Roaming Charges: When the Pterodactyls Came Home to Roost

They have guilty consciences, they’re afraid – and fear and guilty consciences have a good savor in the nostrils of the gods. Yes, the gods take pleasure in such poor souls. Would you oust them from the favor of the gods? What, moreover, could you give them in exchange? Good digestions, the gray monotony of provincial life, and the boredom – ah, the soul-destroying boredom – of long days of mild content.

— from “The Flies,” by Jean-Paul Sartre

No one inside the Clinton machine saw it coming. They were whacked from behind, while sitting at the bar, casually ordering cocktails to celebrate their predestined triumph, as clueless of their fate as Luca Brasi in The Godfather.

A half-million computer simulations generated by Robby Mook assured them that their victory was foretold, a sure thing. They had the press. They had Wall Street and Silicon Valley. They had the Council on Foreign Relations, Colin Powell and Henry Kissinger. They had women. They had blacks, Hispanics and Asians. They owned the East Coast, the West Coast and the Great Lakes. Even those flinty Cuban exiles would help them take Florida this time.

You can almost hear the smug snickering oozing through the Podesta emails. Fuck every place else. We don’t need them. Those Jurassic States with their deplorable constituents–their Sunday schools and pick-ups, their deer hunts and bingo parlors–deserved what they were going to get (which, of course, wasn’t going to be much different than what they’d been getting since the rise of the neoliberals in the late 70s: nothing but condescension). This one was in the bag.

Alas, there was a bug in their program, call it the Hubris Virus, that blinded them to the sands eroding beneath the hulking edifice of their own conceit. Mook’s app couldn’t measure human emotion. Their software couldn’t calibrate the visceral mood of the electorate, which any amateur sociologist could detect in almost every bar in America.

One of the trademarks of neoliberalism is that the working poor are to be blamed for their own desperate condition, their failure to adapt to the shock therapy foisted upon them, their refusal to embrace the austere strictures of the new modernity.

This election was the chance for the America preterite, the left behind and demeaned, to strike back at one of their most vulnerable and pious oppressors. From Wisconsin to Pennsylvania, they did so with a vengeance.

The Clinton campaign, like Luca Brasi, now sleeps with the fishes, but that virus persists, gnawing away at the brainstem of the vanquished Clinton team and the leaders of the Democratic Party. The same self-righteous surrogates who assured nervous liberals of the mathematical inevitability of Hillary’s election have now been deployed to rationalize her inexplicable defeat.

Each day a new scapegoat emerges: James Comey, Vladimir Putin, Julian Assange, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, Anthony Weiner, rigged voting machines, Fox News, fake stories on Facebook, Bernie Bros, even Bernie Sanders himself, the man who debased himself by campaigning his ass off for
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550-e1477943826411a candidate who ridiculed him behind his back and then blamed him for her own predictable demise. Oh, and if it’s Friday, it must be Susan Sarandon’s fault for being one of the few “celebrities” with a conscience and the courage to articulate it. See the online ravings about her by Kurt Eichenwald, Paul Krugman and Joy Reid.

In Greek tragedy, hubris is a kind of all-consuming arrogance that blinds characters to the limits of their own power and the ruthlessness of their own deeds, as in the plays of Sophocles. Usually, the hero over-reaches, ignores oracular warnings, commits a grievous crime, falls from grace and then awakens, often near the point of death, to his or her own failures as a human being. Thus the hero and the audience experience a catharsis, a purification through understanding.

But Aristotle, who was obsessed with the notion of hubris, described another variety of this disorder of the power elites, a kind of sadistic pleasure derived from the suffering of others. Here’s Aristotle writing in his Treatise on Rhetoric: “Hubris consists in doing and saying things that cause shame to the victim simply for the pleasure of it. Retaliation is not hubris, but revenge. Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people.”

The Clintons and their acolytes are afflicted by both species of hubris. They are the power-hungry agents of their own downfall, yet shame the victims of their own inhumane policies, from the gutting of welfare to racist crime policies to the obliteration of Libya. They show no remorse, engage in no self-circumspection, admit no culpability for their own actions and deflect the blame for all failures on others. In this sense, they are beyond redemption or purification and richly deserve their fate. Live by the polls, die at the polls.

But the country at large is about to pay a heavy price for the Clintonian tragedy. The malign incompetence of this vain neoliberal coterie has unleashed a chilling and lethal force on the Republic: intolerant, self-righteous, bigoted and violent. There’s no way to diminish the threat that Trump poses to the most vulnerable among us. These aren’t chickens coming home to roost, but ravenous pterodactyls, emerging from a cthonic darkness, with maximum havoc on their minds.

We are, however, blessed that the Democratic Party, always little more than a vaporous sanctuary for the American underclass, no longer exists as an oppositional force. Their frail Maginot Line has been breached, routed and trampled. Like the French Resistance, we are now responsible for our own collective defense.

Let us unite in a new “refus absurd.”


+ Alexander Cockburn used to talk all the time about his admiration for the pragmatism of the American voter. This year the choice of lesser evils seemed more vexing than ever. According to Zigby, 4 percent of voters decided which presidential candidate they were voting for on the day of the election, 3 percent scratched their heads until they were inside the voting booth. Another 3% aren’t sure when, or even if, they decided.

+ Suddenly it’s all about Steve Bannon, the shadowy Machiavelli of the Sturm und Trump movement. Bannon’s a white nationalist. Bannon’s a racist. Bannon’s a sexist. And, most fatal of all slurs in American politics, Bannon’s an anti-semite. Is Bannon an anti-semite? I have no idea. He’s certainly not disguised his hatred of Muslim-semites. But does that qualify as a transgression in American politics? Hardly. It’s been the path to career advancement. Certainly, Bannon’s alleged anti-semitism hasn’t bothered the Israeli government, whose ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, defended Bannon against his critics and calmed nervous American Jews by saying that he “has no doubt that President-elect Trump is a true friend of Israel.”

Of course, the Israeli government has never been worried about real anti-semitism. It’s anti-Zionism that they are determined to violently suppress. Of course, if any pro-Palestinian politicians had cheered Bannon’s appointment as a possible indicator of a re-set in US policy in the Middle East, the Israeli government would have quickly denounced them as anti-semites.

+ In the past, Bannon has described himself as a Leninist when it comes to the exercising of executive power. This appellation would prove unappetizing to his Breitbart audience, so in an an interview with the Hollywood Reporter he rephrased it terms that would make his governing philosophy more digestible to middle America, mentioning familiar figures of darkness they could understand and warm up to, Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. “That’s power,” Bannon said, wryly one hopes. His real model is Thomas Cromwell, the dark power behind Henry VIII. Ready for the Trump Reformation? Hold on to your heads. (Naturally, that advisory about holding on to your head should apply to Bannon as well. Cromwell didn’t take good enough care of his.)

+ With the nomination of Jeff Sessions, a man whose views on race are more rancid than Strom Thurmond’s, Trump seems intent on replacing the neocons with the neocon-federates. Someone told me that Sessions had “softened” with age. Old Strom never did “soften.”  Thurmond said they’d have to “whack my pecker down with a baseball bat to close my coffin.”

+ So the world won’t end with a whimper after all. (A BK Whopper, perhaps.) Trump wants to name Mike Huckabee as his ambassador to Israel and the Huckster is already telling his friends at AIPAC that Trump is committed to moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. Huckabee always was an Apocalypticist. He must be feeling pretty giddy about being one big step closer to that glorious moment when he will arise like a giant dirigible into the sky on rapturous currents after the final battle at Megiddo.

Trump’s mad pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is not new. This genuflection to the Armageddon Lobby was also made by his golfing bud Bill Clinton and Bills’ pal George W Bush. Both of them soon backed down, when their inner circles informed them of the prospect of all hell breaking loose. Of course, all hell breaking loose may be just what Trump’s inner circle wants.

+ Last week, the Democrats were calling Trump the American Hitler. This week, new Senate Minority leader, Chuck Schumer, Wall Street’s new favorite on the Hill, says he may be willing to work with Trump to end the “Washington stalemate.” Who will break the news to Rachel Maddow?

+ In a big piece for the New York Times, Steven Erlanger and Alison Smale call Angela Merkel the “Liberal West’s Last Defender.” A few years ago, Merkel, the Scourge of Greece, was considered to be to the right of Nicolas Sarkozy. Of course, if you define “liberal” as “agent of austerity,” which the Times has always supported, I guess they might have a point.

+ Team Trump floated the name of Nikki Haley for Secretary of State. Resume: Degree in accounting, experience in the fashion industry, governor of small southern state. Not much bloodshed on that CV. Probably a less lethal choice than Hillary, the worse decision Obama ever made. Still would she take it if offered? It would give her an excused absence for  leaving the country as often as possible over the next four years…

+ The International Energy Agency has just issued a report saying that the Paris Climate Accord didn’t go far enough to reverse or even halt climate change and that even those targets would be impossible for most, if not all, signatories to the treaty to meet. Doomed under Obama, doomed under Trump. Doomed, doomed, doomed.

By the way, 2016 will be the hottest year on record, after the hottest year on record, after the hottest year on record. Over to you, Myron Ebell.

+ I get a lot of groans for talking this way, especially at the kitchen table here in Oregon. Why are you always so depressing? That’s no way to motivate people! But regardless of how we speak about it, climate change is beyond control now. The time to act was 50 years ago. Want some recent evidence of the way things are heading? Temperatures at the North Pole this week are 36 degrees higher than normal. The living planet will survive, though our species, speaking of hubris, likely won’t in the long term. Life on earth survived the Permian Extinction, when more than 98 percent of the species on the planet were wiped out almost overnight geologically speaking. From that extinction new forms of life emerged, evolving in wild new directions. See Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, which might be considered an uplifting book if your timeline is expansive enough.

+ For the last 20 years, Bernie Sanders has presented himself as either an independent socialist or an independent, although he voted in lockstep with the Democrats in the House and the Senate 95% of the time, even when they wanted to expand the police state, bomb a socialist country, and overthrow the governments of Iraq and Libya.

Now Sanders self-identifies as a Democrat and this very week accepted a leadership position (director of outreach, whatever that means) under Charles Schumer, the Senator from Citibank. The pretense has been dropped. Sanders is now an aging pitchman for a party that abandoned the working class about the time he entered congress. When Bernie “reaches out” to you, I’d think twice before giving him your credit card number.

+ Will one banal celebrity supplant another? That’s the hope of some diehard Democrats who are looking to recruit Tom Hanks to run against Trump in 2020. I’ve never understood the allure of Hanks. As an actor, he seems stiffer than Gary Cooper. In the film Castaway, written by Cockburn’s old pal Bill Broyles, Hanks was overshadowed by Wilson the Volleyball. His politics seem like leftovers from the Dukakis campaign. His one watchable film, Turner and Hooch, was carried by Hooch.  Hooch for veep!

+ This week Obama ensured that his real legacy, where he left his deepest mark on the world, will endure, when the White House announced that he will not restrict or redact his drone kill book for the incoming Trump administration. Continuity in government you can believe in!

+ Norway is set to ban the sale of cars powered by fossil fuels within the next ten years. This welcome news was immediately applauded by the mad CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk. Hopefully, the Norwegians will also see the wisdom in banning Elon Musk, who believes the future of humans lies in the terra(de)forming of Mars, from their country…

+ The awful James Clapper, Obama’s director of National Intelligence, who famously gave perjurious testimony before congress on the extent of the administration’s domestic spying operations, has sent the president his letter of resignation, rushing, like a manic Black Friday shopper, to get near the front of the clemency line, right behind Hillary Clinton, who Jesse Jackson, servile to the bitter end, has already begged Obama to pardon.

+ SEC chair Mary Jo White has also announced she is abandoning her post, as K Street lobbyists sharpen their blades for the gutting of Dodd-Frank. Apparently, Bernie Madoff has forwarded his application for the post to Trump Tower, saying he could easily run the new SEC from his cell at the Butner Federal Prison.

+ Suddenly the Left is all aflame over word that Trump is considering a “Muslim registry.” Apparently, these brave defenders of civil liberties are unaware that a “Muslim registry” called the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was imposed shortly after 9/11 with the endorsement of Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats and persisted well into Obama time, only being officially abandoned in 2011. (Who is to say when, or if, it unofficially ended?) Ajamu Baraka told me that he was stopped and interrogated about his residency and status no less than five times during that decade of dread. Let us also recall that Mrs. Clinton made a dramatic gesture of returning campaign contributions from American Muslims and Muslim groups during her senate campaign, more than a year before the events of 9/11.

+ The DNC’s Record of losses Under Obama / Kaine / Wasserman Schultz: 1 Presidency,
11 Senate seats, 60 House seats, 14 governorships, 900 state legislative seats.

Try, try, try again. Being a Democrat means never having to say you’re sorry. (I mean that in both senses of the word.)

+ In 1920, Eugene Debs ran for president from his prison cell in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was serving a 10 year sentence for violating the Espionage Act by opposing Woodrow Wilson’s entry into World War I and for promoting Socialism. (Even the infamous Mitchell Palmer thought that Debs should have been pardoned, but Wilson, one of the cruelest presidents, refused. It took Warren Harding to commute his sentence to time served.) Debs was also disenfranchised for life. Debs still won nearly 4 percent of the vote, nearly as much as all third parties in this year’s election. Many of the same structural problems continue to plague the country today. Yet our politics has become hollower, spiritless, more and more hopeless.

+ My old partner, Ken Silverstein, nails Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times’s dullest columnist (give or take Tom “Sominex” Freidman),  for his outrageous speaking fees ($30,000 to talk about his reporting on global poverty!) and travel reimbursements. So many dollars, so little sense.

+ Lena Dunham breaks down the election: “It’s painful to know that white women, so unable to see the unity of female identity, so unable to look past their violent privilege, so inoculated with hate for themselves, showed up at the polls for him, too.”

If only Hillary had used Ms. Dunham more aggressively on the campaign trail … she might have lost California, too.

+ Dylan says he’s got better things to do than go pick up his Nobel prize for literature. Good for him. I hope one of those things involves writing another song as good as this one

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week.

Julia Jacklin: Don’t Let the Kids Win
Pretenders: Alone
The Radio Dept.: Running Out of Love
JohnnySwim: Georgica Pond
Brad Mehldau & Joshua Redman: Nearness

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week.

Marc Bloch: Strange Defeat; a Statement of Evidence Written in 1940.
Wilhelm Reich: The Mass Psychology of Fascism.
Elizabeth Danto: Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis & Social Justice.

The Redeeming Things

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.”

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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