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The Twilight of the Leisure Class

A comment from a philosophically inclined academic during the dreaded ‘post-modern’ era was that memory, lived history as it is understood, becomes a critical faculty by way of tying understanding of the past to the circumstances of the present. This might be seen as a ‘material’ variation on Nietzsche’s observation that memory is burned into consciousness through suffering. Either way, or more to the point, in conjunction, memory as critical faculty has been well-exorcised from some fair segment, possibly the preponderance, of modern political understanding. From the side of absence it is rarely missed because ‘freedom’ in its ahistorical conception is life unbound from actual living, the way things might be it they weren’t what they are.

It was anti-history on full display in the Presidential ‘debates’ where a pompous know-nothing inheritance baby played savior of the working class and a cynical political operator who spent the last thirty years profiting, both politically and financially, from stoking racial divisions and provoking needless military incursions played the great healer. The promise from both wasn’t a future different from their respective pasts, it was of a present where these pasts never existed. The temporal plane needed to pose two improbable futures, ones that neither candidate has any intention of delivering, collapses into the flatness from whence it arose as three dimensional speculation into the two-space of the anti-history it embodies.

The question of how ‘we,’ the citizens of the U.S. and the world, arrived at the point where either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump could assume power as President needs to be answered in order to glean a path forward. A nominal zen-economicsanswer includes a trip through the carefully engineered electoral process that somehow placed Donald Trump in close electoral proximity to our erstwhile savior, the ‘transformative’ new boss married to the neoliberal, neoconservative old boss. A more substantial answer requires placing alleged differences between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton into the context of American empire as it exists in 2016 and within political and economic trajectories that have remained intact through sequential crises and ongoing social dissolution.

Panicked assurances that Donald Trump is the more dangerous of the two beg the question of the social basis of this danger? And the answer back is that, whatever their relative merits / demerits, Hillary Clinton is also far too dangerous to be granted the social power to push her visions of good and right onto an undeserving world. Within the engineered choice of two evils, both choices are evil. Mr. Trump is widely understood to be a tool of privilege long dissociated from public accountability. However, as the facts of history have it, Donald Trump is who / what late-stage state capitalism exists to empower. That Mrs. Clinton has labored in its service to prove her worth through the quantum of misery she has caused others points to the nature of this privilege as well.

The factual outcome of either ‘choice,’ as if manufactured simulacrum were the scrub-essence of consciousness acting on / in the world, will be diminishment in approximate relation to current place in the social order. Donald Trump had the wherewithal to put on a suit and tie as he managed the minimal degree of competence at spouting empty-headed blather to qualify as CEO of any of America’s major corporations. Hillary Clinton managed the bland technocratic chatter of her would-be class with the singular goal of not screwing up, with screwing up defined as misapplying the canned talking points that were so studiously crafted for her. The joint goal was to scam the great unwashed electorate with bluster and bullshit so as to get on with portioning out the spoils. The blandness of the patter, give and take within the realm of empty gestures for purposes left unstated, was allusion to the consequences not yet realized. If a few million people die in the process; that is the cost of leadership where the cost is borne by others.

In significant ways it was liberal technocrat Bill Clinton who made George W. Bush’s reign of (t)error possible. Mr. Clinton oversaw the ascendance of corporate political control that put a corner-office veneer on the worst of the sad and tortured American history that the Clintons used to maintain political office. It is this history that Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton mined for nuggets of fear to be used as weapons when circumstances dictated. The Iraq war’s ‘liberal hawks’ proved that Mr. Bush’s emo-militarism was a direct outgrowth of the ‘humanitarian’ fraud the Clintons used to sell their wars. To the extent that ‘the world’ has passed that American moment by, Donald Trump seemed to savant-intuit the changed landscape whereas eterno-hawk Hillary Clinton appears intent on bland-dancing into the apocalypse.

While the Iraq War was indeed a proud moment for all Americans (not), as if Exxon-Mobil were strategic director of Custer’s ‘last stand’ (a/k/a fitting end), there was a plausible economic motive behind the slaughter— oil. What renders Hillary Clinton particularly potent at engineering large-scale slaughters is her capacity to conflate naked economic self-interest with geopolitical apologia through apparent true belief in the universality of that which benefits her. The prospect of Mrs. Clinton’s cabinet filled with neoconservative merchants of geopolitical disaster finds close analog in the Rubinite wunderkinds of her husbands’ and Barack Obama’s eras who now regularly crash the global economy while failing upwards.

As the disclaimer goes, this isn’t to reduce geopolitics to pure economics. But it is to tie Mrs. Clinton to Donald Trump through the self-interested class that will use whatever line of bullshit is needed to close the deal. Mrs. Clinton’s lawyerly parsing serves as filler to get from goal to outcome with the least effort and most obfuscation possible. In stylistic contrast, Donald Trump’s tactic is to call out the process, lawyerly parsing, to draw attention away from the largely overlapping content. As prospective co-President with his wife, Bill Clinton has been busy in recent weeks agreeing with Mr. Trump that corporate taxes need to be cut and that trade deals (TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership) need to be better negotiated to ‘serve America’s interests.’ Question: which America?

Hillary Clinton’s technocratic ‘expertise,’ like that of her husband and Barack Obama, is in misrepresenting deeply cynical policies to get what she wants. Bill Clinton announced his get-tough-on-crime initiative at Stone Mountain, Georgia, home of a large Ku Klux Klan revival in the 1970s, while posing with White politicians in front of a group of well-ordered Black prisoners (see link). Hillary Clinton was an enthusiastic proponent of her husband’s ‘crime’ initiatives including the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that expanded capital offenses, militarized the police and boosted mass incarceration by racializing drug ‘crime’ sentencing. And Barack Obama led the largest immigrant incarceration and deportation effort in modern American history. By what calculus does lesser evilism suggest a clear choice? Conversely, what is the systemic implication when only racists and racial opportunists lead the major Parties?

Were readers to close their eyes and imagine political and / or economic life as they saw fit, chances are the system of electoral politics that poses Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as plausible candidates would never occur. My political imagination leads to Angela Davis, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Julian Assange, Leonard Peltier and the economics department from UMKC. The major Parties, as arms of the people and institutions they represent, are responsible for electoral outcomes because they control the process. The contention that ‘we’ owe either major Party candidate our vote is linked to the cynical misdirection of campaign platforms that flatten history to sell imaginary futures. The manufactured concern that one candidate or the other is the devil is cover for the fact that they are both devils.

The battle playing out is over division of present and future spoils and the only sure losers are the 99.99999% of the planet not on the inside of this political gamesmanship. There are real issues like environmental resolution, an end to militarism and economic justice that the major Party candidates exist to assure don’t get addressed. The misdirection that ‘progress’ is incremental is belied by the straight-line trajectory hard-Right that lesser-evil politics has produced. The clever political calculations of the past have aggregated to the cynical cluster-fuck that now has Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in close proximity to the power to make life miserable for tens or hundreds of millions of people. I will be voting for Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka because I agree with their positions on the issues. There is no political calculus to it. Otherwise, see you in the streets.

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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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