The Labyrinthine Mini-Mall of Lesser Evils Versus Minimum Superego

Seen from the outside, whoever wins the 2016 US presidential elections, victory will have been the result of a selfish decision, and not of ‘’sacrifice’’ against the larger rottenness.

“Lesser evil-ism’’ is a choice in unfavorable circumstances—not unlike the current carnival in a swamp that are the autumnal Empire’s 2016 elections. Favored by rationalists and pragmatists, “Lesser Evilism’’ wagers for the best of all possibilities. For Hannah Arendt, that consolation also meant oblivion and self-deception: ‘he who chooses for the lesser evil all too readily forgets having chosen evil.”

This veracious stone that shatters realpolitik’s pretensions is quoted in the provocative book Drone Theory, by the Francophone philosopher Grégoire Chamayou (first published by Fabrique Éditions in France in 2013, Theorie du Drone was translated recently by Janet Lloyd into English) Chamayou is one of the political theorists who today scathingly analyzes the moral, intellectual and human problems of the current day omnipresence of drone-warfare. For him, drone warfare has its origins not in the ‘’necessities’’, the surgical ‘’minimal damage’’ and ‘’lesser evilism’’ claimed by the apologists of Clinton and Obama.

Rather than the pragmatism spoken of by Washington, drone warfare’s real origins are in a world-view, an idealistic-capitalist ideology. The philosophy of Empire that apologetically emits the drone is highly irrational, anti-humanist, and broken to boot. Drones flock, out-sourcing the crows from the skies, in a postmodern imperialism that wants to conduct war, but which does not want itself to suffer or to be exposed to blazing battlefields. Drone warfare is the signature of Obama-era imperialism, mixed with a cult of personality and illusions of restraint and ‘Soft power’ despite the absolutism of extrajudicial, international long-distance executions. Perhaps the idyll of War-without-Suffering, without risks to the self, has its aesthetic counterpart in today’s artistic mainstreams: Aude de Kerros, French dissident art critic, points out that ‘contemporary art’ which crowns practical consumption-utilities and living room design-accessories as ‘’Sacred Art’’ is also an attempt to offer “art without suffering,’’ anti-poetry.

The reverberations of that euthanasia are endless. There is ‘’soft power’’, meaning soft and slippery coercive hierarchy as a good thing (clearly no one shoved Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World down the throats of Soft Power’s pseudo-intellectual proponents when they were in boarding school.)

There is even ‘’soft death’’ (the term used for euthanasia by the neoliberal Green Parties and progressive parties in the Netherlands). “Soft death’’ might have been predicted by the science fiction thriller-writer Philip K Dick.

Spirituality can happen at various centers with expensive membership—without the passion of mystics, as Passion comes from the Latin passus, meaning suffering; compassion ‘’suffering with’’ characterizes the culture of anti-empathy that characterizes neoliberal superficiality in the guise of ‘’progressivism’’. As the West promotes ‘’contemporary art’’, the ancient art of Mesopotamia and Yemen is ransacked and destroyed by drone strike, 10 years of occupation and loosened mercenary gangs.

The feminist identity politics preferred in the post-modern imperial culture, similarly, is a feminism that completely extracts the female critique of petit bourgeois ways of life from feminism itself, opting for an optimal mesh of career, domesticity, husband-bating, getting rid of any contemplation of risk, danger, solitude and search for romance that previously characterized what emerged since the 19th century as an oftentimes bourgeois, yet sincerely anarchist tradition of late romanticism.

Iraqi exiled literary translator Sinan Antoun (in a recent interview with the Iraqi magazine Shakomako) reminisces upon the day he understood an inherent barbarism to American democracy: “Watching one’s country and hometown get destroyed sears one’s soul and psyche forever. Those years showed me how barbarism was at the heart of our modern world. Not the barbarism of dictatorship, the barbarism of western liberal democracies, delivered through remote-control and watched comfortably by the citizens of said democracies.

After I left Iraq and went to the US I realized that bombing Iraq and its people back to the preindustrial age was a spectacle. Infotainment. I understood why the bombing started at 2:37 AM. Because that is prime time in the USA….Until lions have their historians, histories of the hunt glorify the hunter.”

If in the cultural logic of the USA, “evil” is to suffer, then lesser evil is to minimize one’s own suffering. Obama showed this in his battle against evil: the aforementioned change of house in Iraq, had to be immensely lucrative, incremental, and good for business. Privatization of the Iraq war meant the hiring of mercenary corporations through the Blackwater firm, a mercenary culture that undoubtedly played as major a role as al-Qaeda in giving rise to the ISIL/Da’esh militia.

After the withdrawal of the only civilized contender—social dem Bernie Sanders—there is a cow-tow between a repetition of the political illusions of the 1990s, or the illusions held before the European 1930s. Both Hilary and “Make America Great Again’’ are vain attempts to resist the American imperial autumn.

Beyond any doubt, Hillary will be better for Americans and even for minority populations than Trump, who vies attack the Latin American immigrant populations in the United States, along with any critic, without embellishments and without the casual chatter about ‘’cultural rights’’ and ‘’cultural barriers’’ so prevalent in the narcoleptic, class-unconscious rhetoric of Democrats.

Rodham Clinton vows to nominate her husband as economic advisor, re-enabling the 1990s economic turn to neoliberalism, which devastated many recently emerged democracies in the global South. Clinton wants to oversee the return to salesman-presidents, exemplified by Argentina’s Menem and Venezuela’s Carlos Andres-Peres, in Latin America and the third world generally (the politically correct term is “global South.”)

No matter how unpopular, how resistant to them memory and will of Southern populations, regardless of the coups and media manipulations required, Mrs. Clinton has determined that her husbands 1990s economics must govern the planet again. The existence of Trump as Candidate of Apocalypse, a spectacle that enthralls the lost and the losers of the capitalist game, those who are embittered to the point of crookedness and desperately thirsting for rhetorical evil, only reinforces how Rodham-Clinton has been selected from above, the royal rug unrolled for her stroll into throne.

Much volcanic talk has erupted, meanwhile, about irresponsible idealism (Sanders, then Jill Stein stood accused) the selfish, versus the selfless choice: voting for Hillary, as Sanders upon realizing he would not win, opted for realpolitik.

Dualism and Little Evils, North, South and East of United States: Dare to Compare 

In Argentina, the left-wing Trostkyite and Marxist groups that denounced ‘’lesser evilism’’ were crucial in the slight advantage gained by the Macri neoliberal far-right—supported by both Obama and the Trump-benefactor Sheldon Adelson.

The “trostkos’’ as the mostly young far-leftists are nicknamed, denounced the choice that was presented to an Argentinian population—between Daniel Scioli (candidate of left-leaning Victory Front party of Cristina Kirchner) Macri (of the Let’s Change Party) and minor third party contenders who ultimately stepped out of the race with justifications similar to Sanders’ lesser-evilism.

Daniel Scioli was to the right of the radical social-democrat and anti-neoliberal Cristina Kirchner. Scioli had good relations with prominent neoliberal politicians of the Argentinian 1990s, but was nominated by the populist party as a moderate candidate for 2016. The country was tired from being boycotted and embattled by Washington and the global financial institutions. Scioli was favored by the dominant media monopoly Clarín as ‘’the only viable” FPV, post-Kirchner candidate. Clarín mostly championed the victor Macri, a CEO whose millions were accumulated during a long honeymoon of collaboration with the 1970s junta, and who has currently eviscerated press freedoms and labor rights in Argentina, a country where the history of labor-struggles have shaped part of the dialect spoken in everyday life in the Buenos Aires region. Argentina’s Left has long stood divided between the believers in compromise with Peronist populism—the political movement that enjoys the most support from the Argentine masses, who have a sentimental regard of the Perons not unlike the keeping of saints—and the incorruptible Trotskyite left, which is openly anti-Peron, anti-electoral politics, anti-politics at times. Trostkyites refused to vote for the lesser evil—a Peronist—and voted either in the blank slot, or for the furthest right, going with the logic of some leftist factions of 1920s Europe “the worse, the better.’’ More recently, the Partido Obrero (Worker’s Party, a Trotskyite outfit) issued statements in favor of the bizarre and defamatory insistence by the spectacle-oriented Argentine judge Claudio Bonadio, who demanded that May Plaza Mothers like Hebe Bonafini appear in court to face charges of ‘’misuse of public funds’’. During the Kirchner years, the organizations of the May Plaza Mothers, such as HIJOS (organization for reuniting children of detained, imprisoned or murdered militants of the 70s regime with their remaining family) were state-subsidized; today they have returned to their traditional dependence on international solidarity.

What is the difference between lesser-evilism in Argentina and in the USA?

It is a choice that Americans have never consciously made in their history: between living under a dictator, and merely supporting dictatorial client states overseas and on the confusing world-map.

Liberals typically cast Hillary Rodham as a relief from the so-called ‘’passivity’’ of Obama’s military expansionist foreign policy. Unlike her predecessor, she supported the Iraq invasion by George W Bush and as Secretary of State. The return of ‘’normalcy’’ and realpolitik envisioned in the 2016 election (after Sanders politely allowing, even endorsing his movements defeat) resembles the process of realpolitik in parts of the ‘third world’’, among the countries have oscillated between being at odds, even official enemies of Washington; to showing agile and quick obedience as expected of colonies.

In Argentina’s 2016 elections Scioli, a pro-Washington neoliberal eager to compromise with his party’s radical achievements in social democracy, was the ‘realpolitik’’ option, and the only remaining alternative to the extreme neoliberalism of Macri. He could not stir the people and his defeat by a whisker evoked horror among half the Argentine population, and celebration among the landowners, businessmen and the upper middle class who never believed Macri could win.

The repetition of the Thatcherite mantra—‘’there is no alternative’’ also found its echo in Peru, despite the existence of a stronger left alternative represented by the Justicia Vida y Libertad party led by Verónika de Mendoza, who was maligned as a terrorist in media campaigns that preferred the major neoliberal contenders.

Peruvian elections of 2016 saw the narrow victory by the articulate neoliberal Pedro Pablo Kuczinsky, with the overwhelming parliamentary triumph of the party of Keiko Fujimori, whose sole political program is that of allowing the imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori to be released from prison and to subvert the trials against him for his human rights violations and war crimes—often against the impoverished indigenous population of Peru. Both Fujimori and Kuczinsky stand for neoliberalism, though Kuczinsky is championed by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa as standing for that version of neoliberalism which, like Hilary’s and Obama’s, is meant to be equated—however falsely—with diversity and multiculturalism, in opposition to the hell-born non-alternatives like Trump and Fujimori.

Hillary will, in all likelihood, be much better for North Americans than Trump, who promises dictatorship at home. Trump claims to uphold isolationism in foreign policy. Unpredictable and fond of fire-works, as any Siegfried & Roy Act, Trump is most akin to the sector in which he doubled his capital.

While preserving the meritocracy and slow turn to authoritarianism that persisted since Bush throughout the Obama years upon US topsoil, Former Secretary of State Clinton will, in all likelihood, continue her foreign policy of exporting, befriending and endorsing Trumpisms abroad, for the client regimes in the rest of the world. Such endorsement was loud and clear in her support for the Trump-like phenomenon of Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine (an August 16 NY Times article exposed how a Trump aide funneled millions to Clinton’s ‘’Man in Kiev’’ who recently resigned from the Ukraine Fatherland Party due to the Panama Papers scandal) Poroshenko, the anti-corruption minister and CEO of a chocolate factory among other businesses, according to articles in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz was condemned by Moscow’s Chief Rabbi for promoting the typical East-European nationalist holocaust-revisionism in order to gain political points. Hillary, as Obama, praised the rise of Mauricio Macri in Argentina—despite that Macri has a sponsor in common with Trump (and with their mutual admirer in Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu): the casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson. According to Argentinian journalist and left-wing public intellectual Horacio Verbitsky in articles he wrote for Página 12 and La Campora, the casino-crat Adelson is a major player in the campaigns of Trump—a choice Adelson defended in columns in the Wall Street Journal—and in the coalition of Netanyahu’s Likud and Lieberman’s Israel Beyteynu settler-party currently degenerating the Israeli political scene. “Trumpism” might lose to Hilary in the first world, but the USA will go on vastly exacerbating Trumpism in that lunar kingdom, the battleground and backdrop of the Third World, a place that remains outside of the world to most Democrats and Republicans, even for the average Sanders-supporter.

Thatcher’s Voice and Selfish Choices

It becomes necessary first to understand the discourse of “lesser evil” in the context of North America by first understanding what is meant by evil. In the culture of the United States, the greatest evil is suffering and the greatest good is to minimize one’s own suffering, even if it causes pain to another

To maintain the North-American definition of lesser evil is that of major comfort for oneself and major hazard for the other, is not to say that the United States is Epicurean. Epicureanism was the Greek pre-Socratic, poetic philosophy that believed in avoidance of irrational and needless pain. The Epicurean notion of pleasure was the pre-modern (pre-post-modern) pleasure sought in relative freedom, in nature, in a context that predated the consumption society by thousands of years. The North American consumer society’s definition of pleasure in comfort is different from that of ancient poet-philosophers like Epicurus, or Zeno (who would have opposed the kind of identity politics favored by the culture of the Democratic Party USA, as he maintained that differences can only exist because they spring from a shared heterogeneity) and of Diogenes (who liked suffering a bit more, and the military State not at all)

“Minor evil” in this context is whatever can minimize agony for oneself, even it causes more harm to the other. Whichever choice Americans make in the vote between the Republican or the Democratic candidate, it will be an entirely selfish choice: to vote for Trump in order to sabotage or show discontent with how democracy was made into a farce, or to vote for Hillary, in order to let the Trumpism move its shadow to those who are the most used to understanding and bearing the brunt, the cruelty, the consequences of dictatorship. North Americans, clearly, are not ready to be oppressed by a dictator who is of the kind they have propped up and supported in their overseas client states: better let Hondurans, Argentines, South Americans, Eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians endure what the US citizen is unable to stomach, better deny the imperial autumn and decline for another presidential term. USA as an Empire is in decline. Whether or not it elects a woman for 2017, there will be an autumn of the patriarch. The decline is inescapable, but can be postponed, and the choice between Sanders, Hillary and Trump stood for the only three roads available for an empire on its last remaining feet: Trump was the decline into madness and senility, a la Nero; Hillary was the dead-end of desperate denial and going down in a blaze. Bernie Sanders’ plan was focusing on his country’s internal problems, in the attempt to create a genuinely social-democratic, grassroots society, perhaps the ”industrial democracy” envisioned by American philosopher John Dewey. The son of immigrant laborers, Sanders represented the civilized way of accepting the Empire’s fall: with wisdom, sobriety and compassion. That is perhaps alien to the American way, as defined by the Bushes, Rodhams and Las Vegas entrepreneurs who live much closer to what pulsates at the vapid heart of the American Dream

Thatcher’s voice, roaming from her cremated ashes, keeps repeating “there is no alternative’’ to a sociopathic economy that directly eviscerates all modern and social institutions, not stopping at the welfare state—even the train was threatening to Thatcherism, as argued by Tony Judt in his unfinished masterpiece Bring Back the Rails, about the subversive modernist power of the locomotive, interrupted by Judt’s death.

None of the arguments I make here are against the choice of self-preservation that North American democrats will make, when they go against their dream of a modern, Neo-Keynesian social democracy in the United States—what Sanders represented—and instead hold their grudge and vote for Hillary. It is their country, after all, and their choice, it is what is good or better for them. Trumpism is not only to be postponed in time, but also in global space: exported, a hurricane diverted. The Hydra may multiply far from imperial shores, now that all Herculean efforts at resistance inside the USA have capitulated.

The Difficulty of “Telos’’ Vs. the Comfort of Consensus

They insist: no alternative. Thatcher also liked to add ‘’there is no such thing as society’’ only atomized individuals and families—the nuclear family being only an aggrandized individual unit of consumption and cooperation. In the absence of society and of politics itself, there is also no common political project: that which the ancient Greek warlords’ democracy called ‘’Telos’’: a common political goal, which unites what might be divergent groups and individuals, with different ideological commitments, towards achieving goals more of them believe in. “Telos’’ the Greek word is the origin of the ‘teleology’’ to be found in many religious thinkers and of liberal humanism, but also in the revolutionary dialectics of Marxism. The ideology of neo-liberalism is for the elimination of all ‘’Telos’’, in favor of the Latin word, Consensus. Consensus claims to allow diversity—but not of ideology, and not of opinion. When liberals, anarchists and communists banded together to fight the Royalists in the Spanish Civil War, it was an act forming a Telos. But general Franco opposed Telos and favored technocracy and its long-term model of peaceful coercion: Consensus, or starvation and obscurity as the alternatives. Today’s Macri regime in Argentina upholds that model of technocracy.

What diversity is left? Identity cannot be reduced to mere accessories if it is to be political.

Sophie’s Choice Menu and the Sophists

The talk-wires and grape-vines of social media (which constitute, along with the private university, the nexus of what is called “the Left”, or for that matter, democracy, in the United States) are aflame with philosophical discussions about opting for “the lesser evil”. Sanders capitulated, instilling a dismay and general malaise in much of the North American disaffected youth that invested their hopes in the first major movement for a grassroots social democracy in the United States. Inevitably Trump has stylistically conjured historical associations with the Fascist demagogues of the European 1930s and Sanders’ choice was based on realpolitik and a long-term strategy, though by the elections of 2020 he will probably be too old to run for president.

The GOP had in many of its organs invested for years in the most significant minority in the United States which has often been ignored, resented or politically castrated by the Democratic establishment: 50 million Latin American immigrants, many of whom are excluded from the black-white racial discourses of the Democratic Party, and many of whom are religious Catholics who have the harsh, reactionary work-ethic to be found among many pressured immigrant groups that strive for acceptance in capitalist societies. The hope of the Grand Old Party of securing a victory by way of the Latin vote—a project shared by Cuban-American Marco Rubio and bilingual Jeb Bush, married to former Mexican citizen Columba Bush—was deeply frustrated by the Trump campaign. Despite shock-value, Trump’s histrionic proclamations about Latin rapists are prejudices shared by many of those close to HRC and her campaign motor. In a 2014 interview, Christiane Amanpour held Hillary to task on her position on Central American immigrants. Rodham Clinton erupted in the show titled ‘’Hilary’s Hard Choices’’ spouting the reactionary views about ‘’drug cartels smuggling children’’ and ‘’irresponsible parents’’, dodging Amanpour’s questions about the support for the ousting of populist Manuel Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 and the refugee crisis that ensued. That was to be expected of the spouse and house-collaborator of Bill Clinton’s unabashedly racist project of restructuring welfare in the 1990s. Under the pretext of fencing out ‘’parasitic immigrants’’—after all, it must be great laziness that motivates people to trek from Salvador along Mexican deserts and past the US border, braving death—the reform was nothing more than another attack on Labor. Such attacks are Clinton’s specialty, seconded only by technical expertise in war.

Arturo Desimone (Aruba, 1984) is an Aruban-Argentine writer, poet and visual artist. His articles on politics previously appeared in  CounterPunch, DemocraciaAbiertaBerfrois UKDiem25news and elsewhere. Author of the poetry collection Mare Nostrum/Costa Nostra (Hesterglock 2019) and the bilingual book “La Amada de Túnez” which  appeared in Argentina during the pandemic, he has performed at international poetry festivals in Granada, Nicaragua, Buenos Aires and Havana.