rivals in their place, radicalism breaks out of its narcotic state and resumes class struggle, reviving Marx from his ideological slumber.

For now, Obama has a full (counterrevolutionary) plate, North Africa being the latest in a series of testing the waters for areas of vulnerability in establishing the American Imperium. This is in the nature of marginalia, however, because Russia and China occupy American policy makers’ primary attention, his own near-obsession with the US domination of Asia, carrying Pentagon and State with him, an important thread of his legacy-construction. India may be the forgotten major player in the region, a potential obstacle to running roughshod in the area as a whole. Russia, meanwhile, awaits a “pivot” of its own, assuming America can build a military edifice sufficient to the task, the present conflict in Syria and the Middle East an obvious flash point in allowing the US to move more “assets”—thank you, Pentagon jargon—to Russia’s borders as it is also doing in the Pacific. By moving up the State of the Union address by two weeks, Obama is displaying his commander-in-chief image, a firm, resolute leader, protector of the Homeland, which signifies: more power to the banks and corporations, less tolerance of dissent, a society poised for the next round of global conquest. Much else is cast by the wayside, from the social safety net to the environment, a toning-up for warlike prowess. Let the perpetrated hoax of a democratic society continue, the screws on the other hand tightening rapidly on its opposite, authentic political-social democracy.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.