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Dispelling the Darkness

Melger Bridge at Night, Astoria. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“No light, but rather darkness visible.”

– Milton, Paradise Lost

It was always easier to pitch politics low and to the gut, but the cyberspace platforms have made it easier in a way that the writers of the Federalist Papers couldn’t possibly imagine. The unfettered nature of cyberspace almost makes it impossible to distinguish lies and bullshit, aptly distinguished by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, from true representations.

Our means to dispel the darkness so confounded, conditions on the ground yet remain to be understood.

Financialized, globalized capitalism, unfettered by government or by popular will, has derived so many Rube Goldberg variations on making all things wonderful for investors, brokers and every form of financial service that its circling within its own circle. So arcane and labyrinthine is the play of multi-trans-nationalized financialized capitalism now that it would be near impossible for a candidate for the presidency to unravel it in Facebookeze or Twittereze.

But of course, there is no impulse to do this; if it could be done, it couldn’t be done without killing the messenger. Thus, politics are different now as is the presidency and not because politicians are viler than ever, or the current president is some dark visitation not birthed in our own American culture. We have a sense that we can return to what we were before as soon as Trump is removed, he being, after all, an anomaly, without roots here, an unfortunate mutation from our historical norm.

The 50% or so who support him are likewise a deviation from that norm, he being a kind of Svengali who has mesmerized his followers who will wake up once his magnetism vanishes. This 50%, enchanted into believing that The Dark State is conspiring against their champion, The President, will return to, say, the clear rational sense of democratic governance offered by Mayor Pete, once any one of the Democratic candidates for the presidency actually wins the presidency in 2020.

This truly is not rational argument, referenced exposition, but narrative, storytelling, likely stories as postmodernity proposed our capacity to tie words to world in an always unreliable, indeterminate fashion.

Another story narrates that we were in so many ways from soup to nuts, Trump-low before Trump. The man is at ground zero in every conceivable way our humanity can be measured, but a brief survey of the last forty years shows us that we were at the bottom before him. He’s a native son, a natural product of this ferment, not an anomaly but what’s at the end of the road when a whole culture elevates profit as the only measure of growth.

A visiting Martian de Tocqueville would have no difficulty in attaching what Trump is to his surround. What this visitor might find strange is the fact that Trump didn’t appear sooner in our lives. True, the second-tier movie actor, Reagan, was a sign of the power of celebrity politics, and Clinton was no more selfishly, thoughtlessly libertine than had become the American moral norm. Obama, however, rose from a good place in the American soul. He made us feel good about our own goodness at a time when we were corrupting and trashing the world with the tentacles of our financial institutions. We blissfully fracked and drilled while we had clear evidence of what tragedy global warming would eventually create.

Trump’s swelter of hatred for Obama and his influence on us is reminiscent of the darkness of soul that fascinated Nathaniel Hawthorne, the hatred of Roger Chillingworth for Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, a novel of America’s dark soul. The desire for revenge which Trump, Impeachment Redux, now seeks is set against an elapsing moral sense in the American soul.

This drama, a cultural psychodrama, a psychomachia in medieval terms, has nothing to do with political division and all to do with a battle of darkness and light in a country driven solely by its economics into the shadows of intentions and actions, words and images. The measure of enlightened civility and just mercy is not the Dow Jones or the S&P 500. That measure birthed this president. The mud that made him is ours. He didn’t invent the darkness.

The richest three Americans own more wealth than the bottom 50%. Climate science nailed down the necessity of going fossil-free at the same time as SUV and truck gas guzzlers were Americans favorite. Money is speech? Corporations are persons free to “speak” through their money? Citizens United will preserve our fragile electoral Republic? That part of the Voting Rights Act which keeps Southern states from reinstituting Jim Crow electoral laws invalidated by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision? Minimum wage not raised in 10 years because it doesn’t suit the bottom line of profit? Before Trump worked at undermining Dodd-Frank and its Volcker Rule, which blocked wild investment gambles from using bank deposits as collateral, Congress was already bending to the wishes of Wall Street. The Supreme Court overruled educational financial equity for public school funding in 1973, a ruling that has done much to cement the obscenity of our Grand Canyon of a wealth divide.

Are the Democratic Party primary candidates confronting, ignoring or burying themselves in this surround of clearly observable conditions? Who dispels the darkness?

We have yet to see whether Bernie Sanders has buried himself by using the term “Democratic socialist.” Whether he’s resurrected in the national elections, if he gets that far, remains to be seen. But it is amazing that he has tagged himself so when, firstly, he’s not what any political philosopher would call a Democratic Socialist, and secondly, he has made little attempt to educate his supporters as to what he means by his personal definition of this rubric. A Democratic Socialist advocates worker owned businesses generating a social ownership, not State ownership, of the means of production. Capital and investment are subject to a kind of social planning. In Social Democracy, which is what Sanders sees in Scandinavia, all sorts of interventions in democratic politics and capitalism are pursued. Pure Socialism pursues the goal of parity between economic equality and political equality, something not to be done within a market capitalist economics.

Each one of these, when fully explained requires a great, great deal of “mansplaining” defense in 2020 America, all of it subject to the review of the Twitterati. Sanders’s supporters have rallied to him despite the nebulousness of terminology but the young here outnumber older voters who connect differently with the term. Bernie’s socialism means free college tuition, health care, a government safety net and a wealth divide equalization. To older voters it’s a word always connected with Communism, the Soviet Union, collapsed because its economics didn’t work, and putting “free enterprise” capitalism under government bureaucracy. We all equally queue up for a loaf of bread. The resident meme here is that American freedom links to capitalism and so a destruction of one means a collapse in America First.

Bernie Sanders’ ties are to FDR and the New Deal, “old school” but less destructive signifiers than Democratic Socialist. He could finesse as much government intrusion in capitalism as FDR did without putting a red target on his back. Still, “socialism” has a panache with young voters and FDR’s New Deal is old analog history.

Elizabeth Warren is a “capitalist to the bone,” which is also confusing because one wonders what period capitalism she’s attached to? It can’t possibly be financialized globalized capitalism since Reagan which worked its devilish way to the Great Recession of 2008. This faux pas severs her from the young looking for anti-capitalist solutions. Is she a capitalist like Buttigieg, the American version of the businessman, Macron?

In effect, she is a pure Liberal, seeking corrections to the bad behavior of oligarchic serving capitalism. If she hadn’t gone Medicare For All and then retreated to something not very different than what the moderate Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden want, she could occupy a powerful moderate position. But she’s tagged with Bernie and at the same time can’t distinguish herself from the moderates. Ironically, confusion of her own making subverts the candidate with all the plans for everything.

However, if the words “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” still have validity, and I think they do, Warren is the one who can occupy Wall Street’s looting ways and make the corrections needed. If a quantum level divide in wealth is a root cause of political and social problems, then we need to decide who can best deal with this problem. And here Warren is the full tenured prof amid grad students. The change we need is changing the conditions that created Trump and these are economic at base. Bernie’s revolutionary change is neither transparently clear nor amenable to existing conditions. Warren has a proven, focused approach on the financial plays that have driven and continue to drive the incivilities and inequities of the whole society. What we have here is comparable to knocking down a house on fire or going in and putting the fire out.

Mayor Pete is indeed the American Macron. Meritocratic, business world success. All algorithms and systems analysis, and, as Warren put it sharply, Power Point and no plan. Most likely to face from Progressives what Macron is facing from his Yellow Vest and even more likely to find himself in Obama’s neutralized spot if he goes left in a way that Macron won’t.

Mayor Pete may pull some Republican voters who are appalled by Trump’s “temperament.” As the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, Mayor Pete will be put on a long painful road of abuse before election day. What shape the Twitterati, Deep Fakes, and Trump the Monarch leave him in can only be imagined. Of course, Mitch McConnell, the eternal force in The Senate, will do all he can to stop any Democratic President from getting another term. Nevertheless, Buttigieg and Klobuchar would need a long apprenticeship before even knowing what Mitch was up to.

Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg, variously politically experienced, will, unfortunately, be like Jonah to Trump’s whale. In fact, to young voters, they may seem Biblically ancient analog, and therefore crush the rising political enthusiasm of the young. Because so much of what is darkening on the horizon will fully appear to the young, their involvement now in tempering that forecast is paramount and a moral imperative we must all obey.

On the other than moral imperative side, we recognize that all of Trump’s supporters show up to vote. The tax breaks and Supreme Court appointments motivate many while others fall under the spell of their champion, Donald J. Trump. It is he, in this dark enchanted world of lies and bullshit, who, those so enchanted, believe can dispel the darkness of the illusionary Deep State.

Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey .

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