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The leftist heretic and popular scourge of religion Christopher Hitchens wrote in his superb Bill Clinton takedown, No One Left to Lie To, that the essence of American politics is “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Unfortunately, this tactic didn’t work so well for the Clintons in November, as the reviled populists had the last irrational, racist, sexist, brutish and barbaric word on the matter (according to assembled liberal punditry). But the statement still rings true. This is, after all, the job description of corporate media. As The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald says, the “supreme religion of the U.S. press corps is reverence for power.” Their priesthood is a cabal of anonymous sources; their catechism is war everlasting. And so, the vulgar philistines on the plains, who foolishly prefer peaceful relations, steady work, and free healthcare to profiteering wars abroad, must be endlessly misled.
Don’t expect this to change in the wake of the navel-gazing mainstream’s historic whiff on the election–despite the occasional mea culpa and promise to overhaul its approach. Mostly because 90 percent of the MSM is owned and operated by six conglomerates that have little interest in changing the system that profits them, or in changing the editorial narratives that support the system. And most probably, like Barack Obama and Madame Secretary, because the media believes Trump voters are “a basket of deplorables” that are too unfixably ignorant to understand why Hillary was the right choice.
After all, these mainstream flacks have been happily disguising the neoliberal gutting of the American economy for decades. They are so distanced from the reality of the 99 percent, it probably does seem unreal to them. Yet now, pundits unironically tell us, we live in a post-factual era. Even though the MSM has been producing counterintuitive propaganda for a long time. Do you remember the early Nineties, when the MSM started the cult of personality around CEOs like Jack Welch, who was feted for sending thousands of GE jobs to factory ghettos in India? Captain Jack knew the score, didn’t he? Or who can forget–or fail to retchingly remember–countless Thomas Friedman columns telling American workers they’d better suck it up, get with the program, and learn how to compete in a global economy. You remember the typical free trade shtick: Wave goodbye, comrades, to your coddled lifestyle and that full-time manufacturing job replete with extravagant benefits and a superfluous living wage; now you must fight tooth and nail for peasant wages against several billion proletarian youth with zero wage expectations and no knowledge of OSHA; spare me your tired complaints and pop some Zoloft for the pain, comrade; get some job retraining at the nearest overcrowded unemployment center (double up on the meds before you go); and then get excited about your new job emptying bedpans at the nearby hospital for pennies on the inflating dollar; and don’t forget to celebrate globalization on Independence Day. One can see big Thom sitting back in his leather chair to re-read his 1100 words of scintillating prose while lustily fingering his Pulitzer.
Then, fast forward to this fall, and witness the MSM spending the entirety of 2016 labeling all Trump supporters as white supremacist racist xenophobes clustered around their gun cabinets in landlocked flyover states. To be fair, they also spent a fair amount of time tediously whitewashing Hillary’s bloodbath in Benghazi so the liberal intelligentsia could reaffirm their sagacious tropes about the moral universe being “…not black and white, but shades of gray.”
Still Shilling War and Demonizing Dissent
Despite some interesting caterwauling about identity politics and the white poor, the MSM continued to miss the connection between the anger of the working class and the imperialism of the ruling class. The former is made poorer because of the latter. Spending on war usually means not spending on society. And the media has done yeoman’s work enabling both, principally by justifying nearly every imperial war as humanitarian necessity and erasing the working class from the American tableaux (except when stereotyping them as illiterate bigots, the vieux jeu herd that Friedman warmly chides, “Suck on this!”). Not understanding populist indigestion to the rancid policy platter it’s been serving up for years, what does the establishment media do? Continue shilling for imperialism, largely by spreading misinformation about Syria and ratcheting up the Russian threat with libelous claims.
This is important because, short of sustained media support, backing for imperial warfare would collapse; no imperial war can sustain itself in the presence of a free press. The Syrian war, or at least our role in it, could’ve ended a long time ago if the MSM had done their job and challenged the White House on any number of fronts. They might have, and might still do if they wanted, pointed out how the Assad government’s rejection of a Qatari oil pipeline immediately preceded the eruption of violent “protests” in eastern Syria. Mr. President, was this mere coincidence or was this pipeline the backbone of our plan to unhitch Europe from Russian energy and destroy the Russian economy? They might have asked President Obama why the CIA was arming, training, and funding intolerant jihadist terrorists in Jordan. What was St. Augustine’s rationale for this, Mr. President? (Surely, this was discussed when Obama and CIA eminence John Brennan warmly explored Augustine’s just war theories on “terror Tuesdays” before perusing the drone “Kill List.”) They might have asked Secretary of State John Kerry whether the Assad smear campaign was really necessary and whether the State Department expected anyone to believe the word of stooge informers like “Caesar,” given the experience of “Curveball” in the Iraq War. They might also have asked the president why he almost bombed Damascus based on a handful of piddling YouTube videos hastily typed up in a two-page report by Kerry’s lemmings at State. Alas, twas not to be.
Given their unwillingness to do their job, the imperial lies roll on. The New York Times began a recent article thus, “With the Syrian government making large territorial gains in Aleppo on Monday, routing rebel fighters and sending thousands of people fleeing for their lives, President Bashar al-Assad is starting to look as if he may survive…”
This is a fairly neutral opening except for the euphemism “rebel” and the unmissable, “…thousands of people fleeing for their lives,” which leaves the haphazard, scan-the-news-over-coffee reader grumbling against the misfit Syrian government. Perhaps said reader has also heard, in passing, UN Ambassador Samantha Powers’ braying theatrics over nonstop war crimes in east Aleppo, further coloring his or her view of the evil optometrist in Damascus.
Outside the mainstream, alternative news providers–known as Russian propagandists in the MSM–are calling this the thankful defeat of a NATO-sponsored terrorist army, adding that thousands are fleeing “into the arms of the Syrian Army,” escaping years of imprisonment at the hands of Western mercenary jihadists. While “into the arms of the Syrian Army” stretches anyone’s credulity, the rest appears accurate.
And instead of owning up to the real reasons they were whipsawed on Election Day, the MSM decided that it was the evil alternative media that forced the electorate to pick the wrong candidate. They huddled in editorial conclave at the Washington Post, and emerged with a long list of “fake news” websites and a giant conspiracy theory about vile Vladimir Putin ruining the democratic process from his pontiff’s chair in the cloud-draped Kremlin.
Fortunately, many on the left have admirably treated the Post’s disgraceful gutter-trolling with richly deserved contempt. For a mainstream press that regularly smears leftists as ‘conspiracy theorists,’ its Russian propaganda theory simply dwarfs most of the conspiracies it disparages. Clear-eyed journalists like Glenn Greenwald, John Pilger, Dave Lindorff, and staunch foreign policy realists like Ron Paul, have seen through the flimsy ruse.
Still Tone-Deaf In Presidential Suite
But few in the precincts of power are likely to change course either. The U.S. House and Senate bills authorizing U.S. intelligence operations–which at last count included 17 such “operations”–has decided to launch a new body “aimed at thwarting covert Russian political interference around the world.” So it seems as though, should it die in the press, some kind of McCarthyite black list will reappear at the federal level.
Despite his interest in avoiding war with Russia, Donald Trump is busily stuffing his cabinet with Wall Street insiders and military hawks, an encouraging sign for capital that the billionaire ‘outsider’ will not attempt anything that might unsettle neoliberal elites, whose comfort and perpetual enrichment is the nation’s highest calling. Advisor Steve Bannon’s trillion-dollar infrastructure project seems increasingly marginalized. Chances are the Trump White House may avert war with Russia, but will speed implementation of the neoliberal schemes both parties support.
In a breathtaking instance of an entire government swallowing its own doctrinal absurdities, the EU Parliament passed a ridiculous “resolution” to combat the nonexistent worldwide Muscovite conspiracy. This parchment ought to be pasted to the tombstone of the European Union (and the corpse itself buried with a pair of Euros over its eyes and a copy of Don Quixote under its arm).
The neoliberal dominoes continue to fall across the European continent, as the ignorant establishment recycles its feckless conceits about deregulation, privatization, and austerity to incredulous populations. Despite the Brexit stunner, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, perhaps thinking he could skate by on his youthful looks and pleasing oratory, proposed a referendum to “slash the power of the Italian Senate to speed up lawmaking.” Why would any neoliberal elitist even propose a referendum after Brexit? Especially one that is a farcical ploy to lessen democracy by creating the same kind of fast-track legislative restrictions perfected by the forked-tongued figureheads Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Recall how they used fast-track to hurry malicious corporate investor agreements past prying public eyes before the rot was scented in the air.
Renzi wanted to alter the constitution to reduce Parliamentary representatives by two-thirds. Had the PM not witnessed Donald Trump ascend the throne on the backs of disgruntled proletariat and a smattering of xenophobes with handguns? Sure enough, the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini called the result, “the revenge of the people.” Renzi tendered his resignation with immediate effect late last Monday. Both the EU and the U.S. efforts are transparent acts of attempted thought control. More than anything else, they tell us that if the press hasn’t learned its lesson, neither has the ruling class.
Out of Ideas and Out of Time
So, a month on from the world-historical upset that sent upwardly-mobile bi-coastals into fits of apoplexy, we find things much the same. The media is incorrigible and recalcitrant, unable to separate itself from power worship. Donald Trump is being gently shepherded into the arms of the comprador elite with each passing feast at Jean-Georges in Trump Tower. The cries of the voiceless dead are yet inaudible in the land of liberty. It seems that war, capitalism, and inequality still own the day.
But you have to ask yourself, is the American establishment out of ideas? Is the empire running on fumes? The hysteria produced by the YouTube surge of beheading videos by black-garbed, sword-brandishing jihadists, deep in the desert, couldn’t last forever. In its place, Washington and its lackey media have been ransacking the archives for odious enemies to prop in front of the somnolent population. They must be kept awake and alarmed. As Martin Amis wrote of his protagonist in The Information, “He needed no alarm clock. He was already comprehensively alarmed.” Frenzy is not a durable state; hence the need for relentless stimulants. CNN is Adderall for the electorate.
Lacking new ideas, finding no new enemies, and unwilling to look at the twitching Cyclops in the mirror, Washington has resurrected the Cold War and is actively resuscitating the McCarthy Era. Most of us had hoped these two miserable epochs in our history had been interred forever. But given our decade-long obsession with zombies, it’s no surprise the establishment is anxiously reanimating these rotting cadavers.
But what does it say about our so-called leadership when they slip into nostalgia for the past when facing the rubble and ruin of their modern ideology? That neoliberalism has peaked and is accelerating toward its inglorious finale? After all, history’s encore is farce, to paraphrase Marx. The tragedy of neoliberalism culminated in 2008. Perhaps the question is whether the disorganized left can glue itself together long enough to offer a fresh vision that doesn’t alienate the penny capitalist or the diehard socialist, but which does cast aside the exhausted creed of market-led globalization and its ‘humanitarian’ corollaries, which all but a few have finally seen through. The duopoly and its media minions will doubtless continue to peddle such fictions, but they are wounded and stumbling and lashing out in all directions, a savage ideology cornered by an angry electorate. We should hasten their demise. Tit for tat. For every unnamed source, we should attach a burden of proof. For every piece of patriotic jingoism, a Dickensian qualifier. And for every article of false faith, a bill of indictment.