Monday, December 17, 2018

Washington Ain't Broke: It's Rigged

Washington Ain’t Broke. It’s Rigged.
Peter Schultz

            Want to know why our two political parties are so intensely divisive? Because that’s how they preserve their power and privileges. Want to know why there is stalemate in D.C.? Because it serves the interests, preserves the power of our political or ruling elites. It really is that simple.

            In the 60s, it became necessary, given the civil unrest taking place, fed by radical factions within American society, to drive these factions out, to dismantle them, to delegitimize them. Hence, the government practiced repression via a vast network of spying on these Americans, and via covert activities including even assassinations ala’ the deaths of Black Panthers in Chicago, not to mention other assassinations that may have been conspiratorial. Most importantly, however, it was necessary to de-legitimize these radical forces then in vogue, which was accomplished by our two parties adopting and intensifying certain political differences.

            The Republican, even before the advent of the so-called “Reagan Revolution,” embraced what they called the “traditional values” of “the silent majority,” e.g., religion, law and order, the war on drugs, national tranquility, family values, heterosexuality, and of course corporate capitalism. With Reagan, this embrace tightened and intensified as conservatives and “neo-cons” took over the party.

            And then the Democrats announced that they were to be “new Democrats,” who were going to, among other things, “reinvent government.” They too would embrace “traditional values” like family values and other values that “nearly every American” embraced, to quote Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. Clinton would, he announced, find ways to make certain that children could live safe lives again, a forerunner to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” in the form of “Make America Safe Again.” Like the Republicans, these new Democrats would stand for family – don’t forget DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act that Clinton signed – religion, law and order, capital punishment, and of course corporate capitalism. There was no room in the Democratic Party for even the likes of George McGovern or even Ralph Nader.

            Under this new alignment, which was confirmed by the 1992 presidential election in which Clinton bested Poppy Bush, the more radical political choices or options of the 60s disappeared from the political arena and had no nationally recognized spokespersons or nationally recognized organizations. Such options were replaced by the likes of Ross Perot! But the appearance of deeply divisive political differences were and are maintained even while the more radical political options remain outside the prevailing political discourse and debate. The allegedly deeply divisive political differences between the Republicans and Democrats serve then to preserve the status quo, keeping genuinely alternative political options off the table. Hence, while the US wages war throughout the world, there is no discernable peace movement, as there was in the 60s. And anyone who suggests that our corporate capitalistic economy is not serving most people well is labeled a “socialist” and thereby marginalized. And as was clear from the recent Kavanaugh debacle, even those who suggest that the prevailing patriarchy is flawed will be dealt with promptly and judiciously, that is, silenced and marginalized. A person could even be forgiven for thinking that that debacle was welcomed by and served the interests of our ruling elites.

            There is thus a kind of collusion between the Republicans and the Democrats these days whereby their allegedly intensely divisive political differences serve to maintain the status quo, both in terms of their own power and in terms of the prevailing political agenda. The resulting stalemate is useful and it is practiced, maintained, and fortified by both parties to the detriment of the people. Washington ain’t broke. It’s rigged and it’s rigged to serve the interests of our ruling elites rather than the general welfare.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Bill Clinton; Prelude to Trump?

Bill Clinton; Prelude to Trump?
Peter Schultz

            Reading Joan Didion’s Political Fictions made me realize how much of a prelude Bill Clinton was for Donald Trump.

            After the “defections” of the so-called “Reagan Democrats,” “all election appeals were directed” at them, “a narrow focus with predictable results, not the least significant . . . was that presidential elections [were] conducted almost exclusively in code.” [p. 144]

            For example, one code phrase was “middle class.” The Democrats’ focus on the “middle class” was code for support of the death penalty, law and order, and being anti poor, black, Hispanic, urban, and homeless people.” “’Middle class” Mr. Clinton [said] “’was not a ‘code word’ for racism.’ “[This] was accurate [because] the appeal was broader [than racism] to an entire complex of attitudes held . . . by those who [felt] isolated and set adrift by . . . demographic and economic and cultural changes….” [145]

            As Clinton put it, “’Middle class’ referred to values nearly every American holds dear: support for family, reward for work, the willingness to change what isn’t working….” But take note of the phrase “nearly every American,” which means that there are some who don’t endorse these values and they are the enemy. And therein resides the coded message. Those Americans who don’t endorse these values and those like the “new Democrats” who are endorsing them are actually un-American. And we can pretty much guess who those people are, those left-wingers and other “radicals.”

            As Clinton elaborated on his “life work,” he sounded almost like Trump: “I have spent most of my public life worrying about what it would take to give our children a safe place to live again.” [146] So, Clinton’s campaign could have been called “Make America Safe Again,” and this meant safe from those Americans who don’t share those values that “nearly every American” shares.

And apparently, to make America safe again would require use of the death penalty and especially use of the death penalty as applied to the likes of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally challenged young man who was executed per Clinton’s order only 48 hours before the Clintons appeared before the Super Bowl to address Bill’s affair with Jennifer Flowers! In his endorsement of the death penalty and the use of code, to say nothing of his extramarital activities, does anyone see a prelude to Trump?  

Moreover, how large a step is it from “worrying about what it would take to give our children a safe place to live again” to securing our borders? Perhaps Clinton and Gore would use their proposed “National Police Corps,” made up of “unemployed veterans and active military personnel,” to secure the borders. Thus, it doesn’t seem to be much of a step from Clinton’s concerns to Trump’s concerns. Or how big a step is it from such worry to declaring a worldwide war on terror after 9/11? And, again, it doesn’t seem such a big step to me. So, it seems fair to me to say that Clinton and Trump share much more politically than is commonly recognized. If so, this seems like a phenomenon worth considering.


Friday, December 7, 2018

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat

George H.W. Bush: Our Latest Aristocrat
Peter Schultz

            For a few days now, ever since his death, I have been wondering why George H.W. Bush, although he seemed to me to be little more than a mediocrity, is being elevated into the pantheon of great presidents and American politicians. Heck, he couldn’t even win re-election against a virtual nobody from Arkansas who had dodged the draft and was admittedly guilty of adultery – depending of course on whether you think a blow job is sex or not. The outpouring of emotion for Bush was impressive if somewhat inexplicable. But then I stumbled upon the answer for this phenomenon.

            Reading The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, I came upon the following passages: “conservatism in its classic form . . . involves some ‘natural aristocracy’ [for] in the end, such an elite is the major premise of a generally conservative ideology.” And given the importance of such an “aristocracy” to a “conservative” – read “decent” – political order, it is only to be expected that there will be “attempts to find or to invent a traditional elite for America…. [326]

            So, there it is. George H.W. Bush has become just the latest example among recurring attempts “to find or to invent a traditional elite for America.” Especially today, when a crass, real estate tycoon, unsullied by culture of any kind, is in the presidency, we the people need to think that there are “natural aristocrats” and that our society not only produces them but rewards them with the honors of our highest office. We the people desperately need to believe this because we don’t want to believe that our “best” people, those elected or appointed to our highest offices, are little more than sharp operators who know how to strike shady deals or dodge charges of sexual misconduct. We need to know and, hence, want to believe that these “aristocrats” are not manipulators who know how to arrange their own successes even at the cost of making society suffer. And given our past experiences, and recent experiences with crass, real estate tycoons or philandering draft dodgers, we the people fear these types are not aberrations but actually the product of our legitimate institutions and of our deep-seated mores.

            And why shouldn’t we be fearful given the immorality that has been and continues to be exposed, especially by those who have been most successful? We need, desperately need to believe that “Papa Bush” was a man with an inner moral sense a man with a conscience, and not just another sharp operator seeking to close shady deals.

            The thing is though it is not clear that Bush can carry this load. Looked at closely, Bush’s political career does not reveal an inner moral sense or a conscience. For example, Bush occupied by choice offices that did not require him to win the moral consent of the governed, like his time at the head of the CIA. This is definitely an office where an inner moral sense or conscience is not recommended. And if the officers of the CIA are to be believed, Bush flourished there, so much so that they named a building after him although he had served for only a short time. It would be hard to describe Bush’s campaign against Michael, and as it turned out against Kitty Dukakis as upright and honest. And Bush was intimately involved in the Iran-Contra scandal as vice president, a fact he successfully hid from the independent counsel until it was too late to matter. And of course he had to hide his involvement because the scandal involved actions by Reagan, et. al., that violated the nation’s moral sense that we ought not deal with terrorists. Reagan was practicing a low-level kind of Machiavellianism and Bush supported and participated in that project. And Bush’s pardons of Casper Weinberger and others, after he had lost the 1992 presidential election, revealed anything but an inner moral sense or conscience as those pardons ended that investigation just when it was about to reach Bush himself.

            Inner moral sense? Conscience? Hard to find with regard to “Papa Bush,” who is better described as a sharp operator who knew how to do shady deals. But because we desperately need to think we admire moral persons, we cling to our fairly tale Bush as if he were the only thing keeping us from drowning in a sea of the crassness and greed. Without this fairy tale Bush, we are stuck with Trump, not just as our president but what’s even more troubling, as the kind of person our society produces and rewards. [And it is, once again, time to re-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.]

Sunday, December 2, 2018

An American Defeat in Afghanistan: Who Cares?

An American Defeat in Afghanistan: Who Cares?
Peter Schultz

            Below is a link to an article entitled “American Is Headed for Defeat in Afghanistan,” in which Major Danny Sjursen argues that American forces are about to lose the war in Afghanistan. But, of course, this doesn’t actually bother our ruling class because the war in Afghanistan has never been about winning. Sure, it would be nice to win but that is of marginal importance to our ruling class, just as winning in Vietnam was of marginal importance. In both places, there was and is nothing worthwhile to win. Waging war in such places has little or nothing to do with winning.

            What’s the real purpose of the Afghan war? Quite simply, it is part of the geopolitical theatrics our ruling class engages in, theatrics that are conventionally known as American foreign policy. These theatrics are important, some would say crucial for maintaining the power and prestige of the current ruling class, which depends upon instilling fear in the American people, especially these days fear of terrorists, Islamic and otherwise. Instilling fear in the American people has been the constant goal of America’s geopolitical theatrics at least since the end of World War II. The dangers, the threats have changed over the decades, from a fear of monolithic communism to a fear of Islamic terrorists. But fear, creating it, fortifying it, has been the purpose of the dramas our ruling class has created in order to maintain its power and prestige. And there is nothing like a long war, even one that ends in defeat, to instill fear in human beings.

            Now, of course, coping with defeat in war can be tricky for any political regime or any ruling class. But our ruling class managed to survive our defeat in Vietnam, preferring to call it “peace with honor” when it was neither, and so I suspect the ruling class can survive a defeat in Afghanistan. There will be enough culprits to blame, especially the Afghans themselves but also domestic opponents of the war will be blamed, just as they were in Vietnam. And then of course there are innumerable Islamic fanatics who are portrayed, as roaming pretty much at will throughout the Middle East and south Asia.

            But all of this is good insofar as even a defeat can be used to reinvigorate our foreign policy by reminding us that such policies are all about power and more power. Even in defeat, our “realists” win because the losses are never their fault. “Realism” rises from the ashes of its own defeats like a phoenix, as it rarely occurs to anyone that realists themselves are delusional. And so these realists will set about creating more geopolitical theatrics, more show, in order to retain their power and prestige.