On False Dichotomies, Real and Fake, at MSDNC

Photograph Source Spud of Inside Cable news – CC BY 2.0

Not a False Dichotomy: (Eco-)Socialism or Exterminist Capitalism

Antonio Gramsci would be impressed by the “liberal” Democratic Party broadcast network MSNBC, whose function is to advance the political hegemony of finance capital between drug, car, business consulting, insurance, and financial services commercials for affluent Baby Boomers.

Last Wednesday the discussion became spirited on an “expert panel” convened by MSDNC morning host Stephanie Ruhle, a former leading global derivatives trader. The topic that animated Ruhle and her guests was America’s need to “get over the false dichotomy between socialism and capitalism” and to focus instead on moving from an insufficiently regulated to a more properly controlled capitalism. The point, the MSDNC know-it-alls agreed, is not to transcend capitalism but to reform it – to “change the rules of capitalism” in Ruhle’s words. The goal for Ruhle and her fellow Wall Street reformers is to make capitalism work like it is supposedly supposed to: for the broad populace, the common good, and democracy, not just the wealthy Few like JPMorgan Chase’s billionaire CEO Jamie Dimon.

It’s nothing new. This has been the argument of capital’s liberal servants going back for a very long time. It’s always been false. Now it has become fatal for the species in an age of incipient ecological catastrophe that has emerged precisely from 500 years of, well, capitalism. As the Hungarian Marxist Ivan Meszaros noted 18 years ago:

“Those who talk about the ‘third way’ [between capitalism and socialism and under corporate-neoliberal state-capitalist  management, P.S.] as the solution to our dilemma, asserting that there can be no room for the revival of a radical mass movement, either want to deceive us cynically by calling their slavish acceptance of the ruling order ‘the third way,’ or fail to realize the gravity of the situation, putting their faith in a wishfully non-conflictual positive outcome that has been promised for nearly a century but never approximated by even one inch.  The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

Meszaros wrote that back when CO2’s presence in the atmosphere stood at 368 parts per million. Now we’re at 410 and heading for environmental collapses that raise the real specter of human extinction. Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and Rosa Luxembourg were right: humanity either transcends capitalist class rule by constructing a new democratic social order or face the common ruin of all. Failure to develop and implement a peoples’ alternative to the profits system will bring us (in no short order) to what Arundhati Roy has called “the endgame of humanity.”

This is because capitalism is systemically and inherently hard-wired not just to devalue and exploit labor power, to concentrate wealth and power in ever fewer hands, to disable and pervert public power and democracy, to purchase the loyalty of educators, intellectuals, and the media (e.g. Ruhle’s Wednesday morning panel), and to capture government, but also to push livable ecology past existential tipping points. (For my own detailed but not-particularly-original reflections on how and why this is true, please see this, this, and this). Along the way, capital is inherently and systemically opposed to, threatened by, and incapable of social, public, and environmental planning on the scale required to move humanity off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy and more broadly sustainable environmental practices. It’s “(eco-)socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” (Meszaros).

As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had the decency to say earlier this year, “capitalism is irredeemable.” Its most genuinely hopeless aspect: environmental exterminism.

An Actual False Dichotomy: Sanders vs. Electability

Speaking of false dichotomies, here’s an actual one that MSDNC and the rest of the “liberal” Third Way-neoliberal media class has been promoting in connection with the latest presidential election cycle: The Democratic Party must choose between “socialist” Bernie Sanders or electability in 2020. The argument recurs again and again among hosts and panelists on CNN and MSDNC and among reporters and pundits at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and The Hill. The left historian and journalist Terry Thomas wrote me about a typical recent MSDNC episode – one in which the Kennedy-worshipping Ted Baxter-like bully Chris Matthews (who mocks Millennials for thinking that capitalism might be screwing them over) praised Trump’s  predecessor Barack Obama for going to Germany to accuse “progressives” of excessive ideological “rigidity” and “purism” (the standard charge against lefties from “pragmatic” corporate neoliberals in the Clinton-Tony Blair-Obama-Macron “Third Way mode):

“Chris Matthews and his panel of pundits were all over Obama’s comments tonight, with their general point being that Bernie Sanders is out to ruin the party and hand the election to Donald Trump. They didn’t talk in generalities about the progressive wing of party or ‘ideologically’ driven candidates. They went specifically at Bernie. If not stopped, he will personally present the 2020 election to Trump, according to the assembled experts. One even suggested that the rest of the field has to actively gang up on Sanders, whatever that means, and isolate him because his ideas are the death-knell of the Democratic Party.”

“We are not even close to primary season. It will get worse. As long as Bernie is electorally viable, the official organ of the Democratic Party will be as Sanders-obsessed as the official organ of the Trumpified Republican Party (FOX News) is obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  And underlying it all is the assumption that Obama is representative of the solution to Trump-style fascism, not a major factor in its ascendance. Breathtaking.”

(On Obama as a major factor in the ascendance of Trump-style fascism, please see my November 2018 CounterPunch essay “Barack Von Obambdenburg, Donald Trump, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens”)

Some Dark Ironies

One irony here is that Sanders is very likely the most electable of all the candidates in the Democratic field for the simple, officially unmentionable reason that Sanders has long and consistently run in accord with majority-progressive social-democratic public opinion on the leading domestic policy issues of our time.

Another irony is that Sanders isn’t really a socialist. He isn’t calling for workers’ control, nationalization of the financial institutions, or the drastic slashing of the Pentagon budget to fund renewable energy. He’s a progressive social-democratish neo-New Dealer who calls for the reform of capitalism.  He goes out of his way to calls his proposals “not radical.”

Meanwhile, as MSDNC and CNN fret over the S-word, socialism, they can barely bring themselves to mouth the F-word, fascism, which stares America and world in the face from the White House and the “Trumpified Republican Party” (along with other heads of state and parties in power in places like Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and Brazil)

(Fascism, by the way, draws heavily on the fear of supposedly terrible socialism.  MSDNC is helping fuel the white Amerikaner nationalism it claims to deplore by going off so much about the purportedly horrid specter of socialism.)

What gives here? I’ll say it yet again: The Wall Street-CIA-Pentagon-corporate Democrats (for whom MSDNC is the leading cable news outlet) are not primarily about winning elections. They are primarily about serving corporate and financial clients. They would rather lose to the right-wing, even to the creeping fascist Republican Party, than to the left, even a mildly social-democratic left, in their own party.

When I say “lose,” I am only referring to elections.  Elite Democratic pundits and politicians do just fine, materially and financially, when Republicans hold office.  Democratic Congressman and presidents who are voted or term-limited (like Clinton 42 and Obama 44) out of office only start to make their real “welcome to the oligarchy” money once they are out of office as long as they obediently serve capitalist masters during their time in so-called public service.

Trump has been a ratings boon for MSDNC and the liberal hosts at CNN.  The Times and the Post won’t mind a second Trump term, financially speaking.  As Barron’s reported last fall, “New York Times Co. stock (ticker: NYT) has doubled since the president took office and its products have more subscribers than any time in the company’s 167-year history.”

Like an Eco-Fascist Pig in Shit

The Times’ stockholders are happy and so too is the president this week. I’ve never seen Trump more content and self-assured than he was during his White House lawn “press conference” last Wednesday. The man was like a pig in shit. He was loving it better than a Big Mac, fries, and shake after cheating his way to a good score on his Mar a Lago golf course.

Television viewers couldn’t hear the questions being asked by reporters over the noise of the malignant narcissist’s awaiting helicopter. The pathetic, butt-sniffing journalists sounded like a pack of yelping geese as the aspiring fascist strongman picked and chose which reporters to yell answers at and which to dismiss.

What was the Great God Trump so happy about? His good friend Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel, for one thing.  Also nice for Don Veto Trumpleone was the “full exoneration” he claimed to have recently gotten from Bob Mueller.  The “exoneration” emboldened DumpsterFire&Fury to call the redactionary Russiagate report an “attempted coup” – and “illegal” to boot (illegal coups are the worst!).

The tangerine swine raised by the pork producers at the New York Military Academy program was cheerfully hopping down to Texas to beat up on murdering rapist Central American asylum-seekers and to celebrate an eco-fascistic executive order the takes away states’ say on the building of oil and gas pipelines. What could cause greater pleasure for an epic sadist like Trump than to accelerate the transformation of the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber?

Meanwhile, Stephanie Ruhle, Chris Matthews and other imperialist and capitalist apparatchiks at MSDNC and CNN didn’t seem to know what posed the greatest threat to America: Bernie Sanders and AOC’s dreaded Green New Deal or supervillain Vladimir Putin’s nefarious control of our purported democracy?

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).