Rigging the Mythology of Elections

Lets get the difference between Trump and Clinton out of the way, so we can look at the election as such. Clinton represents the corporate establishment as a community of entities centered around the globalization of finance that exercises political control over foreign nations through centralized coordination of international trade and the computerized manipulation of financial factors like interest rates and exchange rates. Trump represents a form of marginalized capitalism that, in its smallness and tourist-oriented institutionality, still boasts of a contempt for its own working class. When he presents himself as a brash hero of white people who somehow feel themselves dispossessed, he is not representing them as victims of corporate despoliation but rather of government (in its Clinton persona) that has traded away whiteness for a multiraciality. Whether consciously or not, he represents the historical tradition of the slave patrols, the white exclusionary craft unions, the paramilitary enforcers of Jim Crow (now in the form of a Tea Party). We see this in the violence of his rhetoric. White people were able to follow Trump where they had not been able to follow the Tea Party because Trump walked an open road and the Tea Party had only its opposition to Obama as its calling card.

Clinton represents what is now in control, and Trump represent what is not. She represents the attempts of the Transnational Political Structure to form a government of and for the community of multinational corporations. Trump only knows casinos and cornerstones. He will probably never grasp the finepoints of creating mass starvation through presidential proclamation, or through the subtle financial schemes of the IMF. He doesn’t have to. He will have the Council for Foreign Relations do it for him, as they would have for Clinton.

His election won’t change anything. If international finance decided to break him, they would simply buy up controlling shares of stock in his corporations, and then dump them, putting him in liquidity crisis and his hotels in bankruptcy.

Significantly, against his election, people have come out into the street, outraged at the outcome. Some are marching because Clinton didn’t win. Most are marching to protest Trump’s rampant xenophobia, his overt misogyny, his white supremacy and general contempt for people. In a sense, the marchers protesting Trump’s election are scandalized that their project of a more egalitarian, just, and less violent society has been outvoted. After all, if democracy depends on there being equality, justice, and dialogue rather than segregation, exclusion, secrecy and war, to elect what represents the latter is wholly oxymoronic – the democratic process acting against itself.

But most of the marchers only seem to be protesting the person, not the culture of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that he represents. If Clinton had won, there would have been no marches, though she would then be the president of a misogynist, white supremacist, and xenophobic culture. Otherwise, the marchers would have had to call for a boycott of the election altogether as based on fallacy, and propose that only the development of an egalitarian culture would make a democratic system viable. They would be saying, no real democratic process is possible in a society that hates, discriminates, exploits, denigrates, marginalizes, excludes, and dehumanizes part or all of its political constituency. Since no such call for a culture worthy of democracy has ever gotten traction, the marchers were only saying they preferred a “pretty face” representing the chauvinism and racism of the present.

But if it is only Trump that they object to, rather than the culture he represents, are they sadly suggesting that they are okay with the racism and xenophobia? Are they affirming that even in a culture that subsists on inequality, on the injustices of white supremacist exclusions and capitalist exploitations, that it can still be a democracy? What kind of democracy could that be? How do you facilitate democracy in a culture that scorns equality, that takes pride in its injustices (segregation, police murders, mass incarceration, political prisoners), that prefers impoverishment to a government that would take universal responsibility for the well-being of its people?

Well, it would be a democracy in which political participation had been reduced to nothing but the “vote.” It would be a politics that focused on personalities rather than real political issues. Sound familiar?

One suspects that the marchers have forgotten that the two party system was created because of the existence of slavery during the first 90 years of the nation’s life (four score and seven?). While there were many positions on slavery during that time, when they eventually coalesced into two polarizing parties, for and against, both understood that in order to have national presence, they would have to suppress what they really believed because it could not be advocated in all sections of the country. The anti-slavery party couldn’t present that position in the south, for instance, and get any votes. And vice versa. So political discourse was reduced to expediency or pragmatic positions, free of ideology or principle. And its been like that ever since.

What that means is that policy is not made at the party level. The parties take care of running candidates, but national policy, to the extent it is based on ideology (industrialism vs. agrobusiness, for instance, or “New Deals” vs. corporate impunity), must be made elsewhere. In fact, what we learn from the Obama administration is that the president doesn’t make policy. He only administers it. Which is why it is called an administration. Obama fostered the same policies that Bush had before him, using different rhetoric, but with some of the same cabinet members. If the president doesn’t make policy, then we don’t participate in writing the script that the president’s adminsitration enacts. Contrary to the mythology, our vote doesn’t determine the future of the nation. Other people do, people we don’t hear from, and don’t elect.

If principle, ideology, and real policy-making are excluded from the electoral process, does it matter that the election was rigged? When Trump said it, nobody figured he meant it was rigged in his favor. If it was rigged, it was to make the culture of white supremacy, male chauvinism, and xenophobic bias the face of the nation. In opposing that “face,” what the protesters show they want is the myth of the nation, not its reality.

The reality is that even Trump missed it when he spoke of “rigged.” When we vote, our votes are counted by optical scanners, run by computers that collect and tally the data. These computers are proprietary, using proprietary software, and therefore compiling proprietary tallies. As proprietary, the public has no access to them. This is well known, and court tested. Rather than use open source software, in which the tallying process can be watched, the government prefers that we have no access, and that there be no accountability. If there is no access to the real tallies before the software acts on them, then there can be no assumption of validity. We can only conclude that it is the software engineers, and those who pay them, who determine the outcome. In other words, the only ethical stance one can take is to assume fraud.

Do you object? See if you can prove this analysis wrong. (Or better yet, read Bev Harris, “Black Box Voting,” or Jonathan Simon’s “Code Red”.) The only way you can get a recount of the paper ballots is by showing a court that there was obvious and extant malfeasance. Software does its work in secret.

No political issues were resolved by this election. They never are. Real issues are beyond the jurisdiction of an election. It deals with representation. The people who cheered for Trump did so because of his misogyny, not in spite of it. Nothing demonstrates the depth of misogyny’s cultural existence in this country more than two commonly known facts. The first is the well-known correlation between the superbowl and spousal abuse. The second is the relation of war and the murder of women. During the 15 years that the US was in Vietnam, losing some 58,000 GIs in its attempt to prevent that former French colony from liberating itself, here in the US, during the same 15 years, the number of women that were murdered by boyfriends or husbands was also 58,000 (according to research done by NOW).

The white nationalists cheer for Trump because of his xenophobia, not in spite of it. They want everyone who is not white to “go back where they came from” – even Native Americans.

But their victory cheer remains empty. What the misogynists and white supremacists still don’t know is whether their attempt to vote for Trump is what put him in office. If he was right and the election was rigged (in his favor), then someone else put him in office. No one can say for sure. But neither can the protesters, whose frustrations and shouts only echo the cheers of the white nationalists. They have no means of protesting white supremacy, or male brutality against women, because those are cultural phenomena. How do you protest a culture? A different kind of question needs to be asked.

We live in a right-wing society, with a right-wing culture. This has always been the case. Right-wing ideologies get easy honor, despite their reactionary character, their love for inequality and for the police-prison nexus that is today reestablishing Jim Crow. Left-wing ideologies have to fight continually for a place on the stage. For the right-wing, all social relations are hierarchical. Hierarchies maintain themselves by debasing and marginalizing others. Those that white supremacy racializes as non-white give white people their sense of entitlement and hegemony. But it also turns them against any government program that would take steps toward equality of opportunity. The Tea Party-ers prided themselves in their willingness to pay for corporate health insurance rather than partake in a “universal” health care plan.

When Bush proclaimed that the government of the US had no responsibility to provide for the well-being of the people, we thought he was just being venal, or hyper-individualistic. But now, we see that the government, in abjuring such responsibility, was carrying the white supremacist refusal of universality to its extreme. And today, across the country, towns and universities and churches are girding up and reinforcing their sanctuary capabilities and organizations in order to protect human beings against the xenophobia of that white supremacy.

But still, when marchers shout invectives at Trump, with signs that say “black lives matter,” they do not yet know how to ask why there are “black lives” in the first place. When they say, “stop the hate,” they do not add that white supremacy would still be an atrocity if Clinton had won. In protesting Trump’s election, the marchers are only demonstrating their patriotism. For them, the country deserves a better insignia than this buffoon. It is from that profound sense of patriotism that they demand that the face of the country not be one of criminal violence against women, nor the inherent violence of white supremacy.

But that just means that we have two different patriotisms, anti-Trump and pro-Trump. And if it was rigged, it was to set them against each other, Trump with the office and no mandate, and Clinton with the slim popular margin and no power. We know what civil war does. It destroys social infrastructure and allows corporate investment to rule uncontested by people’s movements or democratic alternatives.

Both nationalisms enact the same mythology, the story that this is a democracy because we have a vote, and our vote determines the future of the nation. It is a mythology that says, after each election, that the people have spoken. But in that case, the election is nothing better than a national opinion poll. It does not tell us what “the people” think.

Indeed, our only alternative by which to discern what people actually think and feel politically is the existence of real movements of a popular character. And what Trump and Sanders did, acting in tandem, was to bring those movement under the wing of the two parties. Trump brought the right-wing populist movements into the Republican Party and Sanders did the same for left-wing populist movements with respect to the Democrats.

In short, the essential role of the election, after all the campaigning, has been to tell the people of the country who they are and what they think by relocating them to the palm of the two parties’ hands. That is its mythological job. Beyond the mythology of presidential policy-making, and beyond the mythology of democratic popular participation in politics, there is the mythology of two parties vying for political power. The real role of the parties is control of thought and activity, not a struggle for power between two different ideologies. And it works because reality has never been able to defeat mythology.

When the marchers object to having been defrauded of their democracy through the anathema of an anti-democratic demogogue being elected, they are objecting to the wrong thing. We could not be defrauded of democracy. We didn’t have any to lose. All we had was the mythology. And people are out on the street defending the mythology, though it blinds them to what they really confront. Instead of the face of Trump, they want the mask that represents the myth. The naked face of US culture and its slave history bothers them so much they are willing to invade expressways and stop traffic in order to get the mask back.

And behind scene, and behind curtain, while this contestless election is contested, an insidious process begins to unfold. The police have initiated a campaign (still under Obama) of attack, derogation and harassment against the Movement for Black Lives, against “Black Lives Matter,” as the alleged “force” behind the fact that, across the country, people are starting to shoot back against the police, killing some of them.

Steve Martinot is Instructor Emeritus at the Center for Interdisciplinary Programs at San Francisco State University. He is the author of The Rule of Racialization: Class, Identity, Governance, Forms in the Abyss: a Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (both Temple) and The Machinery of Whiteness. He is also the editor of two previous books, and translator of Racism by Albert Memmi. He has written extensively on the structures of racism and white supremacy in the United States, as well as on corporate culture and economics, and leads seminars on these subjects in the Bay Area.