Friday, August 16, 2019

Conspiracy Theories, Conspiracy Theorists Defended

Conspiracy Theories, Conspiracy Theorists
Peter Schultz

            Some of our most famous politicians have been conspiracy theorists, but more on that in a bit. First, it is necessary to consider such theories and the role they play politically.

            There is a visible and an invisible or hidden social and political order. The ruling class(es) construct the visible order through their public acts, including of course their speeches and their behavior. This visible order is important for legitimizing the power, the authority, the rule of these classes. Of course, this order is constructed in such a way as to justify, to legitimize the power of the ruling classes, turning their power into authority (or authorizing its power). To do this, it is essential to present threats to the established order, “the establishment” in the vernacular, as illegitimate because these threats are unwise, unjust, or un-American. And because of the fluid nature of politics, threats are always arising and needing to be dealt with, controlled, managed, or deflected. As Machiavelli noted, government and politics are all about conspiracies.

            However, there are times then the invisible order threatens to become visible, to go “on stage,” as it were, by becoming part of the drama being played out in public. When these moments arise, what are called “conspiracy theories” appear, with their advocates the “conspiracy theorists” leading the charge. Often these moments occur when seemingly aberrational events occur, e.g., the assassination of a president or an attack on “the homeland.” At such moments and in their aftermaths, it is crucial to the establishment that they are seen as aberrational, and not as the result of the invisible order and its movers and shakers. Hence, conspiracy theories must be dismissed as fantasies, as the products of disturbed and delusional minds. Otherwise, the invisible will become visible while the visible loses its legitimacy and thereby its authority. The ground is then prepared for significant, even revolutionary political and social changes.

            Some of the most significant events in American history offer evidence for this view of things. That is, significant political change has often followed upon the successful propagation of what may be called conspiracy theories, by which the visible order is revealed as a façade behind which an invisible and politically undesirable order operates. Thus, in 1800 Jefferson successfully exposed the Federalists for the “monarchists” they were; Andrew Jackson exposed the conspiracy that allowed John Quincy Adams to become president in 1824, leading to what many historians call the “Age of Jackson;” Lincoln exposed the conspiracy of “Roger [Taney], Franklin [Pierce], James [Buchanan], and Stephen [Douglas]” to perpetuate slavery throughout the United States; FDR exposed the conspiracy of the “capitalists” whose greed brought on the Great Depression; and Trump has allegedly exposed the conspiracy of liberals and socialists who seek to undermine America’s greatness.

            Hence, it is only to be expected that the ruling classes will seek to dismiss conspiracy theories and theorists because they are threats to their power, their authority, and their rule. It is then not at all surprising that the conspiratorial possibilities arising from the Epstein affair are, on the one hand, being ridiculed by establishment politicians and commentators while, on the other hand, Trump is promoting such theories. For how could an established political order hope to survive the charge that a former president engaged with a man involved in the sexual exploitation of “under aged women,” that is, children? Surely, such a charge, if substantiated, would go quite far in undermining the legitimacy of a political order that attracts and then rewards those who engage in pedophilia with its highest offices. Moreover, it is no more surprising that Trump, who claims to want to “drain the swamp” that is D.C., would seize upon the conspiratorial possibilities of the Epstein affair. And, as noted above, he wouldn’t be the first president to do so.

            Conspiracy theories and theorists are often the butt of ridicule and in some instances such ridicule seems justified. But in other instances, conspiracy theories and theorists thrown light on the real character of our political order, a reality that is often disguised by those who control and profit from the established order. It seems prudent then to consider such theories and theorists with an open mind for by doing so we might learn something about our political situation.


Monday, August 5, 2019

What We Need

What We Need
Peter Schultz

            Unless we Americans can get beyond our delusions, we are screwed. Unless we can understand that our nation is anything but exceptional, that its most important issues have little to do with foreign enemies, that our nation was built on slavery and genocide, and was expanded via war and a religiously motivated imperialism, we are going to continue to experience domestic bloodshed and domestic violence on a grand scale. In light of Oklahoma City, Charleston, El Paso, Dayton, this is all that needs be said. These crimes are political crimes, not the result of mental illness, post-traumatic stress, or abuse.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Slavery, American Capitalism, and American Politics

Slavery, American Capitalism, and American Politics
Peter Schultz

            I am reading a wonderfully illuminating book entitled The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. Baptist’s argument is that slavery was an essential, even the core of the development of American capitalism and this is “the half [that] has never been told.”
Here I want to reproduce two passages because they illustrate how allegedly political “enemies,” Federalists and Republicans, collude even at the expense of justice and of basic human decency. And illustrations like this are important to see today when our “two” political parties may be accurately described as “indispensable enemies.” That is, indispensable for maintaining our Orwellian oligarchy.

            “The interlinked expansion of both slavery and financial capitalism was now the driving force in an emerging national economic system that benefited elites and others up and down the Atlantic coast as well as throughout the back country. From Jefferson and Madison’s perspective, the soon-to-be states of the Mississippi Territory would yield votes in the Electoral College and Congress, votes to be used against the Federalists – and more than they would have gained by courting hard-core states’ rightists….The Republicans now formed a pro-finance, pro-expansion coalition that ingested many onetime Federalists and dominated US politics until, by the 1820s, it became a victim of its own success.” [pp. 33-34]

“Between the end of the American Revolution and the Fletcher v. Peck decision in 1810, slavery’s expansion linked the nation together. The needs of the nation encouraged the growth of a complex of institutions and patterns – and, just as significantly, excuses – that made national political and financial alliances possible. The needs of individual enslavers and others who hoped to profit from the expansion of all sorts of economic opportunities encouraged the growth of a more powerful set of national capabilities, more market-friendly laws, and more unified markets. The needs of national expansion, plus the ability of chained people to walk, trapped enslaved people as absolutely held property in the political compromises, political alliances, and financial schemes of the United States and in the very map of the young republic. Slavery, and specifically, the right of enslavers to sell and to move their slaves into new territory, became a national practice: as a strict definition of property under constitutional law, as habit and expectation, and as a pattern of political compromise.” [pp. 35-36]

Apparently Orwellian oligarchies are nothing new to American political scene.

Trump's Racism: It Ain't the Problem

“Trump’s” Racism: It Ain’t the Problem
Peter Schultz

            The problem isn’t Trump’s racism. The issue is or should be understanding the white power as a movement based an ideology that consists of a coherent worldview of white supremacy and a forthcoming apocalypse. This kind of understanding has been undermined, subverted by the tendency, decidedly visible in the mainstream media and in our political discourse, to see events like Oklahoma City as isolated events committed by madmen or by forlorn, lost, or psychotic  individuals. Tim McVeigh was deeply embedded in the white power movement and it seems quite implausible that he was, as he himself contended, acting alone with the help of two others who he forced to help him. And his behavior in this regard is consistent with the teachings of those who lead the white power movement.

            Or consider the case of Dylan Roof, the young man who massacred nine black worshippers at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. He indicated his attachment to and to being influenced by the white power movement by his postings online which included a Rhodesian flag patch, referring to a cause that the Aryan Nations Congress had pushed in 1983. He also used a code for Heil Hitler, the number 88, that had been visible in the 1980s, along with his use of the Confederate flag that refers to white supremacy against what is called “multi-culturalism.” And, of course, thanks to the Internet, Roof could have been radicalized without ever attending an Aryan Nation Congress, e.g., any white power meeting, or even any other white power activist.

            Throughout the 80s, the 90s, and even now, events that should be attributed to the white power movement are treated as isolated or aberrational events and not as the result of an ideology that many find legitimate, to say the least. As one commentator has put it: “White power should have been legible as a coherent social movement but was instead largely narrated and prosecuted as scattered actions and inexplicable lone wolf attacks motivated not by ideology but by madness or personal animus.” [Bring the War Home, Kathleen Belew, p. 237]

            Treating the problem as if it is Trump’s racism that we need to be most concerned with, and thinking that removing his from office will accomplish something significant, is to repeat the myopic view that racism or white supremacy in the United States is a reflection of madness or personal idiosyncrasies. As despicable as Trump is, his racism is merely a reflection of his embrace of the white power movement and its ideology of white supremacy and the coming apocalypse. We can get rid of Trump, either by impeachment or voting him out, but that will not do much of anything to damage the white power movement. As Belew puts it so well: “Knowledge of the history of white power activism is integral to preventing future acts of violence and to providing vital context to current political developments. Indeed, to perceive the movement as a legitimate social force, and its ideologies as comprising a coherent worldview of white supremacy and imminent apocalypse – one with continued recruiting power – is to understand that colorblindness, multicultural consensus, and a postracial society were never achieved. Violent, outright racism and anti-Semitism were live currents in these decades, waiting for the opportunity to resurface in overt form.” [Belew, p. 239]

            Focusing on Trump and his racism blinds us to a more significant problem, viz., a political movement that embraces racism and religious fanaticism, that is, the white power movement. And it this movement that must be confronted politically, socially, and legally. To succumb to what some call “Trump hysteria” will, strangely enough, facilitate the success of the white power movement.

See Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A War Story

A War Story
Peter Schultz

            “So, dear, how was your day at work today,” his wife asked.

            “It was fine,” he said. “I was busy.”

            “Did you score a lot of hits?” she asked.

            “Yes, I did. Quite a few. We were dialed in on several high value targets in Afghanistan,” he replied. “Although some of them involved children. You know how they use children to try to deter our attacks.”

            “Oh, indeed I do,” she replied. “How many were you forced to kill today?”

            “Only 2, I think,” he said as sipped his beer, while flipping through the channels on the tv.

            “Well, that’s better than last week, when you think you killed 4 children in one day. Isn’t that right? It was 4 last week, wasn’t it?”

            “Yes, that’s right. Glad you remembered that. I was feeling a little down about killing those children. But two isn’t so bad, is it?” he said, sipping more of his beer as he watched ESPN.  

            “Oh, no it isn’t. And don’t feel badly, dear,” she said encouragingly. “You have to do it. And after all, they would probably just grow up to be terrorists in the future any way.”

            He was silent as he glanced at the tv, drank his beer, and tried to focus on ESPN. After all, the pennant races were tightening up.  

            “Are you ready for dinner, dear?” she asked.

            “Oh yes, any time now,” he said. And soon they were eating and talking about the upcoming weekend when they would be off for the beach. It would be fun.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Ballot or the Bullet

The Ballot or the Bullet
Peter Schultz

            A long time ago, Malcolm X gave a speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet,” arguing that if blacks weren’t given the right to vote – the ballot – then they would resort to violence – the bullet. As Malcolm X put it, there’s a choice to be made and it has to be made. If black people didn’t have a meaningful right to vote, then there would be no peace.

            That Malcolm was correct is evident today in the United States. For some time now, the right to vote has been denied or compromised for a lot of people. Some are denied outright, e.g., as felons. Others are denied covertly, e.g., by actions that are allegedly needed to keep the voting rolls “clean.” Still others have their votes compromised by gerrymandering schemes. And then of course there is the fact that the votes of non-wealthy are compromised by the ways the wealthy are given a privileged position in determining the outcome of elections, ala’ Citizens United.

            And guess what? Our political process has become increasingly violent, with violent rhetoric and even threats of violence commonplace. “Lock her up!” “Send her home!” are cries that reverberate throughout our political debates, along with increasing appeals to violent-laced politics at home, abroad, and in the borderlands. Guns exist in very large numbers throughout the society and are seen by many as indispensable to their safety and wellbeing.

            Malcolm X was correct: We have a choice, politics by ballots or politics by bullets; a relatively peaceful politics or a politics characterized by violence. One key to a peaceful politics is the ballot; that is, the widespread and generally equal access to voting. Give people ballots and they won’t need bullets. Why? Because when people have ballots, have meaningful votes, votes that can actually create political change, they have power. They are empowered even though they might be unarmed. Peaceful change is possible.

            Take away meaningful ballots and people feel and are disempowered. And when human beings are disempowered, they will try to acquire power any way they can, “by any means necessary,” including by turning to violence. This has been true throughout recorded history and is still true today, as illustrated by the politics in the United States. People of every political stripe feel and are disempowered, primarily because they are being denied a meaningful ballot, a meaningful or realistic way to create change. And they have turned to violence, to “the bullet” to get what they want, to be powerful.

            Malcolm X wasn’t simply making a threat. He was stating a political truth.  Human beings have a choice: Empower the people, give them the right to vote, or create a violent politics and a violent society. Take your pick. But you have to choose And your choice will matter. Voting or bloodshed: that’s the choice. And if you choose the latter, don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Humpty Dumpty and American Politics

Humpty Dumpty and American Politics
Peter Schultz

“Trump is the direct and predictable product of the progressive failure to have forged an effective opposition to corrupt plutocracy by the time of that strategic moment when popular trust has been lost in the plutocratic “center.” Lack of a unifying progressive strategy meant that volatile and highly manipulable proto-totalitarian element would look elsewhere. As Slavoj Zizek, Trouble in Paradise (2014) 115, posits: “The rise of Fascism is not only the Left’s failure, but also proof that there was a revolutionary potential, a dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize.” Proto-totalitarian Trumpism is what arises when progressives are unable to unite strategically.

“The Plutocracy and its propagandists take a keen and well-financed interest in prolonging this division among progressives. They now back Biden, or Trump. Recent reliable polling shows Biden 30% – Sanders 19% – Warren 15%. This current data shows that supporters of the two progressives, if united, would defeat the plutocracy‘s status quo candidate. As the progressive choice between Sanders and Warren lingers through the summer of 2019 in a mere contest of subjective tastes it will aggravate yet another in a series of historical failures by progressives to unite strategically and competently at a time when the stakes are now the highest. Continued progressive failure to act strategically for decisively wresting control of the Democratic Party from its corrupt plutocratic establishment will only move the country further in the direction of totalitarianism. Sanders failed at this task in 2016 though progressives provided him resources and support to do the job. Yet another progressive failure to organize strategically behind a competent progressive in the 2020 primaries could be terminal. The likes of WaPo will not do it for them. The necessary exercise of their own strategic judgment in this choice needed to prevail in 2020 will be a useful exercise of an unexercised muscle by progressives. To elect a strategist progressives must master the strategy.”

There is something bothersome about this analysis, which is taken from the article whose link is above that argues for Elizabeth Warren in preference to Bernie Sanders. I am not so much concerned with this issue as I am with other issues the article raises. To get on with it. 

It is said that Trump’s success is the result of “the progressive failure to forge an effective opposition to corrupt plutocracy….” There was a “lack of a unifying progressive strategy” and this despite that there was “proof that there was a revolutionary potential, a dissatisfaction, which the Left was not able to mobilize.” So “Trumpism …. arises when progressives are unable to unite strategically.” 

Let me focus on this idea of there being a “corrupt plutocracy,” which is a phrase Warren uses repeatedly in her rhetoric and campaign materials and which goes unchallenged here. There is something about this phrase that is, I submit, quite misleading because that phrase, “corrupt plutocracy,” makes it seem that these people are merely self-serving types who have been bought off by Wall St. et. al. They are not defined by, they do not embrace any political/economic principles like corporate capitalism or American interventionism. Once exposed then they should and would be defeated, if only the progressives would stick together. There is no legitimacy to their politics. Hence, progressive unity is or should be enough to defeat them.

But insofar as what is called a corrupt plutocracy is something other, is in fact a political movement that embraces corporate capitalism and American imperialism, and then progressive unity is not enough to defeat them. Rather, what is needed to defeat them is an alternative political movement, one that rejects corporate capitalism and American interventionism/imperialism. 

So when Warren speaks repeatedly of this “corrupt plutocracy” she is not doing what is most important, that is, offering an alternative politics to the politics of this “plutocracy.” And if in fact she does not reject corporate capitalism and American interventionism, whatever she proposes, no matter how “systemic” she claims the proposals to be, will not undermine, subvert the politics of the reigning plutocracy. It is necessary to start by rejecting the prevailing political principles in order to subvert them. So when Warren labels herself as, proudly, a “capitalist,” she is denying her commitment to a genuine political alternative. 

The results of such a politics is evident from the Obama presidency, which is described accurately as follows:

“For Warren this issue of the corrupt plutocracy is not just a majoritarian favorite adopted to boost a political campaign. Obama campaigned as one “tired of business as usual in Washington” who would “overcome all the big money and influence” there and get the “lobbyists … [who] dominate our government … system in Washington” and their “undue influence” out of ”our way.” But he woke up president not so “tired of business as usual in Washington” after all. Refreshed by record-setting campaign cash from the Wall Street plutocracy he did the opposite of what many thought to be his central campaign promise. Roger D. Hodge, Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010) (Obama “the best friend Wall Street could hope for”).”

The problem here is that Obama, like Warren now, attributed “business as usual in D.C.” to the influence of “all the big money….[and] lobbyists [who] dominate our government…system in Washington.” But the problem was not just big money and lobbyists. Rather, the problem was – and is - the well-established commitment to corporate capitalism and American imperialism. Obama did not end up serving “the Wall Street plutocracy” because of “record-setting cash” but rather because he was in favor of corporate capitalism and American imperialism. As his record as president illustrates, he was a corporate capitalist and American imperialist. So when push came to shove, he went with his politics, as all human beings do. Insofar as Warren is a corporate capitalist and imperialist/interventionist, she too will end up like Obama, supporting the status quo because that is what she believes in. 

“Draining the swamp” or confronting “a corrupt plutocracy” are nice sounding phrases, but misleading. The “swamp” and the “corrupt plutocracy” are the results our corporate capitalism and our imperialism. To do away with them, we need an alternative kind of politics, say a politics of justice, human rights, and popular government. So long as the reigning political order goes unchallenged just so long will it continue. As was noticed a very long time ago in a nursery rhyme: 

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”