Our Political Factions: January 2017

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming,” 1919

When a middle ground vanishes, when being “on the same page” as your fellow citizens is as bygone as family dinners, and when neutral voices can either not be found or when found unchallenged, reportage must emerge from one side or the other. If a Liberal found something worthwhile in Neoliberal reportage, and vice versa, some compromising space, some middle ground, what President Obama initially dreamed of, would emerge. It hasn’t; no détente relationship seems to have occurred.

Nevertheless, there is some mutuality because an economic order unchallenged by either side persists, even though it is producing a Monopoly game-like ending: all the money and property on one side of the table. There is, it seems, a game going on, one in which one party pushes privatization and profit and the other all forms of justice extended to an expanding host of peripheral, marginalized Others. But the bond of an underlying mutuality lies in this:  a Liberal dividend recipient is grateful to the same economic system to which a Neoliberal dividend recipient is grateful. Neither wants to mess with the goose that lays their golden eggs.

Our Liberal and Neoliberal politics has then been just a game played to hide the fact that both sides are really on the same team. Call it the “Return on Investment” team, le ROI. The Neoliberal side is in need of Liberal sops to the Losers in order to maintain the high moral ground the US has always granted to itself. The Liberal side is in need of Neoliberal threats to everything from the environment to Family Planning. Its bone of contention must never be what Bernie said it was: a wealth divide resulting from the axiomatic movement of an unbridled capitalism. Without being fed by Neoliberal threats to “our” social fabric, the Democratic Party as it has constituted itself would have no game plan of distraction from severe, revolutionary levels of economic inequities. Such distractions benefit both Liberals and Neoliberals.

In this presidential election, however, the absence of Hillary, the Democratic “Chosen One,” from the table of gross economic inequity set to accommodate the already wealthy, including the Clintons, was noted by the supporters of Donald Trump. Looming assaults on the Paris Climate Accord, Roe v. Wade, “Obamacare,” the Iran nuclear deal, entitlement “reform,” and much else did not pivot the Trump supporters away from what was clearly the case in their lives: they were economically frozen in place while gentrifiers, usurers, robots, and evictors were having at them.

What we see as a rule of this game is that issues dealing with racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, choice in everything from gender to abortion, discrimination against marginal and minority group, and gun control do not impact the compounding of dividends. The Bathroom Choice Debate and LGBTQ rights, which were the Liberal Cause Célèbre of the presidential moment, proved not to be rallying flags for all those who were wondering why the political and economic order of things had forgotten them. “Our social fabric” was viewed as the social fabric of about 20% of the population who have the economic and hence political power to claim the word “our” as theirs.

Hillary’s banner waved the day before the election roused all to fight for “Children and the Family!” There was a swaddling political correctness behind these words. Among cultural conservatives, this meant “children who were birthed and not aborted” and “a family consisting of a man and a woman.” They were, therefore, not innocent or neutral words but fighting words, words inciting conflict. That conflict, however, was inconsequential compared to what a defective economic system had done to turn all pretenses of egalitarianism into plutocracy. It was a Swiftian “Big Endian”/”Little Endian” mock fight, a deflection from sense and significance to what was small in terms of a much bigger picture, one in which the feudal was rapidly replacing every advance the working and middle classes had made in the past.

A Neoliberal desire for a very inactive Federal government is hampered by Article I of the Constitution and Amendment XVI giving Congress the power to levy and collect taxes. Thus, ownership of all three branches of the Federal government is necessary to ensure that nothing is done to obstruct “free” enterprise. Taxes directed to privatized enterprises, once public, such as prisons, education, and warfare, detour tax money from non-profit “welfare” directions to shareholders and hedge fund members. Health care for those over 65 has not yet been privatized but remains an enticing profit frontier. Social Security transferred to private for-profit “wealth management” will undoubtedly increase poverty among the elderly. However, as the elderly will remain “free to choose” in their poverty, and “free to choose” is a commanding and ever expanding illusion in the American mass psyche, old, poor and “free to choose” seems to be a future.

Liberals want a Federal government active in all sorts of issues not directly tied to the operations of plutocracy. Unlike Neoliberals, they do not face the problem of the Constitutional existence of a Federal government. Liberals lean on the 14th Amendment’s upholding of equality as a constitutional value and keep their constituents busy with social issues that have a human face and high emotional content. This is opposed to the convoluted and arcane practices of a financial sector and chance-ridden dispensations of market principles. Rather than announce the end of this dark rule economics, Bill Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union Address declared that era of Big Government was over.  The way Washington works must be changed was the campaigning Barack Obama’s message in 2008, although the way Wall Street works had just led to the biggest economic collapse since 1929. It is clearly not simply Neoliberals who wish to pivot attention from the Devil’s brew of market manipulation to Big Government’s supposed over-regulation and give-aways to “Moochers.”

We have a two party system in which both sides agree that the market’s ways are always better than the government’s, though the market ways are stochastic while our checks and balances of three government branches attempt to offset the play of chance and thus limit irrational and unjust and inequitable consequences. The power of the Federal government to tame the economic system is a power not played or played timidly, fearfully, apologetically. The conditions welcoming a strong man demagogue, one who would assert personal force to either start the engines of change or demolish all opposition to change, have emerged in this 2016 presidential election. Rather than a strong, effective government wisely grounded we have wound up with a billionaire narcissist grounded in Reality TV, bankruptcy and tax law, and self-branding.

We know by the results of this presidential election that complicity in preserving an inequitable economic order eventually faces in an election the power of a discarded population. America’s choice of a demagogue is a celebrity demagogue who is severely “Know Nothing,” both assets in a culture manufactured more by pop culture than thought. He emerged from a low ground that was unseen and unexpected. High ground reportage, however, followed the Democratic Party’s championing the rights of immigrants, women, families, children, the old, the sick, the challenged, the environment, minorities, the LGBTQ community and so on. And that reportage, along with such issues, was given the old heave ho because none of that was a sop any longer to the cheated and discarded. Trump’s victory signaled “Game over,” a signal clearly picked up by those whose politics was free, as they themselves were, of economic concerns.

Because the chosen demagogue/pitchman/huckster is a billionaire, or, as a trickster, really a “thousandaire,” the feeling is that he will be immune to the lobbying of the fat cat capitalists. He will, indeed, plunge a sword into the heart of their globalized trade deals, bring manufacturing jobs back even though the fat cats suffer a loss, and use his own knowledge of backroom deal making to expunge backroom deal making. President-elect tweets are already reminding us that Liberal reportage on all this is not to be trusted nor is the fat cat supportive reportage to be trusted. The demagogue’s voice alone, in day or night 140 character tweets, relays the Word, the true Word.

So, we have factions continuing to give us a good fight even though it is a staged World Wide Wrestling sort of fight, and a new faction of the cheated and discarded who have put their man in the White House. But we also have a faction that is unaware or culturally shaped to be blind to all three of these factions.

I think the mentality is well portrayed by Annie Murphy in a TV show Schitz Creek, whose character Alexis Rose, chooses everything and everyone in the world to exist as her fluttering attentiveness requires. She’s “whatever” about what lies outside her own self-interest, but gifted in slipping past the inevitable confrontations with a world outside her own whims. She is representative of a rising generation pop culture as well as psychologists are fascinated with. What is magnetically attracting is what profilers, marketers, branders, and identity explorers are anxious to discover. On the other side, the “Whatever” faction side, there is not much in the mock battles between Liberals and Neoliberals that is attracting. Other stuff is their huckleberry.

What we can glean is that anyone or any position that is “whatever” or dismissive about any authority that conflict with a self-designing reality maker is attracting. Libertarians are then viewed as abolishers of everything that gets in the way of personal determinations. Bernie Sanders’ socialism is attracting here because the word itself signifies an overthrow of everything “same old same old.” Old is no longer simply out of date and surpassed but “analog” which is, as everyone knows, laughably extinct. Or should be.  Ironically, Sanders, the old man, becomes a rebel among this new faction because he bears the banner of rebellion. This is not the kind of rebellion Marlon Brando in The Wild One refers to when asked, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whatya got?” is his answer. You can be there but Brando doesn’t want to be. The “Whatever” faction is against anything actually being there that is outside themselves and therefore a potential difficulty, a potential “negative” spoiling their view. Hillary is not a rebel of any kind but rather the personification of old, over and adios, a vestigial presence intruding my personal space. Her use of “we” is always first person plural when the “Whatevers” translate “we” into “me.” There is no “we” in this faction, perhaps a reason why a “Me” of huge proportions, Trump, captured more of the Millennials, 18-35, than the pollsters had predicted. His Change & Upheaval message was attracting and his delivery medium — Twitter — compelling.

Liberals are now engaged in a battle between social justice and economic justice as their future Cri de Coeur while Neoliberals are poised to either go along with Trump or take him down, either by squashing his business empire or by indictments and possible impeachment. The “Whatever” faction, like the Palestinians whose birthrate will eventually win the day in Israel, may wind up alone in their post-racism, post-partisanship, post-truth, post-capitalism, post-YOU  post-outside, “offline” world.  Or, they could wind up as any one of the myriad “Resistance” forces in dystopic films combating a tyranny that even the most solipsistic cannot ignore. If plutocracy continues, a small fraction could wind up in the Dividend Class, continuing the game of rival ideologies, if Trump does not succeed in turning the whole game toward his own profit.

At the launch of 2017, we defend ourselves from belief in any dominating factions by pointing to factions within factions, an unreachable and untamable diversity, a resistant infinity of personal realities. The notion of a single, oppressive reality, of a monologue that overshadows all tweets, seems not yet in our cultural imaginary. But it may be slouching toward us nonetheless.

Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey .

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