So, Donald Trump, the billionaire buffoon and latest official Hitler-alike, wants to “make America great again,” and neoliberal elites throughout the Western world are noisily soiling themselves en masse in the mainstream press on a daily basis. According to respected, prize-winning newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and some other less prize-winning sources, we’re looking at pretty much the end of the world here … which only Hillary Clinton can save us from.
Seriously, Nobel Prize-winning economists like The Times‘ Paul Krugman are down in the trenches taking shots at Clinton’s opponents like any other PR hack. The Washington Post is on the verge of setting some kind of Guinness record for hit-pieces on both Trump and Sanders, although Sanders has been their primary target. The Guardian, in addition to belittling Sanders at every opportunity throughout the primaries, and flogging the coming global Trumpocalypse, has been churning out Clinton testimonials and Obama hagiographies at a blinding pace (their latest was a heart-warming photo exposé of Obama playing basketball, fist-bumping a janitor, and letting a little kid touch his head). The Telegraph has broken out the Riefenstahl references. The Times brought in an authentic German to make the Weimar Germany analogy … and the primaries aren’t even over yet.
These are just a few examples from what we’re supposed to think of as “respectable” broadsheets. The tabloids, television, online magazines, leading politicians, global business leaders, beneficent oligarchs and other “opinion makers,” and the rest of the neoliberal establishment, are freaking out about how their quadrennial simulation of democracy is unfolding. It seems the center cannot hold, or some rough beast is slouching toward something.
Which means it’s time for another episode of America Saves the World Again! (The working title of this popular series was Capitalism Saves the World Again!, but that didn’t fly with the test-screening audiences.) If you don’t immediately recognize this show, here’s a quick recap to jog your memory.
This show has been running for about seventy years. It’s an action-based show, so the premise is simple. The way it works is, in the opening episode of whatever season we’re currently watching, the protagonist, America, is called upon to save the “free world,” and democracy, and so on, from some megalomaniacal fascist antagonist. The name and face of the antagonist changes (depending on who we need to demonize), but he’s always megalomaniacal and fascist, and oddly reminiscent of Hitler.
In the early seasons, the theme was always America versus the Communist Menace, so there was kind of a dual-antagonist thing going. The main antagonists were the Soviets, of course, Stalin, at first, then all his successors. Guest antagonists included Kim Il-sung, Fidel Castro, Hồ Chí Minh, Rafael Ureňa, Daniel Ortega, Manuel Noriega, and some lesser lights, each of whom was just like Hitler, or kind of like Hitler, or close enough. They milked this angle for forty-four years, right up until the end of the Cold War.
Sometime circa 1989, so after America had saved the world from the Evil Empire of Communism, the show-runners started to change things up. Still, the antagonist is always Hitler, or someone very much like Hitler, only now without the Communism angle (Genocide and Terrorism have been the standard themes). The post-Cold War line-up of “baddies” has featured Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milošević, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Omar, Saddam Hussein again, Muammar Gaddafi, and an assortment of terrorists whose names I forget. (The Iranians don’t appear to be Hitler, currently. The Russians, however, are making a comeback.) I’m pretty sure you recognize this show by now.
So what’s the deal, you’re probably asking, with this endless series of Hitler-alikes that America is always saving the world from? The answer has to do with mythology, mostly.
See, every empire has a founding myth, and saving the world from Hitler is ours. By “ours,” I don’t mean just Americans. I mean every citizen of the American Empire, which came into being in 1945. I mean everyone living under global Capitalism, beginning from the end of the Second World War.
Now we need to back up a bit to understand this, because World War II was not just any large-scale war for territory and resources, control of markets and trade routes, et cetera. It was that, of course, but we can also understand it as the last attempt of Despotism to turn back the tide of transnational Capitalism, which, prior to the outbreak of war, was in a particularly laissez faire phase … sort of like the one we’re in now. By the early years of the 20th Century, industrialization, globalization, free trade, liberalism, democracy, and so on, had radically shifted the balance of power from the titled (i.e. despotic) nobility to the merchant (i.e. capitalist) classes. I’m over-simplifying for the sake of brevity, but, basically, what was going on (i.e. with World War I, the “Roaring Twenties,” the Great Depression, the hyperinflation in Germany, and the rest of the chaos the world was experiencing) was the death throes of the old imperial world order, and the birth of the global capitalist world order … which was going to need to be managed by someone.
As it turned out, the U.S.A. was that someone. By 1945, so the end of World War II, the last of the European empires that had pretty much run things since the 15th Century had either been crushed (i.e. Austria-Hungary, Germany a/k/a the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, et al.) or reduced to husks of their former selves (i.e. the British Empire, France, Spain). Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan were desperate attempts to resurrect the nationalist or race-based type of imperium that modern Capitalism had already dismantled. This was basically the end of Despotism as a viable global power structure. It would take another forty-four years for fake Communism in the U.S.S.R. to run its course, but it was doomed from the start, or from the moment it abandoned its global aspirations. In any event, a new empire was born … an entirely different type of empire. An empire, yes, with an American face, but whose nature was always essentially trans-national.
In other words, borrowing from Paddy Chayefsky, and Mr Jensen’s speech near the end of Network, “There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, and Dow … those are the nations of the world today.”
One quick example to make my point, then I’ll get right back to the mythology thing. Look at what “America” has been doing since the end of the Cold War and ask yourself: whose interests does all this serve, exactly? According to a lot of mainstream pundits, the invasions of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, and our destabilization of other countries, have all been disastrous failures for “America,” as is much of our current foreign policy. Which is true, if one defines “America” as a sovereign nation comprised of citizens, whose government exists to serve their interests. If that’s the way you define America, then most of U.S. foreign policy makes absolutely zero sense.
On the other hand, if you understand “America” as the symbolic face of transnational Capitalism, then suddenly everything does make sense. The chaos the U.S.A. has been sowing throughout the Middle East, on Russia’s borders, and in other quarters throughout the world, is all part and parcel of Capitalism’s ongoing mission to expand and exploit new markets, and to do away with the final remnants of any despotic structures and values that stand in the way of its dominance of … well, everything. Looking at things this way, it’s also clear that actual Americans (i.e. American citizens) mean nothing more to global Capitalism than actual Iraqis, or Yemenis, or Mexicans, or any other citizens of other nation-states … which possibly sheds a little light on recent trends in the U.S.A., like the mysteriously disappearing middle-class, or why a nation would allow its banks to debt-enslave its university students, and anyone else they can get their hooks into, in order to enrich a transnational elite of investors who have no loyalty to anything.
Which brings us back to our founding myth, and America Saves the World Again! See, the picture I just painted above is terribly depressing, and unromantic, and makes it hard for global Capitalism to sell itself as “freedom,” “democracy,” “progress,” and all that other stuff. It also makes it extremely difficult to keep people thinking in terms of nations, and “our national interests,” and “threats to the nation.” People, once they start to see things clearly and realize that their “national leaders” couldn’t give two shits about them, get really angry, which is inconvenient. So Capitalism needs to distract them somehow, and redirect their anger somewhere, and give them something to believe in again.
Fortunately, for Capitalism, what usually works is a reenactment of its founding myth (i.e. saving the world from the original Hitler, nevermind that it was actually the Russians who did the heavy lifting on the Eastern Front.) These reenactments are almost always effective, as they tend to get folks all riled up, and ready to believe almost any kind of ridiculous nonsense the neoliberals are peddling … like the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction hoax (The New York Times, 2003), or the one about the Kuwaiti babies being yanked out of their incubators (Hill+Knowlton, 1990), or the story being peddled to us now, the one where Donald Trump plays Hitler, and threatens the very fabric of democracy, and possibly the existence of all life on the planet, and only Hillary Clinton and her friends at Goldman Sachs can possibly save us.
That is, of course, unless Clinton blows it, which isn’t completely out of the question. In which case the boys at Goldman Sachs, the WEF, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the other folks who are actually running things — the Mr. Jensens of the world — will need to have one of those “talks” with Trump, like the one they had to have with Reagan … back when he was a populist demagogue.
Whatever happens, we can all look forward to another exciting Summer Season of America Saves the World Again! Personally, I’m looking forward to the episode wherein Bernie Sanders leads his Sandernistas into the hills to prepare for revolution … or breaks their hearts by supporting Clinton, despite everything he’s been saying about her, which he’ll explain he has no choice but to do, and will encourage them to do, because … you know, Hitler.
I don’t want to spoil the suspense or anything, but I think you know how that one turns out.