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They Failed Themselves

“Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. . .The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap”

— Kevin Williamson, National Review

The Republican Party and the Neoliberal, plutocratic ideology they are shills for, fear and abominate Donald L. Trump. He’s a loose cannon who is ready to wreck their privileged order of things. He doesn’t have a plan. He shoots from the hip and aims for the jugular of whatever irks him. I suspect Trump is a greater threat to the top 1%, in his own wildly capricious fashion, than any candidate for the presidency except Bernie Sanders. I suspect Trump has some scores to settle with his mogul peers.

Fears of Trump among his own party now have that party engaged in an Anti-Trump campaign. Trump’s followers are urged to follow party, not Trump. What the National Review’s Kevin Williamson calls “these dysfunctional, downscale communities” should apparently be lining up behind a “true” Neoliberal like the ones the Anti-Trump throng prefers.

This much is transparently clear.

What is messy is the fact that Liberals and Leftists also loathe Donald L. Trump, not because he is going to wreck Republicans and their ideology but because he is a product of plutocracy who has seduced the victimized and directed their anger to fellow victims, like Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants and women. The dysfunctional crowd here should be herding behind Bernie, or, even Hillary.

This is also transparently clear.

In the view of both Liberals and Neoliberals, Trump’s supporters are either degenerate, Williamson’s view, or stupid and malleable in the Liberal view.

There obviously were a mass of people some 240 years ago who brought on the American Revolution. Of course, some sided with the Brits, some got swept mindlessly into the struggle and some were too dysfunctional to do anything. But a belief in independence prevailed and so action by the masses got us to where we are now. Actions by the masses have historically upset the apple cart of a resident order of things.

My point is that we cannot discard Trump’s followers because they do not function properly or have no use, economically speaking. Unless of course, we have gone so far from an egalitarian democracy and come so close to a plutocratic order that, say, 47% of the population are tagged as dysfunctional, negative assets. Unless, we have become a monarchical, aristocratic order, rather like the order under King George III.

Moochers are what Romney called those whom Williamson refers to as dysfunctional and downscale. Once parasitic “Welfare Queens” suckled on the Government welfare teat, now withheld as “compassionate” policy, these negative assets to the economy have shown up in electoral politics.

They have shown up in the one place plutocracy, operating in an ostensible democracy has not been able to close down: the election booth.

We could ask a voter to prove citizenship, solvency and literacy, rather like asking a welfare seeker to prove they are working. We could pick up on the only property owners can vote. We could find ways to keep “the downscale” Many from obstructing the wishes of “The upscale” few. We have not. And we have. What is a big surprise is that so many who should be anesthetized and distracted in so many, many ways have actually mobilized as a very energetic and sustained force behind one man, Donald Trump.

We now see that the dysfunctional, negative assets have been functioning on behalf of Donald Trump’s candidacy and have proven to be an asset to that candidacy. Rather than rule their anger means nothing because they mean nothing, Trump has mirrored and fueled their anger and given them recognition. And this is something Neoliberals have not done, and only Bernie Sanders has done on the Liberal side, mostly, however, with an equally surprising number of followers whom Sanders reaches with a quasi-socialist critique of plutocracy.

Rather than “dysfunctional,” Sanders’ followers are seen as brainwashed, which traditionally all those who oppose the throw of the dice dispensation of success and failure must of course be. The possibility of electoral success by “the brainwashed” greatly depends on moving “the dysfunctional” to the “brainwashed” contingent. In other words, visceral appeals and responses provoked by real anger and frustration must be replaced by critical appeals and responses provoked by real anger and frustration. What is happening now, however, is that everyone who does not function within a reality frame concocted by a plutocratic order is dysfunctional and downscale.

We need to observe this closely.

Where I grew up in Brooklyn, yet ungentrified, we used the term “fucked up” for what I suppose Williamson means by “dysfunctional.” In later years bringing Derrida’s deconstruction into America, I also learned and taught that binary oppositions like functionality/dysfunctionality, gentrified/ungentrified, man/woman, black/white establish within language itself an unequal relationship that serves a power structure in play. Since Reagan, this has been a casino type capitalism that offsets and upends a “promoting of the general Welfare.”

Thus, to be functional within this order is to serve the interests of capital. The “functionality “of capital functions by virtue of the many faces of dysfunctionality that makes it possible. Dysfunctionality, in turn, can only exist by virtue of the existence of capital’s functionality.

Labor, once a need and now mostly a “negative asset” in the U.S., no longer has a function within the interests of capital. Labor costs, for instance, must be driven to globalized competitive levels, or, in short, to the bottom. Money and not labor must function as the means to make money.

Wall Street continues to function after 2008 in the same manner that increases the dysfunctionality of democracy and confirms the functionality of plutocracy.

Personal choice and will must function outside and unaffected by the inequitable conditions that the “functionality” of capital has itself created. This is patently absurd but it exists today within the “functionality” of capital functions.

Hi-tech functions to serve both a profit motive and the need to confuse, distract and seduce. It, however, plays a starring role in creating the increasing dysfunctionality of our planet.

And most disastrously, we wage war as a sign of the functionality of our hegemonic global status and thereby inject dysfunctionality elsewhere. The devastation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria is a product of our functionality. ISIS is itself a dysfunctional product set on destroying our hegemonic order.

When a globalized, largely financialized form of techno-capitalism, such as we now have in the U.S., denies a large segment of the population any kind of job, or offer jobs that pay little, or jobs without security, the discarded are set up for the abuse that we see Kevin Williamson voices in The National Review. Their dysfunctionality has not been their own creation but is a direct product of a zero-sum, winner/loser game that is required to make plutocracy function.

Is it possible that a Monopoly game type economic system would eventually leave all the players in the game bankrupt? Would, in fact, leave 20 individuals with as more wealth than the bottom half of the population?

What are the rules and order of the game here?

The Monopoly game analogy is apt here because there is an unknowable mixture of chance and savvy, of plan and accident that parallels what we all experience in the game of life. Our problem as a nation of winners and losers is that we have allowed an economic play to remain uncontested by our political play. What we see is an economic hegemony enveloping our political sphere and aborting or weakening its capacity to ameliorate the effects of chance. What has resulted is a devastated Many, Williamson’s “negative assets,” whose degeneration is observable not only in their economic collapse but also in all the ways in which medieval Feudalism diminished the lives and souls of the peasantry.

Something happened to too many of us and that something has not been good. It has been destructive.

The Neoliberal response calls for a “creative destruction” of the Many. This is, from an historical perspective, the clearest sign that we are observing the perverseness of the abyss, the darkest side of human nature, an “incomprehensible malice,” to use Williamson’s words, which I redirect to the condemners not the condemned.

What has failed the very many whose extinction our plutocratic order and its gentrifying army in the field anxiously await?

Neoliberalism hails the “lower angels of our nature,” but it also has nurtured and maximized a foundational American spirit of rugged individualism, independence, personal freedom and personal autonomy. This is a cultural meme unique to the U.S. and has much to do with both the historical reality and the mythos of frontier domination, a mythos transplanted to the Wall Street players, by the sustained force of the will.

Americans are far less inclined toward a mutual aid and interdependence than to a competitive mano a mano, a war of all against all.

It is not a shock that guns are deeply entrenched in this cultural imaginary. And violence, in all forms, from street to suite, from crime to war, is the medium of connectivity. At the ruling heart of this is our chosen zero sum economics game where for someone to win someone must lose. Now that we are a decade into Facebook and Twitter what we observe is that if this is social communication, it is a degenerate form, both in manner and content.

The atavism that has revisited our civility, our “social” media, our present presidential campaign has its roots in the primordial barbarism of our Market Rule.

We do not as a society possess any culturally nurtured social affiliations that go beyond a networking for profit and self-aggrandizement.

What any politics of identity, whether gender, race, ethnicity or sexual preference, is caught within is a frame of functionality that recognizes only the cash nexus. This is not difficult to verify. The criteria for gentrification, which is the invading army of plutocracy, is wealth, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or age.

The way illusions of personal autonomy and on-line social media “sociability” work nicely for an entrenched plutocracy is, first, to nip in the bud any solidarity formation that would upend this plutocratic order. Collective action is replaced by personal choice. Real life involvement with others, especially those not your on-line “friends,” is preempted by virtual “friendship.”

When collective action does arise, as it has in the Occupy Wall Street protest or more recently with Black Lives Matter, what we see is that such solidarity is easily demonized in Main Street America and the movements themselves opt for a kind of individualized “solidarity” that shuns organizational hierarchy and commanding leadership while asserting a disconnection from other efforts and conditions of solidarity.

Thus, the virus of individual choice and autonomy weaponizes Main Street America from such protests while at the same time undermining solidarity itself.

Secondly, when the trickle down promises of prosperity do not materialize, thus leaving everyone but the plutocrats in dire straits, only a dog whistle is needed to get the Losers/Moochers/Negative Assets/The Dysfunctional to confess their own failure to “assume personal responsibility.”

They have are ready to confess a failure in their will to win; they have been free to choose; nothing has happened to them to bring them to the miserable state they are in. The consequences of their own choices have come home to roost. They have totally swallowed the implant that there is nothing outside ourselves, not society, Nature, or an entrenched plutocratic order, that can overwhelm us if we assert our will to win.

And, lastly, we come to the condemnation of the “Losers” that did not begin with Kevin Williamson’s essay in The National Review but has become plutocracy’s contribution to the American cultural imaginary and a powerful protection of their own privilege. It is both sad and ironic, that this imaginary is a plutocratic spin that the increasingly immiserated have absorbed.

The narrative that only we can fail ourselves is as fervently believed as the narrative that everything happens for a reason; or technology will solve the problems increasing technology has created; or social media has increased our empathy for others; or that emojis are not a return to cave painting but an advance on human communication; or the fact that 20 Americans have more wealth than 50% of the population is meaningless; or that focusing on racial, ethnic, gender inequities does not benefit plutocracy by drawing attention away from its rule while at the same time causing dissension within anti-plutocratic ranks.

But by far the assumption that we adapt circumstances to our own will, that the conditions that surround us are subject to our choices, is the biggest roadblock to directing our attention to where it belongs.

Bernie Sanders has not deviated from pointing to the wealth divide, to capital’s total victory over labor, to the destruction to the middle class and economic mobility that Wall Street capitalism has created. He has, however, been blindsided by the bitter cultural wars that are more deeply entrenched in Liberal politics than class warfare. What such culture wars do is commandeer and consume the fires of an uprising against plutocracy.

Our uprising in the U.S. has been for a very long time the kind of uprising that plutocracy can live with, the kind of uprising that serves the framing of functionality and dysfunctionality now in play. However, the fact that Bernie Sanders has had such notable support from the young is a promising sign. For them a rising up is neither the crap Williamson says it is nor something other than a war against plutocracy.

The dark outpourings of the lower angels of our nature may not be eliminated when plutocracy is eliminated but there will be many more people on a firm socioeconomic footing to begin a passage to more light. Many more equipped to save themselves and others, to see others not as “negative assets” but on the most profound level of seeing, no more or less than the mirror image of themselves.

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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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