Democracy -America’s take on it- is troubling. As a component, instead of opponent, of capitalism it tends toward inequality. But inequality makes a ‘national’ idea (and democracy itself) difficult. Our first slave laws were in recognition that the bonds of capital and labor could not pass for democracy without an excluded caste nailed to the bottom. Now wealth itself, or lack of it, compensates for the lost, de jour under-class. But as Marx noted, with time Capitalism, regardless of the capitalists’ intentions, parcels us into fewer, and ultimately two, classes. At best, it has begun reuniting the variously cultured poor (in poverty, anyway). And made clear, the truly untouchable class sits above us, not below.
So far, instead of solidarity, an obtruder leads capitalism’s nouveau-poor. It suits the ruling class–Clintons and their ilk–to claim these are white nationalists (and the wives of white nationalists), troubled by the ‘rise’ of minorities. If so, either equality is losing to its own success, or Trump spins coherent-enough lore for the whole of them to follow. But the worth of black lives didn’t rise at all, if poverty rates and police brutality are indications. And yet it’s almost harder to believe that something a flop like Trump said could attract another human. No, America was already an apartheid state. Hicks and racists had little say in that. Hence, their ‘turning back the wheels of history’ in Marx’s words, or ‘making America great again’ in Trump’s, is not because the heirs of slaves have risen, but is due, rather, to freedom losing its privileges.
Losing how? Despite our populist label, we give elites a lot of room to play. With it they direct half of the world’s capital and a third of its military, allowing us to ingest a quarter of the world’s resources. But knowing this only nags us to understand why then, they still find cause to deny us health care, mire us in debt, or catch our tap water on fire. Thus, it takes both quasi-religious dogma, and the plasticity to violate it, to graft elite–i.e. capitalism’s–values onto the public. Through the neoliberal era, the gist has been an elite-authored, ‘populist’ fealty toward limited government. Not so much to protect democracy which, despite increasingly bellicose capitalists, was safe because capitalism (so we were told) was impossible without it. But rather, to protect capitalism, which was not likewise safe from democracy. Recall, when asked why virtually everything he does undercuts his ‘populism’, Trump professed he did not want a poor person in charge of the economy. Ironically, this one time he voiced concern as to whether he made sense or not, was perhaps the one occasion where he was both accurate and clear: capitalism, not democracy, needs protection.
Here, Trump is not an outlier. Two -and only two- parties are not a formula that protects democracy from capitalism, but the reverse. Without real bearings, most of us accept that wherever they converge is the ‘democracy’. (Hence, the so-called ‘center’ has drifted so far to the right that it cannot only absorb, but elect miscreations like Trump.) So long as no one lifts the veil it provides a convincing sense of ‘democracy-ness’. A way for elites to limit democracy by allowing it. While policy continues to favor the ruling-class, both beneficiaries–ruling Democrats and ruling Republicans–can excuse each other’s (often deliberate) lack of success, confirming, simultaneously, the need for one another’s continued presence. With that in mind, both are roused to wild hyperboles, glossing, more than affecting policy, confident that one does nothing to the other that will hurt too much when it is inevitably repaid.
But democracy-ness wears off. Not only do we find it’s not a precept of capitalism, but that, increasingly, capitalists prefer that democracy’s not in it. 2008 saw both parties side with criminal billionaires against the rest of us. Our wildly popular, first black president revived, and in most cases advanced, the tragic policies of his two priors. Senate and Congress proved class-warriors first, partisans a distant second or third, and moral compasses dead last, however many categories you poll. This on the heels of a prolonged, pointless, and in most respects criminal war on terror, was the last thing going to restore our trust. Then in 2016 aging Democrats proved losing the presidency to a hobby-level fascist bothered them less than the risk of losing a speck of their class privileges to reform.
Bailouts, wars, and the erosion of our civil liberties were thoroughly bipartisan. To watch the parties come together was to watch them close ranks against us. Ironically, their cooperation assured the values and character of the elite could no longer pass for the values and character of ‘America’. Simply we were too neglected for their ‘America’ to resonate. Hence, a new wave of populism, sadly in the vein of white- nationalism, captured declining imaginations. Yet however misguided, we evoked the ‘nation’ in protest of elite rule.
If it lacks a silver-lining it is not all putrid and dark. It’s unlikely racism will be defeated by moral suasion, so long as it serves the ruling class. But a common, class goal may do wonders. It’s not a matter of (and should avoid) centering our politics, but of understanding the power structure. As bad as it sounds, workers in the 1920s moved quite-fluidly between the Progressive Movement and the Klan, both to oppose the corporations, (albeit for far-astray goals). I’m not ready to hug a Trump voter. But at the very least the poor, or soon to be poor, can understand that it’s not another poor person draining their account. And some of these guys voted for Obama. So it’s not that they can’t learn. We’ve just been teaching the wrong lesson.
Elites, capitalism, regardless of their intention, cannot achieve plurality. The poor can.