FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

The last time a Clinton tried to get into the White House, his campaign motto was “It’s the economy, stupid!”

If you engage with peace organizations, you will very quickly be told repeatedly that nobody gives a damn about distant mass murder, and that consequently a smart organizer will talk to them about something local, such as the local impact of the financial burden of war, or perhaps the militarization of the police, or local recruitment, or local environmental damage from military bases, etc., but mostly the financial cost.

The reasoning behind all such thinking is that people are often busy, overworked, overstressed, concerned with their day-to-day struggles, etc., and so, while some of them might occasionally also take a mild interest in the affairs of others in distant corners of the globe, virtually everyone can be appealed to using local community concerns and, in particular, economic concerns related to their own needs and greed.

The evidence that this line of thinking misses something includes the following:

People often back political candidates who work against their economic interests, but who win their support for other reasons, including race, religion, militarism, nationalism, scapegoating, etc. Blaming China for U.S. poverty, or opposing the TPP and the WTO, or promising fewer wars or the abolition of NATO — these are economic positions, but they are something else as well.

Other people back political candidates who work against their economic interests, but who appeal to other needs. The Democrats are framing themselves as the inclusive, loving, multicultural, corporate militarist party, in contrast to the angry, white, bigot, corporate militarist party. Talking about equal (low) pay for equal work, and paid family leave, support for people with disabilities, equal rights for LGBTQ people, etc. — these are economic positions, and the Democrats defend them as supposed engines of economic growth, but they are something else as well.

People take incredible interest in elections, while taking very, very little interest in activist campaigns for better economic policies. People who try to maintain living wage standards or even stop banker bailouts make up a tiny fraction of the number of people who obsess over candidates’ personalities and related pomp and fluff.

Millions of people take part in some way in religion, which for the majority of them is not a tool for economic advancement, but something else entirely, often — for better or worse — a means of advancing a moral vision.

Activism around protecting the earth’s climate is far more widespread than activism around ending the earth’s wars and preventing nuclear holocaust. Neither disaster is local or economic in a simple immediate and selfish sense. Both activist campaigns are up against that same supposed hurdle. I would suggest that what actually holds back peace activism in comparison to other types of non-local activism is primarily pro-war patriotism and propaganda.

Pro-war propaganda does not focus primarily on any supposed economic benefit of wars. Sure, there are false claims made about militarism serving as a jobs program. But what turns people out in the streets to cheer for wars usually has nothing to do with their busy economic struggles. Rather, it’s a moral vision related to the supposed good work of policing the globe (whether the globe wants it or not), punishing evil monsters, slaughtering inferior populations, rescuing less fortunate peoples, etc.

When people all across the United States suddenly declare “We are all France,” this is not because France is in their neighborhood any more than Syria or Congo or Afghanistan is in their neighborhood. The magic of television and the internet has long made distance irrelevant. When people hold local drives to collect supplies for victims of a hurricane in Central America, it’s not because that helps their budgets or increases their job security. It’s because they have been encouraged to care about others suffering in a country not currently being targeted for war. The same applies to helping victims of natural disasters within the United States — often they are thousands of miles from those helping them. A candle light vigil for victims of 9/11, a marathon against cancer, and a campaign to save rainforests — these and millions of other activities have nothing to do with local economic well-being.

The peace movement of the 1920s was driven by as altruistic a distaste for any human suffering as was the movement to abolish the slave trade in Britain. And it succeeded in so far as it did by advancing a moral argument against war, not a claim that war would hurt your next paycheck.

Of course there is an economic argument against war, but there is also a civil liberties argument, an environmental argument, an argument for safety against the counterproductive impact of war, and — critically — a moral argument against mass murder. And there is powerful potential in making the case for a coherent worldview that outgrows war and manages foreign relations by other means.

My point is not that peace activism is more important than economic activism. And of course economic activism must focus on the economy, stupidly or otherwise. But the need to do so with a passionate vision of a better world remains. At the Democratic Convention now underway, a victim of Trump University began her remarks by saying that Donald Trump had been born into extreme wealth. “And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said, before denouncing the scams by which he maintained and enlarged his wealth.

The main problem with this is not the nasty schemes by which Trump’s racist slumlord father piled up his money, but that once you’ve claimed that hoarding obscene piles of wealth is just fine you’re never going to rid the world of ripoffs far worse than Trump University — and people know it. People want the billionaires, bankers, and corporations taxed. People want the war profiteering ended. People want widespread prosperity and peace and massive investment in environmental and human needs including free college. They don’t want acceptance of plutocracy except for one plutocrat who’s running for president against another one. They don’t want equal lousy pay, taxes for weapons, but paid family leave for a week or two. That doesn’t excite them.

The Democrats have no idea why Bernie Sanders almost won, even against their organized rigging of the primary. I think this failure to grasp the obvious is in part a reflection of how lesser-evilist thinking is modeled on economic game theory in which human beings are reduced to robots with very limited interests programmed in to them. Only a privileged white person would go off and vote for a decent candidate like Jill Stein, the Democrats say, privileged as they are to not live in any of the countries their own candidate would bomb, and privileged as they are to have forgotten all the damage that she and her husband have done for decades, packing prisons, merging media, outsourcing jobs through NAFTA, destroying welfare, etc. They forget all this by focusing on fear of Donald Trump.

Sure, appealing to fear of Trump is an emotional appeal. But hardcore lesser evilists who recognize how bad Clinton herself is, argue for a vote against Trump and for Clinton, based on the idea that humans won’t act like humans. The theoretical lesser evil humanoid will protest Clinton’s wrongs while campaigning for her and after electing her, threatening her with voting for her again while feeling even more flustered about it than last time — and such a theoretical creature will do so only in swing states, while voting for Jill Stein in non-swing states.

The real world doesn’t work that way. People who join a team join its delusions and distortions. Campaigning for and resisting candidates don’t mix. And people don’t build momentum around mediocre muddling. They will, however, pour energy into a powerful vision of a better world, if allowed to imagine it’s possible.

More articles by:

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail