Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island

During the Great Depression Wall Street was reined in and culpable bankers were sent to prison because its business practices had laid waste to some fair portion of the country. It wasn’t because the citizenry ‘felt’ that Wall Street had done so— evidence was collected, testimony was taken and determinations were made.

In recent decades the shift to a language of ‘feelings’ to describe social consequences has been instructive. The language is dismissive in the sense that no effort at determination like that undertaken in the 1930s has been made. And as a political strategy, it only works when presented to people who have no direct experience with the consequences under consideration.

For the vast majority of the liberal hawks who supported George W. Bush’s war on Iraq like the New Yorker’s David Remnick and the editorial staff of the New York Times there were no real consequences for that catastrophe. The same can’t be said for the Americans who lost life and limb, the million or so Iraqis who lost their lives and the millions more who were displaced.

This relationship where one group of people make decisions while others bear the consequences falls into Noam Chomsky’s definition of class. The definition is useful for present purposes in that decisive social power takes the place of fraught distinctions between political and economic power.

In this frame Wall Street and America’s corporate ‘leadership’ are among the class that decides how the rest of us live. This is the same class that supports both national political parties. What then is the likely motive for national Democrats who point to foreign others (Russia) as the source of domestic political dislocations?

And to whom might this misdirection seem plausible? Probably not those who were lied to by the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction. And probably not those who lost their jobs, homes, families and communities in the Great Recession. While certainly not determinant, lived experience serves as an occasional check on self-serving bullshit.

The original Cold War was similarly misdirection for the benefit of American political and business interests. The ‘communist threat’ was used as a pretext for wars, invasions, political overthrows and engineered coups before it was replaced by terrorism. Is it a surprise then that liberal Iraq war hawks are trumpeting the new Cold War much as they did George Bush’s WMD scam?

The point has often been made that no one went to prison for George W. Bush’s criminal war on Iraq and no one went to prison for the financial crimes that led to the Great Recession. The bi-partisan strategy has been to hold no one to account and in so doing demonstrate that the engineers of catastrophe have borne none of the consequences.

But this formulation understates the class division at work: it isn’t simply that no one went to prison for ruling class crimes. There has been no resolution of the social destruction that resulted from these crimes. The people who committed them are still in charge and those who have suffered the consequences are still suffering.

To the extent that ‘resisting Trump’ accepts the ruling class premise that ‘resisting Clinton’ was any less of an imperative, there is nowhere to go politically. Well over half of the country has the well-earned right to ask where this resistance was over the last eight years when it was tossed onto the economic garbage heap?

This isn’t an issue of competitive misery per se. Social outcomes are a matter of who holds social power, not opinions. Class divisions place those whose lives are determined by others on the same side of the class divide no matter how much they may dislike each other. Gaining the power of political and economic self-determination requires forming alliances to counter ruling class power.

The charge that Donald Trump’s election has emboldened socially destructive groups is most certainly true— I’ve seen it with my own eyes. With deregulation and bailouts the national Democrats emboldened Wall Street— the same Wall Street that devastated people and communities around the world with predatory loans and financial instruments backed by them.

Fear of the prior and not the latter and vice versa is largely a function of historical experience. The question in the present is one of the capacity to cause social harm and the answer depends on social vulnerability. The only certainty is that the people gratuitously dismissing fears based on / in historical experience live on the other side of their social consequences.

Framed differently, tightly circumscribed social vulnerabilities that fall together on the side of class— of those who bear the consequences of the decisions of others, are unified through a class divide. ‘Resistance’ that proceeds from this class view would necessarily include most of the people who voted for Donald Trump.

Grant for the moment that the all of the worst that can be said about Mr. Trump is true. (1) Personalizing the attack gives the political economy that produced him a pass, (2) the strategy is reactionary— where is the principled alternative? And (3) without a program, where do you take it once Mr. Trump is out of office?


Graph: Moral opposition to Donald Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ would benefit from knowledge that Barack Obama spent his time in office bombing the people Mr. Trump wants to ban. Mr. Obama led stealth ‘hot’ wars against Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya in 2016 after substantially destroying Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading the charge, in 2011.

The question of the missing principled alternative is crucial. The Democrats’ mantra of ‘we suck less’ depends on a base level of suck— a residual of the New Deal, that spiraled lower on their watch until political inflection became the result. Without building a floor based in human needs, e.g. food and housing security, meaningful work, quality health care and quality public education, cynical rhetoric from demagogues will carry the day.

As the ‘Russia hacked the election’ story comes unwound the intellectual and moral vacuums at the heart of the DNC will become increasingly visible. To loosen the conceptual shackles ever so slightly, between Vladimir Putin, Wall Street and Exxon Mobil, who would you rather have scamming an election? Now assume for the moment that Russian ‘meddling’ is removed from the mix due to a lack of evidence.


Graph: Blacks ended the Clinton – Bush – Obama years with less wealth (net worth) than they started with, thanks mostly to the national Democrats’ close relationship with Wall Street. Net worth includes home equity. Blacks were heavily targeted by Wall Street with home-equity destroying predatory loans in the housing boom-bust. But the Clintons and Mr. Obama aren’t racists just because their major campaign contributors looted neighborhoods of color, are they? Source: Pew Research.

While there are good and legitimate historical reasons for fearing Mr. Trump’s White nationalist contingent, the more socially potent threat is the suburban swing voters who were swayed by the ‘soft’ racism of the Clinton’s class-divisive revival of the ‘Black criminality’ canard. As the facts have it, the intersection of the Clinton’s / Obama’s ‘consumer choice’ neoliberal economic policies have done more to re-segregate American neighborhoods and institutions than White nationalists could ever have brought about.

This last point is crucial: while White nationalists can be locally virulent, neoliberal political economy will determine how the overwhelming preponderance of people live. Local funding of schools is an example— poor people have poor choices (schools, employment) and rich people have rich choices. As neoliberal choices have multiplied, economic mobility has plummeted.

(Where there are concentrations of poverty, public services are degraded through privation. Consumer choice for the poor becomes between degraded services. Poverty and wealth become self-perpetuating. Neoliberal ‘choice’ quickly devolves to trade in luxury goods for those who can afford them). Welcome to America.

In this way dispassionate technocrats engineer racist outcomes without being explicit racists. Through ‘consumer choice’ policies that multiply existing social inequities and special rights and privileges for the already rich and connected (bailouts, patents, transfers of publically funded technologies to ‘private’ interests, etc.), divided societies become super-divided. Who needs Donald Trump to create racist outcomes when you have technocrats?

So while there are very good reasons for rejecting Mr. Trump’s program, doing so without also rejecting the national Democrats’ program is evidence that those doing the objecting either don’t know, or don’t understand, the Democrats’ actual history. It was only three years ago that Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton implemented a targeted immigrant ban against orphaned children fleeing narco-state violence that they (Obama and Clinton) helped create in Honduras. That they did so without passion hardly alleviated the human misery that they caused.

And in fact, Mr. Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ is more objectionable than has generally been articulated. Through the influence of the French philosophes on America’s plutocratic ‘founders,’ Christianity was widely considered a misplaced cosmology. With 10% – 15% of kidnapped Africans held in slavery being Muslim, Islam could well be considered a ‘founding’ religion (of the nation, not the cultures that preceded it).

Between Bernie Sanders run as an old-school Democrat and Donald Trump’s support from those who bought his economic populism there is a sizeable constituency for a political program based on human needs, environmental resolution and an end to militarism— call it socialism. Democrat ‘pragmatists’ have already proved that their only program is support for the ruling class and they can’t even win an election against Donald Trump. And Mr. Trump’s program to date is more of the same right-wing horseshit that sank the Democrats.

The political idiocy of blaming Vladimir Putin for the Democrats well-deserved electoral loss will become apparent as the case falls apart. Likewise, other strategies that aim to concentrate the support of dwindling Democrat loyalists have their analog in Donald Trump’s misreading of his ‘mandate’ to go full plutocrat. The real dividing line— the one created and enforced by the political and economic elite, is and will remain class. Resistance that accuses half of the electorate of being racist hicks should (1) take a harder look at Democrat policies and (2) reframe the struggle in class terms. The alternative is increasing political crisis as the dominant parties grow narrower and ever more deluded.

Finally, if you want to know America in 2017, here is the spy dildo, here is the (American made) My Friend Cayla doll and here is the intersection of the technologies. Who says America is an artless wasteland populated by scam artists?

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.