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Democrats and the End(s) of Politics

Photo by Carlos Pacheco | CC BY 2.0


Capitalism Trumps Democracy

A paradox at the intersection of capitalism and representative democracy is that under capitalism every person represents their own interests. The King of Versailles (Donald Trump) illustrates this tendency most straightforwardly amongst modern political leadership. But the paradox is systemic, not personal. And the question that follows is: which is to be shedded, capitalism or democracy?

The bourgeois tendency of conflating technocracy with intelligence is itself profoundly anti-democratic. Technocracy is manufactured social complexity, capitalist bureaucracy as ethos. And bourgeois loathing is technocracy confronted by the logic that drives it. In this sense, Donald Trump is the veil ripped away, the existential predicament locked in a strip mall in suburbia with only the detritus of its own creation for companionship.

Graph: political rhetoric that poses Democrats and Republicans as ideological adversaries is challenged by shared policies to make the rich richer. Donald Trump’s regressive tax cuts serve the same constituency that benefited from Barack Obama’s bank bailouts. Source: Emmanuel Saez.

Against any preponderance of human history that might be proffered: war + fucking + art, etc., the notion of cosmic intelligence that has form as the business meeting, the spreadsheet and the PowerPoint presentation is amongst the least probable. What is so deeply frightening about Donald Trump, his predecessors and likely successors, is the form and logic of ‘how’ laboring under the illusion that it serves some higher logic.

Put differently, who precisely was ‘saved’ when the banks were bailed out in 2009? Donald Trump’s fortunes were most certainly revived. So were the Koch Brothers’. And who are these wise leaders that Barack Obama was modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal for? Speculate as you will, but Mr. Trump is the man who currently occupies this position. So which is the fool, Mr. Trump or the people who created the power he now holds?

Politicking

In late 2002 and early 2003 George W. Bush effectively sold a blunderous, murderous and ill-fated war against Iraq to the American people. He did so by presenting fake evidence using ‘useful idiots’ at the Washington Post and New York Times to give it ‘independent’ credence. Polls taken at the time reflected the effect this fake news had on garnering public enthusiasm for the War.

Contrast this with Bill Clinton’s poll-based ‘micro-democracy’ where Mr. Clinton took up Ronald Reagan’s major talking points as they were regurgitated to pollsters by the polity. In fact, the seeds of ‘Reaganism’ had been planted in the early 1970s in what has come to look like a neo-capitalist coup. If Mr. Reagan could sell Reaganism, why couldn’t Mr. Clinton sell its antidote?

Graph: in the late 1970s the manufactured crisis of ‘stagflation’ was used to discard the New Deal in favor of neoliberalism. Carter appointee Paul Volcker raised interest rates to nosebleed levels to end inflation that resulted from U.S. geopolitical maneuvers. The practical effect was to crush American labor, begin the process of moving U.S. manufacturing overseas and launch the ascendance of finance. The ‘Reagan Miracle’ began the minute Mr. Volcker lowered interest rates. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Later, when it came to Wall Street bailouts and Obamacare, Barack Obama favored closed door meetings with industry insiders where ‘deals’ that effectively guaranteed them profits were framed to convince the public that these were the best outcomes that could ‘pragmatically’ be expected. ‘Pragmatism’ here served as a rhetorical bridge between the public interest and the policies that were implemented. Technocratic competence found its true calling.

The ‘innovation’ added by Donald Trump is the explicitly anti-technocratic ‘it’s all bullshit anyway’ business-ism that once payment has been secured, it doesn’t matter if the product sold really ‘works.’ In like fashion, even after the social catastrophes of the Clinton’s programs became too evident to avoid, they were only reconsidered by candidate (Hillary) Clinton as a means of getting from here to there (elected).

A paradox of the Democrats’ ‘pragmatism’ is that there would be little by way of organized opposition to policies in the public interest if their effort to make the rich richer had not been so successful. The so-called economic debacle of ‘stagflation’ during Jimmy Carter’s presidency was a set-up. Carter appointee Paul Volcker intentionally caused the (then) worst recession since the Great Depression. The ‘Reagan miracle’ began when Mr. Volcker stopped causing recession.

In theory, any national Democrat could challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy ‘proven’ to work by Mr. Reagan and take bold political programs directly to the people. However, Democrats (Bill) Clinton and Obama both proceeded from defensive assertions that carefully selected ‘facts’ precluded them from accomplishing anything but Republican objectives. ‘Pragmatism’ linked technocracy to its embedded goals in the service capitalist (not capital) accumulation.

The canard of ‘the Federal budget deficit’ (the U.S. has a fiat money system) allowed Mr. Clinton to pass the unfinished programs of the ‘Reagan Revolution’— cutting welfare, deregulating the banks, militarizing the police, etc., while foregoing his promised increase in social spending. The economic debacle begun in 2007 allowed Barack Obama to richly reward his top campaign contributors while leaving those who lives were diminished by them to their own devices.

The current strategy of blaming Russia for Ms. Clinton’s 2016 loss has apparently been reduced to putting the ‘Steele’ dossier, commissioned and paid for by the Clinton campaign, forward as potential grounds for ‘compromising’ Donald Trump. What Democrats don’t yet appear to understand is that if there were a video of women urinating on Donald Trump in a Moscow hotel room he would be selling autographed copies of it on the internet and giving them out as holiday gifts.

More to the point, some fair number of Americans no doubt see Wall Street and the broad edifice of American capitalism as every bit the threat to democracy that bourgeois Democrats claim Russia is. How then is the Democrats’ choice to promote the neoliberal orthodoxy by working to further enrich its cloistered, kleptocratic proponents ‘pragmatic’ if winning elections is their goal? The question then is: is winning elections really their goal? And if so, why?

The Democrats’ failure of political understanding regarding Mr. Trump isn’t that voters are crass (deplorable?) but rather that conflating technocracy with intelligence and sophistication confuses style with substance. Donald Trump is the prototypical, iconic if you will, beneficiary of the national Democrats’ policies. As was said of George W. Bush, Mr. Trump was born on third base but believes he hit a home run. But if he is undeserving of the Democrats’ largesse, who precisely, are the deserving kleptocrats?

Despite the heated rhetoric, Donald Trump’s policies are nearly identical to those of the national Democrats. That Democratic Party loyalists claim great differences suggests first and foremost that they know next to nothing about the policies they claim to support. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama may not have been casual with racist blather the way that Mr. Trump is, but their policies were (so far) more effectively vicious than anything that Donald Trump has done as president.

It is in some fair measure the refusal by liberals and progressives to hold Democrats to account for their policies that renders current protestations against Mr. Trump ineffective. As one who regularly travels between classes, the poor and disenfranchised are every bit as intelligent as educated technocrats and they tend to be more resourceful because they have to be. So imagine for a moment that people with whom you may disagree politically are as smart as you are but find themselves living in radically different circumstances.

As the old and new Gilded Ages have demonstrated, the benefits of neo-capitalism accrue narrowly while the detriments are widely distributed. A few people benefit from bank bailouts, trade deals, climate crisis, the immiseration of labor and the use of public resources for private gain. But the overwhelming preponderance of humanity exists on the losing end. The ‘winners’ in this system are the donor class for both of the American capitalist Parties. The National Democrats need to answer: what sort of psycho / sociopath wants to be a ‘winner’ in such circumstances?

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

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