The Virtue of “Doing Nothing”
“We are being given a runaround….When Congress is profligate of the public wealth, we are referred to the power of the Pentagon; when Congress is niggardly, we are referred to the power of the middle-class taxpayer. When cities are neglected, we are referred to the countryside; when the countryside is neglected, we are referred to the cities. When tax loopholes are given to millionaires, we are referred to the power of the rich; when racist policies flourish, we are referred to the power of poor whites. It is certainly a curious picture of political power in America, one in which every group in the country has the power to harm others, yet few have any power to help themselves….” [Indispensable Enemies, Walter Karp]
Why is it, with so many politicians advocating change(s), very little changes? Are these advocates for change actually nothing more than status quo politicians, i.e., politicians who are served well by doing little or nothing? Results indicate that, indeed, our politicians are status quo politicians who are served well by doing little or nothing.
The usefulness of doing nothing is more common in our political world than is generally thought. For example, when the electorate, the people are disillusioned with the reigning government, angry, and/or “acting out;” i.e., when the people are seeking changes because they feel they are being maltreated, that their prosperity and security is being threatened; then the reigning political class is endangered. It is threatened with the loss of power and prestige, with political disempowerment.
Yet, in such times, the danger cannot be avoided or short circuited by instituting the change(s) the people desire insofar as those changes would alter, in significant ways, the existing political order and, therewith, the power and prestige of those who control the existing political order. The demand(s) for change, while being focused in part on policies, involve changes in personnel, in those who are deemed to justifiably be the most powerful.
Consider the current scene. Who would have thought that a self-proclaimed “socialist” from Vermont had any chance against an establishment figure like Hillary Clinton? Who would have thought that a surly, irreverent billionaire, without any political experience, would have more political clout than on the Bushes? These are signs that the established order is tottering on the brink of extinction. And those who represent “the establishment” cannot advocate how or what “outsiders” such as Bernie or the Donald advocate, without undermining their own status.
For them, “the established,” their best bet is to hold on, while waiting for the public unrest and discontent to dissipate or disappear. This means their best bet is doing little or nothing because any significant changes will be their undoing. Of course, they cannot say or appear to be doing nothing; and when little or nothing gets done, then this must be attributed to a “broken” political system or to allegedly ideological differences that make any progress impossible. Then the lack of change cannot or should not be laid at the door of the ruling political class and, therefore, there is no reason to think that electing “outsiders” will make any difference. Our ruling class is then seen to be powerless to make the kind of changes the people desire.
Of course, it is all important for these “outsiders” to be seen as dangerous, promising reforms that are unworkable, overly expensive, or just plain batty. These “outsiders” are not genuine politicians; they don’t know what is actually, realistically possible or what “works.” They are not professionals; they are amateurs and it would be madness to entrust them with power. Of course, in the midst of what resembles a “clusterf**k” disguised as a presidential selection process, it is all-too-easy to buy into this story. And that is its purpose, after all.
So, don’t be surprised if after this latest presidential election, very little or nothing changes. After all, doing nothing is the goal of our established ruling class of politicians. And when nothing changes, this should not be seen as a sign of a “broken” political system. Rather, it is a sign that the reigning political order and its power brokers have succeeded. Believe it or not, political failure is must less frequent than our politicians want us to believe. To see this, it is only necessary to keep in mind that a politician’s primary concerns are getting and keeping power. Whatever serves these ends is a success, even when it looks like a failure from a societal perspective. Doing nothing in the face of public unrest represents not failure but success. The system is “working;” that is, it is “working” precisely as those who control it want it to “work.”