The Unmasked Face of Our Society

My views on many things have been shifting lately. Recent events and interactions have forced me to rethink some assumptions and conclusions. One relevant issue is lesser evilism. It seems to me now that this misses the point. In thinking about supporters of Hillary Clinton, I offered a different view:

“What if we take at face value how people vote? Maybe they aren’t voting for a lesser evil. Maybe it is no mere unintended side effect the harm done by the politicians who represent them. Maybe, just maybe voters really do get exactly what they want.”

I’m starting to think the same thing about Trump supporters. Maybe it isn’t really about a mere protest vote. It’s possible they actually like Trump as a person and what he stands for.

Some people like that he is a plutocrat, a supposedly successful businessman. They see the business world as a meritocracy and that the country should be run like a business. As such, Trump has proven himself worthy of power. In a strange way, some people see him as something like an enlightened aristocrat (related to Plato’s philosopher king) who is independently wealthy and so can do what needs to be done. It’s sort of a hope for a modern noblessse oblige.

There is a historical basis for this worldview. Some of the American founders, of course, were slaveholding aristocrats and they liked to envision themselves as a noble vanguard for a new kind of ruling elite, an enlightened aristocracy. The idea was that being independently wealthy would make them politically independent. They would be above it all.

Few of the early ruling elite ever were independently wealthy. Their lifestyle was dependent on the profits made from their plantations and such. Quite a few were even in debt. But that isn’t the case for Trump, as long as you ignore all the times he declared bankruptcy.

It didn’t originally occur to me that Trump was anything more than the spokesperson for blind outrage against the system. I assumed even his followers didn’t take him seriously, as the majority of them don’t seem to mind that he sometimes promotes policies they don’t like (e.g., universal healthcare). I really thought it was just a protest vote in an a campaign season filled with so many horrible candidates.

I’m beginning to think there is more going on, similar to those in the Clinton camp. What helped me to see this other view is a person I know who claims to be a libertarian. But I’ve never been clear about his actual ideology. One of his favorite shows is Star Trek: The Next Generation*, a show that portrays a communist utopia.

I noticed that he was supporting Trump. But, knowing he is smart and educated, I took it as a protest vote. This guy shattered my assumptions by making a case for enlightened plutocracy, with the implication being that Trump will be an enlightened plutocrat. To his mind, libertarian values must be protected from the dirty masses by a ruling elite. He hates democracy and understandably sees it as a failure. Trump is the man for the job. He won’t let democracy get in his way.

I don’t see how a ruling elite ruling over a disenfranchised public is libertarian in any possible interpretation. Then again, I don’t see how Clinton’s neoconservatism and neoliberalism has anything to do with with progressive liberalism. This is the strange way ideology operates in some people’s minds. It’s not about principled consistency. Many people just want their side to win, however they they perceive their group identity. Such things aren’t ever fully conscious and rational.

I’m becoming convinced that lesser evilism can’t explain what is going on. Many people who support Hillary Clinton and Trump do so because they represent precisely what they want. In both cases, it’s a worldview of power and defense of the system, even though different visions of power and of the system.

This was more hidden in the past. But conflict has forced issues to the surface like pus oozing from a wound. We are seeing the unmasked face of our society. And it ain’t pretty.

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*This gives me a hint why someone like this ‘libertarian’ guy would like Star Trek: The Next Generation. The perspective on that society for the show is a semi-military ship that explores and patrols the galaxy. The captain of the ship, Jean-Luc Picard, is essentially a wise and benevolent patriarch.

The viewer rarely sees any outward signs of political democracy such as elections, although the society is a social democracy and a massive welfare state. The only aspect of democracy is the rule of law and judicial process where people are given the opportunity to defend themselves against charges. But one never sees any full-fledged example of democracy.

So, at least on the ship, it is mostly a utopia of a ruling elite and a clear social hierarchy. It’s vaguely libertarian in that people have basic protected civil liberties.

A Liberalism That Dominates

Why do people think they can vote for a politician to represent them and then not be morally responsible for what that politician does in their name?

I’m specifically thinking of politicians with known political records. In such cases, voters can’t reasonably plead ignorance. One has to assume that they approve of the choices made by their preferred political representative. If that is the case and it is hard to interpret it otherwise, this speaks badly for most voters across the political spectrum.

Do these people honestly wonder why politicians do bad things when they vote for politicians known for doing bad things? Or are these people simply disconnected from reality, disconnected from the larger world of consequences where real people are harmed?

That last question points to a real possibility. Those who are most harmed by our government are those who don’t or can’t vote: the poor who are shut out of the political system, minorities who experience voter suppression, felons who are disfranchised, undocumented immigrants who never had voting rights, and foreigners who have no influence over our government. But those aren’t the people I’m focused on here. It remains to explain those who can and do vote.

I’m unconvinced that the voting public doesn’t know they are supporting politicians who harm so many other humans, large numbers of them being their neighbors and fellow citizens. I know ignorance is rampant. But with internet and social media, knowledge of government actions and political records is hard to avoid. To not know this kind of thing at this point requires a particularly virulent form of willful ignorance. Even then, in order for that ignorance to be willful what is being ignored has to be acknowledged at some level of awareness, even if subconsciously.

Another explanation is lesser evilism. I have considered that in great detail as of late. It is the rationalization often given for why people vote the way they do. I don’t doubt that people are easily manipulated by fear-mongering. And I don’t doubt that political campaigns and PR companies are highly advanced in the techniques they use to manipulate voters. Still, that isn’t a fully satisfying explanation.

What if we take at face value how people vote? Maybe they aren’t voting for a lesser evil. Maybe it is no mere unintended side effect the harm done by the politicians who represent them. Maybe, just maybe voters really do get exactly what they want. I’ve resisted that conclusion for a long long time. It is the most demoralizing possibility that I can imagine. But it is starting to seem compelling.

My thoughts here have been largely elicited by listening to supporters of Hillary Clinton. Her political record is well known and widely discussed. It is easy to find out all the details of her political career. What bothers me is that much of what she has supported over the years and decades has led to horrific results, both in terms of decisions she has made in official political positions she has held and what she helped promote in working with her husband in his political career.

Clinton has been extremely active in promoting a particular worldview and social order. And to be honest one has to admit that it isn’t entirely inspiring: cutting welfare, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime policies, war hawk policies, promoting the overthrow of governments, etc. All of this corresponds to the money she gets from speaking fees and donations to campaigns and to the Clinton Foundation—from: prison industry, corporations, particular foreign governments, etc. She does the bidding of those who pay for her services. All of this is out in the open.

Maybe people who support her (and politicians like her) know fully well what she stands for. Maybe these voters completely understand what they are buying with their vote. Maybe they are intentionally aligning themselves with certain powerful interests. Maybe they want politicians who, from their perspective, will do what needs to be done.

It might seem like hypocrisy. Supporters of Hillary Clinton often claim to be liberals and progressives. So, how can they support her illiberal and reactionary policies? Yet maybe this misses the point.

The purpose of politicians in a democracy is to represent voters. If we take this as being genuinely true, then it indicates politicians are doing what voters want them to do. The confusion comes from there being a difference between what people say they want and what they actually want. That is what politicians are for, as they will do what voters want them to do, even though voters can’t admit that is what they want them to do. Politicians allow for plausible deniability, a disconnect between the voting public and government action.

We live in a liberal age. But we rarely think about what this means. What really is liberalism? Why do conservatives speak the rhetoric of liberalism and invoke liberal values? And why do liberals so often act like conservatives? Considering this, what exactly is this liberal order that dominates our minds and lives?

Of Dreamers and Sleepwalkers

“Most men are not wicked. They are sleepwalkers, not evildoers.”
~ Franz Kafka

Lesser evil voting is mostly knee jerk groupthink, not rational decision-making and strategic thinking. If it was rational and strategic, Sanders would be guaranteed the nomination.

Sanders is the only candidate that the polling data has regularly shown to have any chance to defeat any of the Republican candidates. And he is the only candidate with both high popular support and low negative public opinion. On top of that, he is the only candidate of either political party whose politics aren’t some combination of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

It’s about the narrative, the frame of how people think and what they can imagine. Lesser evil voting tends to mean backing the establishment and the status quo, no matter what. Some people use lesser voting strategically as a tactic, but these people are probably such a tiny fraction of a percentage of the voters as to be insignificant for elections. For most, lesser evil voting is simply about fear of the alternatives, even when their actions make the feared alternatives more likely.

Besides, so much of the argument seems pointless. Hillary Clinton has won most of the delegates even in states that have a majority supporting Sanders. The same happens in elections. What most Americans want is irrelevant to the system, especially considering how constrained is the election process, how controlled and manipulated and undermined is the pseudo-democracy. In a fully functioning democracy, neither Clinton nor Trump would make it very far in the process—both offering oppressive authoritarianism. Candidates like that don’t represent what most Americans support, as polls show. Despite how the MSM dismisses Sanders, he actually represents what is majority opinion.

None of this is charade is rational. It doesn’t matter what is proven to be true in polls, political records, released e-mails, historical documents, etc. It’s not about the issues. It’s not about what the American public supports and wants. This isn’t an actual democracy we live in. This is an open secret. Social science research has gone into this in great detail. It’s a favorite topic on the internet. Even the mainstream (corporate) media every so often throws up a piece on either asserting or questioning whether the US is still a democracy; and if not, what is it—military-industrial complex, banana republic, shadow government, deep state, inverted totalitarianism, corporatism/fascism, plutocracy, dark money, police state, or what exactly? The only place you don’t hear this kind of thing is in mainstream (corporatist) politics.

Yet everything goes on as if normal. We live in this dissociated state. We know it all is a charade or at least have strong suspicions. But we can’t bring ourselves to fully acknowledge this and act rationally in response to it. Rationality seems impotent when confronted by such horrific possibilities. Thinking along these lines would lead to radical notions and questions, and so we expunge them from our consciousness. It’s best not to think too much about it all. One might start feeling unacceptable impulses toward protesting in the streets, marching on the capitol, or God Forbid! starting a revolution. All of a sudden, the choice between Coke and Pepsi might be understood as meaningless as it always was. Such thoughts make people unhappy. If you confront people with this, they will get upset and angry. You can lose friends that way.

It’s understandable. There was something I think Franz Kafka said that has stuck with me—to paraphrase: Don’t destroy someone’s world, unless you have something better to offer them. That’s a tough standard to hold oneself to. It’s hard to imagine something new until the old has been cleared away. It might not be a matter of destroying someone’s world when they are acting self-destructively toward their own world.

In this situation, do you wait for full destruction to be complete before suggesting the consideration of alternatives? Why do we wait for problems to almost be past the point of any solution before even trying to figure out what those problems are?

None of this was inevitable. It was a series of choices made, the results accumulating over time.

Imagine if we had taken a different path. Imagine decades or even generations of greater good voting. Imagine for the past century that elected presidents included the likes of Eugene V. Debs, McGovern, Nader, Sanders, Jill Stein, etc. We wouldn’t even be facing the problems we now face. It’s not just about the lesser evil of this or that election, but endless kneejerk groupthink and fearmongering defense of the status quo.

Pointing this all out to people just irritates them. They have no way to make sense of it. The old narratives no longer explain much of anything and yet there is no compelling narrative to take their place. To imagine something new and different, people need to be told a story that draws them in and suspends their disbelief. One moment of envisioning an alternative could lift the cloud of cynicism and apathy.

That is one hell of a challenge. But maybe it doesn’t need to be as daunting as we make it. By nature, humans are talented at imagination. We are all dreamers. The trick is to learn how to dream while awake. Maybe this is not unlike, as Douglas Adams suggested, learning to fly by throwing yourself at the ground and missing. So, let’s throw ourselves at the dystopian fears before us and hope we miss.

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The Logic of Lesser Evilism
by Andrew Levine, CounterPunch

The Reflective Voter’s Fear
by Andrew Levine, CounterPunch

75% in U.S. See Widespread Government Corruption
Gallup

Banana Republic Level of Inequality Is Undermining America’s Geopolitical Power
by Washingtons Blog

America the Banana Republic
by Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

10 ways America has come to resemble a banana republic
by Alex Henderson, Alternet

Our Banana Republic
by Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

The Permanent Militarization of America
by Aaron B. O’Connell, The New York Times

The Danger of American Fascism
by Henry A. Wallace, New York Times

When Fascism Was American
by Joe Allen, Jacobin

Have The American People Accepted Corporate State Fascism?
by Ray Pensador, Daily Kos

Deep state in the United States
from Wikipedia

Deep State America
by Philip Giraldi, The American Conservative

The Deep State
by Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

The War on Democracy: The Deep State
by Bob Burnett, Huffington Post

The Quiet Coup: No, Not Egypt. Here.
by John Tirman, Huffington Post

Controlled by shadow government: Mike Lofgren reveals how top U.S. officials are at the mercy of the “deep state”
by Elias Isquith, Salon

“Every president has been manipulated by national security officials”: David Talbot exposes America’s “deep state”
Liam O’Donoghue, Salon

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
by Jordan Michael Smith, Boston Globe

National Security and Double Government
by Michael J. Glennon, Harvard National Security Journal

Examining Who Runs the United States
by Anand Giridharadas, The New York Times

Sheldon Wolin and Inverted Totalitarianism
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Inverted Totalitarianism
by Sheldon Wolin, The Nation

Nick Hanauer: Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming
TED Talk video

How Gilded Ages End
by Paul Starr, The American Prospect

The Political Roots of Widening Inequality
by Robert Reich, The American Prospect

Plutocrats Against Democracy
by Paul Krugman, The New York Times

America slouches toward plutocracy
by Sean McElwee, Al Jazeera America

A Study in Plutocracy: Rich Americans Wield Political Influence, the Rest of Us Don’t
by John Light, Moyers & Company

We are Becoming a Plutocracy No Matter What Obama Proposes Tomorrow
by Robert Lenzner, Forbes

5 signs America is devolving into a plutocracy
by Tom Engelhardt, Salon

Partisanship Makes Americans Stupid

Democrats are really pissing me off right now. I hate partisan politics. Even my support for Sanders is tentative. And I’d rather vote third party. For damn sure, I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, if she gets the nomination.

Do these partisans have any common sense or principles?

On certain issues such as war, prisons and the police state, Hillary is far to the right of someone like Ron Paul or even his son Rand. I bet even both Pauls combined with their pro-capitalist libertarianism never accepted as many big money corporate bribes as has Clinton. She is a strident neoliberal, which in American parlance makes her an economic conservative. Also, the policies she has supported have been consistently bad for minorities. On most major issues, Clinton is to the right of the majority of Americans, often far to the right.

Why would any moral and sane person who took Sanders rhetoric seriously vote for Clinton? Why would any principled liberal consider Clinton to be much of a liberal, in the normal use of that word?

This same thing goes for Republican partisanship.

Those on the political right love to use libertarian rhetoric. Yet many third party candidates on the political left are way more libertarian. Even someone like Ron Paul isn’t all that extreme in his libertarianism. Green Party candidates are regularly more libertarian than Ron Paul and the candidates of the supposed Libertarian Party. Republicans love big government and deficit-spending, just focused on their favorite areas.

So, if one’s libertarianism is principled, why not vote for the most libertarian candidate? Well, the reason is that too many people use the word ‘libertarian’ when they really mean something entirely else: neoliberalism, corporatism, or whatever. But those crony capitalist Republicans will threaten the voters that they better vote for them or else the communists will take over.

This lesser evil crap is plain stupid. Lesser evil than what? Why is partisanship used as a way of excusing everything? Why do people vote against their own interests just to make sure that their team wins?

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Political Compass:

The US Presidential Election 2004
The US Presidential Election 2008
The US Presidential Election 2012
The US Primary Candidates 2016