The Magic Liberal

Source: Screenshot by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.”

— Richard Hofstader

“Imperial privilege is this strange ability on the part of the U.S. public to ‘shrug off’ the consequences experienced by people impacted by the direct and indirect result of U.S. militarism.”

— Ajamu Baraka

The recent firing of James Comey is interesting more for the reaction from liberals than what it means in substance. First off…lets harken back to the early days of post WW2 America. The Dulles brothers, and Henry Cabot Lodge and the like. Max Forte wrote a very comprehensive piece on his site.

It is useful to check the notes on the Eisenhower administration and the links to the United Fruit Company. And to the law firm that represented United Fruit, Sullivan and Cromwell…who today, drum roll, represent Goldman Sachs.

Now this relates to the current situation because the real delusion among liberals has to do with legitimacy of any of these governmental organizations. Also, to be clear, the engine behind the outrage of this firing has to do with the Clinton wing of the DNC. The truth is that Comey should have been fired, and in fact one wonders why he was ever appointed, and second, yes, Trump is awash in all manner of shady dealings and has been for twenty five years. And sure, love to see Trump go, and Pence, and Kushner and the entire grotesque White House. But….but…the liberal left clings with a kind of hallucinatory tenacity to the Russia collusion story.

From Moon Over Alabama….

“But the political dimension of the dismissal is not about the Clinton email affair at all. It is about the “Russia interfered with the election” nonsense Clinton invented as excuse for her self-inflicted loss of the vote. The whole anti-Trump/anti-Russia campaign run by neocons and “Resistance” democrats, is designed to block the foreign policy – detente with Russia – for which Trump was elected. The anti-Russia inquisition is dangerous groupthink.

There is no evidence – none at all – that Russia “interfered” with the U.S. election. There is no evidence – none at all – that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign. The Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Judiciary Committee as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence, recently confirmed that publicly (vid) immediately after she had again been briefed by the CIA:

“Blitzer mentioned that Feinstein and other colleagues from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had visited CIA headquarters on Tuesday to be briefed on the investigation. He then asked Feinstein whether she had evidence, without disclosing any classified information, that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“’Not at this time,’ Feinstein said.”

All the intelligence and law enforcement organizations of the U.S. are corrupt. One should not forget the abuses of J.Edgar Hoover during his extended tenure as head of the FBI. Just as one should not forget the crimes, over six decades, of the CIA. And yet, and yet, the liberal pundits are screaming in indignation at this firing. They are again lining up with the very most repressive and authoritarian elements in government and the deep state. It really is rather breathtaking.

Robert Parry writing on the new McCarthyism of *Russia-Gate*….

So, while one can legitimately criticize Flynn’s judgment, the larger civil-liberties issue surrounding the Russia-gate investigation is the prospect of criminalizing otherwise innocuous contacts with Russia and punishing American citizens for resisting the New Cold War.

Many Democrats, liberals and even some progressives appear excited over the prospect of wielding this new McCarthyism against Trump’s advisers with the hope that Russia-gate can be built up into a case for Trump’s impeachment.

But the precedents that are being set could be very dangerous for the long term. If Americans can be put under invasive FISA warrants for going abroad and criticizing U.S. policies or if intercepted phone calls can be used to test the memories of citizens during FBI interviews, many of the warnings from civil libertarians about the dangers of “war on terror” surveillance powers being applied more broadly may be coming true.

Speaking as an ex-pat living abroad, I can tell you personally that this is very dangerous, in terms of precedent, for anyone speaking critically of U.S. policy. But the American white liberal would rather have a fashionable and urbane police state than allow real class integration and anything resembling equality. It is also useful to think back to the Reagan years and the Iran-Contra affair. The blatant lying and misuse of government funds, and manipulation of congress.

The propaganda wing of the state department and Pentagon, not to mention that black budget of the CIA all stepped up their game after Vietnam. And much of the change took place under Reagan. But perhaps a more significant shift took place in propaganda, at least in Hollywood, under Clinton in the late 90s. Bill and Hillary spent a lot of energy and money infiltrating Hollywood in critical and calculated ways. One can clock the ideological movement in countless TV drama and even comedy. But also in feature films. Much as Clinton ushered in and paved the way for the Bush administration, so Obama paved the way for Trump. The Democrats — certainly at least in recent history — have parroted the most reactionary policy positions of the Republican Party. And there was a steep uptick in liberal criticism of Republicans starting around the this time, too. The binary trope was really pushed hard, with blame being heaped on Bush and his neo con cabal after 9-11. But in fact a great number of Obama appointments were of men and women who cut their teeth in political intrigue under Bush. And some all the way back to Bush pere. Remember the first Bush was once head of the CIA. And many of these neo-cons can even be traced back to the Reagan administration. There is no overstating the extremism of Reagan’s appointees.

But the real story here is the response and reaction of the liberal intelligentsia to the Comey firing. And it’s not only the Comey firing of course, but also the manufactured narrative that demonizes Russia and Putin. The anti Russia propaganda was one of the benchmarks of Clinton’s influence in Hollywood. Look at House of Cards, for example. A show that might well have been scripted by the Clinton staff…oh wait…it was scripted by a former staffer and intern. But behind this is a cultural shift that has taken place over the last thirty years but intensified under Obama’s two terms. The oft quoted fact that the movement of wealth from the bottom to the top was greater under Obama than under any previous President is quite to the point here. People have called it the New Gilded Age, and so it is. For the first time in a hundred years new homes are being built with servant’s quarters. And of course Trump has taken this even further with an administration made up almost entirely of millionaires. In some cases billionaires. But what Trump’s victory has exposed, or at least made clearer is the sensibility of the affluent classes. The educated white bourgeoisie, or haute bourgeoisie. What Forte termed The New Victorianism. And this is certainly my experience of the U.S. today. I worked in Hollywood for over a decade and in theatre and the arts for far longer than that. And while I knew I never fit in, class wise, it is only recently that the gap between classes has become so visible and palpable. The historical age of Queen Victoria cemented ideas on race (scientific racism), globalism (telegraph and railways), the ascension of scientific elites, of a technocratic class — something which has, rather obviously, increased dramatically in the current era, social sciences, and as I’ve written of several times on my blog, the rise of detective novels and the attendant ideas therein; optical discoveries that revealed a hidden world, a world of clues and forensic truths. It marked the beginning, in science, of colonial justifications that evolved into eugenics and hierarchical class order.

Here is Forte again:

Salient features of Victorian society are poverty, drunkenness, pornography, prostitution, increased confrontation with the reality of homosexuality, and growing religious pluralism. Occurring during the industrial revolution, Victorianism is inevitably associated with technological innovation; with the advent of electricity, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, photography and the beginnings of film, the foundations were laid in the Victorian era for the key information and communication technologies of today.

The era also saw the front edges of financialization and of, most importantly perhaps, Imperialism. The imprint of colonial and imperialist models for viewing the world have never left the West. The U.S. today sees, also, as suggested above, a radical increase in the polarisation of wealth. Culturally, there has been a marked increase in personal improvement, often with cosmetic signifiers. Forte has a quite cogent take on the rise of the marital beard. But today, this is intwined with the residual new age cult of self improvement. And these are the people, almost entirely white, who serve as cultural gatekeepers. The custodians of style and fashion. Curators, artistic directors and regents and deans. There is another aspect, too, which is the product of these gatekeepers and of the official marketers of Madison Avenue and the government — and that is the creation of available alibis or justifications. Tolerance…of homosexuality and race for example. Which only means that minorities and queers adhere to the values of the status quo in order to gain acceptance (gay marriage is one branch of this, though its rather more complicated than I am suggesting here). Identity politics is another cover for blatant blaming of victims.

Allow me one more longish quote from Forte…

In terms of empire as moral responsibility, we see one of the most direct, strongest links between the Old and New Victorianism. In an 1847 British magazine for Victorian ladies, we read about a massacre in Africa in these terms: “assuredly, in the year 1847 of the Christian era, a scene so horrible as that narrated above ought not to stain the page of modern record” (quoted in Ledbetter, 2004, p. 265). In 2011, we hear the president of the United States say this about an alleged massacre threatened in Africa, specifically Libya: “if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world” (Obama, 2011). In both cases, imperialism is sold as a stain remover for the world’s moral conscience.

The liberal class today, and the media voices (MSNBC, CNN, et al) are one in being outraged by everything Donald Trump does. And indeed, everything he does is reactionary and authoritarian. The problem is that everything Obama did was also reactionary and authoritarian, only the style was suitable to this affluent class of new Victorian. And this is sort of the core problem in a sense. Trump is the intensification and worsening of everything reactionary in U.S. But if liberals cared about the abuses of government they would have been outraged by Hillary Clinton’s nearly countless illegal financial dealings, and they would have been outraged by Veteran’s Administration scandal, or the Benghazi affair…and allow me to quote former CIA operative Clare Lopez…

Absolutely, they [Hillary and Obama] lied. There’s no question. We know, again, from Judicial Watch documents obtained through the FOIA process that the administration, including the President and Secretary of State Clinton, were actively involved that very night while the attack was still going on in concocting a false narrative to deflect the story from the truth and to defend at all costs, even the cost of American lives, the re-election campaign of the President. They were not even decided on which video they were going to blame. They only knew that they were going to blame a video.

Or, say health care, which as Danny Haiphong wrote….“Obama has worked tirelessly to protect and fulfill the interests of the corporate healthcare system.” Indeed Trump is again going to make it even worse. That doesn’t or shouldn’t preclude recognizing Obama’s creation of a corporate healthcare system designed by the corporations themselves. As Roger Aronoff put it…“A key counterpart to the elevation of Obama is the necessary criticism of his successor.”

Obama was the perfect shill for the Wall Street establishment. Here is Paul Street…

Ex-prez “O” has been spotted kiteboarding with Branson, the British billionaire airline mogul, who is leading the charge for the privatization of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Obama’s been seen boating in the Pacific with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, and Bruce Springsteen on a $300 million luxury yacht owned by recording mogul billionaire David Geffen. The Obamas reached an eight-figure publishing deal ($65 million) for his-and-her memoirs on their years in the White House. And Obama will speak for $400,000 at a Wall Street health care conference in September, hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald LP.

And so we return to the firing of James Comey. And this story has less to do with the Trump’s motivations and the fact that Comey probably needed to be fired (though not because of anything to do with Russia Gate) than it does with the sudden open embracing of throughly corrupt and compromised institutions. I’ve had people tell me the integrity of the Judiciary in peril. One wonders how such sentences can be uttered with a straight face. I have read people writing of the attack on Democracy signaled by Comey’s firing. What can that possibly mean to anyone who says it? The anti democratic actions of Obama over 8 years seems to pass unnoticed. What was NDAA? Obama expanded surveillance, prosecuted whistleblowers and expanded military tribunals. And this just scratches the surface. What was TTP for that matter? And yet, if you can find me a liberal willing to actually debate this, I will clean your house for a year, free. No, the New Victorian, the american white educated liberal is in crises. He or she is in a panic over Trump not because they fear global conflagration or nuclear annihilation, but because their Yoga class might get cancelled. They are forever aggrieved over the violation of feelings — of selected vulnerable groups. This never includes the poor, Arabs, Communists or Africans. Well, ok, on occasion it does include Africans but only in very broad abstract ways (i.e. when George Clooney argues for saving South Sudan or whateverthefuckever it was he was on about). The adoration of the White Helmets, a proven group of psychopathic jihadist mercenaries is a perfect example. The White Helmets fit the white paternalist narrative. It is a form of colonial logic. The subaltern needs rescue. And its just so wonderful that some clearly teachable Arabs can help themselves with the rescue. Lets give them an Oscar. The style codes are what matters here.

Comey of course has a long history of screw ups. The Boston Marathon bomber was well known by the FBI — but then that whole story is one big fiction, actually. But whatever the analysis one wants to run with, Comey was the director of the Bureau. Then there was the Apple backdoor issue. And then the Eric Holder private jet for personal business issue, or the Nidal Hassan story. Or the Pulse Nightclub shooting. In fact the FBI has seemed to mostly be in the business of setting up patsies to take the fall for idiotic and ham fisted attempted terror attacks. Entrapment USA. Comey was also, more to the point, a sort of bagman for HCBC, the notorious bank of international money laundering. And Comey sat on the board of directors.

From 21st Century Wire

Many will also be unaware that before Comey was installed by the Obama Administration as FBI Director, he was on the board of Director at HSBC Bank – a bank implicated in international money laundering, including the laundering of billions on behalf of international drugs and narcotics trafficking cartels.

Not to mention HSBC was closely tied to the Clinton Foundation, oh and the LIBOR scandal.

And still, the liberal intelligentsia are delirious with outrage that Trump fired a man who was, in theory, investigating him. Never mind the rest of it. Never mind a half century of racist policing and investigatory abuses and covert CIA missions to destabilize governments resistant to Western capital. Or the dozens of assassinations. What matters are appearances. Suddenly the integrity of government institutions and law enforcement is paramount to them. Or rather, the appearance of integrity. The sensibility of the Democratic Party voter, at least the more affluent variety, is one far more concerned with their own style and feelings and in particular their own defining of self worth. And these feelings are tied into the appearances of the society in which they live. Keeping the more horrific crimes of domestic police and the FBI or ATF out of sight is really, though not admitted, seen as a good thing. The liberal must write narratives of their own virtues. And Trump does not allow for that because he is NOT one of them. He is the guy they make sure isn’t invited to their summer parties in the Hamptons. When Arkansas went into an orgy of death, including the suppression of new evidence for one condemned man, the liberal Victorian was silent. They are silent about U.S. and Saudi war crimes in Yemen (including now a predictable outbreak of Cholera), and silent about Syria for that matter. The new gilded age is different from the old one in the sense that today the conspicuous display of wealth and the belief in their own exceptionalism is tied more to a kind of narcissistic absorption with their own lives. They protest when they knew other liberals will share their viewpoint. I know almost zero liberals in the U.S. who ever take unpopular positions on anything.

Now, one of the voices of outrage is that of Edward Snowdon.
“Set aside politics: every American should condemn such political interference in the Bureau’s work.”

Let me say for the record I harbour great suspicion about Snowden and his potential for being a spook. But I digress.

But that liberals love the status quo, the keeping up of appearances (something Obama was very good at) is not new. It is only that today’s liberal is profoundly less informed than earlier versions. Ask any well paid liberal supporter of the Democratic Party about Syria and see what they say. Or don’t say. Ask them about Libya and the history of Qadaffi’s social programs for his country. Ask them about Fidel Castro and why the U.S. supported the dictator Batista. Ask them about North Korea and they will ridicule the DPRK. They mostly will see great humour in the Adam Sandler comedy about killing the DPRK head of state. Ask about U.S. and their role in installing a nazi party to rule Ukraine. Ask about color revolutions and the CIA and state dept front groups. Ask about Israel and the protracted seige of Gaza. I know what they will say. They’ve said it to me. Am I generalizing? Sure, but such is the uniformity of opinion of these people that I’m sure Im mostly correct. Or maybe ask why Obama is making 3 million dollars to speak at a convention on global warming (the answer is for services rendered).

“It’s the Saturday Night Massacre all over again, cry the Democrats, harkening back to the weekend in 1973 when President Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. But this is not about the rule of law — quite the opposite: it’s about continuing the momentum of the U.S. military offensive begun in 2011 under President Obama, a wholly illegal aggression that has destroyed Libya, killed half a million Syrians, delivered vast regions to the control of the two feuding factions of al-Qaida, and brought the world closer to nuclear annihilation than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis.”

— Glen Ford

Trump is now widely described as fascist. And liberals are now terrified that the U.S. is going to be a fascist state. Oh the horror. None of them remotely know what they even mean except that in terms of style Trump resembles a kind of Hollywood version of a fascist leader. Obama did not. Hillary did not.I remain curious exactly who watched The Apprentice for all those seasons? This whole narrative was just repeated in France where financial sector managed to appoint the new Prime Minister, a baby faced android build in a laboratory in the basement of Goldman Sachs, that is being credited with saving the French from, yes, fascism. For fascism is now pretty much interchangeable, as a term, with populism and the implication is pregnant with fear and hatred of the working class. And all of this manufactured narrative has resulted in the term working class being interchangeable with racist. Never before, not in the previous Victorian Era even, have the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie so hated the working classes. Never before. As much as they hate them, though, the real story is their own fear. It is a fear that paralyses all discussion and debate. Or, rather, prevents debate. And the Russian stigmatizing is absolutely evidence free. There is literally not a shred of evidence. None. Nothing of even a remotely concrete nature can be pointed toward as evidence of Russian collusion in the U.S. election. But this doesn’t matter. Style matters. And Russia is and always has been a scary *idea* to the American liberal. Russia is the slavic barbarian hoards. It is the evil Slavic communist. Mike Whitney summed it up best…

It has been eight months since the inception of this unprecedentedly-pathetic and infinitely-irritating propaganda campaign, and in those eight months neither the media nor the politicos nor the Intel agents who claim to be certain that Russia meddled in US elections, have produced anything that even remotely resembles evidence.

So, when I think back to that Eisenhower administration and the links to the United Fruit Company, and powerfiul WASP ruling class that ran the country and then how Kennedy sort of upset the status quo, to some extent anyway, and then the assassination of Kennedy, followed by Johnson, and Nixon, Vietnam and the unchanging foreign policy that included eventually the destruction of much of central America and Iran-Contra, while at home the FBI was carrying out COINTELPRO and illegal surveillance on nearly everyone…I wonder at this strange desire to sanctify the institutions of domination in the U.S.

Trump is the unvarnished naked face of U.S. capital. He is indeed fascistic, but he is also just a rube, a place holder for various forces that clearly turned on the Clinton machine. Appointees like the ugly Jeff Sessions, destined to be the worst Attorney General in U.S. history, a stiffly contested title at that and then Neil Gorsuch, and Rick Perry and Betsy DeVos and its hard not to shudder just a bit. And to be clear, Trump is worse than almost any President before him. But he is not some anomaly. He is simply the naked nuance free version of all earlier Presidents of the era. He could only have become president in a throughly compromised and corrupted electoral system. One that finally has been more widely exposed. The liberal elite, and their reps in media, have always been quick to uphold the organs of neo-liberalism. The reaction to Brexit for example (more contempt heaped upon the working class) or their defense of NATO, or now, the FBI, but the crises now is that so much of their hypocrisy is so visible.

“One can safely conclude that one of the primary operations of this type of social imperialism is the basic act of mystification. Mystification, the primary goal of “soft power,” has two sides to it: abroad it unites (that is, it assimilates and joins to empire), and at home it divides (breaking up class by fomenting cleavages along identity lines).”

— Maximillian Forte

The preeminence of appearance means the appearance of self in a regulated and well crafted landscape under control of the ruling system of Capital. The new gentrifying Victorians of this new dysfunctional Gilded Age are scrambling in desperation for way to impeach Trump. The only problem is that they want it for all the wrong reasons.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. Plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. Taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. A collection of plays, Sea of Cortez & Other Plays was published in 1999, and his book on aesthetics, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest was published by Mimesis International in 2016.