FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hostile Takeover

Photo by Mike Maguire | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Mike Maguire | CC BY 2.0

“The populace may hiss me, but when I go home and think of my money, I applaud myself.”

—Horace, Epistles

It’s been a month since the election, and in the mirrored halls of the news and social media the contributors of uplifting opinion have been telling themselves that no matter what else might be said about the campaigns and the vote, it was a great day for Democracy. Rough and tumble democracy in the raw, free-range, artisanal and organic, the will of the people trampling out the vintage of political correctness, emerging from the ash heap of vicious cant, texting “yes” to the Declaration of Independence, “no” to an uncivil transfer of power. Cue the music, roll the camera and the flag. The people have spoken.  Our democracy lives.  Government of the people, by the people and for the people is not perished from the earth.

Which might have been the case had Bernie Sanders been on the ballot.  He wasn’t, and neither was democracy.  What was on the ballot was plutocracy, complacently stupefied and transparently corrupt at the top of the Republican and the Democratic ticket. Two gold-plated names on the same boardroom door, both candidates representative of and privileged by a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich that for the last thirty years has been arranging the country’s political and socioeconomic affairs. The election campaign was the struggle for control of corporate management, Hillary Clinton seeking to fend off a hostile takeover by Donald Trump, the lady and the lout both standing four square and true blue for the freedom of money, steadfast and vigilant against the freedoms of movement and thought.

Clinton lost the election because she tried to pretend what she was not—a caring friend of all the people, ardent believer in the rule of law. She could talk the prerecorded talk, but she couldn’t walk the walk, her prior record, like her every move and gesture, showing her to be in it for herself, deserving of the deference owed to the Queen of England, the jack of diamonds and the ace of spades.

Trump won the election because he didn’t try to sell the Gettysburg Address. Upfront and fascist in his scorn for the democratic idea, he declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015, a deus ex machina descending by escalator into the atrium of Trump Tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, there to say, and say it plainly, democracy is for losers. Money, ladies and gentlemen, is power, and power, my friends, is not self-sacrificing or Democratic.  Never was and never will be; law unto itself, and the only one that counts. Name of the game, nature of the beast.

The mogul could afford the luxury of truth because he was really, really rich, un-bought and un-bossed, so selfishly and fearlessly rich he was free to do and say whatever it came into his head to do and say, whatever it took to root out the cowardly incompetence in Washington, clean up the mess in the Middle East, plant well-paying jobs in the American heartland. His was the greatest brand on earth come to make America once again the greatest show on earth, revive it with the sweet smell of his signature men’s colognes, Empire and Success.

Trump didn’t need briefing papers or policy positions to refine the message.  He embodied it live and in person, an unscripted and overweight canary flown from its gilded cage, telling it like it is from the inside looking out. Had he time or patience for messing around with books, he could have sourced his wisdom to Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis, who in 1933 presented the case to Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outset of the New Deal:

“We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

In the world according to Trump, as it was in the worlds according to Alexander Hamilton and Ronald Reagan, democracy is a tip on a dead horse. An idea as far past its sell-by date as FDR’s straw hat, not up to the task of keeping America safe or running the trains on time.  Too long-winded and slow, soft in the head and weak in the knees, no match for the barbarians (Mexican and African, radical Islamic and leftist academic) at the gates of Westchester County and Palm Beach.

Not the exact words in Trump’s self-glorifying mouth, but the gist of the commandment he brought down from his Mount Sinai penthouse suite in June 2015, the one that for the next eighteen months he tweeted to phone and shouted to camera in red states and blue, pandering to the popular resentment and loathing of the Washington politicians and Wall Street masters of the universe who for two generations have been playing ordinary Americans for suckers.

Trump never tired of trash-talking the system of which he was a proud and ornamental figurehead, and the fans on fairgrounds in Kentucky and Ohio screamed and stamped in agreement because what he was saying they knew to be true—not as precept from a high-minded think tank but from their own downwardly mobile experience.  Up close and personal they had suffered the consequences of the plutocracy’s ongoing and bi-partisan slum clearance project—class warfare waged by the increasingly frightened rich against the increasingly debt-burdened, disenfranchised and angry poor, the bulk of the nation’s wealth (actual and virtual, animal, mineral, vegetable and intellectual) amassed by 10% of its population, more laws restraining the freedom of persons, fewer laws limiting the license of property, the systematic juggling of the public light and land and air into the private purse, a national security apparatus herding sheep into the shelters of heavy law enforcement and harmless speech, every occupant of the White House from Reagan to Obama pleased to hold himself above the law, both houses of Congress reduced to impotent paralysis, a political discourse made by a news media presenting presidential candidates as game show contestants mounted on selfie sticks and played for jokes until brought to judgment on election night before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they are produced.

The camera doesn’t do democracy; democracy is the holding of one’s fellow citizens in respectful regard, not because they are beautiful or rich or famous but because they are one’s fellow citizens and therefore worth the knowing what they say and do. The work is tedious and slow; too many words with too little action doesn’t sell tickets. What sells tickets is celebrity, and because the camera sees but doesn’t think, it makes no meaningful or moral distinction between a bubble bath in Las Vegas staffed by pretty girls and a bloodbath in Palmyra staffed by headless corpses. The return on investment in both scene settings is the bankable flow of emotion drawn from the bottomless wells of human wish, dream, ignorance and fear.

It didn’t matter what Trump said or didn’t say, whether he was cute and pink or headless. The journalists on the road with the mogul’s traveling circus weren’t covering a play of ideas; like flies to death and honey, they were drawn to the sweet decaying smell of overripe celebrity, enchanted, as is their custom, by the romance of crime.

Blind to homespun shoes on common ground, the camera gazes adoringly at leather boots on horseback. So does the America movie-going public. Always a sight for sore eyes, the boots on horseback. They ride into town with the lonesome pine hero in the trail-weary saddle, knight errant, deadly and just, up against the odds and the system, come to remove the corrupt sheriff and redeem the God-fearing settlers, clean up the mess in the Middle West saloon, set the crooked straight, distribute moral fabric, civic virtue and a fair share of the loot to the storekeep, the shepherd and the school teacher.

Trump pitched his campaign on the storyline the movie-going electorate likes a lot better than the one about Honest Abe Lincoln. The networks, the cable channels and the self-adoring social media, hoisted him up there in lights with robber-barons Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, gunslingers Eastwood and Stallone, mafia dons Corleone and Soprano. November 8, 2016 may become a night to remember, but it wasn’t a great day for democracy.

This essay originally appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly. It’s reprinted here with permission of the author.

More articles by:

December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail